Councilmember Pedersen’s Blog is the Place To Be!

November 25th, 2020

Thank you for clicking onto my blog where I post information about Seattle city government. I focus on the geographic area I was elected in November 2019 to represent: District 4. Our wonderful district is home to over 100,000 people in 20 different neighborhoods from Eastlake to Wallingford to Magnuson Park.

Pro Tip: Use the “Search” box on the right side of this post to search for the topics that interest you the most. Just type the key words into that box, such as “public safety” or “budget” or “homelessness,” and click that Search button. Or you can just keep scrolling down and find the most recent content near the top.

More Info: You can also subscribe to my e-newsletter to have key posts emailed directly to you at least once a month by CLICKING HERE. Or just save this link as a favorite on your browser and check it anytime for updates: https://pedersen.seattle.gov/

Ron Sims swearing in new Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, January 6, 2020.

with gratitude,




Plan to Phase-Out Harmful Gasoline-Fueled Leaf Blowers in Seattle

August 6th, 2022

After conducting research and conferring with constituents, I have concluded that gasoline-fueled leaf blowers should be phased out in Seattle because they harm public health and the environment. Leaf blowers powered by clean electricity and batteries have become more powerful and effective. Our city government should lead by example in converting to cleaner, less noisy alternatives before everyone else is required to phase out the harmful gasoline-fueled leaf blowers. While public safety and homelessness must continue as priority issues, City Hall has the bandwidth to address this public health and environmental issue, too.

Phasing out these harmful gasoline-fueled machines may require a multi-year process, but we must start now because we’re already behind several other cities. We will get the best results when engaging with local groups along the way, such as environmental organizations, Laborers (Local 242) for parks maintenance, the Latino Chamber of Commerce (which includes landscaping companies as members), and other solution-oriented stakeholders.

This blog post documents local efforts to phase out gasoline-fueled leaf blowers within Seattle city limits. Note: The entries below appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent events listed first.



August 8 and 9, 2022: Resolution Officially Introduced

Here are excerpts from the press release we issued when our Resolution appeared on the City Council’s Introduction & Referral calendar this week:

Today’s Resolution introduced by Councilmember Pedersen states, “The City recognizes that the use of gas-powered leaf blowers causes significant adverse environmental and health impacts, including noise and air pollution” and asks City departments to “develop a proposal that would phase out and ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers within Seattle.”

Regarding the timeframe, the Resolution states, “By January 2025…the City and its contractors will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. By January 2027…institutions located in Seattle, businesses operating in Seattle, and Seattle residents will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.” The Resolution seeks to explore whether the City should offer incentives, such as a buyback program or rebates on replacement purchases, to landscaping businesses that operate in Seattle and to low-income Seattle residents that need support to transition from gas-powered to electric-powered leaf blowers.

Nicole Grant, Executive Director of 350 Seattle, a grass roots environmental and climate justice organization said, “Gas powered leaf blowers are contrary to our values — they use fossil fuels and are unwelcoming with their excessive noise and toxic emissions. We are pleased that Councilmember Pedersen is proposing a sound process for the City to transition away from these unnecessary machines.

Peri Hartman, co-founder of the group Quiet Clean Seattle said, “Our co-founders have been working to eliminate use of gas powered lead blowers in Seattle for several years. We are very pleased to see Councilmember Pedersen’s proposal move to the Council, an exciting step so desired by our members.

Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen said, “Nearly everyone hates obnoxious, loud, gas-belching leaf blowers, so why do we allow them to continue damaging eardrums, spraying debris into faces, and polluting our city? Other cities are banning or phasing out leaf blowers and it’s time to blow them out of Seattle, too. While public safety and homelessness must continue as priority issues, City Hall has the bandwidth to address this public health and environmental issue, too. While it was reasonable for Seattle to pause this issue during the pandemic, other places across the nation have recently been leap-frogging Seattle by banning these harmful devices, including Washington, D.C.; Burlington, Vermont; the entire state of California; and 100 other jurisdictions.”

D.C. Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment with the Council of the District of Columbia said, “In 2018, the District passed legislation I introduced that banned the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers as of January 1, 2022. Since that legislation was implemented earlier this year, it’s greatly improved the quality of life in the District, not only reducing the harmful noise produced by these devices, but also improving air quality. Given these benefits, I am in support of efforts in the largest city in ‘the other Washington’ to pass similar legislation, and hope that the District’s law can be a model for Seattle and jurisdictions across the country.”

For a copy of Resolution 32064 as introduced, CLICK HERE.

For a copy of the Summary / Fiscal Note as introduced, CLICK HERE.


August 1, 2022: Survey Results from Seattle’s District 4

The survey results were overwhelming: 82% think Seattle should ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Of course, this is not a scientific survey because it was sent just to subscribers of my e-newsletter and respondents chose on their own whether to take the survey rather than being selected at random. Nevertheless, the survey is another data point when combined with numerous anecdotal complaints about leaf blowers from Seattle residents as well as the science documenting the harms of these gasoline-fueled machines (see the sources as the end of this blog post). The survey was not shared on social media during the four days it was open (noon July 29 through noon August 1, 2022), so it was not “highjacked” by any particular side of the issue. If the survey had been random, 400 respondents is actually a sufficient number for the results to be statistically significant for our district of more than 100,000 residents.


July 29, 2022 Newsletter to Constituents (excerpt):

I want your feedback on leaf blowers — and I want to be transparent about my preliminary view.  A couple of years ago, I indicated a strong interest in exploring ways to phase out harmful, gas-powered leaf blowers. Addressing the harms of gas-powered leaf blowers has been supported by environmental organizations, including 350 Seattle. The pandemic and other priorities interrupted those plans, but the problems persist. Loud and dirty gas-powered leaf blowers cause air pollution and noise pollution that can harm the workers who use them as well as the people and animals nearby. Recently, my office has thoroughly researched this issue. While public safety and homelessness must continue as priority issues, I believe City Hall also has the bandwidth to address this public health and environmental issue and city government should lead by example. While it was reasonable to push this issue to the back burner during the pandemic, other cities have recently been leap-frogging Seattle by banning these harmful devices, including Washington D.C., California, and 100 other jurisdictions. Electric leaf blowers are much stronger than they used to be and there should be opportunities at City parks to reduce when and where we use leaf blowers because leaves can also decompose naturally. I’m interested in introducing a City Council Resolution to address this topic and I’m pleased to report that the environmental organization 350 Seattle officially endorsed this effort. Stay tuned.


June 2022: Research Presented by UW Evans School of Public Policy and Governance

A team of 2nd year graduate students earning their master’s in public administration from the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance assisted in the research of this topic for Councilmember Pedersen’s office.

For the report from the graduate students, CLICK HERE.


June 4, 2022: Burlington, Vermont Ban of Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Adopted April 2021 Goes Into Effect

The City Council passed this ordinance last year to help decrease noise pollution, carbon emissions and to eliminate nuisances caused by leaf blowers.”

For the news report by WCAX News, CLICK HERE.


March 1, 2022: City Council Keeps Leaf Blowers on its Annual “Work Program”

In the annual work program adopted by the City Council, the Committee on Sustainability & Renters Rights including the following body of work to tackle: “GAS-POWERED LEAF BLOWERS: Review required reports regarding/related to SLI OSE-003-B-001, which requested that OSE and Seattle Parks and Recreation develop a plan to phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers” (page 47). For the City Council’s 2022 Work Program, CLICK HERE.


January 1, 2022: Washington, D.C. Ban of Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Adopted 2018 Goes Into Effect

On January 1, 2022, the Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2018 adopted by the Washington, D.C. City Council, finally took effect in our nation’s capital. The Act prohibits the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in the District of Columbia, both by the city government and by the private sector. Source: https://dcra.dc.gov/leafblower


December 9, 2021: California Approves Statewide Phase Out, Following Dozens of California Cities

“California regulators sign off on phaseout of new gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers.” For the Los Angeles Times article, CLICK HERE.


November 2021: City Council Requests a Plan to Phase Out Leaf Blowers

During our fall budget review process in 2021, I sponsored a “Statement of Legislative Intent” (SLI) to encourage the executive departments to craft a plan to phase out leaf blowers. Specifically, SLI OSE-003-B-001 requested “that the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE), Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), and other departments as needed, develop a plan to phase out the use of all gas-powered leaf blowers in Seattle within two years. Following implementation of the two-year plan, the goal would be for the City to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. While gas powered leaf blowers do not contribute substantially to Seattle’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, they can cause localized air pollution and the low-frequency sounds they produce are particularly disturbing to the human ear, negatively impacting people within the proximity of someone using a gas-powered leaf blower. The plan should build off of the response in 2014 to SLI 70-1-A-1 (Department of Planning and Development Leaf Blower Recommendations) and consider the approach other jurisdictions have taken to prohibit the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers, such as California.” The due date was September 2, 2022.

Unfortunately, these “SLIs” adopted by the City Council are among the weaker options for getting results. In mid-2022, we learned that the executive departments were unlikely to produce the plan required by the Council’s SLI. Hence the need for a more formal Council Resolution, especially as other cities have been leap-frogging Seattle in implementing bans of gas-powered leaf blowers.


October 24, 2021: Huntington, New York Restricts Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

For the November 10, 2021 CBS News report, CLICK HERE, and for the CBS News video, CLICK HERE.


2020 through 2021 and beyond: Pandemic Interruption and Delay

The COVID pandemic and associated economic challenges — along with other priorities in Seattle such as safety and homelessness — put efforts to reduce gas-powered leaf blowers onto the “back burner.”


November 2019: Promises, Promises

My 2019 campaign website said Seattle should do the following:

Phase out gasoline-powered (two stroke) leaf blowers with a buy-back program:

(quoted excerpts from the Roosevelt neighborhood newsletter, The Roosie): ‘According to the California Air Resources Board, 5 lbs of particulate matter per leaf blower per hour are swept into the air and it takes hours to settle.’ ‘California’s statewide Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an hour of leaf blower equals 1,000 miles driven in a 2015 Camry car.’ ‘An air quality report from L.A. states by 2020, ozone producing emissions will be higher from lawn care equipment than from all cars in L.A.’ ‘Gas leaf blowers are identified as a source of harmful noise by the U.S. CDC, U.S. EPA, and the national landscape industry.

“To address this City Hall should explore a buy-back program to transition users away from gas-powered leaf blowers to electricity-powered leaf-blowers.”


2014: City of Seattle explores, then shelves idea to ban gas-powered leaf blowers

In 2014, the City’s Department of Planning and Development (now the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections) considered strategies to reduce or eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in their response to City Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent SLI 70-1-A-1. At that time, the city’s executive departments recommended no new regulations or changes to City practices due to the lack of equivalent electric alternatives and other considerations at that time. In the years following 2014, however, new data have revealed more of the environmental and public health impacts of gas-powered leaf blowers; electric leaf blowers technology has improved; and other jurisdictions have moved to eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.



Sources of Information about Harmful Gasoline-Fueled Leaf Blowers (partial and ongoing):

Acquisition Safety. (2016). Fact Sheet: Occupation Exposure to Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV). US Navy: Safety Center Afloat Safety Programs Office.
https://www.gsa.gov/cdnstatic/Hand-Arm_Vibration_Syndrome_01-06-2016.pdf

Associated Press. (2021, April 17) “What? What? City bans use of loud, gas-powered leaf blowers” The Seattle Times
https://www.seattletimes.com/business/what-what-city-bans-use-of-loud-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/

Banks, Jamie, and Robert McConnel. (2015). National Emissions From Lawn And Garden Equipment. US Environmental Protection Agency.
https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-09/documents/banks.pdf

Baldauf, R. W., Fortune, C., Weinstein, J. P., Wheeler, M., Blanchard, F. (2006, July 1). Air Contaminant Exposure During the Operation of Lawn and Garden Equipment. EPA Science Inventory. https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_report.cfm?Lab=NERL&dirEntryId=155364

Board of County Commissioners for Multnomah County. (2021, December 16). Resolution No.
2021-094 (enacted).
https://www.multco.us/file/113089/download

Boykoff, J. (2011, August 18). The Leaf Blower, Capitalism, and the Atomization of Everyday Life. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 22(3), 95-113.
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10455752.2011.593896?journalCode=rcns20

Bullard., R. D., Mohai, P., Saha, R., Wright, B. (2007). Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty 1987 – 2007 (A Report Prepared for the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries). United Church of Christ.
https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/toxic-wastes-and-race-at-twenty-1987-2007.pdf

California Air Resources Board. (2000). Mobile Source Control Division, A Report to the California Legislature on the Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Leaf Blowers.
California Air Resources Board.
https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2018-11/Health%20and%20Environmental%20Impacts%20of%20Leaf%20Blowers.pdf

California Air Resources Board. (n.d. a) SORE: Small Engines Fact Sheet. California Air Resources Board.
https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/fact-sheets/sore-small-engine-fact-sheet

California Legislature (2020). Bill text: AB-1346 Air pollution: small off-road engines. California
Legislative Information. (n.d.).
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB1346

Council of the District of Columbia. (2018). B22-234. Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2018.
http://chairmanmendelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/B22-234-Leaf-Blower-Regulation-Amendment-Act-of-2018-CIRCULATION-PACKET.pdf

Costa-Gomez, I., Banon, D., Moreno-Grau, S., Revuelta, R., Elvira-Rendueles, B., Moreno, J. (2020). Using a low-cost monitor to assess the impact of leaf blowers on particle pollution during street cleaning. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 13, 15-23.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-019-00768-8

Fallows, J. (2019). Get Off My Lawn. The Atlantic.
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/james-fallows-leaf-blowerban/583210/.

Gabasa, S. A., Md Razali, K. A., As’arry, A., & Abdul Jalil, N. A. (2019). Vibration transmitted to the hand by backpack blowers. International Journal of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, 16(2), 6697–6705.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334361296_Vibration_Transmitted_to_the_Hand_by_Backpack_Blowers

Gonzalez, C. (2021, December 16). Multnomah County adopts plan to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers. Oregon Public Broadcasting.
https://www.opb.org/article/2021/12/16/multnomah-county-adopts-plan-to-phase-out-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/

Green Livable Environment for Everyone. (2016, May). Leaf blowers in DC – a fact sheet. The
Atlantic.
https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/files/leaf_blowers_in_dc_fact_sheet_(05_16).pdf

HD Supply. (2022). Leaf Blower Regulations. HD Supply. Retrieved from
https://hdsupplysolutions.com/s/leaf_blower_noise_regulation

Health Science Associates. (2017). Industrial Hygiene Survey. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration.

Henricks, S. (2017). RE: City of Los Altos gas-powered leaf blower ordinance. Management
Analyst, City of Los Altos, CA. Retrieved from https://www.losaltosca.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/environmental_commission/meeting/34141/item_4._attachment_a_leafblowermemo_final.pdf

Jones, Fischer, and Eric Boles. (2017). Gas Vs Battery Powered Maintenance Tools On The
University Of Arkansas Campus. University Of Arkansas Office Of Sustainability. Retrieved from, https://sustainability.uark.edu/_resources/publication-series/project-reports/reports-electric_power_tools_ua-2017-ofs.pdf

Kavanagh, J. (2011, December 5). Emissions test: Car vs. Truck vs. Leaf Blower. Edmunds.
Retrieved from https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truckvs-leaf-blower.html

Milman, Oliver (2022, January 5) “Tree-mendous news: noisy gas-powered leaf blowers banned in Washington DC” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/05/gas-leaf-blowers-banned-washington-dc

Mudede, Charles. (2021, November 29) “The City of Seattle Must Ban Leaf Blowers” The Stranger
https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2019/11/29/42133770/the-city-of-seattle-must-ban-leaf-blowers

National Association of Landscape Professionals. (2021). 2021 Workforce Demographic Study. National Association of Landscape Professionals.
https://www.landscapeprofessionals.org/LP/About/LP/Foundation/Workforce_Demographic_Study.aspx

Pedersen, A. (2021). SLI OSE-003-B-001: 2022 Seattle City Council Statement of Legislative Intent.
http://seattle.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9969083&GUID=15848989-6281-4BE2-B9C3-F9AAF6EFAF1C

Porcello, Michael. (2022, July 27). Phone Interview with Legislative Aide to Washington D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh. 202.724.8062
https://dccouncil.us/council/michael-porcello/

Pollock, C. (2018). Bill No. B22.234, the Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2017-Written Statement by Arup.
https://quietcommunities.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Arup_Bill-No-B22-234-the-Leaf-Blower-Regulation-Amendment-of-2017.pdf

Radke, Bill. (2014, October 31) “Radke Rant: Leaf Blowers Are Lazy, Selfish And Stupid” KUOW
https://www.kuow.org/stories/radke-rant-leaf-blowers-are-lazy-selfish-and-stupid

Smith, Cam WCAX News (2022, June 4) “New Ordinance in Burlington bans gas-powered leaf blowers” Retrieved from https://www.wcax.com/2022/06/04/new-ordinance-burlington-bans-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/

US Environmental Protection Agency, (2021a, May 5). Ground-level Ozone Basics. EPA.gov.
https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution/ground-level-ozone-basics

US Environmental Protection Agency, (2021b, May 5). Health Effects of Ozone Pollution. EPA.gov.
https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution/health-effects-ozone-pollution

Walker E. & Banks, JL. (2017). Characteristics of Lawn and Garden Equipment Sound: A Community Pilot Study. J Environ Toxicol Stu 1(1).
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31448365/

Washington D.C. Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs. (2022, January 1) “Leaf Blower Regulations” Retrieved from https://dcra.dc.gov/leafblower

Willon, P. (2021, December 9). California regulators sign off on phaseout of new gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers. Los Angeles Times.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-09/california-regulators-phaseout-new-gas-powered-lawnmowers-and-leaf-blowers

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Safety and more in July

July 29th, 2022

Friends and Neighbors,

Safety has been a theme for July. The need for safety in our communities and safety in our parks. Safety for women seeking health care. Safety from the heat waves of climate change. Safety for Seattle’s aging bridges and safety for neighbors simply trying to cross the street.

Mayor Bruce Harrell on July 27, 2022 nominating Gregory Spotts to be the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The safety of our streets, bridges, and sidewalks will need to be a major focus on the new director. The committee chaired by Councilmember Alex Pedersen will handle the confirmation process. You can see more info in the Transportation section of this newsletter…

In this month’s newsletter


DISTRICT 4

Fun Program for Low-Income Immigrant Children at Magnuson Park

(from left to right in photo) Mayor Harrell’s Chief Equity Officer Adiam Emery, the Executive Director of “Kids & Paper” Azadeh Eslamy, Councilmember Alex Pedersen, and Parks & Rec coordinator Paul Davenport attend the first anniversary of the nonprofit serving elementary school age immigrant children at Magnuson Park.

During our budget deliberations in November 2021, I persuaded our Budget Committee to add a modest investment for a nonprofit that would serve an underserved population after school and then expand during the summer months at Magnuson Park. As you may know, 850 low-income neighbors reside at the apartments inside Magnuson Park, including 350 children. While there is an early childhood education center and some youth programming, there is not as much available for elementary school children – particularly those kids who reside at the low-income housing within Magnuson Park.

When evaluating programs for public investment, I typically prefer to expand or replicate proven existing programs rather than fund something new. But the persistent gap of services, the delayed renovation of their community center, and the uncertainty of COVID persuaded me to facilitate seed funding for a new nonprofit serving immigrant children. Our City Parks Department manages the contract with “Kids & Paper” and reports positive results thus far.

Earlier this month, I attended their first “anniversary” celebration with dozens of children from various backgrounds playing games and having fun together. This summer, 88% of the 60 children enrolled in the program reside in the low-income housing within Magnuson Park. The program is limited by how many staff they need to provide an appropriate ratio supervising the children. I’m hopeful the Harrell Administration will choose to continue the program in the budget proposal the executive branch submits to the City Council in September for the next calendar year.  For more information about the nonprofit Kids & Paper, CLICK HERE.

University District

Councilmember Pedersen and Don Blakeney, the Executive Director of the Business Improvement Area’s nonprofit program manager (U District Partnership), got their Sunday afternoon exercise exploring the changing streets throughout the heart of District 4, including the recent opening of NE 43rd Street to buses for better, direct connections to the light rail. Later in July, Councilmember Pedersen attended the board meeting of the U District Partnership to discuss public safety, homelessness, transportation, alley garbage problems, and the City budget.

Protecting Diverse Restaurants in D4 and throughout Seattle: Capping Delivery Fees

Our district is proud of its diverse restaurants serving delicious food from several neighborhood business districts including Eastlake, Ravenna, Roosevelt, Wallingford, Wedgwood, and, of course the U District.

To protect our struggling, local restaurants from a financial cliff, I co-sponsored legislation with Councilmember Dan Strauss to make permanent the 15% cap on fees that delivery corporations charge to Seattle restaurants. That cap on delivery fees has demonstrated its importance to local restaurants as part of a Civil Emergency Order for the past couple of years, but it will end as soon as the Mayor ends the Civil Emergency – unless we take action. We need your support – click on the button below to help.

I understand that this legislation has the local government inserting itself into the private marketplace and so this must be done carefully and to benefit the public. Here are some additional considerations: This key point of the legislation has already been tested – the 15% cap has been in place for over two years. Moreover, we added an “opt out” provision that provides additional flexibility for both parties. There are hundreds of local restaurants employing and serving thousands of our neighbors here in Seattle and there are just three large delivery corporations all headquartered out of state. For additional rationale, see the multiple findings articulated in the legislation (Council Bill 120379).

I’d like to thank citywide Councilmember Sara Nelson for making room at her Economic Development Committee this month to discuss and vote on the legislation. Good news: This small business legislation passed unanimously out of her committee on July 27.  I look forward to the entire City Council and Mayor enacting this legislation as soon as possible, so that Seattle’s diverse local restaurants can be free from the fear of fees to focus on fantastic food.

For my statement on the legislation, CLICK HERE.

CLICK to Urge “Yes” Vote for Seattle Restaurants

Wedgwood Arts Festival: It’s Back!

The annual Wedgwood Arts Festival was back in its full glory this month and Councilmember Pedersen (sporting his vintage “Wedgwood” T-shirt) had fun attending the community event with one of his children. They arrived with the goal of buying a piece of art, but departed with other goodies from local artists including handmade jewelry, clothes, and a candle that smells like winter holiday spices.  To see what you might have missed and to get it early on your calendar for next summer, you can visit their website at wedgwoodfestival.com. Regrets: not buying a homemade ice cream sandwich.

Speaking of Wedgwood…

Redevelopment Plans for Wedgwood Shopping Center

As mentioned in the June 29, 2022 edition of the Daily Journal of Commerce and discussed recently at the Wedgwood Community Council, the Wedgwood shopping center on the southeast corner of 35th Ave NE and 85th Street (you know, home to the Broiler and Van Gough Coffee) is likely to be redeveloped. Normally, I would not comment on a potential purchase in the middle of its due diligence period, but it was already reported in the media — so here’s an excerpt from the article:

The 2-acre North Seattle property, owned by an area family, hasn’t traded in decades…Now, with architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz, prospective buyer Security Properties has filed an early redevelopment plan. The proposal hasn’t yet entered design review. It describes a midrise apartment building with 280 units over retail/commercial space. The latter would have 34,500 square feet for an unnamed grocer on the north corner, at North 85th Street. On the south corner, North 82nd Street, would be another 14,000 square feet of commercial space. Five stories seems likely for a site that’s zoned up to 55 feet. Security Properties has ample experience with similar midrise projects like the planned Magnolia Albertsons redo, and past Fremont PCC and apartments…Security Properties says it would like to retain current tenants in the new development.”

I have reached out to Security Properties to encourage them to conduct a robust community engagement process. Security Properties is a highly experienced developer/owner, based in Seattle, but with a national footprint owning an array of multifamily housing and mixed-use developments. They have already reached out to the existing commercial tenants there and want to bring back a grocery store if they proceed to redevelop that important site.

If you want to stay up to speed on this development and/or provide input, I recommend participating in the Wedgwood Community Council: https://www.wedgwoodcc.org/getinvolved/

Wallingford Farmers Market

Councilmember Pedersen visited the Wallingford Farmers Market this month, where he enjoyed a coveted strawberries & cream popsicle from Seattle Pops, which also has a storefront on N 45th Street at Interlake Ave N. The Councilmember is seen here demonstrating his acquired political skill of chewing and smiling at the same time. The Wallingford Farmers Market, held adjacent to the Meridian Playground, is open every Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. through September 28.

Restoring Historic Landmark in U District: Thank goodness it’s not another bank!

In her landmark critique of urban planning, “The Death and Life of American Cities,” Jane Jacobs explained in great detail the necessity of historic buildings for a vibrant city.  In her chapter entitled “The generators of diversity,” Jacobs writes, “The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones…” (page 150). Then she devotes an entire chapter to this called “The need for aged buildings” in which she writes, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them” (page 187). One of the reasons is that older buildings typically have less debt to pay off and lower taxes and can charge lower rent than upzoned or brand-new buildings. That then enables small businesses who need cheaper rent to offer eclectic products and services (think Gargoyle Statuary on The Ave) without needing the economies of scale of chain stores, fast food, or banks. Jane Jacobs articulates it better: “Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction…Perhaps more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction” (page 188).

Earlier this month, I joined the University District Partnership, University of Washington, and Historic Seattle to celebrate the completed historic renovation of the 110-year old iconic building on the corner of NE 45th Street and “The Ave” in the heart of the U District. This newly renovated interior space with its exterior façade beautifully restored for the next 100 years is going to be occupied by an additional location of the Seattle Bouldering Project. This small business with rock-climbing and fitness classes will bring lots of foot traffic and will energize that key corner of the U District that has been partially dormant during the pandemic. Making sure some historic buildings are intermingled with the new construction is important to generate the building diversity that creates vitality and sense of place in that Urban Center. Thank goodness, it’s not just another bank branch.

U Village Summer Concerts

Enjoy free music outdoors at U Village on August Wednesdays 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., August 3 (Nite Wave), August 10 (Kalimba: Spirit of Earth Wind Fire), and August 17 (Hit Explosion). For more information, CLICK HERE.

View Ridge Elementary Crossing Guard – 2nd Position Available

Thanks to advocacy from parents, school officials, and community leaders, View Ridge Elementary School is poised to get a 2nd crossing guard because we know neighborhood kids walk to school from multiple directions. The Seattle Public School system has to work hard to recruit and retain school crossing guards, so we’re spreading the news here: They’re hiring!


ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

New Low-Income Housing Near Light Rail in the Heart of District 4

Last week, our Committee discussed a petition from Sound Transit asking the City of Seattle to vacate a portion of an alley in the University District, which is in the heart of my Council District. As you may recall, we successfully arranged to have Sound Transit generously lease their land to the City for a couple of years to create a 35-unit Tiny Home Village, called Rosie’s Village, at the corner of NE 45th Street and Roosevelt Way NE. As has always been the ultimate goal for that site, we want to build lots of permanent low-income housing. My hope is that we will maximize the number of units at the deepest affordability levels. Ideally, all the future units will, on average, serve households earning less than 60% of area median income with at least 35 of the units set aside for extremely low income residents at risk of homelessness (at 0% to 30% AMI). My preliminary view is that I agree with Sound Transit that vacating a portion of that alley could enable a nonprofit housing developer to build more units of low-income housing there.

After the upzones of the University District by a previous City Council, we have seen demolitions of naturally occurring affordable housing and nearly all developers opting out of building affordable housing in the neighborhood. Demolitions directly displace our neighbors. Instead of providing the affordable housing onsite, they have written a check to pay an in-lieu fee that the City uses to fund different projects 3 years later somewhere else, which is not ideal. Here we have a parcel we can use to build low-income housing near the new light rail station, and we can build more of it by vacating part of our alley without impacting emergency vehicles. The presentation earlier this month was just a pre-view of Sound Transit’s petition; it would be at a later meeting when we would impose our public benefit requirements in exchange for allowing a partial vacating of the alley.

  • For the petition materials asking the City to vacate part of that alley, CLICK HERE.
  • For the presentation at our committee, CLICK HERE.
  • To see Mayor’s Harrell’s Homelessness Action Plan website, CLICK HERE.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Supporting Mayor Harrell’s Plan to Recruit and Restore Police Staffing

I support Mayor Harrell’s plan to recruit officers. Everyone deserves to feel safe, and I appreciate that we need a holistic approach that includes not only sufficient staffing of frontline public safety workers, but also alternative emergency responses for mental health crises and a police contract that expands reforms.

On September 10th of last year — 10 months ago – I introduced two budget amendments to fund between $1 million and $3 million dollars for SPD recruitment and retention but, unfortunately, only 3 of my colleagues supported it. Since that time, we’ve received more recent data showing unacceptable increases in 9-1-1 response times and unacceptable increases in crime. So I’m hopeful the Mayor’s recruitment incentives will pass next month.

A remarkable and positive point made in the mayor’s plan: “As of May 2022, the number of trained and deployable officers — just 954 — is the lowest in over 30 years…Mayor Bruce Harrell’s goal is to increase the number of Seattle police officers who are authorized, funded, fully trained, and deployable to 1,450…”

More than 400 officers and detectives have left the department since January 2020 so, while I’m glad to see a boost for recruitment, I believe we also need to RETAIN the highly trained professionals ALREADY here in Seattle. I recently attended several “roll calls” at the beginning of police patrol shifts to hear from many of the officers who keep North Seattle safe. I appreciate the good work that they do and know it takes a long time to train and deploy new recruits.

I look forward to deliberating with my colleagues on the Mayor’s new legislation to address the staffing crisis at SPD.

  • For Mayor Harrell’s Recruitment Plan, CLICK HERE and HERE.
  • For the video of the Mayor making his announcement and answering questions, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Response Time Report for 1st Quarter 2022, CLICK HERE.
  • To apply to be a Seattle police officer, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times July 22 editorial entitled, “It’s OK to say we’re funding the police,” CLICK HERE.

National Night Out

“Night Out” is a national event held on Tuesday evening, August 2, 2022, for neighbors to enjoy time together on side streets in their community and to connect and share food while heightening crime prevention awareness. To register your block for the event or to find an event near you for National Night Out, CLICK HERE.

Last year I visited several of these neighborhood block parties and I’ll be out there again Tuesday night. Thanks to all neighborhood leaders who are organizing an event on their block so neighbors can get to know each other again. This long-standing tradition is consistent with the fresh spirit of “One Seattle.”

For more immediate crime prevention needs, contact a Crime Prevention Coordinator by CLICKING HERE. I worked hard to secure funding for two Crime Prevention Coordinators in North Seattle: Sarah and Katelyn are already hired and ready to meet with you to share crime prevention tips.


TAKE THE SURVEY

Instructions:  Click below to answer the one-question survey!

I want your feedback on leaf blowers — and I want to be transparent about my preliminary view.  A couple of years ago, I indicated a strong interest in exploring ways to phase out harmful, gas-powered leaf blowers. Addressing the harms of gas-powered leaf blowers has been supported by environmental organizations, including 350 Seattle. The pandemic and other priorities interrupted those plans, but the problems persist. Loud and dirty gas-powered leaf blowers cause air pollution and noise pollution that can harm the workers who use them as well as the people and animals nearby. Recently, my office has thoroughly researched this issue. While public safety and homelessness must continue as priority issues, I believe City Hall also has the bandwidth to address this public health and environmental issue and city government should lead by example. While it was reasonable to push this issue to the back burner during the pandemic, other cities have recently been leap-frogging Seattle by banning these harmful devices, including Washington D.C., California, and 100 other jurisdictions. Electric leaf blowers are much stronger than they used to be and there should be opportunities at City parks to reduce when and where we use leaf blowers because leaves can also decompose naturally. I’m interested in introducing a City Council Resolution to address this topic and I’m pleased to report that the environmental organization 350 Seattle officially endorsed this effort. Stay tuned.
Take the Survey


CITY BUDGET AND TAXES

Parks: Some City Officials Want to Double The Portion of Your Property Tax That Supplements Parks

We are eagerly awaiting the mayor’s proposal for how much the executive branch of city government wants us to reinvest in Seattle’s parks. The current proposal from the Parks Department is to double the portion of your property taxes that goes toward the Parks District and I have concerns about such a steep increase. I believe we all want our parks to be safe, clean, and open, but I don’t think you should have to double what you pay to achieve what should be a baseline condition of your parks. I edited the bar graph above to visualize what a more modest increase might include.

Here are my comments at Parks District Committee on July 25, 2022:

“Thank you, President Lewis, for the opportunity to speak to these items to support our parks and community centers and for your leadership in moving this forward. And thanks to our City Council Central Staff for pulling together these various ideas that focus on the “Parks District” source of funding, which comprises approximately 20% of the budget for the Parks & Recreation Department.

As I’ve mentioned at previous meetings, I’m concerned about the proposal to double the Parks District portion of property tax bills across the City. Increases in property taxes, as we know, can be passed along to renters and we have several additional property tax levies coming including increases for affordable housing, transportation, and education.

So, for parks, I would support a reasonable “back-to-the-basics” proposal that includes 3 main investments: existing programs, new projects we’ve already committed to, and retrofitting some community centers with environmentally friendly heating & cooling pumps to address heat waves. Councilmember Herbold and I recently secured funding for similar building upgrades at a West Seattle library and a library in my District in Northeast Seattle and I support doing that for more community centers, as President Lewis spoke to earlier today.  Perhaps the renovating of community centers to serve as cooling centers during heat waves could be added to the bonding capacity of the pre-commitment projects.

My modest proposal would increase Parks District funding from today’s $56 million to approximately $70 million ($2 million for inflation + $10 million for pre-commitment + $2 million for heat/cooling pumps). That’s a generous 25% increase instead of the 100% increase proposed by the Parks Department.  [As I understand it, the Parks District comprises 20% of the Parks Department’s total budget.] So my hope would be to enhance existing investments for parks & community centers in a reasonable way that doesn’t break the bank for homeowners AND renters, especially residents on fixed incomes and struggling small businesses renting their storefronts on triple net leases because they pay for those tax increases, too.  Thank you.”

— Councilmember Alex Pedersen

  • For the agenda and presentations at the July 25, 2022 meeting, CLICK HERE.
  • For the main website of the Parks District, CLICK HERE.
  • For a recent Seattle Times editorial lamenting the unfulfilled promise to maintain our parks entitled “Seattle parks maintenance has gone down the toilet,” CLICK HERE.

Technology Matching Funds Awarded, But Not The Full Amount Authorized by Council

On July 20, 2022, Seattle’s Information Technology Department announced winners for the City’s Technology Matching Fund.

As part of the budget proposal for 2023 that we’ll discuss and approve this Fall, I’m hoping City Hall doubles down on efforts to achieve digital equity. Due to their initial prediction of a deficit in our city government’s flexible “General Fund,” our City’s Budget Office chose not to fund $250,000 of the amount Council approved in November 2021 for spending in 2022. With the higher-than-expected revenues from other sources, I hope the executive branch decides to invest those funds later this year to increase access to and adoption of reliable, high-speed internet. (Your City Council has the authority to authorize funding, but the executive can choose not to spend it.)

In a city that prides itself in leading the world in technology, the COVID crisis laid bare the inequities and injustice of the digital divide. In our high-tech city, we should no longer allow limited internet access to prevent learning, to impede our workers, or to hinder our small businesses and nonprofits. As called for by our City’s bold “Internet for All” Action Plan, it’s time to ensure reliable and affordable access to the internet as part of our city’s vital infrastructure for social justice, for education, and for economic development. It’s time to put the plan into action — and that requires dollars from City Hall and accommodations from the private sector.

  • For the initial winners from 2022, CLICK HERE.
  • For Seattle ITs digital equity website, CLICK HERE.

TRANSPORTATION & SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE

(This is the Committee currently chaired by Councilmember Pedersen, so we provide extra information on its issues.)

New Director Nominated for SDOT

Matt Donahue, Seattle’s Director of Roadway Structures, discusses the University Bridge’s condition with Councilmember Pedersen and Gregory Spotts, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to become the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). This multimodal bridge ranked “poor” by the 2020 audit of Seattle’s bridges.

Earlier this week on the aging University Bridge, I met with Gregory Spotts, Mayor Harrell’s nominee to serve as the permanent Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). I urged him to focus on safety, primarily pedestrian safety and bridge safety. Here is the statement I included in the Mayor’s July 27, 2022 press release:

“The Mayor’s nomination to lead and manage the Seattle Department of Transportation, its $700 million budget, and its 1,000 employees will dramatically shape how people and freight travel throughout our city safely and efficiently as we battle climate change,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “As Transportation Chair for the legislative branch of city government, I will conduct a thorough and transparent process for this important nomination. Together, we will follow the methodical confirmation process outlined in Seattle Resolution 31868. Seattle deserves a department director with a balanced and practical approach to urban transportation as well as a focus on safety and mobility that includes fixing our city’s aging bridges.  When I combine my confidence in the Mayor and his search committee with this nominee’s impressive credentials, I believe we can have a positive confirmation process to keep our city moving forward.”

Adding to that statement, I’d like Seattle’s new Director of Transportation to focus on safety and competence:  Safety for pedestrians and safety for our aging bridges that connect our communities. And competence — to deliver transportation projects on time and under budget, such as the bridge seismic upgrades promised to voters several years ago. Competence also includes a balanced approach to transportation systems, boosting transit that moves the most people in the most environmentally friendly way and facilitating freight that keeps our economy moving as we emerge from the pandemic. These issues will be harmonized in the upcoming Seattle Transportation Plan.

I anticipate my Transportation Committee will consider the nominee during our meetings of August 16 and September 6, which means the City Council could approve him as early as September 13. The process for all nominees is outlined in Resolution 31868.

  • For the mayor’s press release, CLICK HERE.
  • For video of the mayor’s announcement and Mr. Spotts’ remarks, CLICK HERE.
  • For a link to biographical information about Gregory Spotts, the Mayor’s nominee for SDOT Director, CLICK HERE.

Safety for Pedestrians and Bikes:  Tour of High-Risk Locations in South Seattle

Councilmember Pedersen joined South Seattle Councilmember Tammy Morales, leaders from the Seattle Department of Transportation, and advocates for safe streets.  They visited several locations as examples of dangerous intersections and arterials: 4th Ave South in SODO, the Lighthouse for the Blind, and the schools near Rainier Ave South & South Henderson Street.

Safety must be the priority for everyone using Seattle’s roads and, unfortunately, the first part of 2022 continues the disturbing national trend of unacceptably high numbers of traffic-related injuries and deaths, especially among pedestrians and people experiencing homelessness in South Seattle.

I wanted to thank Councilmember Morales and her team for organizing a visit earlier this month to South Seattle where, as Transportation Chair, I will continue to collaborate with her and our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to implement solutions that quickly prevent traffic collisions in high-risk areas where fatalities have occurred recently, especially among pedestrians. We visited several locations of recent and horrific collisions in South Seattle. As we heard in our Transportation Committee recently, the data demonstrate that South Seattle has suffered the brunt of traffic fatalities. I want to thank SDOT Director Kristen Simpson and the Mayor’s Office for joining us at these physical locations of recent traffic collisions – tragedies that have made it more challenging to reach the City’s goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.

Even though I represent Northeast Seattle, I serve as the chair of the Transportation Committee which views transportation systems citywide and, in some cases, regionally. Data shows that South Seattle suffers the most traffic-related fatalities and so I’d like to see more resources devoted there to increase safety.

While we have lowered speed limits and increased crosswalks, I believe we must also respond to the drop in police traffic enforcement by increasing use of speed cameras and fines based on each individual’s ability to pay. And we must reduce the traffic-related harms to people experiencing homelessness by having City departments re-double efforts to bring more people inside faster. While I’m hopeful the additional investments this City Council has directed to South Seattle for pedestrian safety will reduce injuries — once SDOT finishes those projects — initial 2022 data sounds the alarm. We are hoping the executive’s annual budget proposal, which the Council expects to see in 10 weeks, will include increased investments for pedestrian and bike safety in South Seattle and throughout our City. We cannot wait for a potential renewal of the $900 million Move Seattle property tax — voters might not even pass that measure, if they feel we have not kept the promises of the 2015 program and if their property taxes and rents are getting too high from the multitude of City government property tax increases. We need to address safety now within our existing budget – both pedestrian safety and bridge safety now — and we can do that by issuing bonds, if needed.

During the next week, SDOT attended the Seattle Freight Advisory Board to describe some potential safety improvements to one of these dangerous locations. For the Seattle Times article regarding improvements proposed for 4th Avenue S. near S. Massachusetts Street and S. Holgate Street in SODO, CLICK HERE.

  • For remarks from Councilmember Morales (South Seattle) and me, CLICK HERE.
  • For the June 21, 2022 Vision Zero presentation by SDOT, CLICK HERE.
  • For SDOT’s Vision Zero website, CLICK HERE.
  • For SDOT’s latest ad campaign to encourage drivers to slow down, CLICK HERE.

Ship Canal Water Quality Project update

Our committee received an update from Seattle Public Utilities on the Ship Canal Water Quality Project. As discussed earlier in our newsletters, this is a mega project that will improve our environment with a nearly 3-mile underground system to store polluted stormwater until it can be treated. So far, it’s on time and on budget, but the “confidence” in the budget estimate has dropped slightly due to inflationary pressures, the big boulder the drill ran into (but the drill won), and the proportion of construction contracts that still need to be finalized. Due to the size of the project, it’s already on the City Council’s “Watch List,” even though there are no substantive problems. In other words, we’re keeping a close eye on it.

  • For the presentation at our Committee, CLICK HERE.
  • For the project’s website and to sign up for special updates, CLICK HERE.

Seattle City Light: Why I Voted Against Increasing Your Bills Further

The Resolution from Seattle City Light that the City Council approved last year (Resolution 32007) planned the electricity rates to increase by 3.8% in 2023 and by another 3.8% in 2024. Unfortunately, City Light’s Resolution before us earlier this month (Resolution 32056) asked the Council to boost those rate increases more sharply: 4.5% in 2023 and by another 4.5% in 2024. While the average of increases Council has approved over a six-year period may appear steady, that’s only because future increases are typically estimates on the lower end (which brings down the average) — but when we actually get to those future years and you’re paying those bills, the actual rates in those years end up being higher.

While I appreciate all the hard work that City Light does and I appreciate the thoughtful rationale for that utility’s proposal, I voted No on that additional rate increase, which is consistent with my previous concerns regarding rate increases.

An increase from 3.8% to 4.5% for Seattle City Light calculates to about $10 million in additional annual revenue. While City Light is absorbing some of the inflationary costs, I believe a utility with a budget of over $1 billon could have absorbed the entire increase, rather than passing it onto ratepayers.  This is important because utility rates are regressive and a government agency’s challenges with inflation or labor costs should not automatically become the burden of city residents and small businesses who are dealing with their own inflationary pressures. In addition, Northeast Seattle has experienced several electrical outages over the past couple of years and it’s not clear to me what the Strategic Plan will do differently to reduce outages, especially in light of the higher than expected rate increases. The Resolution passed anyway by a vote of 8 to 1.

Going forward, and during our review of the proposed City budget this Fall, I’m hoping to see all City agencies enhancing efforts to manage their costs, so that regressive taxes or fees are not automatically passed along to you. Unfortunately, King County Wastewater Treatment Division has been planning to pass along increased costs to us, which will show up on the bills from our other City-owned utility, Seattle Public Utilities. I will continue to raise concerns to King County officials about those costs as well, so that we can minimize the financial impact to residents and businesses throughout the region.


PUBLIC HEALTH and EDUCATION

Beat the Heat: Cooling Centers and Trees

Earlier this week, the temperature in Seattle climbed above 90 degrees for several days, a hot reminder of climate change and our need to stay cool, especially for the most vulnerable in our city. At my office’s request, the City’s Parks Department and Office of Emergency Management made sure Building 406 at Magnuson Park (formerly known as “The Brig”) is available as a cooling center as we still await the reopening of community centers in the area. Last fall, I secured funding for a cooling center at the Northeast branch of the Seattle Library and so I look forward to the Harrell Administration, City Budget Office, and library leadership proceeding expeditiously to upgrade that facility before the next unbearable heat wave.

The heat waves reinforce the urgency of passing legislation to protect our City’s dwindling tree canopy because trees help to cool communities and homes. The legislation we crafted to register tree cutters / arborists was just a small, first step. To more systematically protect our urban forest, we need to overhaul the weak comprehensive bill introduced by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection (SDCI) written during the Durkan Administration. For more on protecting trees, CLICK HERE.

For a Seattle Times article, “How to stay cool,” CLICK HERE.

For a current (July 2022) list of cooling centers from your City government including some libraries and some community centers, CLICK HERE.

Here is some information from Seattle-King County Public Health:

Enrollment Open for Seattle Preschool Program (SPP)

Parents in Seattle with 3- or 4-year-olds can apply now for the Seattle Preschool Program (SPP) 2022-2023 school year. SPP helps prepare children, regardless of income, to enter kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed. Research shows that children with high-quality early learning experiences have better academic and life outcomes; they’re more likely to have better grades, graduate, attend college, get a job, have higher lifetime wages, and have better mental and physical health.

  • SPP is an investment in Seattle’s future, and we want as many families as possible to take advantage of the opportunity. Visit seattle.gov/applySPP for information on programs and to apply.
  • Families who need in-language support to assist with the application process can call DEEL at 206-386-1050 or email preschool@seattle.gov.
  • SPP provides full day programming (six hours), with extended-day care available at some sites.
  • Classrooms have nationally recognized curricula, and some sites have specialized programs, including dual-language programs and inclusive classrooms for children with disabilities.
  • Tuition is calculated on a sliding scale based on household income and family size; historically, most children qualify for free tuition.
  • SPP is offered in partnership with community-based programs, family child care hubs, and Seattle Public Schools. Program sites are located throughout the city.
  • SPP has received national recognition as one of the best public preschool programs in the United States by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for five years running!

In 2013-2014, I was proud to collaborate with so many professionals to develop this evidence-based program under the leadership of Tim Burgess, approved by voters as a pilot program in November 2014, and greatly expanded by voters in November 2018. Rigorously evaluating this early learning program every year for its adherence to evidence-based (proven to work) parameters is the key to making sure preschoolers receive the high-quality, early learning promised to voters — because only high-quality benefits the kids.

 

COVID Case Update:

For the latest official data from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE or use this website: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx

(This snapshot was as of July 26, 2022 for the city of Seattle.)

  • To register to receive the vaccine or booster in Seattle, CLICK HERE. Information is also available in Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • For the most recent information on combating COVID from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE.
  • If you need language interpretation, help finding a vaccination or testing site, or ADA accommodation, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • For the latest COVID pandemic coverage from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Ways to Provide Input

City Council Meetings on the Internet

Listening: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or phone by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen on your phone by calling 253-215-8782.

NEW IN 2022:  Our City Council meetings moved to Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. Even after we return to in-person meetings, the public will still be able to call in their comments at City Council meetings – this is an important upgrade for public input. I would have supported moving our main Council meeting to the evenings to make it easier for people with day jobs to visit us, but the technological upgrades to enable calling in will still enable more of the public to participate even with meetings remaining in the daytime.  We also updated our City Council Rules and parliamentary procedures in hopes of improving the efficiency of the City Council, including enabling Councilmembers to focus their work on city government business rather than international affairs.

Commenting: You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. Now you can also phone in to the meeting to speak directly to the Council live. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.

 

Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen

I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Webex. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. I hope to return to in-person office hours Friday afternoons before the end of the summer, probably at the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center so that we are more centrally located and within walking distance of light rail and additional bus lines.  You can also just send an e-mail to alex.pedersen@seattle.gov

For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.

We are getting through this together, Seattle!

With gratitude,

 

 

 

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


Disappointing Decision by Kroger Company to Shut Down 2 Seattle QFC Stores; Future Plans for Key Wedgwood Site

July 28th, 2022

AUGUST 2, 2022 UPDATE: Council Ends Extra COVID-era Hazard Pay for Seattle Grocery Workers

While the grocery worker hazard pay requirement would have ended whenever the Mayor Harrell ends the Civil Emergency declared back in March 2020 at the outset of the COVID pandemic, I appreciated the mayor sending to the Council legislation (Council Bill 120372) to end the extra hazard pay. Seattle has been requiring mid-size and large grocers to pay $4/hour extra to its frontline workers since the first quarter of 2021. While I supported that original hazard pay, its past time to end it (see January 25, 2022 blog post for key reasons). Consistent with my votes in December 2021 and January 2022, I voted to end this unique hazard pay and, this time, I was joined by a majority of my colleagues. The hazard pay requirement will end 30 days after the Mayor signs his bill (i.e. in September of this year).


JULY 29, 2022 UPDATE: Redevelopment Plans for Wedgwood Shopping Center

As mentioned in the June 29, 2022 edition of the Daily Journal of Commerce and discussed recently at the Wedgwood Community Council, the Wedgwood shopping center on the southeast corner of 35th Ave NE and 85th Street (you know — home to the Broiler and Van Gough Coffee) is likely to be redeveloped. Normally, I would not comment on a potential purchase in the middle of its due diligence period, but it was already reported in the media — so here’s an excerpt from the article:

The 2-acre North Seattle property, owned by an area family, hasn’t traded in decades…Now, with architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz, prospective buyer Security Properties has filed an early redevelopment plan. The proposal hasn’t yet entered design review. It describes a midrise apartment building with 280 units over retail/commercial space. The latter would have 34,500 square feet for an unnamed grocer on the north corner, at North 85th Street. On the south corner, North 82nd Street, would be another 14,000 square feet of commercial space. Five stories seems likely for a site that’s zoned up to 55 feet. Security Properties has ample experience with similar midrise projects like the planned Magnolia Albertsons redo, and past Fremont PCC and apartments…Security Properties says it would like to retain current tenants in the new development.”

I reached out to Security Properties to encourage them to conduct a robust community engagement process. Security Properties is a highly experienced developer/owner, based in Seattle, but with a national footprint owning an array of multifamily housing and mixed-use developments. They have already reached out to the existing commercial tenants there and want to bring back a grocery store if they proceed to redevelop that important site.

If you want to stay up to speed on this development and/or provide input, I recommend participating in the Wedgwood Community Council: https://www.wedgwoodcc.org/getinvolved/


JANUARY 25, 2022 UPDATE: Voting to Overturn Mayor’s veto

The legislative journey of Seattle’s ordinance adopted a year ago (January 2021) to require owners of grocery stores in Seattle to pay their workers hazard pay of an additional $4 per hour continues:  just last month, the City Council voted 8 to 0 to sunset those additional payments, but former Mayor Durkan surprisingly vetoed Council’s reasonable sunset bill as she departed office. Then, this week, a majority of the Council reversed itself by voting to sustain (accept) her veto, citing various reasons such as the uncertain future of the coronavirus.  

While I voted for the original bill to support Seattle grocery workers with hazard pay AND I supported efforts to keep it in place for a full year due to the “delta” variant of the coronavirus, I was torn about whether to continue those payments into 2022.  Several of my colleagues made reasonable points to uphold Mayor Durkan’s decision.  Ultimately, however, I decided to be consistent with my December 2021 vote and so I voted to override Durkan’s veto so that the hazard pay requirements could sunset in 30 days. But only our newly elected Councilmember Sara Nelson and I voted to override, so the special hazard pay for just grocery workers will continue for an unknown amount of time – until Mayor Harrell ends the official civil emergency, unless another bill is introduced to sunset it sooner. (One of the problems with using the civil emergency date for an end date for relief measures is our budget officials may want us to keep the civil emergency orders in place even after the public health concerns have subsided so as to ensure maximum reimbursement from the federal government on virus-related programs.)  

For Seattle Times coverage of my Council colleagues voting to sustain (keep) former Mayor Durkan’s veto, CLICK HERE.

I want to acknowledge that grocery workers — and workers in numerous industries that bravely serve Seattle every day — should ideally be paid more and be able to work the quantity of hours they need. A key question for me is, when is it a city government’s role to intervene and require business owners to pay above their current compensation? The pandemic has spurred the creation and expansion of many relief programs funded by several different sources (the best from the federal government which does not need to balance its budget) — and I have supported nearly all these interventions because a pandemic is an extraordinary crisis warranting extraordinary responses.  

Several constituents voiced concern with my original vote in January 2021 to support grocery workers after the Cincinnati-based Kroger company announced the closing of its beloved QFC grocery store in Wedgwood. That was a difficult vote, but I stand by the decision. Tellingly, as soon as the Council sunset the hazard pay in December 2021, QFC declined to reopen that store, emphasizing their claim that the hazard pay merely accelerated their decision to close an underperforming store.  I expressed my disappointment with Kroger, both when they closed the store and when they refused to reopen. Then Mayor Durkan, without consulting the City Council, ended up vetoing the sunset bill at the last minute, thereby keeping hazard pay in place.   

Reasons to Phase Out Hazard Pay for Grocery Workers:

  • Seattle has already imposed this special hazard pay for a year. 
  • The supplemental pay would end not immediately, but rather after a 30-day notice period. 
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said this past Sunday, things “look like they’re going in the right direction right now.” https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/fauci-says-u-s-omicron-outbreak-going-in-the-right-direction/  This week, BOTH the University of Washington and Seattle University announced a return to in-person classes. For the current trends of COVID cases and hospitalizations, as reported by King County Public Health, CLICK HERE.  
  • Beyond the government-imposed minimum wage and sick leave policies, workers and their employers should typically negotiate compensation and benefits without a local government dictating what it must be. The local union United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW, Local 21) is effective throughout Washington State in advocating for the grocery workers they represent, in organizing workers who may want to form a union, and in influencing many elected officials.  
  • Temporary hazard pay for grocery workers already ended months ago in all 35 California jurisdictions that originally required it and it has also ended in about half of the Washington State jurisdictions that required it: Bainbridge Island, Federal Way and the unincorporated areas of King County and Snohomish County. (Bellingham, Burien, Edmonds, and Olympia still require it.) 
  • Ending the hazard pay in Seattle could make it more financially feasible for other stores to move into the Wedgwood location and to open new stores throughout Seattle. 
  • As we strive to emerge from the COVID pandemic, I believe it may be time to transition away from the emergency measures we put into place over the past two years, unless such measures are required by public health authorities or funded by the federal government.   
  • Let’s continue to encourage requirements for vaccinations, boosters, the wearing of masks, and other preventative measures strongly recommended by public health authorities. 

Even though the outgoing Mayor kept this intervention in place, her veto was over a month ago and her veto letter left open the opportunity to sunset it soon.  Unless the public health conditions decline substantially, I hope the new Mayor will support phasing out this and other extraordinary interventions that we all supported during the past two years of the pandemic, unless the measures are required by public health authorities or the funding is provided by the federal government.   


DECEMBER 22, 2021 UPDATE:

For Seattle Times article “Mayor Jenny Durkan will use veto to keep hazard pay in place for Seattle grocery workers,” CLICK HERE.


DECEMBER 17, 2021 UPDATE:

For Seattle Times article “QFC has no plans to reopen Wedgwood store, despite repeal of city law that prompted closure,” CLICK HERE.


DECEMBER 13, 2021 UPDATE:

Today the Seattle City Council passed Council Bill 120119 with an 8 to 0 vote to repeal grocery worker hazard pay. As is standard with our legislation, this will go into effect 30 days after the Mayor signs it and she’s expected to sign it within the next 10 days. To read the actual bill that we adopted, CLICK HERE. In addition to encouraging other grocery store companies to consider that location over the past few months, today I reached out again to both QFC and to the owner of the shopping center.


JULY 26, AUGUST 9, SEPTEMBER 13, 2021 UPDATE: Legislation to Repeal Hazard Pay Held Due to Delta Variant

While the Seattle City Council’s Finance Committee on July 9, 2021 recommended the repeal of the temporary grocery hazard pay, the recent surge of the “Delta variant” of the coronavirus persuaded all Councilmembers to hold the legislation until more information could be obtained. For the legislative history, CLICK HERE.


JUNE 24, UPDATE:

City Council will Reconsider Grocery Worker Hazard Pay in July

When City Council passed temporary hazard pay for grocery store workers of an additional $4/hour in January, there were tentative plans for reconsidering the ordinance based on public health indicators in a few months. The original Council Bill stated, “City Council intends to consider modifying or eliminating hazard pay requirements after four or months of implementation and review of the current health, safety, and economic risks of frontline work during the COVID-19 emergency.”  I’m pleased to report that the Finance Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mosqueda, followed through and hosted a panel to revisit the ordinance earlier this month.

Based primarily on safety data and the experiences of grocery workers, the committee determined that it is time to consider ending hazard pay. I want to thank the ordinance’s sponsor Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, representatives of the employers (grocery store owners), and the grocery workers union UFCW Local 21 for taking the time to have an in-depth discussion. CLICK HERE to take a look at the presentation from Seattle-King County Public Health.

Councilmember Mosqueda plans to have legislation to sunset hazard pay in the Finance Committee on July 9, 2021.

Regarding the beloved QFC store that the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company decided to close in the Wedgwood neighborhood at 35th Ave NE and NE 85th Street, I continue to encourage grocers to expand to that location.


APRIL 22, 2021 UPDATE:

photo courtesy of community leader Gabe Galanda

I was invited by the event organizers to participate in a Thank You and Farewell for the workers, and here are my prepared remarks:

  • I want to thank the grocery workers for serving the community for so many years — and especially during this hazardous time during the COVID pandemic.
  • I want to thank the community leaders who organized this thoughtful funding campaign for the workers in addition to the ongoing support from their union.
  • Today’s event is another reminder of how much the community cares about its neighborhood businesses.
  • As we emerge from the COVID pandemic, we need to make sure every neighborhood has businesses that not only thrive, but also care about the community, too. 
  • Thank you, everyone, for being here today.

I think we can agree we were all disappointed by the Kroger company’s decision to shut down the wonderful grocery store. But that out-of-state company made their decision. Blaming their decision on a temporary City Hall law that benefits workers during COVID doesn’t hold water because that corporation is sitting on $2 billion in cash – and that’s on top of the substantial profits they earned in 2020.

On a positive note, I spoke to QFC earlier this week and they confirmed that there are no layoffs — all the workers who wanted to stay with QFC have a transfer already lined up with no loss in benefits.

I think Kroger’s made a bad business decision to leave this amazing community with its generous customer base and I look forward to welcoming a new store with open arms.

I personally contacted several different grocery store owners to pitch the neighborhood to them.  I’m also in contact with the owner of this entire shopping center so he knows that I’m available to help to attract a new anchor tenant here.  Wedgwood is wonderful and it’s open for business! Also check out the other fantastic small businesses near this location: The Wedgwood BroilerVan Gogh Coffeehouse, Wedgwood Hair Studio, Tropical Berry, Blue Poppy Floral, and Wedgwood Ale House.  

For Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.


APRIL 9, 2021 UPDATE: As reported by KUOW News:

“Bare shelves have appeared at two Seattle grocery stores slated for closure on April 24. QFC said it is closing the stores in part because of Seattle’s $4-an-hour “hazard pay” ordinance.

“Hey, hey QFC! Share your profits, stop the greed!” members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union shouted Thursday as they waved signs outside one of the closing stores, located in the Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle…

QFC spokesperson Tiffany Sanders said in a statement that the company is now “meeting with each associate at the two affected stores to help them transition into a new position at one of our other locations if possible.”

Cook said she doesn’t know where she’s going yet. But even with this stress, she said getting hazard pay during the pandemic has still been “a major win” and she has no regrets.

“It was the one time ever when I’ve worked in a retail job where I felt like we were important for society,” she said, adding that the extra pay allowed people to take more time off to reduce their risk of getting Covid.

Most grocers granted $2-an-hour hazard pay last April and May. Then this past February, Seattle mandated $4-an-hour hazard pay for frontline grocery workers for the duration of the pandemic.

QFC said Seattle’s ordinance increased operating costs at stores by an average of 22%, which was “financially unsustainable” at the two locations. QFC’s parent company Kroger is closing stores where hazard pay was enacted in California as well.

Sanders said QFC is hosting vaccination clinics for staff, and awarding $100 to every employee who receives it. She said, “We continue to believe that vaccinations — not extra pay — are the surest way to keep our stores safe for all who work and visit.”

For a link to the KUOW article, CLICK HERE.


MARCH 25, 2021 UPDATE (from our newsletter):

A federal judge tossed out the lawsuit by the grocery industry, which attempted to block Seattle’s COVID-era requirement to pay $4 an hour in hazard pay to frontline grocery workers. (Council Bill 119990 is now Ordinance 126274 and it went into effect February 3, 2021.) For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE. (Note: King County followed Seattle and passed a nearly identical law for unincorporated areas.) While Seattle’s win in court confirms the legal authorization for the city government’s relief requirements for low-wage grocery workers, it does not help to keep open the beloved QFC that Kroger company has cynically vowed to shutter on April 24. My focus continues in two areas:  (1) do whatever I can as the District City Councilmember to help secure a good grocery or similar store in that location (on the border of District 4 and District 5) and (2) make sure City Hall honors its promise “to consider modifying or eliminating hazard pay requirements after four [sic] months of implementation and review of the current health, safety, and economic risks of frontline work during the COVID-19 emergency,” as stated by the temporary, new law (which I voted for). We need to make sure the sponsors of the legislation keep their word to conduct that review and we need to speed vaccines to all front-line workers, including grocery workers — who the Governor recently prioritized.  If City Hall does not eventually phase out or sunset new taxes or regulatory changes pitched to
the public as “necessary due to COVID,” then I believe what credibility exists between City Hall and the public will erode.

The QFC will remain open at least through April 24 and, while not a permanent substitute for those shopping in person, nearby grocery stores include Safeway on 35th Avenue NE at NE 75th Street, the larger University Village QFC store, the PCC Market on 40th Avenue NE and NE 65th Street, and the Metropolitan Market at 5250 40th Avenue NE. The Traders Joe’s in the University District (5555 Roosevelt Way NE) is probably too far away for most Wedgwood residents, though fans of that store will often go the extra mile.

In addition to support from the grocery workers labor union (UFCW, Local 21), I’d like to thank the community for creating a “Go Fund Me” effort with 100% to benefit the grocery workers, especially those who are not able to be transferred to other QFC stores in the area.  At the same time, I would hope that Kroger company updates its plans and decides to stay for at least the rest of its long-term lease at the current site.

Speaking of Wedgwood, the Wedgwood Community Council has been back in business for the past few months. My office attended their most recently monthly meeting on March 2 (they meet on the first Tuesday of each month). For the WCC’s website and new blog posts, CLICK HERE.


MARCH 9, 2021 UPDATE:

The King County Council followed Seattle’s lead and passed a nearly identical hazard pay increase of $4 an hour for frontline grocery workers within the unincorporated areas of the county. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.

According to the Seattle Times, County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who represents the entire Wedgwood neighborhood, sponsored the legislation to acknowledge that grocery workers are “essential to the public function of getting food into people’s hands and homes,” he said at the bill’s introduction last month. Hazard pay was given to grocery store employees at the beginning of the pandemic but was inexplicably cut off, Dembowski said: “The pay went away, but the pandemic didn’t and the risk didn’t.” “I think that it’s the right thing to do for people who are going above and beyond the regular call of duty,” Dembowski said.


FEBRUARY 16, 2021 (original post):

I was very disappointed by the decision of the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company to shut down on April 24 two of their 15 QFC stores in Seattle, including the beloved QFC in Wedgwood.

As soon as I learned of this (February 16), I called Corporate Affairs for Kroger/QFC to ask if they would reconsider. They confirmed that both stores had been already underperforming financially. While Kroger’s November 2020 financial statements show the company sitting on over $2 billion in cash and larger chain stores typically have the “economies of scale” to handle temporary financial fluctuations, Kroger seeks to have each store stand on its own profits, which is difficult because grocers typically operate with thin margins. Despite the “cause and effect” framing by some local media outlets, the City Council’s recent decision to require temporary hazard pay to frontline grocery workers during the rest of the COVID pandemic was not the cause of the closures, but rather solidified and potentially sped up the inevitable.

Kroger/QFC appreciated my reaching out and they are well aware of my ongoing efforts to provide a positive business environment for long-term employers in our city, including my votes against new payroll tax proposals during this recession and my recent economic strategy for an inclusive recovery. We discussed the extraordinary stress and uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic, which makes our legislative votes as well as decisions by business owners more difficult and complex.

I offered to do whatever I could to help to retain the store and/or to have it reconstituted in some form.  I also connected with the store manager to offer any assistance that we can provide and to the union leaders representing the workers at both stores to ensure any transition to new workplaces within the Kroger family of companies happens as smoothly as possible. (I had already connected with the business community – as well as with labor leaders — prior to my vote on this temporary measure).

I realize this detailed and nuanced explanation from an elected official makes no difference if a beloved store closes in our neighborhood (I often shop at that QFC, too!) and so let me say, I will do whatever I can as the District City Councilmember to help secure a good grocery store there. (The store is located in District 4 at the border of District 5.)

The QFC will remain open at least through April 24 and, while not a permanent substitute for those shopping in person, nearby grocery stores include Safeway on 35th Avenue NE at NE 75th Street (and next to University Village), the larger University Village QFC store, the PCC Market on 40th Avenue NE and NE 65th Street, and the Metropolitan Market at 5250 40th Avenue NE. The Traders Joe’s in the University District (5555 Roosevelt Way NE) is probably too far away for most Wedgwood residents, though fans of that store will often go the extra mile.

While this particular bill felt overly rushed, the pandemic has thrust us into a fluid and extraordinary emergency situation and I was able to get answers to the following key questions as I considered how to vote on the proposal:

  • Is it a temporary measure? YES. (The bill calls for a review within 4 months. We need to make sure the bill sponsors keep their word to conduct that review and we need to speed vaccines to all front-line workers, including grocery workers.)
  • Is it providing relief to frontline workers during COVID? YES
  • Do my constituents generally support temporary measures providing relief to frontline workers during COVID? YES.
  • Does it exempt struggling small businesses? YES.
  • Would it impact primarily those businesses headquartered outside of Seattle? YES, though PCC and other locals are impacted.
  • Have I consulted stakeholders (in this case, the business community and the labor union)? YES, though I wish I had more time to have deeper conversations.
  • Did it pass review by our City Council’s Central Staff Analysts? YES.
  • Did Mayor Durkan signal early support for the bill? YES.
  • Does the final bill contain a provision that requires review of the impact after a few months? YES.

For additional context, here are the remarks made last month when this temporary COVID relief measure passed:

Councilmember Pedersen remarks, January 25, 2021 when the bill passed unanimously after the Mayor confirmed she supported it and would sign it: “After rapidly reviewing and researching this proposed ordinance to have larger grocery stores boost the pay of their frontline workers during the pandemic, I have decided to support it.  I consulted with both labor and employers.  I personally want to acknowledge that I think this legislation moved very fast. To hear the legislation at a Friday Committee and then adopt it on Monday can make it difficult for everyone to review it thoroughly. At the same time, I recognize we are in the midst of an public health and economic emergency and, therefore, would not want to further delay the temporary pay boost these workers should be receiving for the hazards they are facing until both shots of the vaccine are administered to everyone.  I will be voting Yes today. Thank you.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan remarks, January 29, 2021: “A disproportionate number of people of color are essential workers, and Seattle must continue to lead the way to provide relief and respect to those that have served our community throughout this pandemic. Grocery store workers have continued to work every day of this challenging time and I am glad we are finally able to recognize and compensate the effort that has kept stores open and communities fed over the past year.”

MORE INFO:

  • For the February 16, 2021 Seattle Times article about Kroger’s announcement to close by April 24 the two QFC stores (Capitol Hill and Wedgwood), CLICK HERE.
  • For statements from the bill’s sponsors in reaction to Kroger’s announcement on February 16, 2021, CLICK HERE and HERE.
  • For Mayor Durkan’s January 29, 2021 press release celebrating the passage of Council’s bill which would go into effect February 3, 2021, CLICK HERE.
  • For a link to Council Bill 119990, the “Grocery Employee Hazard Pay Ordinance,” which the Council adopted January 25, 2021 CLICK HERE.
  • For some historical perspective, check out this 2012 piece called “Groceries and Growth in Wedgwood” by the blog called Wedgwood in Seattle History: CLICK HERE.


June busting out with pride and no budget deficit

June 30th, 2022

Friends and Neighbors,

Pride was overflowing in Seattle this past weekend as thousands were reminded of how fantastic our city can be. People were happy to be outside in the sunshine during the Seattle Pride Parade, once again enjoying the heart of their city — from City Hall to the Space Needle. Even as a District Councilmember representing Northeast Seattle, I recognize our downtown as a vital provider of jobs, generator of tax revenue, and center stage for citywide activities that welcome and benefit the entire city. It was a beautiful day to celebrate Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community. In the wake of devastating U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the other Washington, the Seattle Pride Parade helped to reaffirm how we are better as a society when we work together to solve problems and protect each other’s rights and safety.

Mayor Bruce Harrell leads our city government team at the Seattle Pride Parade this past weekend. Councilmember Pedersen marches along in solidarity, with his new shorts unofficially proclaiming the start of summer in Seattle.

In this month’s newsletter


DISTRICT 4

Seeking Funds to Save Archives

Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen (left) accompanies Shayna and Ben from the team of U.S. Senator Patty Murray on a tour of the National Archives Building on Sand Point Way NE in our City Council District 4, June 17, 2022. Senator Murray is seeking $98 million in federal funds to keep these precious records in the Seattle area. (The buttons we received from the local archivists proclaim, “You don’t have to go to Washington D.C. to visit the National Archives” (photo courtesy of the City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations).

It was a team effort among local journalists, research advocates, tribal government leaders as well as City of Seattle, State of Washington, and U.S. congressional leaders to save the precious national archives facility in Northeast Seattle from a sudden sale by federal agencies. That’s providing time to develop a plan to keep these irreplaceable historical records in the Puget Sound region.

Many have asked, what’s next? I’m happy to report that U.S. Senator Patty Murray has answered that question in a big, positive way by recently requesting up to $98 million through the “congressional directed spending process” (i.e. the newly reformed process of “earmarking” federal tax dollars directly to a project in an elected official’s jurisdiction, rather than requiring a federal agency to conduct a competitive application process). Senator Murray’s request is entitled, “NARA Sand Point Facility: To construct a new NARA facility in Seattle, Washington.” (NARA stands for National Archives & Records Administration.) There are no details yet, presumably to provide the Senator with flexibility on options. Moreover, the request needs to survive the political appropriations process that occurs in Washington, D.C. This appears to be Senator Murray’s largest ask from among her more than 150 earmark requests. This demonstrates not only the immense expense of such a capital construction / reconstruction project but also Senator Murray’s commitment to the local preservation effort, considering the persity of stakeholders that came together to “save” the archives.

Earlier this month, I accompanied key staff of Senator Patty Murray’s Seattle and D.C. offices and our City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations (OIR) for an extensive tour of the National Archives building, which is located in District 4 on Sand Point Way NE. The tour of the warehouse areas with countless boxes piled to the ceiling reinforced the extent and value of these historical records as well as the deteriorating physical condition of the existing facility that we rely on to protect these documents. The funds sought by Senator Murray could be used to rebuild on the existing site or to build on another site in the Seattle area. Either way, the records would be preserved locally rather than making Northwest tribal governments, researchers, and others travel thousands of extra miles to view the historical records, which also include irreplaceable information about treaties, land ownership rights, and personal records. (Note: digitizing these files would take over a decade and would not include important contextual information that archivists place alongside the documents for greater understanding of their significance.)

  • For a link to the funding “earmarks” requested by U.S. Senator Patty Murray, CLICK HERE.
  • For details on our ongoing efforts to keep the archives in the Seattle area, CLICK HERE.

 

Funds Elevate Historic University Heights Building

Earlier this month, I joined State Representatives Gerry Pollet and Frank Chopp as well as our City’s Budget Chair Councilmember Mosqueda in the heart of the University District to celebrate improved equity and access that will be possible with the upcoming installation of a new elevator at the historic University Heights building. The building symbolizes community and offers childcare, artistic performances, educational opportunities, services for people experiencing homelessness, and more. The nonprofit that manages the building is finalizing its fundraising efforts which already includes money from the City Hall.  In addition to their efforts to raise money for the forthcoming ADA-compliant elevator, my office secured funding to upgrade their fire alarm system to make sure the childcare facility qualifies for its State license. The uplifting event featured toddlers dancing and teenagers singing and an impressive announcement that Congresswoman Jayapal is pursuing $4.1 million in additional funding for physical improvements to the building.  U Heights houses 11 organizations that serve the local community. Capital upgrades will help facilitate more than 215,000 annual visits, continue critical human services, and arts and culture programs.

 

15th Avenue Northeast Repaving Finally Done!

(photo by Alex Pedersen, 6/28/2022)

The repairing, repaving, and restriping of 15th Avenue NE from Lake City Way to the U District is finally done – nine months late.  Thanks to so many District 4 residents for putting up with the bumps and detours and interruptions (including the concrete strike). The good news is that the positive vision is implemented: to share the road and connect more modes of travel to the light rail stations and Roosevelt High School (“safe routes to school”), while preserving some street parking at key spots. And, yes, I support these bike lanes. (Before the pandemic, I went door-to-door to ask 15th Ave NE residents their views on the proposed bike lanes there and a majority were fine with them.) This project was wisely preceded by a seismic upgrade to the aging Cowen Park Bridge. Ideally, SDOT would take this same approach by first completing a seismic upgrade of the 100-year old University Bridge when expanding the heavy use of that aging multimodal bridge with the planned boosting of bus lines down Roosevelt Way to Eastlake Ave.

 

101.1 FM: Radio Show “The Bridge,” with former CMs Jean Godden and Sue Donaldson

Councilmember Pedersen was honored to spend radio time with two living legends of Seattle City Council, Jean Godden and Sue Donaldson.

Last week, I visited the recording studio for 101.1 FM Radio, which is located at the entrance of Magnuson Park in District 4. Former Councilmembers Jean Godden and Sue Donaldson interviewed me for their radio show which has a great title – it’s called “The Bridge.”  I answered questions about the City budget, public safety, and, of course, bridges. 101.1 FM radio has a fun variety of music and information – broadcast widely from its home in Magnuson Park, so be sure to tune in.

  • Links to “The Bridge” radio show, CLICK HERE.
  • Links to 101.1 FM, CLICK HERE.
  • More about S.P.A.C.E. programs, with an emphasis on local art, CLICK HERE.

 

Community Gardens in District 4: What does that P stand for in “P-Patch”?

Councilmember Pedersen at the celebration for the growing “P-Patch” community garden at Magnuson Park, June 24, 2022.

Did you know that Seattle’s first official community garden grew here in District 4? That community garden (or “P-Patch” as we refer to it in Seattle), still thrives adjacent to University Prep School and Temple Beth Am on 25th Avenue NE at NE 80th Street.

Do you know what the “P” stands for in P-Patch? It turns out, it’s not peas, pumpkins, or pomegranates, but rather Picardo — for the small Picardo Family Farm that once flourished here between the Ravenna and Wedgwood neighborhoods. Community gardens, which started in Seattle in the 1970’s, span the globe and have been ideal to reclaim open green space in often neglected areas to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for those in need.  But the volunteer gardeners, like the green thumbs at the 3-acre Magnuson Park P-Patch I visited for their celebration last week, will tell you it’s the community connections that grow the deepest roots among these garden plots. Each winter, my parents made me turn over the dirt to prep their small garden which rewarded us later with strawberries and corn in the summertime.

At the P-Patch celebration in Magnuson Park (on your left when heading to the dog park), I was joined by Greg Wong, the new Director of the Department of Neighborhoods (DON). (The P-Patch program is administered by DON). The dedicated gardeners and community organizers spoke about the initial resistance to the garden, the challenges of getting funds, the importance of visionaries and City leaders who got it all started here and the countless hours or removing rocks and broken glass from the former Naval Station land to restore the soil for the garden. A 4-year old who attends the Denise Louie high-quality child care center in Magnuson Park offered to escort us to her garden plot so she could proudly show off her lavender, pink flowers, and worms. This P-Patch supplies fresh produce to food banks throughout North Seattle, such as the food pantry at Magnuson Park for the 850 low-income residents there and for the food banks in the U District and Lake City.

  • To sign up for a small garden plot, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Department of Neighborhoods website with a map of the nearly 90 P-Patches in Seattle, CLICK HERE.

 

Roosevelt High School Ultimate Frisbee Team: 2022 State Champs!

With the end of the school year, students and parents could reflect on how so many people re-started their participation in sports, drama, music, and so many other activities. With so many accomplishments from the schools in Northeast Seattle, here is just one of the noteworthy sporting events to celebrate: Roosevelt High’s 2022 State Champs for Ultimate Frisbee. (photo from DiscNW).


ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

Mayor’s “Homelessness Action Plan” with Dashboards

PLAN: Just four weeks ago, Mayor Harrell put forward his plan to reduce homelessness, which relies heavily on more active engagement with illegal encampments and supporting the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

DASHBOARDS: The dashboards are helpful summaries that will increase transparency and accountability, although the map entitled “Verified Tent and RV Encampments” does not appear to reflect the reality on the ground. That’s another reason to report encampments using the Customer Service Bureau app rather than emailing because this dashboard does not track the number of emails. The Customer Service Bureau form has options such as “Unauthorized Encampments” and “Abandoned Vehicle” (CLICK HERE).  (The Customer Service Bureau database and the “Find It, Fix It” app/database are linked.)

BUDGET: Later that week, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority announced it is seeking up to $90 million ABOVE their existing budget.  Of that $90 million, approximately half of that ($50 million) is a high priority for KCRHA. If the city government were to share that priority cost with King County government (as it does with KCRHA’s baseline budget), then presumably, our City would need to provide another $25 million. As with many recent news articles, it’s reported that the City has a “deficit.”  Claiming there is a City budget deficit is not entirely accurate because that “deficit” is referring to only the City’s most well-known and flexible fund, the “General Fund.” But large portions of the new payroll tax revenue (JumpStart) — which has $43 million more than anticipated this year (2022) and is projected to have another $62 million more than the $233 million baseline for that revenue source in 2023 — can also be used to support people experiencing homelessness.

I look forward to seeing a detailed plan as to how KCRHA plans to enact their proposals. For example, one of their biggest requests is $5 million for “RV Safe Lots.” Like many constituents, I’ve felt some initial hesitation when remembering the City’s previous unsuccessful attempts to create RV Safe Lots. That said, I’m encouraged by KCRHA’s leadership and expertise. As we have seen from decades of attempts, reducing homelessness has no simple solution, which is why I’m encouraged by the creation of KCRHA and the work they do, because this regional problem requires a regional approach to help inpiduals meet their needs throughout King County, rather than concentrating all services within the City of Seattle.

  • To see Mayor’s Harrell’s Homelessness Action Plan website, CLICK HERE.
  • For the May 31, 2022 announcement of Mayor Harrell’s Homelessness Action Plan, CLICK HERE.

 

Addressing Derelict RVs: I appreciate the Harrell Administration’s recent efforts to intensify outreach to offer housing/services to occupants of illegally parked RVs, while also eventually enforcing parking laws. RV encampments have been prone to fire hazards and, in some cases, illicit activity. Moreover, the housing and service options offered provide great opportunity to help our neighbors get back on their feet.

 

Permanent Low-Income Housing:
District 4 is home to several low-income housing projects including Gossett Place and the Marion West projects built by LIHI, Abora Court built by Bellwether Housing, Mercy Magnuson built by Mercy Housing, the Solid Ground Housing at Magnuson Park, and Cedar Crossing built by both Bellwether and Mercy Housing (250 affordable apartment units opening on top of the new Roosevelt light rail station). In addition to these projects subsidized by the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing, there are projects operated by the Seattle Housing Authority. District 4 also has had substantial non-subsidized “naturally occurring affordable housing,” although much of that housing has, unfortunately, been demolished by real estate developers in areas that the City previously upzoned.

(A key purpose of Council Bill 120325, which I sponsored with Councilmember Tammy Morales, was to inventory the rents and affordability levels of all rental housing in Seattle so that we could avoid future demolitions of affordable housing. While the bill was unfortunately vetoed, you can write to Council@seattle.gov to encourage Councilmembers to override it July 5.)

The 30-unit Tiny Home Village I worked with LIHI and Sound Transit to site, fund, and build will eventually give way within the next couple of years to a permanent housing tower. To enable that to happen, the City will eventually need to approve a partial “vacation” of the alley that currently pides the parcel into two.  To enable that large low-income project to move forward to create dozens of new units, I may need to introduce a special Resolution next month.


PUBLIC SAFETY

# of Officers Decrease, Police Response Times Increase

In my newsletters in April and May, I detailed the alarming reduction of officers and detectives at SPD – losing nearly 1/3 of our frontline officers and detectives, even as our city’s population has gone in the opposite direction:  growing by 25% in the past 10 years — from 600,000 people in 2010 to nearly 750,000 people today.  Meanwhile, we still don’t see sufficient emergency response alternatives in place yet. So it should be no surprise that it’s taken police longer to respond to violent crimes in progress (Priority 1 calls) and they are frequently unable to show up for the lowest priority calls.

I appreciated the compromise Resolution and Council Bill that Council adopted by a 6 to 3 vote on May 24, 2022 — and we need to do more.

Here are the remarks I had prepared for the Public Safety & Human Services Committee on June 14, 2022:

“Many City leaders say they want to craft policies and budgets based on the data and yet, once again, we have this disturbing data in front of our eyes: the number of police officers is dangerously down and the response times are dangerously up and this confirms what we hear from our constituents.  I recently attended six different roll calls (at the start of their patrol shifts) and heard directly from public safety officers about their plummeting morale and lack of trust for several reasons: King County Jail often refuses to book the suspects SPD officers risk their lives to bring to justice and services, and City leaders aren’t doing enough to retain officers while other jurisdictions offer bonuses and simple gestures, such as allowing officers to take home their patrol cars and providing technology to keep them safe.  I opposed the 50% defunding push as misguided and I introduced legislation 9 months ago to retain police officers, but several colleagues rejected it. Recruiting new officers to replace the hundreds of officers departing Seattle is vital, but that takes a long time and ignores the experience of our existing officers, so I am hopeful Mayor Harrell’s public safety plan coming soon also includes immediate and robust retention actions to prevent Seattle from losing more officers.”

— City Councilmember Alex Pedersen

  • For the Response Time Report for 1st Quarter 2022, CLICK HERE.
  • To apply to be a Seattle police officer, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times May 20 editorial entitled, Mayor Harrell, stem the blue drain with Seattle Police Department hiring incentives,” CLICK HERE.

Inquest into the Police Killing of Charleena Lyles
The overdue inquest received an identification number from King County (517IQ9301), but she was a person, a mom, a District 4 resident, and much more: Charleena Lyles, who was killed by two Seattle Police officers in her Magnuson Park apartment 2017. I supported the more robust inquest process put in place by King County Executive Dow Constantine, which he reformed for additional transparency in researching presenting the facts of fatal police shootings. For some of the news coverage of the inquest, you can see the Seattle Times coverage HERE (June 21), HERE (June 22), HERE (June 28) and HERE (June 29).  This is a tragic example of why Seattle needs to launch alternative emergency responses for some behavioral health situations, which we urged at our Public Safety & Human Services Committee on June 28 (CLICK HERE for that Committee video).

Reforms Deepened Through New Police Contract with Lieutenants and Captains
The City Council and Mayor approved a new employment contract between the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) which represents the lieutenants and captains of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).  The contract creates a better system to address disciplinary appeals and takes other critical steps to strengthen accountability processes and improve public safety.  While it covers only the 80 lieutenants and captains of SPD, this contract historically serves as a model for the much bigger contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which represents frontline officers and sergeants.

I continue to believe that the key to deeper and sustainable reforms is to embed them into these employment contracts which govern police misconduct appeals and other related issues. Simply taking money away from the police department does not make it more accountable and in fact stresses the day-to-day operations (see Longer Response Times discussion above) and stresses the officers as human beings, exhausted from working approximately double the number of overtime hours.

As the Central Staff memo confirms, “The proposed CBA would make changes to existing police accountability provisions, including the addition of a new Discipline Review system that would significantly overhaul appeals that are currently settled through arbitration.”

As our Public Safety Chair, Lisa Herbold said, “This contract addresses key flaws in prior police contracts. In particular, this contract will help fix Seattle’s broken disciplinary appeals system. Right now, nearly 100 cases of police misconduct, some dating back to 2016, are being appealed – a backlog that continues to delay and deny justice. This new contract takes a crucial step toward ending that backlog while ensuring police officers who commit misconduct are held accountable.”

As noted in the press release, the contract creates a new process to govern prospective disciplinary appeals through a model that is fair and reliable – leading with transparency, providing due process for employees, and putting in place key measures to ensure discipline is actionable and upheld as warranted. Provisions of this enhanced system include:

  • Applying a consistent standard for misconduct findings and appeals (not more onerous than a “preponderance of evidence”)
  • Giving significant deference to the findings and disciplinary decisions issued by the Chief of Police
  • Preventing new evidence not previously disclosed from being introduced on appeal
  • Increasing the independence and neutrality of those who hear appeals
  • Making disciplinary appeals hearings more transparent and accessible to the public

For the joint press release from Mayor Harrell and Public Safety Chair Herbold, CLICK HERE.
For Council Bill 120332 that authorized the contract CLICK HERE and for the Central Staff memo analyzing it, CLICK HERE.
To read the entire 76-page labor contract (“collective bargaining agreement”) with SPMA, CLICK HERE.

Visits to Police Roll Calls
It was one year ago on June 13th, 2021 when our City government lost a co-worker — SPD Officer Lexi Harris was struck and killed by a vehicle on I-5 while trying to help others involved in an earlier collision.  Some of Lexi’s family still reside in the Wallingford neighborhood. I know so many people miss Lexi’s “Wonder Woman” strength and spirit as well as her compassionate commitment to the wellness of her fellow officers and to the safety of everyone in our city.

Earlier this month, I attended six roll calls of the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct, including the ones starting at 3:00 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. (as I did in August 2021 as well).  I let the officers know that I appreciate the good work these frontline City employees do for our residents and neighborhood businesses, and I encouraged them to stay with Seattle. As I have mentioned repeatedly, I am very concerned about the policing staffing crisis after having lost more than 300 officers and detectives over the past 2 ½ years. No other City department has lost more than 1/3 of its frontline workers and, for a department needed for a holistic approach to public safety, I believe this warrants special attention.  Based on what I heard firsthand at these rollcalls, a lot of work needs to be done to rebuild trust.  I’m afraid this attrition of officers AND detectives will be much worse next month because of a new State law (SHB 1701). Unfortunately, that new State law financially incentivizes officers eligible for retirement to retire by July 1, 2022 before a special benefit expires.

I look forward to Mayor Harrell’s forthcoming safety plan, which hopefully includes a compelling strategy for not only recruiting but also retaining our experienced officers. We need to refocus our efforts on retention – we need to retain highly trained officers because recruiting takes such a long time and we are losing many more officers than we are recruiting.

National Night Out

“Night Out” is a national event on Tuesday evening, August 2, 2022 for neighbors to enjoy time together on side streets in their community to connect and share food while heightening crime prevention awareness. To register your block for the event or to find an even near you for National Night Out, CLICK HERE. For more immediate crime prevention needs, contact a Crime Prevention Coordinator by CLICKING HERE. I worked hard to secure funding for two Crime Prevention Coordinators in North Seattle: Sarah and Katelyn are already hired and ready to meet with you to share crime prevention tips.

Seattle Police Department Facebook page

Being a police officer is a tough job and, rightfully, receives a lot of scrutiny and critique. Our Seattle Police Department also occasionally shares good news, which is found mainly on its Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/SeattlePolice


ECONOMIC DISPLACEMENT AND LAND USE/ZONING

Call to Action!

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Additional Reasons to Override Mayor’s Veto of Council Bill 120325 on July 5

In last month’s newsletter, I discussed how the inexcusable and stubborn lack of data about Seattle’s changing housing inventory as well as careless increases in property taxes can fuel the displacement of vulnerable residents, including low-income renters and seniors on fixed incomes.

On May 31, 2022, a majority of the City Council approved Council Bill 120325 to collect basic rental data City Hall has been lacking for years – data we need urgently now, on the eve of considering massive land use / zoning changes through a required “Comprehensive Plan.”

As one of the sponsors of the bill, I outlined several reasons to support the bill and you can read about them on my blog by CLICKING HERE. Here are those initial reasons in favor:

  • WE NEED THIS DATA TO PREVENT DISPLACEMENT
  • THIS DATA IS VITAL BEFORE COUNCIL MAKES CHANGES TO THE COMP PLAN
  • CURRENT CENSUS TRACT DATA AND RENTAL SURVEYS ON VACANT UNITS LACK VITAL DETAILS
  • WE HAVE ALREADY CONSIDERED ALTERNATIVES
  • DATA CAN VALIDATE AFFORDABLE BENEFITS OF SMALLER “MOM & POP” LANDLORDS

In deference to landlords who expressed concerns about the concept, the bill included important accommodations:

  • THIRD PARTY: A RESEARCH UNIVERSITY WOULD RECEIVE THE RAW RENTAL DATA INSTEAD OF THE CITY GOVERNMENT.
  • TEMPORARY: THE REQUIREMENT WOULD SUNSET IN 3 YEARS.

Opponents of this bill to collect and analyze data also raised concerns of control and cost. So we amended the bill further:

  • THE CITY’S EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS WOULD BE IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: Nothing happens until the Executive executes a contract with the research university after the competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) and the RFP can manage the costs. Specifically, the bill adopted by Council now states, “effective three months from the date the contract described in subsection 22.214.055.C is executed, the information described in Section 22.214.055 shall be submitted by the owner at least twice annually…”

Between the Mayor’s Veto and Council’s reconsideration, I offer these additional supports for the bill and urge at least one of the four Councilmembers who voted against it to join the majority so the bill becomes law:

  • RENT REGISTRIES ARE INCREASINGLY COMMON IN THE U.S. (Seattle is way behind; we are NOT progressive): Long-standing laws requiring rent rolls already exist in older cities, such as New York City. Moreover, many California cities have implemented programs over the past few years (and a bill is pending in the California State Legislature to require them state-wide). A 2019 report examined 8 rental housing registry programs, including 3 that already require the rent amount to be provided. A more recent February 2022 news article highlighted 16 different cities in California which are not waiting for their State legislature to act. Notably, Oakland states that a purpose of their program is to “provide data that can be used to inform future housing policies.”
  • COSTS ARE DRAMATICALLY LOWER THAN SEATTLE OPPONENTS CLAIMED. Based on (1) the actual experiences of these other cities, (2) the fact that we are adding onto an existing housing registry (Seattle’s Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance) that already enforces the collection of data, and (3) we would be using a competitive Request for Proposals, the cost to add the collection and research components of CB 120325 would be between $125,000 and $425,000 in 2023 with a grand total of only $375,000 to $675,000 over the 3 years of the program. Basically $125,000 per year for university researchers and approximately $300,000 for startup software /tech support — if the university did not already have such software.  Moreover, the two departments that should want this data (OPCD and SDCI) received a budget increase last year and the Executive departments should be doing this work as they prepare for the Comprehensive Plan anyway. The university – chosen via a competitive RFP – would be doing the data entry, sorting, mapping, and analysis. The best university would not need to buy a new database system, but would already have the technological capabilities which, frankly, is not rocket science.
  • The high $2 million estimate from the Executive was for the entire 3-year period (actually, only $667,000 per year). This amount was in the 2nd and final version of the Fiscal Note and relied on the executive/UW, rather than actual data from other cities: “OPCD discussions with the University of Washington estimated costs for a contract for this project to be a minimum of $2 million, including $600,000 for database setup, $430,000 a year for staffing ($1.29 million over three years), workspace rental, and overhead.”  Relying on the cost estimates from an organization that wants to be paid for the work rather than seeing how the work is already done in other cities is inadequate.
  • The highly questionable $5 million estimate should be disregarded. It originated from an un-authored document provided by Central Staff to Committee members May 19, 2022 entitled “SDCI, OPCD, and OH Comments on Council Bill 120325”. That doc said, “We anticipate it will be costly for a research university to set up and administer the program. It will be somewhat comparable to the RRIO registration system, the startup costs for which were approximately five million dollars.” The City Council’s Central Staff prudently did NOT include that exaggerated figure in Fiscal Note, but it nevertheless made it into the remarks of some opponents.  The figure makes no sense because CB 120325 was an efficient add-on to the existing RRIO unit registry system. To claim that adding a few bits of data would cost as much as setting up the original system is illogical.

 Alternatives on Funding:

Seattle department(s) responsible for this work (SDCI and OPCD) recently received budget increases and should be able to absorb these costs. Again, due to amendments adopted May 31, the Executive can control how much is provided to a research university selected via a competitive RFP. But, if the Executive found that the existing budget cannot handle the data requirements needed to analyze displacement risks as already required by City policies (listed in the Whereas recitals of CB 120325), there are additional options:
_ Increase Fees (not Council’s recommendation):  the City could simply increase the RRIO fee paid by landlords already, per SMC 22.900H. Hypothetically, for the City’s 150,000 units registered with RRIO a per unit incremental increase of just $4, on average, would generate approximately $600,000 – essentially the landlord paying the cost of a latte for each unit. (Note: the landlord RRIO fee is paid every two years.) This was not Council’s recommendation, but it gives the Executive yet another option with additional flexibility. (See existing RRIO website for current fees.)

_ Consider JumpStart Tax eligibility (not Council’s recommendation):  In adopting what is known as the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan, Section 1(B)(2)(a) of Resolution 31957 which we adopted in 2020, the Council explicitly requested that a portion of the JumpStart money be allocated to “programs designed to… preserve naturally occurring, quality, affordable housing, and examine the role that smaller landlords may play in providing safe, affordable housing.” What City Council adopted with CB 120325 can be considered just such a program, intended to develop exactly the data and analysis need by the Council to develop effective policies that meet the objectives of the JumpStart resolution. As we know from the most recent revenue forecast, the revenue from JumpStart is coming in much higher than anticipated. Reading from the April 8, 2022 press release, “JumpStart Seattle is now projected to bring in more than $277 million in 2022, which is $43.6 million beyond what was expected last November.” Again, this was not Council’s recommendation, but it’s important to point out that the City is technically not lacking funds for such a low-cost data collection and analysis operation necessary to understand how and where to prevent displacement as already required by City policies.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of reasons to support Council Bill 120325 as the majority already did and the reasons against it are not based on solid information.

CALL TO ACTION: To urge Councilmembers to override the Mayor’s veto, click the button below:

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How to Participate in Comprehensive Plan Update;
Scoping Comments Due July 25

In response to the inevitability of growth and change, most cities now plan for their future. What will we need in terms of housing, transportation, jobs? Will we have enough water, electricity, parks and open space, fire protection, wastewater treatment infrastructure, and other services? These issues and more are now required to be addressed in long range “comprehensive plans” by cities and counties in Washington State under the Growth Management Act (GMA). First adopted in 1990, the GMA has been amended numerous times to add new issues to consider, such as low income “affordable” housing and recently climate change (CLICK HERE). The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) has a summary of GMA requirements HERE.

Comprehensive planning affects the daily lives of everyone who lives, works, or visits our city. Plans determine where new housing is likely to be built, where transit service is to be increased, and where new community centers, fire stations, and utilities will be built. Over time, the plan will help determine the look and feel of the city. How the city plans for growth can even determine if inpiduals, families, and communities will be able to stay in the city; physical and economic displacement is an increasingly important concern and focus of city planning.

Seattle’s current comprehensive plan—“Seattle 2035”—was initially adopted in 2016, and policymakers update it with amendments annually. All of the current plan documents are HERE. Increasing inequity of wealth and income in Seattle (and the U.S.) has resulted in displacement being a vital component of our comprehensive planning. Extensive City resources have been committed to addressing displacement through an Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) adopted as part of the 2016 plan. The EDI has its own resource page, HERE. The City uses the EDI to address displacement by allocating funds toward the construction of more affordable housing.  An inherent shortcoming of the EDI is that it typically tries to offset displacement after the damage is done. Ideally, the City would also utilize land use policies to protect existing affordable housing from demolition / redevelopment to prevent displacement, or to require direct and immediate mitigation for the loss of existing affordable housing.

One of the most important prerequisites to good planning is good data. Regarding the critical issues of affordable housing and displacement, I advocated for City collection of more information on the cost of housing, including how much rent people pay in different kinds of housing and different parts of the City. These questions came to a head recently in the Council’s passage of Council Bill 120325 that would require gathering of rent roll data city wide. CB 120325 passed the Council but was vetoed by the mayor. You can read more about this issue HERE.

Every few years the City is required to update its Comprehensive Plan; the City is required to prepare and adopt its next new plan by 2024. Since it takes about two years to prepare a new comprehensive plan and accompanying environmental review of this scope, the City has already started to prepare its new “One Seattle Plan.” The responsible City Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has set up a new page for this work, HERE. An important early part of the development of the plan—called “scoping”—is now open from June 23 through July 25, 2022. The formal “Scoping Notice” is HERE.

Scoping is an early part of the environmental review required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). OPCD has already determined—appropriately—that a full environmental impact statement (EIS) will be prepared, including evaluation of alternatives for dealing with the City’s likely future growth and change. OPCD’s description of “One Seattle Plan” SEPA scoping—called “Shaping the Plan”—is to enable Seattle’s residents and others to “help determine what we should study—which topics are important to you and your community, and how you want Seattle to shape its growth.” OPCD has also already framed “draft alternatives” it plans to explore in the EIS for the One Seattle Plan, HERE.

To watch OPCD’s short video about the Comprehensive Plan process, CLICK HERE.  

An understanding of the scope of OPCD’s planning and the assumptions going into the comprehensive planning process will help you determine what you tell the City should be included in the plan, or which City assumptions you think are not accurate. The May 11, 2022 presentation to the Council’s Land Use Committee and series of “Issue Briefs” at the top of the “Documents Page” HERE are informative.

If you want to influence how OPCD assesses the impacts of the alternatives it has chosen, or even challenge the underlying assumptions driving those choices, now is your chance. For example, their Displacement” section states, “Preventing displacement is a major goal of the Comprehensive Plan Update.” That’s good, but then it does not provide any anti-demolition policies or immediate mitigation (such as 1 for 1 replacement of demolished low-income units).

OPCD has a page dedicated to scoping input HERE. You may also send your scoping comments to: brennon.staley@seattle.gov. In addition to the scoping comment period ending on July 25, OPCD has created other ways to participate, with the main “Get Involved” page HERE. On that page you will find notices of meetings, including one on Tuesday evening, July 14 about scoping before the comment deadline (CLICK HERE).


BUDGETS and TAXES

No Budget Deficit

Here’s the bottom line: There is no budget deficit in city government.

Columnist Danny Westneat captures this accurately in his column (CLICK HERE). He writes correctly, “Seattle is still dealing with general fund deficits, from both the pandemic and new spending programs. But Seattle’s deficit isn’t really a full-on deficit, as it doesn’t include the JumpStart revenues. Those are in a separate fund, earmarked for specific programs. That fund is raking in surplus revenues, far beyond what was expected. If you count that surplus, Seattle is in the black. (This is how Seattle could fix its immediate budget problems – just tap the JumpStart fund).”

In essence, a simple amendment to increase flexibility for how we use JumpStart tax revenues would enable us to plug the General Fund gap and still provide ample dollars for JumpStart’s important goals.

Here are some of the sources of information:

From the April 20, 2022 presentation by the City Budget Office, page 9:

 

City Officials Want to Double Your Property Tax for City Parks: Is the Increase Justified?

Seattle loves its parks and recreation centers and yet many of us were unable to enjoy them during the first two years of the pandemic, due to closures and due to the homelessness crisis. The original six-year plan that funds and guides part of our Parks and Rec system is ready for an update this year.

Last week all nine of your City Councilmembers assembled as members of the Parks District Board for the City of Seattle.  What I consider to be the headline of the long presentation was buried on slide 25 of the one of the two presentations: The Parks Department and the volunteer Parks commissioners are pushing a proposal to double the portion of the property tax you pay to supplement 20% of our city’s parks and recreation facilities and programs.

I appreciated the questioning from our new head of the Board (Councilmember Andrew Lewis) regarding what appears to be a proposal to increase your property taxes by $10 million through the Parks measure and pert that funding to our City’s General Fund. It’s labeled as “COVID-19 / Economic Recovery.” As already established above, there is no City budget deficit when we look at all the City’s funds and we are finally emerging from the COVID pandemic. So raising your future property taxes from the Parks measure and then diverting your tax dollars is not fiscally responsible – it’s neither necessary, nor fair to you. Continuing the existing funding, raising by an inflation factor, and funding the “pre-commitment” items make sense to me. Diverting money to the General Fund and some of the new program should be carefully scrutinized.  This is vital not just within the context of fiscal prudence for Parks but also because multiple property tax levy increases are coming your way: affordable housing, transportation, and education (taxes for libraries were already increased in 2019). These are all worthy causes deserving close examination, so that we prioritize what the City truly needs. At the same time, policymakers must be mindful of the cumulative impact to your property tax bill, especially for seniors struggling on fixed incomes and because landlords can pass these costs onto renters.

CLICK HERE to watch the video and hear my comments at the June 24, 2022 Parks District Board meeting HERE and HERE. You’ll see I’m questioning the cost and taxes.

  • For the agenda and presentations at the June 24, 2022 meeting, CLICK HERE.
  • For the presentation by the City Council’s Central Staff, CLICK HERE.
  • For the main website of the Parks District, CLICK HERE.
  • For a recent Seattle Times editorial lamenting the unfulfilled promise to main our parks entitled “Seattle parks maintenance has gone down the toilet,” CLICK HERE.

TRANSPORTATION & SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE

(This is the Committee currently chaired by Councilmember Pedersen, so we provide extra information on its issues.)

Vision Zero: Traffic Safety

Seattle’s official policy on traffic-related safety is “Vision Zero,” which strives for zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. I asked the Vision Zero team of our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to return to our Transportation Committee earlier this month to discuss their strategies for reducing fatalities and injuries on Seattle’s streets.  In 2021, there were 30 traffic-related fatalities: 19 pedestrians were killed, 7 people in vehicles or motorcycles, and 4 bicyclists. Since 2016, an average of 13% of the victims were experiencing homelessness, but in 2021 (and for the first quarter of 2022) that percentage doubled to 26% on average. Another urgent reason to bring more people inside, faster. While there have been 11 traffic-related fatalities as of June 21, 2022, each life is precious and the summer months often yield a higher number of collisions, so the overall trend is deeply troubling.

While seven of the nine City Councilmembers represent a geographic district (1/7 of the City), we each chair a Committee with citywide responsibilities. I represent Northeast Seattle AND I chair the Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee (which actually has a regional footprint). I mention this because recent data on traffic fatalities confirms a disproportionate percentage of them occurring in South Seattle. So I joined with Councilmember Tammy Morales (District 2) to call for more transportation safety investments in her district in South Seattle, which includes many wide arterials with industrial uses.

“Safety must be the priority for everyone using Seattle’s roads and, unfortunately, the first part of 2022 continues the disturbing national trend of unacceptably high numbers of traffic-related injuries and deaths, especially among pedestrians and people experiencing homelessness in South Seattle.

While we have lowered speed limits, expanded access to mass transit, and increased crosswalks, we must also respond to the drop in police enforcement by increasing use of speed cameras and fines based on ability to pay, and we must reduce the traffic-related harms to people experiencing homelessness by having City departments redouble efforts to bring more people inside faster.

While I’m hopeful the City Council’s additional investments for pedestrian safety in South Seattle will reduce injuries once SDOT finishes those projects, today’s initial 2022 data sounds the alarm that the Mayor’s upcoming budget proposal must continue to increase our investments in South Seattle and other underinvested areas, so that our transportation infrastructure is quickly made safer.”

— Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Transportation Committee

For me, the theme is safety:  increasing safety investments for pedestrians (by far the most at-risk mode of getting around town) is aligned with increasing the safety of our aging multimodal bridges which we rely upon for the mass transit of our bus system and even for pedestrians, as we see on our University Bridge connecting Roosevelt to Eastlake/downtown as well as on NE 45th Street I-5 overpass connecting Wallingford with the U District.

It’s a Date! West Seattle Bridge Scheduled to Re-Open Week of September 12, 2022

Our Seattle Department of Transportation announced the promising news, but with frustrating, yet understandable caveats: “The West Seattle Bridge is scheduled to reopen as soon as the week of September 12, 2022, though a project of this scale might encounter unforeseen challenges. This schedule update comes after a series of successful milestones, including the final structural concrete pour inside the bridge in late May.

June was “Ride Transit Month,” but Keep it Going

Kirk, Sarah, and Priyadharshini from the nonprofit Commute Seattle join Councilmember Pedersen on his morning commute by bus and light rail from Northeast Seattle to City Hall downtown during “Ride Transit Month.”

In District 4 earlier this month, I enjoyed commuting to work with advocates from the organization Commute Seattle, including their new Executive Director. As we know, June was “Ride Transit Month” and they joined me for my commute from my neighborhood down to City Hall by bus, light rail, and steps — lots of steps. After navigating the temporarily relocated bus stops and the broken escalators and elevators at Pioneer Square station, we still had fun, saved money, and avoided the rush hour traffic on I-5. Commute Seattle works with employers – both large and small businesses as well as nonprofits –  to show them the financial, environmental, and other benefits of commuting to work in ways other than single occupancy vehicles.

  • For King County Metro bus trip planner, CLICK HERE.
  • For Sound Transit light rail routes, CLICK HERE.
  • For a recommend public transit app called “One Bus Away,” CLICK HERE.
  • For Commute Seattle, CLICK HERE.

Sound Transit Expansion: Suggestions from Seattle:

There are lots of decisions for the 18-member Sound Transit board to make over the next two months on how best to expand light rail system, including the 9 segments of the West-Seattle Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE). From the options in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), they will decide their “preferred alternatives” to study for the final EIS. Rather than sitting back and letting more than a dozen policymakers from outside of our City decide what’s best for us, the executive departments and City Council are working together on a joint Resolution 32055 to strongly voice our Seattle consensus while also supporting the regional approach of Mayor Harrell and Council President Juarez who serve on the Sound Transit board.

Seattle is arguably the biggest supporter of Sound Transit and the crucial linchpin for the entire regional system. Doing right by Seattle will speed implementation (construction permitting, etc.) that will help the entire regional transportation system come online faster.

Schedule for our Seattle Resolution for Sound Transit Decisions:

  • Feb 15: Sound Transit presents at Committee draft options on routes and stations from DEIS.
  • April 19: Sound Transit and City’s executive team present at Committee with more details on options.
  • May 31: Mayor’s draft of Reso for Council’s Introduction & Referral Calendar.
  • June 7: 1st discussion of Reso at Committee.
  • July 5 (scheduled): 2nd discussion, amendments, and vote on Reso at Committee.
  • July 12, 19, 26, or other date t.b.d. by City Council President: adoption of Reso by Council.
  • July 14: Sound Transit Expansion Committee.
  • July 28 (subject to change): Sound Transit 18-member Board of Directors meeting.

For Sound Transit expansion info, CLICK HERE.

 

Sound Transit Repairs “Future Ready”:

Sound Transit updated their announcement June 21 on their repair schedule for this summer and fall:

“Preparations continue for significant Link light rail maintenance activities beginning July 11, with periods when passengers will need to allow more time for trips as Sound Transit gets ready to open major light rail expansions. Completing these “Future Ready” projects before the Link system more than doubles in length from 26 to 58 miles within the next few years will prevent impacts to far greater numbers of passengers…In preparation for the upcoming work, passengers should sign up for Rider Alerts to make sure they receive further information as it becomes available…On July 11, one side of the tracks through Seattle’s Rainier Valley will close for two weeks to enable platform work at Columbia City Station. The work involves removing platform tiles and mortar and rebuilding a concrete base to ensure new tiles offer good durability, eliminating tripping hazards and safety risks from cracking tiles…The 20-minute train frequencies that were previously announced to be systemwide during work will now only apply between [downtown/SODO] Stadium and Angle Lake stations. Sound Transit will instead strive to maintain 10-minute frequencies between [downtown/SODO] Stadium and Northgate stations. “

To be immediately “Future Ready,” Sound Transit also knows it needs to fix all its broken escalators and to keep its stairwells clean and inviting!

 

Seattle Transit Measure (aka Seattle Transportation Benefit District)

Thanks to the generosity of Seattle voters (with a whopping 80% approval in November 2020) and everyone paying sales tax, Seattle continues to boost bus service through its ”Seattle Transit Measure“ (also known as the Seattle Transportation Benefit District or STBD). The annual report covering the middle of 2020 through December 2021 is available by CLICKING HERE. The bottom line is that bus ridership plummeted during the pandemic (see line graph above), but King County Metro kept many key bus lines running because many people have no choice but to ride transit, and the buses humming along served as a beacon of hope/activity/reliability during a bleak, uncertain time. We are appreciative of the bus drivers for keeping things moving and we are confident many more riders will continue to return to this environmentally friendly form of getting around the region.

For SDOT’s website on the Seattle Transit Measure, CLICK HERE.

For CM Pedersen’s website detailing his Committee’s 2020 renewal of this bus transit measure, CLICK HERE.

 

“Seattle Transportation Plan” Wants to Hear from You!

We are creating a holistic “Seattle Transportation Plan” (STP) to reconcile all modes of transportation that have been recently handled in fragmented, competing silos. Per SDOT, “The STP is our commitment to building a transportation system that provides everyone with access to safe, efficient, and affordable options to reach places and opportunities. The STP will guide local transportation investments for the next 20 years – so we want to hear from you!  Our transportation system is more than just roads. It includes sidewalks, bridges, stairways, transit, paths and trails, bike lanes, crosswalks, public spaces like street cafes and benches, and much more.

To provide your input on the new Seattle Transportation Plan, CLICK HERE.

 

Head of Seattle Public Utilities Confirmed

At our City Council meeting on June 28, 2022, we unanimously confirmed Mayor Harrell’s nomination of Andrew Lee as the General Manager and CEO of the Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), a $1.3 billion enterprise that delivers clean water and takes away wastewater and solid waste. Mr. Lee has been ably serving as the interim head of SPU after the previous leader, Mami Hara, departed near the end of the Durkan Administration last Fall.  I look forward to a continued focus on trying to keep utility bill increases to a minimum and on finishing the mega project for Ship Canal Water Quality Control on time and within budget.

A key role of City Council, under the “checks & balances” system of our City Charter, is to consider and confirm (or reject) a Mayor’s nominations to head the most important departments.  The Mayor is currently conducting a national search for a new director for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), which will also go through our committee. The nomination and approval process should follow Resolution 31868.

 

Utility Bill Scams: Warning (again) 

As Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light and work to inform customers about resources available to help with utility bills, there has been an increase in scam reports of people posing as representatives of the City.

Please know that Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities will NOT call customers to demand immediate payment or personal financial information. If someone calls demanding payment, rather than working with you to establish a payment plan, that is a scam. Customers who believe they’ve been contacted by a scammer should call (206) 684-3000 to verify their account.

If you or someone you know is behind on utility bills, please know that resources are available. Learn more about short- and long-term payment plans available to all customers. Income-eligible residential customers may also qualify for bill assistance programs.

For more info from Seattle Public Utilities, CLICK HERE.


PUBLIC HEALTH

Devastating Decision by U.S. Supreme Court Overturns 50-Year Roe v. Wade Precedent

Source of U.S. map: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/24/abortion-laws-by-state-map-clinics

Because the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week relegated policies on abortion to the States, the views of your Washington State government officials will be paramount. For statements from Governor Jay Inslee, CLICK HERE and HERE. Along with your Seattle Mayor and all nine City Councilmembers, the four State Representatives and two State Senators who represent the 43rd and 46th Legislative Districts (LDs) that overlap with our City Council District 4 are all pro-choice. Laws are already in place protecting reproductive freedom of choice in Washington State. But laws can change, so maintaining a majority of legislators who support existing rights in Washington State will become vital.  For my statement and the statements of other City Councilmembers, CLICK HERE and for Mayor Harrell’s statement, CLICK HERE.

 

Beat the Heat: Cooling Centers and Trees

Earlier this week, the temperature in Seattle reached 90 degrees, a hot reminder that our city government needs to circulate updated locations for its cooling centers.

Last fall, I secured funding for a cooling center at the Northeast branch of the Seattle Library and so I look forward to the Harrell Administration, City Budget Office, and library leadership proceeding expeditiously to upgrade that facility before the next unbearable heat wave.

I have also asked the City’s Parks Department and Office of Emergency Management to make sure Building 406 at Magnuson Park (formerly known as “The Brig”) is available as a cooling center as we still await the reopening of community centers in the area.

The heat waves reinforce the urgency of passing legislation to protect our City’s dwindling tree canopy because trees help to cool communities and homes. The legislation we crafted to register tree cutters / arborists was just a small, first step. To more systematically protect our urban forest, we need to overhaul the weak comprehensive bill introduced by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection (SDCI) written during the Durkan Administration. For more on protecting trees, CLICK HERE.

For a Seattle Times article, “How to stay cool during Seattle’s first heat wave of the year,” CLICK HERE.

 

Food Security for the Summer

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), also known as the Summer Meals Program, strives to provide our young neighbors in need with nutritious meals during the summer months when school is not in session. For more about the Children and Youth Summer Food Service Program, CLICK HERE.

Also, our City Council District 4 has several food banks including the U District Food Bank (adjacent to the U District Library), a weekly food pantry at the Mercy Magnuson low-income housing project at Magnuson Park, and the Family Works food bank adjacent to the Wallingford Library.

 

COVID Cases Higher in June than March/April, but on Decline; and Fewer Hospital Beds Used

For the latest official data from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE or use this website: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx

Thanks, in large part, to our relatively high vaccination rate, COVID cases and hospitalizations in Seattle continue to remain manageable. (This snapshot was as of last week for the city of Seattle.)

For the latest COVID pandemic coverage from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

  • To register to receive the vaccine or booster in Seattle, CLICK HERE. Information is also available in Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • For the most recent information on combating COVID from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE.
  • If you need language interpretation, help finding a vaccination or testing site, or ADA accommodation, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Ways to Provide Input

City Council Meetings back in person (and still on the internet)!

Now you can listen, view, and comment at City Council meetings both in person or online. Our City Council meetings are Tuesdays starting at 2:00 p.m.

Listening and Viewing: To view and listen to the meeting on your computer, CLICK HERE for Seattle Channel.

Commenting:  If you want to participate in person, arrive early to sign up at the City Council chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall downtown. You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.

Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen

I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Webex. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. I hope to return to in-person office hours Friday afternoons before the end of the summer.  You can also just send an e-mail to alex.pedersen@seattle.gov

For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.

We are getting through this together, Seattle!

With gratitude,

 

 

 

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4

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


Seattle Policy Changes Impacting Residential Tenants and Housing Providers (Landlords): 2020, 2021, 2022

June 10th, 2022

Introduction: During the past two years or so, the Seattle City Council has adopted several new policies and provided substantial funding to benefit many residential tenants. This has been in addition to the federal stimulus checks, temporary boosts to unemployment insurance, and ongoing rental assistance in various forms.

Some of the policy changes I supported and some I did not, depending on the specifics of each proposal. In general, if the proposal was targeted to serve those in financial need during the height of the COVID pandemic emergency and related economic recession, I supported it. If the bill was not vital during the pandemic, not targeted to those in need, not shown to be effective in other jurisdictions, and/or posed a significant legal risk to the City, I generally did NOT support it. For historical context, it’s important to note that previous City Councils prior to 2020 put in place many other protections for residential tenants and the State government has recently adopted new protections (and funding) for tenants.

This blog post provides details of the landlord-tenant policies and funding for Seattle during 2020, 2021, and 2022 (with the most recent events listed first). Note: The COVID-related eviction moratorium instituted in March 2020 ended February 28, 2022.

I agree that many tenants are still vulnerable to sharp rent increases from their landlords due to the State Law prohibiting rent control, but those negative impacts have been largely mitigated by many of the other protections put in place. In addition, I believe policymakers should continue to subsidize low-income housing for those in need (under 60% of area median income) and should support effective and sustainable solutions that prevent homelessness. For some additional details on affordable housing and homelessness, CLICK HERE. Thank you.



June 10, 2022: Mayor Harrell vetoes bill that would have collected data to help preserve and expand affordable housing; Councilmembers Pedersen and Morales express disappointment

Response from the bill’s sponsors: SEATTLE – Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle) and Tammy Morales (District 2, South Seattle and the Chinatown / International District) reacted to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s veto today of their legislation to collect data about rental rates in the City of Seattle.

“I am deeply disappointed our solution to collect housing data helpful for preventing displacement of economically vulnerable people was not signed into law. Similar laws to collect rental housing data are already in place throughout the nation, so the veto means Seattle is still behind the times,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen. “The amendments made to our legislation already addressed concerns about timing, budget, and implementation. Rejecting this law seems to be a victory for landlords unwilling to share data and a loss for those seeking data to make informed decisions on preserving and expanding affordable housing in our city.”  

“Councilmember Pedersen and I worked together on this bill because we understand that the City needs solid data to help us make smart policy decisions. The fact of the matter is that we have no reliable source of data on average rents, rent increases, vacancy rates, or year-over-year trends in these areas,” said Councilmember Tammy J. Morales. “Vetoing this bill means relying on a private for-profit firm like the now-shuttered Dupre + Scott. That option, which currently doesn’t even exist, would provide us with incomplete, voluntary data that would cost money every time we seek it. This veto sends the message that we should make decisions in a vacuum, rather than make data-driven decisions and frankly I find that troubling.”  

Mayor Harrell vetoed Council Bill 120325 adopted by the City Council on May 31, 2022. The legislation adds reporting requirements related to rent and rental housing information, like prices and square footage, to the existing Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance. The information would be submitted to a research university for analysis.  

If the Mayor had allowed the bill to become law, Seattle would have efficiently filled the longstanding gap in rental housing data needed for better-informed policymaking about affordable housing. Seattle’s Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) adopted several years ago already requires landlords to submit a list of their rental units and this bill would simply have property owners include that list along with rental rates and square footage of each unit to a research university to compile and analyze this important data. No personal information would be provided, the executive departments would determine when to start the process, and the requirement would have sunset in December 2025.  

For the past four years our city government has lacked the level of detail needed to understand many details about Seattle’s housing inventory, including the extent of affordable housing that is not subsidized, but still has below market rents usually because that housing stock is older, what some refer to as “naturally occurring affordable housing.” This legislation follows through with Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent (OPCD-004-A-001) Council adopted in November 2020 and the intent to mitigate for displacement impacts expressed in Resolution 31870

The July 2019 report prepared for the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development by the Urban Displacement Project, University of California, titled “Heightened Displacement Risk Indicators for the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Monitoring Program,” states that “a more granular and localized” data set is needed to “best meet the City’s racial equity goals. The Seattle Market Rate Housing Needs And Supply Analysis prepared for the City in 2021 states, “Displacement can result from economic pressures (such as rising rents or loss of income), demolition of rental housing for redevelopment, eviction, foreclosure, or loss of community anchors that tie residents to a place.” 

Timely rental rate and location data for Seattle’s existing supply of rental housing will be vital when updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan and making significant land use policy and zoning changes in the future. Without this legislation, it is unclear how the executive departments will obtain the detailed data needed for policymakers.

According to Article IV, Section 12 of the Seattle City Charter, the City Council is required to vote on whether to override or sustain the Mayor’s veto within 30 days. An override requires six votes. 

# # #


May 31, 2022: Council passes Pedersen’s bill (CB 120325) to require landlords to provide rental data to research university from October 2022 through December 2025 in hopes of preventing displacement

A majority of the full City Council adopted my legislation (Council Bill 120325) to require landlords to provide rental data to a research university from October 2022 through December 2025 in hopes of implementing policies to prevent additional displacement of existing residents as part of the City Council’s adoption of an updated Comprehensive Plan. While I did not support her amendments on May 31, I sincerely appreciate Councilmember Morales joining this legislation as a co-sponsor. I also appreciate the work on this legislation by Legislative Aide Toby Thaler.

It’s important to note that achieving the October 2022 start date will require the Harrell Administration to take action now to conduct a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) (which will lower costs) and sign a contract with the winning research university. Unfortunately, the City departments that oversee private sector real estate matters (such as planning, zoning, and building code compliance) have thus far seemed resistant to efforts needed to obtain this detailed data on rental housing. It’s important to note, however, that the City has longstanding policies to prevent displacement (see the “Whereas” recitals of the adopted legislation), the budgets have grown for the City departments of OPCD and SDCI, and the payroll tax revenues are higher than expected for a “JumpStart” spending plan that would include programs designed to…”preserve naturally occurring, quality, affordable housing, and examine the role that smaller landlords may play in providing safe, affordable housing” (See Section 1(B)(2)(a) of Resolution 31957 which we adopted in 2020.)

The victory for this legislation reveals what could be considered a new displacement prevention majority on the Seattle City Council: Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Pedersen, Sawant (and hopefully additional Councilmembers). It’s a policy affinity that already existed, but has been overshadowed for two years by important debates on policing as well as on homelessness encampments.

Unfortunately, the past practice at City Hall seems to have favored granting to real estate developers blanket land use “upzones” wherever possible without maximizing rapid provision of low-income housing and with no meaningful measures in place to prevent the demolition of naturally occurring affordable housing. Instead, City Hall has used tax dollars to fund grant programs to select community groups for scatter-shot “post-mitigation” after the harm (displacement and demolition) has occurred from the land use policies. When data is needed to better understand the extent of housing demolitions, the details are not readily available. I believe it would be better to put in place the displacement prevention measures beforehand so that future upzones can provide optimal public benefits (e.g. low-income housing in all neighborhoods) without demolishing things we want to keep (such as affordable housing and affordable storefronts to support walkable neighborhoods).

I understand that rental housing providers are frustrated with having to absorb so many changes and requirements over the past few years — I have voted against some of those requirements and/or worked to exempt smaller landlords. Yet, to prevent future displacement of Seattle residents, time is running out to get this simple, yet vital rental housing data to a research university before City Hall updates the required Comprehensive Plan that will serve as the foundation for future housing and land use policies. While the analysis of the new rental data might not be available for the Harrell Administration to incorporate in their initial drafts of Comp Plan changes, the analysis of the data should be available before City Council makes any final decisions on the Comp Plan. (Please see below for the post from March 15 and 18, 2022 for more information.)

For a Seattle Times article on this topic, CLICK HERE.


May 24, 2022: Council strengthens two ordinances after judge’s ruling (CB 120330 provides landlords ability to verify tenant assertions of financial hardship from CB 119784 and CB 120077).

A judge ruled that Council Bill 119784 (Ordinance 126075 / SMC 22.205.090) adopted in May 2020 was faulty because it allowed tenants to certify on their own that they are suffering from financial hardship, but did not provide the landlord “due process” to rebut such certification. There was a similar self-attestation allowed for tenants in Council Bill 120077 (Ordinance 126368 / SMC22.205.100). In an attempt to cure this, Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed Council Bill 120330 to remove the self-attestation altogether from both ordinances. But removing it altogether could have created other legal risks. To address this, Councilmember Sara Nelson amended the new bill so that it would give landlords the ability to rebut the tenant’s assertion of financial hardship. That amended bill passed today (9 to 0).


March 15 and 18, 2022: Proposal to Provide Rental Data via Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance (CB 120284 which became CB 120325):

On March 15, 2022, I introduced Council Bill 120284 (which became CB 120325). If adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, this legislation would require landlords to provide to a research university their existing rental rates, unit sizes, and occupancy status for their units twice a year, as part of the requirements under Seattle’s Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO). The bill had its first hearing at the City Council’s Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee meeting on Friday, March 18, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. [NOTE: We are adding more time to the legislative process for this bill so that we hear amendments at the Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee on Friday, May 6, rather than on April 1.]

The City needs — but does not have — complete and granular data for Seattle’s rental housing inventory to make important public policy decisions.

The Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO), codified in our Seattle Municipal Code, already requires a list of units. Moreover, landlords already produce for their own bookkeeping a “rent roll” (typically monthly) with their list of units, rents, occupancy status, bedroom type etc. This proposal would simply have them send that list (minus the tenant names) to the research university designated by the City.

That said, I have heard many concerns about Council Bill 120284 this past week. Please rest assured that we are not voting on the bill this week.  We wanted to put the bill into the public realm to get robust input and we’re getting it!

Here are just a few of the reasons for why I believe the City of Seattle needs this detailed data: 

_ NEED DATA TO PREVENT DISPLACEMENT: The City’s official policy is to prevent displacement of existing residents, yet we’ve been seeing anecdotally a large and disappointing loss of older affordable housing throughout Seattle, including in up-zoned areas such as the University District. We need better data to confirm and prevent displacement.

_ VITAL DATA FOR COMP PLAN CHANGES: The City is gearing up for our required Comprehensive Planning process that requires detailed housing and displacement data. For example, it appears that the last detailed report on Seattle’s inventory of un-subsidized, below-market rental housing (also known as naturally occurring affordable housing) was published in 2016.

_ CENSUS TRACT DATA LACKS VITAL DETAILS: The self-selecting, incomplete nature of voluntary participation is not likely to provide the comprehensive coverage as well as the granular detail needed — unless the research university followed up aggressively with landlords who have no incentive to provide the detail. (There are currently 30,000 properties registered with RRIO; those properties contain about 150,000 units, according to OPCD as of September 2021.) Census tract information currently used by city government to gauge displacement risk is too high level; the City needs the data at least block by block.

_ WE HAVE ALREADY CONSIDERED ALTERNATIVES: We have been unsuccessful in having the city government departments get/provide this detailed information. The Council asked executive departments to explore this back in November 2020 via a “Statement of Legislative Intent” (OPCD-004-A-001) and received a response in September 2021 that stated there is not a handy, ideal solution to the data gap and that, to use RRIO to collect this data, RRIO would need to be amended. Hence this new proposal of Council Bill 120284. It’s unfortunate the rental survey firm Dupre & Scott closed in December 2017, but even that firm seemed to have gaps in information, especially for smaller buildings. I believe the closure of that firm and the ongoing gaps in data are some reasons why a growing city like ours cannot rely on a private survey firm for rental housing data. Moreover, the often used survey firm Co-Star does not include buildings with 1 to 4 rental units.

_ DATA CAN VALIDATE AFFORDABLE BENEFITS OF SMALLER “MOM & POP” LANDLORDS: We would need more than anecdotal information to demonstrate that small landlords provide naturally occurring affordable housing that is an important asset to our city’s residents – confirming this hypothesis about mom & pop landlords can be a positive for small landlords.

NEXT STEPS: AMENDMENTS. Prior to introducing the bill, I informally consulted with leaders of small landlords and incorporated initial input from them: to have a research university be the entity to receive the rental rate information rather than the city government. Since then I have received a lot more input and concerns from landlords and I understand they’ll continue to gather and communicate concerns and advocate for potential amendments.  

I’m very open to reasonable amendments and need to go through the process this week of hearing it for the first time at the Council Committee. For example, I’d like to explore how to adjust the accountability for this new requirement of submitting the additional info – this could include requiring the City to issue a notice or notice(s) before any penalties and allowing landlords to continue to enforce their leases during that process of trying to get the rental data.  I realize this does not address all of the concerns by housing providers thus far, yet I wanted to cite an initial example.

I understand this proposal is coming on the heels of many other new landlord-tenant policies and that it has been relatively challenging for housing providers in Seattle. As you may know, I have worked to try to exempt small landlords from several of those changes (sometime successful, many times not). At the same time, the City has an urgent public policy need to fill this disappointing gap in rental housing data.

  • For the initial City Council Staff memo, CLICK HERE.
  • For a news article by MyNorthwest about the March 18, 2022 Committee meeting, CLICK HERE.
  • For local housing statistics, CLICK HERE. Also, please consider the hyperlinks embedded throughout this blog post.

February 18-22, 2022: Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced Resolution 32044 in an attempt to overturn Mayor Harrell’s decision to end the 2-year eviction moratorium on February 28, 2022. Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution would have instead continued the eviction moratorium until the “civil emergency” of the COVID pandemic officially ends, even though that date is unknown and we have put in place several other tenant protections (including the winter ban on evictions). I supported Mayor Harrell’s decision to end this particular moratorium after nearly 2 years based, in larger part on the rationale he already articulated (CLICK HERE), including the multiple supports and protections already in place. The Council kept in place Mayor Harrell’s policy by voting against Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution 5 to 3. Council President Debora Juarez also voted against the Resolution and delivered comprehensive remarks with which I concurred. For the benefit of my constituents, however, here are the remarks I crafted to explain my vote, even though I did not deliver them at the February 22, 2022 Council meeting:

Seattle’s City Hall has been incredibly proactive and compassionate with its recent policies and financial assistance to those struggling during the COVID pandemic.  I believe that the rise of a global pandemic (before we achieved high vaccination rates here in Seattle) constituted a sufficient emergency for the Chief Executives of all levels of government to impose temporary moratoria on evictions, as well as temporary bans of foreclosures on mortgages.  Yet deciding to continue our city government’s interference with the fully executed contracts already agreed to by housing providers and their tenants could, I believe, increasingly subject our city to substantial legal risk and potentially undermine additional tenant protections already in place.

For the past two years, I have supported the Executive’s decision to use their emergency powers to impose and continually extend this moratorium on rental evictions. It’s important to note that the ban on bank foreclosures on certain mortgages, however, ended back in July of 2021.  In addition, Governors and Mayors across the nation have already ended their moratoria on rental evictions.  Our own Governor ended his statewide moratorium nearly 4 months ago. I agreed with our Governor when he said back in October of 2021, “We have to have some end to the moratorium. You can’t have an economy ultimately where just nobody pays rent.” 

I have confidence in our new Mayor Bruce Harrell — recently chosen by Seattle voters with a large winning margin — and I have confidence in his team of seasoned and thoughtful strategic advisors. After their own extensions of this same moratorium, they decided this moratorium would end February 28. Their rationale basis for ending the moratorium after nearly two years is sound and includes several reasons, such as the fact that we are emerging from the pandemic with some of the highest vaccination rates in the nation and we have already put in place multiple new tenant protections: a 6-month legal defense, free attorneys, rental assistance programs, repayment plans, a ban on evictions during the winter months, and several other older protections, such as Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction ordinance. (Moreover, when other jurisdictions have lifted their moratoria, they have not experienced an unusual percentage of evictions.) Even some nonprofit housing providers are eager to see this Executive Order on evictions expire.

The Executive Order originates with the executive and we, as the Council, already exercised our right to modify it nearly two years ago. To modify it again today would be to directly overturn the Executive’s decision.  We all know it’s the personal choice of each Councilmember to vote against our new Mayor and FOR Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution.  For me, it boils down to this:  I have confidence in Mayor Harrell and his team and so I will be voting today to support Mayor Harrell and his team and their decision to end the two-year eviction ban, instead of this Resolution from Councilmember Sawant. I will be voting No on Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution. Thank you.


February 11, 2022 UPDATE: Mayor Harrell announced he is ending Seattle’s eviction moratorium February 28, 2022.

After several extensions and following the Governor Inslee’s end to the statewide eviction moratorium in October 2021, Mayor Harrell announced he will end Seattle’s eviction moratorium February 28, 2022. For Mayor Harrell’s announcement, CLICK HERE.

The City Council adopted several protections for residential tenants over the past two years. In addition, Mayor Harrell set up an Eviction Assistance web page as part of the City’s broader Renting in Seattle online resource.  The Eviction Assistance page offers renters and landlords key information they should know about the end of the moratorium on February 28, 2022 and post-moratorium tenant protections.  It also provides links to resources and more detailed information.  We will be adding translated information as it becomes available.  The Assistance website is www.seattle.gov/EvictionAssistance and it lists resources available to tenants once the moratorium ends, including:

*free legal assistance from the Housing Justice Project

*assistance for rent and utility payments due to COVID hardships

*rules limiting eviction of tenants with delinquent rent accrued between March 3, 2020 and up to 6 months after the end of the moratorium

*rules limiting eviction from September to June based on Seattle Public Schools calendar for households with students (childcare—under 18), educators and employees of schools.


October 31, 2021: Governor Inslee ends State-level moratorium on rental evictions.

Governor Inslee acknowledged on October 29, 2021, “We have to have some end to the moratorium. You can’t have an economy ultimately where just nobody pays rent.” For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.


September 21 and 27, 2021 UPDATE: (CM Sawant advances two more bills for tenants; Mayor extends eviction moratorium to January 15, 2022 via Executive Order 2021-07).

Councilmember Sawant passed two of her bills out of her Renters Rights Committee on September 21, 2021: Council Bill 119985 extends the notification for ANY rent increase from 60 days to 180 days and Council Bill 120173 requires landlords to pay substantially higher relocation amounts for tenants who decide to move out after receiving a rent increase of 10% or more. The payments from the landlord to assist tenants with relocation (if there is a rent increase of 10% or more AND the tenant decides to move) is separate from the existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO).

I proposed an amendment to improve (in my opinion) each bill.

For the additional notification bill, I proposed to exempt small “mom & pop” landlords that own fewer than 5 units in Seattle (so they would be required to provide the existing 60 days of notice instead of the newly proposed 180 days). My proposed amendment was consistent with my attempts on previous pieces of legislation to exempt smaller landlords because there is a growing concern that Seattle’s flood of cumulative regulatory changes are encouraging small landlords to remove their housing from the rental market by selling their properties. Unfortunately, my amendment to exempt small landlords from the longer notification period failed 3 to 2. With my amendment failing, I abstained at the committee vote to provide myself with more time to think about it. By the time the full Council meeting arrived on September 27, 2021, nothing substantive had changed and I heard concerns from additional small (“mom & pop”) housing providers. So, while I support corporate landlords providing additional notice of rent increases, I believe it’s important to exempt small landlords, so I voted No. The bill passed anyway, 7 to 1.

For the additional relocation program, I proposed to tailor it for tenants in need, specifically defined as “low income.” The low-income definition (per our State government) is 80% of the area median income (AMI), which is adjusted based on the number of people in the household. (Examples: $92,000 per year for a family of four or $65,000 for a single person household). As proposed, the tenant would already need to submit information to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), so they would simply add a self-certification for their annual income. [The existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) also has an income qualification requirement.] Fortunately, this amendment of mine passed 3 to 2 at the committee and was, therefore, incorporated into the bill advancing to the full City Council. Councilmember Sawant still tried to delete my amendment at the full Council meeting on September 27, but my amendment stayed in place with a vote of 5 to 3. If my amendment had been deleted, I would have voted against the final bill. But my amendment remained, so I voted in favor of the final bill. Small landlords are not likely to try to raise rents above 10% in any given year, so this bill should not adversely impact small landlords. This new law is likely to be viewed as a major milestone for renter rights in Seattle.

Separately today, Mayor Durkan extended the eviction moratorium to January 15, 2022 via Executive Order 2021.07. This is the 6th extension since the COVID-19 civil emergency. This extension will also include prohibiting utility shutoffs. I’m concerned about the sluggish pace at which our local governments are getting federal rental assistance dollars to tenants and landlords. With faster distribution of rental relief dollars, another extension might not be needed, especially considering all the new protections put in place by the Seattle City Council. I would have preferred re-examining the need for the new extensions of the moratorium each month, rather than dictating an arbitrary 4-month extension. For the Mayor’s press release, CLICK HERE.


July 31, 2021 UPDATE: Federal foreclosure moratorium ends

On July 31, 2021, the federal government ended its COVID-era moratorium that had prevented bank foreclosures on certain mortgages. For a Washington Post article, CLICK HERE and for an C-NBC article, CLICK HERE. This is important because landlords often owe money to banks for the mortgages that funded their rental properties and the landlords rely on rent from their tenants to pay the debt service on those mortgages. Unlike other states, Washington State did not continue its own program beyond July 31, 2021, but the Washington State Attorney General published information about housing counseling services for property owners (CLICK HERE).


June 21, 2021 UPDATE:

Indicating her overall opposition to Council Bills 120046, 120077, 120090, Mayor Durkan returned them all un-signed (which is consistent with my No vote on those 3 bills). Unlike our U.S. Constitution which requires the chief executive (the President) to sign bills coming from the legislature (the Congress), our City Charter does not require the chief executive (the Mayor) to sign bills from the legislature (the City Council) for them to become law. You may have heard the term “pocket veto” whereby the President does NOT sign a law and it fails to become law. In Seattle, we have what I call “pocket passage” whereby the Mayor does NOT sign a law, but it becomes law anyway. Nevertheless, this decision requires the Mayor to explain her rationale for not signing and express her general opposition, even if she does not exercise her veto authority. For her letter explaining her opposition to CB 120046, 120077, and 120090, CLICK HERE. (Note: to overturn a mayoral veto, the Council needs only 6 votes. Therefore, if a bill received 6 votes during its initial passage, sometimes a mayor would not go through the exercise of vetoing it, because it is likely to be overridden anyway.)


June 7, 2021 UPDATE:

Today the Seattle City Council passed one Resolution and three Ordinances to favor residential tenants. Notably, all three ordinances are permanent, new laws that extend beyond the COVID pandemic.

Resolution 31998: Passed 7 to 0; I voted Yes.

In response to the economic recession caused by COVID, all levels of government have approved additional financial assistance for those struggling to pay for rent, which includes additional unemployment insurance, direct rental assistance, and other funding. We have confirmation from mainstream media reports, however, that it is taking longer than hoped to get the additional dollars for rental assistance out of the door and into the hands of struggling tenants and housing providers. While, ideally, we would not need another 6 months, this Resolution is non-binding, so I will be supporting it. I believe making housing providers whole with the money owed to them is the best path, rather than making permanent regulatory changes. Extending the eviction ban would provide more time as we emerge from the pandemic.

Council Bill 120046: Passed 6 to 1; I voted No.

My remarks: “Colleagues, I offered several amendments at the Renters Rights Committee which I believed would have made this legislation better. I saw it as my role to offer those amendments for consideration at the Committee on which I serve and rather than to retry or rehash them at full Council…

• I agree with the sponsor of the legislation that evictions present hardships for children and families, and no one wants to have this disruption that leads to learning loss and instability for children.
• I have voted in favor of numerous tenant protections during the past year, including the winter ban on evictions for low- and moderate-income residents, free legal counsel for those in need and facing eviction, and the payment plans for those impacted negatively by the COVID pandemic. Today I supported the Resolution to encourage another extension to the eviction moratorium to provide more time to have more rental assistance money flow from the federal and State governments to both housing providers and tenants. Before joining the City Council, I help to build and preserve tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and I worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helping to allocate billions of dollars to address homelessness throughout the country.
• However, I believe the more targeted, direct, and efficient solution is to fund tenant and landlord assistance for those in need rather piling on yet another regulation that could be legally challenged because it leaves one party — the providers of the housing, bearing the brunt of the cost. Regulating rather than funding the solutions is more likely to have a substantial negative impact — not on so-called “corporate landlords” he can absorb these costs imposed by City Council, but on the smallest landlords in our city. For all of the ordinances before us today, my amendments would have exempted small landlords (owning 4 or fewer units in Seattle).
• Regarding this Council Bill 120046, the permanent bill that would single out “educators” for special rental protections,
o one of my amendments would have targeted the bill to assist teachers and substitute teachers (and curriculum specialists) rather than every single employee at the school who might not be involved in the direct education of children. Moreover, my amendment would still have kept the special new protection for the school children and their families.
o Another amendment would have made the bill more like the law from San Francisco which limits the eviction protections to when it is no fault of a tenant who is an Educator. But my amendment would have been broader than San Francisco’s banning those evictions for school children and their families.
o Another amendment would have changed this permanent alteration of landlord-tenant relations to an 18-month pilot program to determine whether it is effective. It’s important for the general public to know that this bill is different from recent COVID relief bills because it would be permanent.

[These amendments, unfortunately, did not pass.]

I believe we should focus on getting the targeted funding to those in need, rather than permanently altering the contractual relationships to put the burden entirely on the housing provider. To be consistent with my votes at Committee, I will be voting No today. Thank you.”

Council Bill 120077: Passed 5-2; I voted No.

My remarks: “For this Council Bill 120077, I offered two amendments at the Renters Rights Committee on May 26: the first amendment would have exempted small landlords; the second would have allowed this regulatory change for 18 months so that it corresponds to the potential lingering effects of the COVID recession. I think we need to be mindful of the financial challenges faced by smaller housing providers who lack the economies of scale to absorb these city-imposed costs. I also do not think it is appropriate to make such regulatory legislation permanent.

Neither of my amendments passed, so I voted NO at Committee and, since nothing material has changed since that time, I will be voting No today. While this legislation says it’s related to the COVID civil emergency, it would be a permanent law.

Rather than making wholesale and permanent regulatory changes to existing contractual relationships that put the entire burden onto the housing provider regardless of their hardship, I believe we should instead get the funding into the hands of the housing providers to make them whole for the tenants who truly need that help.”

Council Bill 120090: Passed 5 to 2; I voted No.

My remarks: “I think I would have been able to support this legislation Council Bill 120090 if a similar State law had not passed. But a similar State Law House Bill 1236 recently passed.

Council Bill 120090 is, in my opinion, pre-empted by State law which includes, but is not limited to the newly State law House Bill 1236.

As I understand it, local laws are generally pre-empted by State laws that conflict on the same subject matter, even if the State law does not expressly include a pre-emption clause.

So, it’s not clear to me why this City Council is proceeding to adopt a City law that could burden the City with substantial legal risk.

Consistent with my vote at the Committee level, I will be voting No on Council Bill 120090 because of the concerns with pre-emption by the State government.”

More Info: For a Seattle Times article on the legislation, CLICK HERE. For an SCC Insight article, CLICK HERE.


March 29, 2021 UPDATE: (excerpt from newsletter)

Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee Extend COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums to June 30, 2021

Following last week’s announcement of $23 million of additional rental assistance and the prospect of new rental assistance available to Seattle and King County through the new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Mayor Durkan extended COVID-19 relief measures, including the eviction moratoriums to protect residential, nonprofit, and small business tenants in the City of Seattle through June 30, 2021. Other COVID-19 relief measures include extending the Utility Discount Program’s Self Certification Pilot Program until June 30, 2021, which can lower Seattle City Light bills by 60 percent and Seattle Public Utility bills by 50 percent for people who meet the eligibility requirements.

Residential tenants who receive an eviction notice during the moratorium should contact the Renting in Seattle hotline at 206‐684‐5700 or go online to submit a complaint. On top of the current proposal for $23 million for rental assistance, the City of Seattle has committed $18 million to rental assistance  in addition to state and King County resources for landlords and tenants. If you’re a small business, see the Office of Economic Development’s COVID-19 Lease Amendment Tool Kit.

The City continues to maintain a comprehensive resource page for residents and small businesses impacted by COVID-19.


March 29, 2021 and March 4, 2021 UPDATE (excerpt from newsletter):

Councilmember Sawant’s Bill for Tenants (“Right to Counsel” Council Bill 120007): My No Vote at Committee and Yes at Full City Council

Consistent with the additional $1.9 Trillion in additional federal relief (for a total of $5 Trillion) and our Governor and Mayor extending the eviction moratorium several more months, I agree we must continually prevent evictions whenever possible. This is why I joined the rest of City Hall leaders and…

  • Increased funding for tenant supports, including funds for legal assistance to prevent evictions.
  • Supported reforms at the State legislature to provide tenants with more protections.
  • Banned evictions during the coldest winter months.
  • Prevented evictions throughout the COVID pandemic (and the eviction moratorium is being extended).
  • Adopted the Council President’s legislation to allow for installments of back rent following COVID.

However, Councilmember Sawant’s new legislation (Council Bill 120007) to have city taxpayers foot the bills for free attorneys for anyone being evicted is concerning on a number of fronts, so I voted against it at her Committee on March 4. I will continue to support effective, targeted — and funded — eviction prevention measures, but Sawant’s original bill is seriously flawed, in my opinion, and the analysis put forward in support of it was inadequate.

All of us want to prevent homelessness and we continue to increase those positive efforts; therefore, it’s disappointing and misleading whenever Councilmember Sawant mischaracterizes legitimate concerns with her unfunded bill as somehow destined to contribute to homelessness.

I believe this type of government assistance and intervention to pay lawyers for any residential tenant — regardless of their income or the reason for the eviction proceedings — should be budgeted, rather than dictated or mandated permanently. In fact, we added money for these legal services already in our most recent annual budget process just a few months ago. Even as new federal relief dollars flow, we must continue to monitor the eviction situation for the actual need and then respond accordingly — as we will with all other budget priorities facing our city. Singling out this issue over other needs of our city and its residents is fiscally irresponsible and creates false promises.

I would have been able to vote Yes for this bill if it had been focused and funded. When promising to provide city tax dollars to private individuals, I believe we should:

  • subsidize those who are truly in need (such as low income residents only),
  • target help only to those tenants who cannot afford to pay their rent due to extraordinary circumstances (non-payment of rent rather than other violations of the lease),
  • support fiscal responsibility: instead of creating an unfunded mandate, let’s acknowledge that it can be funded only to the extent our city budget can afford it as we also strive to fund childcare, public safety, supports for those experiencing homelessness, transit subsidies, utility discounts, and the list goes on and on.

But, unfortunately, the current version of Sawant’s bill is un-targeted and un-funded legislation that ties the city taxpayers to unknown (unquantified) financial requirements to pay for lawyers for anyone of any income level — for all time.

Note: Sawant’s bill was scheduled for a vote at the full City Council on March 15, 2021, but six Councilmembers (including me) voted to delay it for two weeks for a variety of reasons, including the Mayor’s extension of the eviction moratorium and a desire by some Councilmembers to amend the bill (something that should have happened when it was in Councilmember Sawant’s Committee). While I have supported and will continue to support eviction prevention and low-income tenant supports, Councilmember Sawant’s bill would need to amended substantially for me to change my vote.  In the meantime, the eviction moratorium remains in place and substantial new dollars will be flowing from the $1.9 Trillion relief package signed recently by President Biden.

Update to this post on March 29, 2021: Later at the meeting of the full City Council, this bill was substantially amended with Amendments 1, 2, 3, 4 and so I was able to vote for the final, amended version. Here are the remarks I made at the full City Council meeting: “To enact laws strong enough to survive scrutiny — so that we can actually help our most vulnerable neighbors — policymakers need the time to think through the various ramifications and, because we took the time in this case, we were able to consider and approve sensible amendments to make this legislation better — and so I am able to update my vote to YES.”  While I remain concerned this bill creates a first-of-its-kind, un-quantified mandate instead of prudently being “subject to budget discussions and available appropriations,” the combination of the four amendments enabled me to update my vote to YES. The amendments (a) target the bill to those who truly cannot afford an attorney, (b) focus the tax dollars on actual legal representation in the courtroom (instead of just vague advocacy), (c) require reports, and (d) prompt the city department to conduct an open, competitive process to allocate the tax dollars to qualified attorney nonprofits.  It will be important to see how this legislation impacts not only tenants but also smaller landlords (those owning fewer than 5 units) because those smaller “mom & pop” landlords provide important housing opportunities to Seattle’s residents.


UPDATE January 28, 2021 (excerpt from newsletter):

Eviction Moratorium Extended by Feds, Governor, and Mayor (to March 31, 2021)

The risk of evictions is concerning to many as we continue to experience the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic. In the City of Seattle, the Mayor on December 15, 2020 extended her eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021. The Governor’s State eviction moratorium was also recently extended to March 31, 2021. Proclamation 20-19.5 extends state rental assistance programs to incorporate the newly approved federal funding for rental assistance. Furthermore, the stated goal of these rental assistance programs is modified to provide a path for landlords, property owners, and property managers to initiate an application for rental assistance. The proclamation also clarifies that landlords and property owners may communicate with tenants in support of their applications for rental assistance.

However, I recognize that federal and state action must also occur to prevent foreclosures. The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will extend their moratorium evictions until February 28, 2021. The federal government has extended its moratorium protecting mortgages under jurisdiction of HUD (FHA-insured) to March 31st . Unfortunately, these foreclosure moratoriums apply only to mortgages on single-family homes. We also need a foreclosure moratorium for multifamily housing (apartment buildings), which can be done only at the state and federal levels, according to banking laws. A multifamily housing foreclosure moratorium is needed to enable apartment owners to survive which can, in turn, help renters. We have asked our Office of Intergovernmental Relations to track this possibility.


May 11, 2020 UPDATE:

Council Bill 119788: Payment Plans for Residential Tenants (COVID-related). I voted Yes. Bill Title: “AN ORDINANCE relating to residential rental agreements; allowing residential tenants to pay rent in installments when the tenant is unable to timely pay rent; declaring an emergency; and establishing an immediate effective date; all by a 3/4 vote of the City Council.”

Council Bill 119787: Preventing the use of eviction history to be considered during — and up to 6 months after — the Mayor’s Civil Emergency period I voted No. Bill Title: “AN ORDINANCE relating to the use of eviction records; regulating the use of eviction history in residential housing; prohibiting landlords from considering evictions related to COVID-19 during and after the civil emergency; amending the title of Chapter 14.09 and Sections 14.09.005, 14.09.010, 14.09.020, and 14.09.030 of, and adding a new Section 14.09.026 to, the Seattle Municipal Code; declaring an emergency; and establishing an immediate effective date; all by a 3/4 vote of the City Council.

Excerpt of my prepared remarks: “I’m becoming increasingly concerned that we are seeing bills that invoke the emergency legislative clause of our City Charter (which enables legislation to take effect immediately) for time periods that last well beyond the declared emergency. [City Charter, Title IV, Section I (i)]

I have supported the eviction restrictions in two ground-breaking bills recently adopted by this City Council. I am, however, voting No on this bill because I believe…

_its far-reaching impacts are rushed with only 7 days to consider it;

_ it does not, in my opinion, to meet the test that it is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety;

_it does not exempt smaller landlords;

_ I am in favor of fairness about eviction records during this COVID crisis. The legislation in front of us today, however, covers a longer time period well into the future. To be clear, this legislation would be not just for a few months after the Mayor’s eviction moratorium ends, but after the declared “emergency” ends. This is an important point.  The emergency as declared by the Mayor is likely to stay in place for several months — if not for more than a year — AFTER the eviction moratorium ends. The Mayor is likely to keep her emergency declaration in place long after the eviction moratorium ends because we may need it in place to maximize funding and reimbursement from the federal government.  We just do not know for how long it will last and yet today we are setting in stone a specified time frame for additional, hyper-specific regulations and top of previous regulations.”


May 4, 2020 UPDATE: Additional Defense from Eviction (COVID-related)

City Council approves additional defense from eviction for renters suffering financial hardship for one-time, 6-month “ramp down” following COVID (Council Bill 119784; I voted Yes.)

Today the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 119784, introduced by Council President Lorena Gonzalez to provide residential renters facing financial hardship with an additional defense against eviction for 6 months after the Mayor’s eviction moratorium ends.

The Mayor extended her evictions moratorium — which is a stronger outright prohibition on evictions — to June 4, to align with the Governor’s COVID-related policies. Today’s new — and temporary — policy adopted by the City Council is not a moratorium or ban on evictions, but rather another option tenants can use as a financial defense if a landlord attempts to evict them during the following six months. Think of it as a “ramp down” or “phasing out” of the stronger protections for tenants during this extraordinary time.

What follows below is A LOT of words to explain my “Yes” vote, but my decision ultimately boils down to one thing: COVID. I believe no one wants to see vulnerable people evicted during a homelessness crisis compounded by a pandemic.

Here is additional background on the approved legislation:

  • This temporary evictions law is a time-limited (one 6-month period) option during this extraordinary public health and economic crisis for renters who also certify their financial hardship to a judge. The rent is still owed and, if not paid, that debt will accumulate and should ultimately be paid.
  • Fortunately, all levels of government are adding money to programs for eviction prevention and rental assistance, which should reduce financial hardship and the need for the eviction defense.
  • Moreover, landlords can still evict tenants for several legitimate reasons other than failure to pay rent during this period, pursuant to the City’s Housing Code (see Title 22 of the Seattle Municipal Code, Section 22.206.160).

Note: Because the legislation was introduced and approved as an “emergency” ordinance, it becomes law only if/when Mayor Jenny Durkan signs it. (Under our City Charter, a typical Council bill becomes law unless the Mayor vetoes it. In other words, if the Mayor refuses to sign a typical Council bill, it becomes law anyway. Not so with an “emergency” ordinance, which requires not only 7 votes from Council instead of 5, but also an affirmative signature from the Mayor.) According to the Seattle Times May 4 article, Mayor Durkan “‘believes people should be able to stay in place‘ and intends to sign González’s bill, spokesman Ernie Apreza said.”

My office received many e-mails in favor of the proposal and many e-mails against it. To reconcile these opposite views, I conducted additional research and proposed amendments (see below). As with the moratorium on evictions during the coldest winter months adopted by the City Council this past February, this vote on CB 119784 was a difficult policy decision for me. The vote was challenging not only because of the differing views of my own constituents, but also because the Council was again breaking new ground to go beyond what other cities have tested. While breaking new ground might sound exciting to some, I prefer a methodical approach that analyzes data along the way to make sure we are not overreaching in a way that creates unintended consequences or attracts costly lawsuits that overturn our policy.

I proposed three amendments:

  1. Exempt Small Landlords (Failed): My amendment to exempt the smallest landlords (4 or fewer units) was rejected 8-1. I have heard from many smaller landlords in my district who are suffering their own financial hardships with mortgage payments, real estate taxes, property insurance, utility bills, and repairs. Unlike the City Council’s approval of my exemption for small landlords in February 2020 for the moratorium on evictions during the winter months, today my colleagues argued that COVID makes the situation extraordinary and today’s bill is temporary (just the 6 months in 2020; not every year).
  2. Require Tenants to Certify Financial Hardship (Passed!): One of the concerns with the original bill introduced by Council President Gonzalez is that renters might be able to pay rent, but choose not to pay rent. My amendment requires tenants to certify to a judge that they cannot afford it. “The tenant has submitted a declaration or self-certification asserting the tenant has suffered a financial hardship and is therefore unable to pay rent.”
  3. Receive Reports on the Law’s Implementation (Failed): While statistics were put forward by proponents of the legislation, when I asked to amend the proposal to require the city departments to report back to us on the data and effectiveness of the proposal, my colleagues voted 8-1 to reject my amendment. Their rationale was that this law will be for only 6 months and that the city government does not already collect data on evictions. Very disappointing!

The amendment accepted by my Council colleagues (for tenants to certify their financial hardship to a judge) combined with the one-time, short-term nature of the ordinance — during the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID public health and economic crisis — led me to join my Council colleagues and vote for the amended bill.

  • For the press release from Council President Gonzalez, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times article covering the Council’s discussion and vote, CLICK HERE.

There is more legislation on the way from my colleagues to regulate landlord-tenant relations that will attempt to supersede existing rental agreements already in place. I’m concerned that this new legislation will use a crystal ball to cover longer time periods too far into the future, will not provide corresponding relief to the housing providers (such as helping them to pay their mortgages, property taxes, property insurance, etc), and will ignore the boost in unemployment insurance payments and rental assistance programs.

It’s important for me to emphasize that, while I have supported legislation specifically targeted to reduce evictions during hard times, I absolutely oppose the irresponsible calls for a “rent strike.” For the Seattle Times article on that, CLICK HERE. Rent is still due. If you’re having trouble paying your residential rent, CLICK HERE and HERE. If you’re a housing provider (landlord), CLICK HERE.


March 3, 2020: CIVIL EMERGENCY ORDER, CITY OF SEATTLE, MORATORIUM ON RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS

Note: This moratorium was extended several times, in concert with Governor Inslee’s moratorium, until June 30, 2021.

A. Effective immediately, a moratorium on residential evictions is hereby ordered until the earlier of the termination of the civil emergency declared in the Proclamation of Civil Emergency dated March 3, 2020 or 60 days from the effective date of this Emergency Order. The decision to extend the moratorium shall be evaluated and determined
by the Mayor based on public health necessity;
B. A residential landlord shall not initiate an unlawful detainer action, issue a notice of termination, or otherwise act on any termination notice, including any action or notice related to a rental agreement that has expired or will expire during the effective date of this Emergency Order, unless the unlawful detainer action or action on a termination notice
is due to actions by the tenant constituting an imminent threat to the health or safety of neighbors, the landlord, or the tenant’s or landlord’s household members. Further, no late fees or other charges due to late payment of rent shall accrue during the moratorium; and
C. It shall be a defense to any eviction action that the eviction of the tenant will occur during the moratorium, unless the eviction action is due to actions by the tenant constituting an imminent threat to the health or safety of neighbors, the landlord, or the tenant’s or landlord’s household members. For any pending eviction action, regardless if the tenant has appeared, a court may grant a continuance for a future hearing date in order for the eviction action to be heard after the moratorium a court may grant a continuance for a future court date in order for the matter
to heard at a time after the moratorium is terminated; and
D. Effective immediately, the Sheriff of King County is requested to cease execution of eviction orders during the moratorium.”

For the full Civil Emergency Order temporarily banning most residential evictions during the COVID emergency, CLICK HERE.


February 11, 2020 (copy of original post):

My vote to limit winter evictions during our homelessness crisis (Council Bill 119726; Ordinance 126041)

In a surprising 7-0 vote this afternoon, the City Council passed an audacious ordinance prohibiting larger landlords from evicting low and moderate income tenants in Seattle during the 3 coldest months of December, January, and February, with exceptions for criminal and unsafe activities and other just causes for eviction.

The vote was surprising because I voted in favor of it, even though I had signaled my substantial concerns.

Why? The short answer is that the original legislation was improved substantially by a slew of amendments from various Councilmembers, including me. Moreover, in the midst of our deliberations, it was clear this legislation had overwhelming support to pass — so I believe it was then my job to make the inevitable legislation better, rather than be the lone ”no” vote on worse legislation.

I was relieved that the Council approved my amendment to exempt “small landlords,” defined as those with an ownership interest in four or fewer units. Small landlords were literally excluded from the table during Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s committee, but those “mom and pop” local landlords got their message through regardless: they are able to offer rental units to the housing market only if they can collect the rent needed to pay their mortgage, utilities, insurance, taxes, and maintenance. I heard over and over in person and by email from constituents that this was their main concern, and I tailored my amendment to address this concern. I could not stop the legislation but, in a close 4-3 vote, I was able to make it more reasonable.

While the Committee rejected my amendment to apply the winter eviction moratorium just to very low-income tenants in housing that received city-government financial assistance, the Council approved an amendment to limit it to low and moderate income people (those earning the area median income or less).

What’s next? I appreciate the valid concerns raised by Mayor Durkan and her key department heads. If Mayor Durkan vetoes the legislation, it would return to the City Council, which would need to muster at least 6 votes to overturn it. I welcome further discussion, especially about the additional funding needed to prevent evictions and our mutual desire to avoid a successful legal challenge. The point, after all, is to prevent evictions to stop exacerbating our homelessness crisis during the coldest months, rather than to engage in long and expensive legal battles.

To watch the video on Seattle Channel, go to minute 57:51: https://www.seattlechannel.org/FullCouncil/?videoid=x111178

Here is a link to the Seattle Times article: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-approves-legislation-protecting-renters-from-wintertime-evictionsme-evictions/ Here’s an excerpt from that article: “Before voting 7-0, the council trimmed the period covered by the legislation from five months to three months; limited the rule to low- and moderate-income tenants; and exempted landlords with four or fewer housing units. The legislation is meant to prevent most evictions during the coldest months for people behind on their rent. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, expressed disappointment with the amendments, calling them loopholes…”

# # #

More Information:

For relevant City of Seattle guidance and regulations impacting renters and landlords, CLICK HERE.


Hope Springs Ahead with Day of Service

May 27th, 2022

Friends and Neighbors,

This past November delivered hope to many Seattleites by electing a new Mayor, a new citywide Councilmember, and a new City Attorney — followed in January by a new Council President. This past weekend, Mayor Harrell’s “Day of Service” transformed that hope into tangible action.

Seahawks Football head coach Pete Carroll joins Mayor Harrell and 4,000 other volunteers across the Emerald City for the Mayor’s hugely successful “One Seattle: Day of Service.” Together, we picked up litter, removed graffiti, rooted out weeds and provided much tender loving care for our city. You can continue this spirit of beautifying our city by using the “Find It, Fix It” app or organizing an “Adopt-A-Street” clean up event anytime. And, hopefully, we’ll enjoy another citywide “Day of Service” soon again.  On a side note, I will think twice before challenging the mayor to a push-up contest.

In this month’s newsletter

  • District 4: engaging in Cowen Park, the U District, Magnuson Park, Wallingford, and more
  • Homelessness: Seattle’s Customer Service Bureau and tiny homes
  • Public Safety: compromise on hiring incentives; safety stats on homicides, fires, and traffic fatalities; assessment of SPD; new Crime Prevention Coordinators; City Attorney and Seattle Municipal Court
  • Preventing Displacement: taming taxes
  • Internet for All: President Biden boosts our vision 😊
  • Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee: “Ride Transit Month,” recommendations for Sound Transit, tackling utility bills, and more
  • COVID Updates: public health stats
  • Ways to Provide Input

DISTRICT 4

Day of Service May 21: Cowen Park

Councilmember Pedersen (center) cleaning up Cowen Park with dozens of eager volunteers, including fellow civic leaders Christa Valles and Gabe Galanda.  In the background, Legislative Aide Gabby is wondering when they’re going to stop posing and get back to work 😊.  Mayor Harrell’s idea for the “One Seattle: Day of Service” was a big success, with a reported 4,000 Seattleites participating across our city.

 

During the “Day of Service,” we heard a theme from the volunteers: Let’s Do This Again Soon! If not every year, how about every 3 months.  We have a program for that!  Our own Seattle Public Utilities provides “Adopt a Street” trash bags, trash grabbers, gloves, and orange vests to community groups that want to clean up streets or parks.  To get Adopt-a-Street supplies for your community, CLICK HERE or call (206) 684-7647 or email adoptastreet@seattle.gov. Legislative Aide Gabby Lacson displays the Adopt-A-Street logo and phone number while cleaning up Cowen Park in District 4 in May. As with the community clean ups I attended in Roosevelt and Wallingford a few weeks ago, you can do it anytime during the year.

 

U District Street Fair Celebrates Return with Funky Fun Flair

Councilmember Pedersen (in the shades) thanking Don Blakeney (in the blazer), his team at the nonprofit U District Partnership, and all the sponsors of the wildly successful and U District Street Fair. Springing forth from the new light rail station were tens of thousands of visitors dazzled by the energy of Seattle’s best destination for funky fun: the University District adjacent to our world-class university. The variety and volume of the music, food, and arts were energizing and the smiles on the throngs of people were uplifting as we all celebrated the return of the Street Fair and each other to the neighborhood.

NeighborCare Re-Opens at Magnuson Apartments and New Crosswalk On Its Way

As you’ve seen in our newsletter a lot, there are more than 850 low-income families who call Magnuson Park home, both with the Solid Ground housing and Mercy Magnuson housing.  We are fortunate that the newly renovated Mercy Magnuson buildings also offer many services including health care. Neighborcare Health at Magnuson recently re-opened (only Mondays 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for now). For more info, CLICK HERE or call 206-548-5790 and press 1 for an appointment.

I am very grateful that SDOT’s new Traffic Engineer was willing to visit this location with me and agreed to install a new crosswalk there later this year. Many neighbors requested the new crosswalk to safely link the low-income apartments to the Magnuson Park Community Center that is finally undergoing a light renovation.

Wallingford Farmers Market: re-opened  Wednesday afternoons

Update After Dog Attack in Eastlake:

You may have heard about or seen on TV news earlier this month two dogs attacking a pedestrian on Fairview Ave in the Eastlake neighborhood. For an initial update from the Seattle Animal Shelter, CLICK HERE.


ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

Reporting Homelessness Encampments:

So that the Harrell Administration and Regional Homelessness Authority know where to go to offer help, to track trends, and to address dangerous encampments, the Mayor’s Office is asking everyone to use the “Find It, Fix It” app or the Customer Service Bureau online form:

(The Customer Service Bureau database and the “Find It, Fix It” database are linked.)

Building More Tiny Homes in D4

Even though we finished our work siting, funding, building, and occupying the Tiny Home Village in the University District, nonprofits and volunteers are still building tiny homes to make available throughout the city and region, including the Wedgwood residents shown above.

While tiny homes might not be permanent housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness, when paired with professional case management and located near transit, they can be an important temporary shelter during the homelessness crisis and are much better than tents on sidewalks and in parks. I want to thank residents of Wedgwood including the leadership of Dr. Tom G. who helped to organize efforts and “donated” his driveway for the construction of these temporary, but welcoming and life-restoring homes.


PUBLIC SAFETY

Police Hiring Compromise Just a First Step: Bold Safety Plan Needed Soon

Two recent surveys gauged concerns about public safety in Seattle.

In my newsletter last month, I detailed the alarming reduction of officers and detectives at SPD – losing approximately 25% of our in-service officers (see graph above), even as our city’s population has gone in the opposite direction:  growing by 25% in the past 10 years — from 600,000 people in 2010 to nearly 750,000 people today.  Meanwhile, we still don’t see sufficient emergency response alternatives in place yet.

On Tuesday, May 24, we finally approved a Council Bill and Resolution aimed at providing hiring incentives to try to restore some of the lost officers.

  • Resolution 32050 passed 6 to 3. I supported it. (Morales, Mosqueda, Sawant voted No.)
  • Council Bill 120320 passed 6 to 3. I supported it. (Morales, Mosqueda, Sawant voted No.)

My remarks at Committee:

“I want to thank both Chair Herbold and Councilmember Nelson for putting forward both legislative measures and I want to thank Mayor Bruce Harrell for his leadership to coordinate today’s collaboration and compromise. Mayor Harrell once again demonstrated his skill at unifying perse viewpoints and finding common ground. This was a timely, healthy, and necessary process for good governance of our perse City. 

This amended Resolution and this amended Council Bill for moving expenses and enhanced recruitment can serve as an acceptable first step – a sturdy shovel to start to dig ourselves out of the severe staffing shortage hole in public safety created over the previous two years.

The exit interviews of SPD officers revealed the theme about a perceived lack of support from City Hall. I hope this action today indicates our renewed support for our City government employees who serve as our front-line emergency responders. 

We must also acknowledge that Summer is Coming. Summer is coming – it will be here in just days.  We know that, historically, summer brings a spike in crime and gun violence. This spike coincides with the warmer months when hundreds of thousands of Seattle residents deserve to feel safe to enjoy ALL their City parks, such as Gas Works Park in Wallingford where the City hopes to host a large July 4th celebration.

Yes, we must reform the police union contract and, yes, City Hall is overdue in launching alternative emergency responses to many lower risk 9-1-1 calls. At the same time, the staffing shortage at SPD is so severe that we’ll need more than a shovel to dig ourselves out; we’ll need a high-speed elevator and we’ll need it soon. So, I look forward to us all receiving from the Mayor’s Office and SPD a bigger and bolder recruitment and retention plan – with details — ready to implement for achieving success to hire and keep our frontline public safety workers here in Seattle before the summer crime spike is upon us. Thank you.

— Councilmember Alex Pedersen

Hiring incentives are not spent until the person is hired, so if they don’t work, the funds are still available for other issues. Let’s give them at least 9 months to work.

  • To apply to be a Seattle police officer, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times May 20 editorial entitled, “Mayor Harrell, stem the blue drain with Seattle Police Department hiring incentives,” CLICK HERE.

Seattle safety statistics: a grim start to 2022

Homicides and Shootings: As of May 19, 2022, homicide events are up 73% (+8) with 19 incidents (2 pending coding) year-to-date compared to 11 during the same time last year. Shootings & Shots Fired events are up 76% (+118) with 273 events year-to-date compared to 155 events during the same time last year. Shootings are up 72% (+31) with 74 events year-to-date compared to 43 during the same time last year. (Source: Seattle Police Department.) Highly trained detectives leaving the department make it harder to investigate these crimes, including last week’s stabbings outside the U District light rail station.

Fires:  While emergency calls increased by “only” 13% from 2020 to 2021, our fire fighters have had to deal with an overall 33% increase in fires from 2020 to 2021.  This includes 854 encampment fires in 2020 increasing to 1,446 encampment fires in 2021 (a 69% increase in encampment fires). The trend for 2022 is off to a dangerous start, too:  during the 4-month period from January through April 2022, there have been 580 encampment fires already (as compared to “only” 393 for the same period in 2020 and 202 for the same period in 2019). To reduce fire risk for those living outside, for our neighborhoods, and for our firefighters, we need to bring more people inside, faster.

(Source: Seattle Fire Department 2021 Annual Report)

Traffic Fatalities:  Seattle’s official policy is “Vision Zero” which strives to have zero traffic deaths by 2030. I have asked SDOT’s Vision Zero team to return to our Transportation Committee soon to discuss their strategies for reducing fatalities and injuries on Seattle’s streets. Pedestrians are, by far, the greatest percentage of victims of traffic-related deaths in Seattle. While people driving cars or motorcycles comprised 23% of fatalities in 2021, pedestrians comprised a whopping 63% in 2021, which is up from the average of 52% over the past 7 years.

(Source: Seattle Department of Transportation, Vision Zero team)

Notes: *2022 is just through March 31, 2022 (1st quarter). If figures from the first 3 months were annualized (i.e. if the early 2022 trend continues), it would total 16 fatalities, but it is likely to be a higher figure.

Another key metric:  the # of victims of traffic fatalities experiencing homelessness. Since 2016 (2015 is not known), an average of 13% of the victims were experiencing homelessness, but in 2021 (and for the first quarter of 2022) that percentage doubles to 26% on average. To reduce traffic fatalities, we need to bring more people inside, faster.

For a Seattle Times article on the first few months of 2022, CLICK HERE.  For the Vision Zero website, CLICK HERE.

Judges Agree with City Attorney Davison to Exempt “High Utilizers” from Release Through Community Court; King County’s Booking Restrictions Still an Issue

Seattle’s new City Attorney noted on April 27, 2022, “many inpiduals who repeatedly commit serious crimes or have dozens of police referrals are automatically sent to Community Court even though data shows that this type of intervention fails to address their activity or deter them from reoffending.” On May 9, the Seattle Municipal Court judges announced that they “agreed to the Seattle City Attorney’s proposed changes to Seattle Community Court. The City Attorney requested that certain inpiduals they have identified as ‘high utilizers’ be excluded from participating in the program...”

The Seattle Municipal Court pointed to King County jail booking policies as a cause of the problems, stating, “As a pandemic response, the King County Jail implemented booking restrictions, and inpiduals accused of low-level crimes are no longer booked into the jail. Instead, they are cited by the police and then released, many times without a future court date. When a court date is set for these cases, many cannot be reached…” It’s unclear whether the King County Executive has updated their booking restrictions at the jail. To encourage updated booking policies at our shared jail to allow those eligible and in need to be held there for an official handoff to services, you can contact the King County Executive at Dow.Constantine@kingcounty.gov

  • For CAO Davison’s request to the Seattle Municipal Court, CLICK HERE.
  • For the May 9, 2022 press release from the Seattle Municipal Court, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times article on this issue, CLICK HERE.

Two New Crime Prevention Coordinators On Board in North Seattle!

I was proud to secure the funding to add a Crime Prevention Coordinator to the largest geographic area of our city: North Seattle. Both new experts are on board now. As stated on SPD’s website, “Crime Prevention Coordinators (CPCs) are experts in crime prevention techniques. You can contact your CPC to inquire about general crime prevention tips, get involved or start a Block Watch group, request their presence at an upcoming community meeting and to discuss ongoing crime concerns in your neighborhood.”  Crime Prevention Coordinators are civilians who work for SPD and who use their expertise to help anyone (businesses, homeowners, renters) with crime prevention tips such as adding lights, securing doors, trimming bushes to increase visibility, and getting to know your neighbors. While the City Council has the power to fund things, we need the executive departments to implement them and the Harrell Administration got it done. For more about Crime Prevention Coordinators, CLICK HERE.

Police Reform Update

 

The federal monitor of the consent decree over the police department reported good news on May 19: “Seattle has accomplished a great deal under the consent decree,” Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie wrote in a foreword to his 150-page assessment. “The vast majority of SPD officers have embraced a new mission and values; worked to create a service-oriented culture; expanded knowledge and skills on crisis intervention, de-escalation and less-lethal tactics; and committed to new policies and practices.”

In reaction to this positive report, I could not say it better or with more authority than Mayor Harrell who said,

My administration is committed to ensuring that SPD is an effective public safety department – centered on good police work, accountability, innovation, and true community engagement. Every day I speak with officers who share my vision for a police service defined by a culture of helping others and keeping all people in Seattle safe.

“The results of this comprehensive assessment make clear that SPD has made – and continues to make – meaningful strides since the implementation of the consent decree. I’m grateful for our officers – their dedicated work has driven a significant 48% reduction in the use of force, led to better handling of crisis events, and shown consistent improvement through difficult circumstances.

“There remains work to be done, but I believe our department can deliver on my administration’s commitment – and our community’s demands – to stamp out racial disparities in policing and eliminate unwarranted use of force.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Justice and the monitoring team as we move into a final phase of the consent decree. From a period of sustained compliance to one of institutionalized reform, we will work together with these partners and our community to ensure the City and its accountability entities are equipped to deliver perpetual police oversight.”

I would only add that one of the keys to more sustainable and durable reform is to ensure such reform is embedded in the police union contract. This contract expired December 31, 2020. While I have been talking about the need for a better contract that everyone can be proud of – from frequent protesters to longtime officers – I was appointed to serve on the Labor Relations Committee only a few month ago. I look forward to negotiating a just employment contract, which is vital for an accountable, affordable, and effective police department.  In 2017, City Council passed a stronger, more detailed accountability ordinance, but not all those reforms were embedded in the employment contract with police officers.

For more about the connection between the federal monitor’s assessment and the police union contract, you can read a recent Seattle Times article by CLICKING HERE. Here’s a key excerpt:

“[Federal Judge] Robart three years ago ruled SPD had fallen partly out of compliance with the decree over the city’s decision to accept a guild contract that protected officers from discipline.

The incident that brought the issue to a head was the reinstatement through arbitration of a fired officer, Adley Shepherd, who had punched a handcuffed suspect in the face, breaking her cheekbone. Shepherd was eventually terminated but has sued the department to get his job back.

Robart has said the city must address the guild contract, which will almost certainly be a topic during ongoing collective-bargaining talks between the city and SPD which has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2020.

In his report, Oftelie said the monitoring team “will be tracking progress on collective bargaining agreements and advising the court on progress and challenges to upholding accountability.”

He said in an interview that accountability “remains a huge red-flag area” for SPD when it comes to convincing Robart to release the agency from the consent decree.”

To read the full May 2022 Comprehensive Assessment of the Seattle Police Department by the Federal Monitor,  CLICK HERE.


PREVENTING DISPLACEMENT: TAMING TAXES

The Seattle Times recently reported what you might already expect about tax increases: “Property tax bills arriving soon will deliver tax hikes for King County homeowners…Seattle homeowners will see an average increase of about 7%…[V]oter-approved tax measures, such as school levies, are a bigger driver of property tax increases than rising values.” While not widely discussed, many renters will also feel the increase in property taxes because landlords can pass along those same increases to their tenants. That’s why it’s a myth that property tax increases impact only homeowners.

The economic displacement of existing Seattle residents happens for a variety of reasons and increased taxes can be one of the causes of displacement, especially for people on small, fixed incomes such as Social Security for seniors. When I knocked on doors throughout our District 4, I listened to many seniors concerned about their financial vulnerability to increasing property tax bills.

For Seattle residents, the impact to your household budget is much bigger than for most other jurisdictions in King County. As the pie charts below indicate, countywide cities take 15% on average, but in Seattle, our city comprises 25% of your property tax bill. That’s due, in large part, to politicians asking you to “lift the lid” on the property tax levy for a different program each year or so.

After voters increased the Seattle library levy in 2019, we are starting another round of property tax increases – just last week King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed increasing property taxes for open space elsewhere in King County for which Seattle residents will have to pay. Then we’ll see proposed increases for Seattle Parks, the Seattle Housing Levy, and other important City programs.

Pie chart above: For the average homeowner within the city of Seattle, their city property taxes are 25% of their tax bill, which is a much higher portion than for homeowners elsewhere in King County.

For the average homeowner within all of King County, their city property taxes are only 15% of their tax bill as shown in the pie chart above.

What can be done? Encourage local government to manage costs better. Could they implement something in a more cost-effective manner? How much of the spending plan is going to pay for overhead / administration rather than for direct services to communities in need? Even for programs you love, be sure to ask policymakers to consider the CUMULATIVE impact on your property tax bills and especially for those on fixed low-incomes such as many seniors.

Also, consider the other things City Hall does to increase your tax bill – not just your tax rate for the programs mentioned above, but also the assessed value. Over time, upzoned areas can lead to property tax increases, especially when neighboring parcels sell after maxing out the upzone changes. This is relevant as City Hall discusses updating its “Comprehensive Plan” for zoning. Targeted upzones to create low-income housing quickly can be beneficial, but some blanket upzones requested by real estate developers could lead to more widespread increases in property tax bills without corresponding public benefits.

Previously, some politicians paid lip service to concerns over displacement, but plowed ahead to enact widespread upzones without putting in place displacement preventions beforehand. Some “naturally occurring affordable housing” has been demolished for higher-priced developments and City policymakers failed to track the losses.  To rectify this going forward is one of the reasons I introduced Council Bill 120325 — let’s have a research university finally collect the data we need to learn from past mistakes and not inadvertently incentivize demolitions of low- and moderate-income housing that still exists.

Council Bill 120325:  “AN ORDINANCE relating to housing and displacement mitigation; expanding the information required for submission under the Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance for rental housing units; requiring submission of rental housing-related information; and amending Chapter 22.214 of the Seattle Municipal Code


INTERNET FOR ALL

Want a discount on high-speed internet service? If your household earns an annual income of less than 200% of the federal poverty level [ranging from $27,000 for a person living alone to $55,000 for a family of four] or if a member of your household participates in another federal program, such as Medicaid, federal public housing, a veteran’s pension, or a Pell Grant, you can receive a $30 discount per month on your internet bills. To apply, CLICK HERE or go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/getinternet/

During May of 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic where the inequities of the digital pide were exacerbated as families had to work and study from home, I crafted the “Internet for All” resolution “establishing the City Council’s goal to implement Internet for All Seattle, a vision of making broadband internet service accessible, reliable, and affordable to all residents in Seattle.

During that tumultuous year, support for this Resolution was one of the moments of common ground. It called for a Gap Analysis and Action Plan which Seattle’s information Technology Department completed.

Since then, the Biden Administration has adopted a similar approach and then even adopted our vision calling it “Internet for All.” (California also started an “Internet for All” effort in December 2020.)

Much of the infrastructure funding is appropriately for rural areas where there is no internet capability. In addition to that connectivity and reliability, there needs to be affordability. So the Biden Administration is also expanding an earlier pilot program that lowers the cost for low-income households everywhere, including Seattle: the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). I have written about this program in previous newsletters, but it was then just an interim pilot program. Now the White House has extended it and branded their overall effort as we did two years ago as “Internet for All.”

  • For an excellent summary from the Seattle Times on how to access these benefits, CLICK HERE.
  • For the “Fact Sheet” on Biden’s new “Internet for All” programs, CLICK HERE.
  • For more specifics on the Affordable Connectivity Program that directly benefits low-income households, CLICK HERE.
  • For my original Resolution from May 2020, CLICK HERE. For the final adopted version of Resolution 31956, CLICK HERE.

TRANSPORTATION & SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE

(This is the Committee currently chaired by Councilmember Pedersen, so we provide extra information on its issues.)

West Seattle Bridge:  All Concrete Poured!

We have exciting news about the progress on West Seattle Bridge final repairs:  Yesterday (May 26, 2022) our construction contractor finished pouring structural concrete inside the bridge, forming the structures that will hold new steel cables essential to strengthening the bridge. Completing this crucial project milestone marks the end of a challenging process that affected our reopening schedule.

We still expect to reopen the bridge in mid-2022 and can now work with our construction contractor to finalize the sequence of the remaining work. For the announcement from our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), CLICK HERE.

“Ride Transit Month” = June

Councilmember Pedersen (trying his best to look natural and relaxed 🙂 tapping to finalize payment when exiting Sound Transit’s Roosevelt station on NE 65th Street at 12th Ave NE. (disclaimer: Seattle city government – your tax dollars — generously provide our government employees with an ORCA card. More employers should do that, right?)

This column is not for preaching to the choir of transit lovers or to persuade parents whose childcare situation makes transit infeasible, or to exhort workers who need a car for their jobs. This column is for everyone else who has thought about taking the bus or light rail, but hasn’t tried it yet. Or it’s for those who took transit before the pandemic and are hesitating to start again perhaps because the transit agency changed your favorite route. (I miss the old #74 Express!)

You already know transit is going to be better for Mother Earth and more affordable (especially with today’s high prices for gasoline).  So how about a doable goal for June: take transit just 5 times next month. That’s “The Pledge” encouraged by the advocacy groups Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) and Commute Seattle.

To take the pledge with them or to see events sponsored by Commute Seattle and TCC during Transit Month, CLICK HERE.

As Transportation Chair, I even set aside my infamous eschewing of symbolic proclamations and resolutions to work with the Mayor’s Office on the Proclamation designating June as “Ride Transit Month.” June is traditionally Ride Transit Month across the nation, but it was not widely celebrated during the pandemic. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are eager to have mass public transit once again serve as a cornerstone of getting around the Seattle and the region in a way that is safe, affordable, and good for our planet. Here’s an excerpt from the proclamation:

“WHEREAS, public transportation is critical to expanding equitable and affordable access to greater opportunities including better paying jobs, educational opportunities; healthcare treatments; social and cultural opportunities; and

WHEREAS, a just and sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic requires transit and we are proud that Seattle residents, workers, and students are leading the way in returning to transit as pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted; and

WHEREAS, Commute Seattle, Disability Rights Washington, Transportation Choices Coalition, City of Seattle employees and departments, and local schools, hospitals, companies, and civic groups throughout Seattle will be promoting transit ridership as a cleaner, healthier, more equitable, affordable and sustainable means of travel through the month of June 2022;

NOW, THEREFORE, the Mayor and the Seattle City Council proclaim the month of June 2022 is:  ‘Ride Transit Month.’”

Sound Transit is acutely aware it needs to improve the experiences of their riders by ensuring cleaner, safer, more functional stations, especially as they work so hard to expand the regional light rail system. Those who ride transit today typically need to ride it or they are extremely dedicated to transit’s environmental benefits. To attract additional new paying riders, though, Sound Transit needs to fix its escalators and improve the perception that riding can be unpleasant at times. On the bright side, once you get into a rhythm of riding transit, you may wonder why you previously paid for gas and hurled your single metal box down the road to get stuck in traffic.  I realize transit does not work for everyone all the time, but go ahead and try it in June.

Sound Transit Expansion in Seattle:

There are lots of decisions for the 18-member Sound Transit board to make over the next two months on how best to expand light rail system, including the 9 segments of the West-Seattle Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE). From the options in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), they will decide their “preferred alternatives” to study for the final EIS. Rather than sitting back and letting more than a dozen policymakers from outside of our City decide what’s best for us, the executive departments and City Council are working together on a joint Resolution to strongly voice our Seattle consensus and support Mayor Harrell and Council President Juarez who serve on the Sound Transit board.

For the initial draft of that Resolution being published on our proposed Introduction & Referral Calendar as early as today, CLICK HERE.

Seattle is arguably the biggest supporter of Sound Transit and the crucial linchpin for the entire regional system. Doing right by Seattle will speed implementation (construction permitting, etc) which will help the entire regional transportation system come online faster. Here are some principles to inform the Resolution:

  • “District” City Councilmember Knowledge:  Tap their on-the-ground expertise as accountable resources for their 1/7 of the city (100,000 people).
  • Boost Transit Riders: Locate and design stations to maximize ridership and access to the Sound Transit system. Provide for safe access and circulation that minimizes pedestrian risk.
  • Equity and Community: Promote equitable benefits and avoid disparate impacts. Minimize residential and business displacement and impacts to existing neighborhood assets; ensure compatibility with housing, employment, and industrial land uses; and maximize opportunities to further equitable TOD and other community-identified priorities.
  • Environmental Protection: Minimize impacts to sensitive environmental areas.
  • Financial Stewardship: Facilitate responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars by seeking highest benefit for dollars spent, helping maintain the project schedule and budget, and optimizing future expansion opportunities in planning and design. Third Party funding – if needed after costs are refined – should be decided later and could include support from the federal government, private sector, and land leases.

Tentative Schedule for our Seattle Resolution:

  • Tuesday, May 31: Mayor draft onto introduction calendar
  • Tuesday, June 7: 1st reading at Committee
  • Tuesday, July 5 or 19: 2nd reading & vote at Committee
  • Tuesday, July 19 or 26: adoption by full City Council

For Sound Transit expansion info, CLICK HERE.

Vision Zero: Traffic Safety

Seattle’s official policy is “Vision Zero,” which strives to have zero traffic deaths by 2030. I have asked SDOT’s Vision Zero team to return to our Transportation Committee soon to discuss their strategies for reducing fatalities and injuries on Seattle’s streets. For the latest statistics, please see above for the “Public Safety” section of this newsletter.  For Vision Zero’s updated SDOT website, CLICK HERE.

Utility Bill Relief:

The Council unanimously adopted three bills Councilmember Sara Nelson and I co-sponsored from the Executive to help Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers still struggling with their utility bills. Council Bill 120327 extends the waiver of interest fees on customer bills for both City Light and Seattle Public Utilities.  Council Bill 120328 extends the additional flexibility for the Emergency Assistance Program for City Light and Council Bill 120329 extends it for Seattle Public Utilities. For the press release on this utility relief with more information, CLICK HERE:

Wastewater Bills from King County:

Utility bills are regressive because the poor pay more — specifically, lower income households pay a bigger percentage of their income for the same utility bill when compared to higher income households. Regardless of each customer’s financial situation, utility companies have an obligation to be fiscally responsible. I’m proud that both of our City-owned utilities have worked hard to manage their costs and have successfully reduce the planned rise in rates for electricity, solid waste, and drinking water. Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) also offer Flexible Payment Plans, a Utility Discount Program, an Emergency Assistance Program, and a Low Income Housing Water Assistance Program. (Conversely, if you want to donate $$ to help low-income neighbors pay their Seattle utility bills, CLICK HERE for the Community Donation Fund.)

But there is a huge wild card cost-driver impacting your utility bills: wastewater charges. Why? Because Seattle does not decide. Instead, the King County Executive and King County Councilmembers passthrough to your SPU bill whatever rate increase they decide they need for wastewater — and the wastewater charge can comprise nearly half of our SPU bill!

King County is making their decisions now on how much they will increase your SPU bill next year and for the next several years. Tell them what you think about your wastewater rates before it’s too late.  I have already implored the King County officials to control their rate increases for wastewater treatment. But they need to hear from you directly. Click on the button below to ask King County elected officials not to raise rates excessively.

Email King County officials: Don’t Raise Our Wastewater Rates!


COMBATING COVID

Still Waiting for “Normal”

For a reflection on the rollercoaster of COVID case trends and the multiple impacts, CLICK HERE to read local columnist Derrick Nunnally’s piece in the Seattle Times entitled, “No return to ‘normalcy’ for me after visit to cardiologist.’”

Cases and Hospitalizations Rose in May

For the latest official data from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE or use this website: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx

Thanks, in large part, to our relatively high vaccination rate, COVID cases and hospitalizations in Seattle continue to remain manageable. (This snapshot was as of May 25, 2022 for the city of Seattle.)

  • To register to receive the vaccine or booster in Seattle, CLICK HERE. Information is also available in Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • For the most recent information on combating COVID from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE.
  • If you need language interpretation, help finding a vaccination or testing site, or ADA accommodation, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU:

Ways to Provide Input

City Council Meetings on the Internet

Listening: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or phone by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen on your phone by calling 253-215-8782.

NEW IN 2022:  Our City Council meetings moved to Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. Even after we return to in-person meetings, the public will still be able to call in their comments at City Council meetings – this is an important upgrade for public input. I would have supported moving our main Council meeting to the evenings to make it easier for people with day jobs to visit us, but the technological upgrades to enable calling in will still enable more of the public to participate even with meetings remaining in the daytime.  We also updated our City Council Rules and parliamentary procedures in hopes of improving the efficiency of the City Council, including enabling Councilmembers to focus their work on city government business rather than international affairs.

Commenting: You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. Now you can also phone in to the meeting to speak directly to the Council live. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.

 

Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen

I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Webex. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. I hope to return to in-person office hours Friday afternoons in July 2022.  You can also just send an e-mail to alex.pedersen@seattle.gov.

For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.

We are getting through this together, Seattle!

With gratitude,

         

Councilmember Alex Pedersen

Seattle City Council, District 4

Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov

Find It, Fix It

Copyright © 2022 Seattle City Council, All rights reserved


Homelessness, Safety, Bridges Top Issues from Seattle Survey

April 28th, 2022

Friends and Neighbors,

Thank you for the ongoing feedback I receive from many of you about our work at City Hall and in District 4!  Based on your feedback, this month’s newsletter explores several of your key priorities:

  • District 4: engaging in Eastlake, U District, Wallingford, and more
  • Homelessness: public concerns, community forum, and more
  • Public Safety: public concerns, recruitment challenges, Police Chief search, alternatives
  • City Budget: a revenue problem or a spending problem?
  • Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee: West Seattle Bridge, Sound Transit, leadership updates for SDOT and SPU, tackling utility bills, and more
  • COVID Updates: unmasking and public health stats
  • Ways to Provide Input
 

President Biden visits Seattle on Earth Day; It’s Time to Save Seattle’s Trees, Too

Mayor Bruce Harrell holds a pen that President Joe Biden used to sign his Executive Order addressing old growth forests, flanked by Senator Maria Cantwell, Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Patty Murray, and other leaders on Earth Day, April 22, 2022 in Seward Park.  Proud to have our President visit the Evergreen State on such an important day for the environment. We have much work to do in Seattle to protect our own dwindling urban forest, as we hope to see our City’s executive departments embrace stronger tree protections. In the meantime, the City Council passed CB 120207 to increase the transparency and accountability required to discourage and penalize rogue tree cutting.


DISTRICT 4

Wallingford: Earth Day Clean Up

I enjoyed joining over 20 other volunteers to clean up Wallingford’s business district last week, focusing on N. 45th Street between Stone Way and I-5. With the robust turnout, the proactive community organizer Colleen is inspired to make this a quarterly event!  Look for more information about this community effort in the future. I also appreciate our own Seattle Public Utilities providing the “Adopt a Street” trash bags, trash grabbers, gloves, and orange vests. To get Adopt-a-Street supplies for your community, CLICK HERE or call (206) 684-7647 or email adoptastreet@seattle.gov. As with the community clean up in Roosevelt I attended a few weeks ago, you can do it anytime during the year.

 

Bryant and Wedgwood:  Book It! Restoring More Hours to Northeast Branch of Seattle Public Library

The Northeast Branch of the Seattle Public Library is now open 7 days a week! For more info about this branch in District 4, CLICK HERE.

For 50+ free things to do at your local library, CLICK HERE.

 

Eastlake:  Steps in the Bright Direction

At the East Howe Steps with Eastlake Community Council leader Detra Segar on April 12, 2022, the same day we passed the legislation enabling a public plaza while saving a large conifer tree. Thanks to the collaboration with SDOT, Eastlake residents, and the property owner.  In April, I also attended the community council meetings in Eastlake (and Laurelhurst).

U District: Construction Hub Coordinator

I want to thank the Harrell Administration, including the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), for their responsiveness in dedicating a “Construction Hub Coordinator” for the entire University District in the heart of our Council District 4.  This request originated with the business improvement area’s nonprofit manager, the U District Partnership, and I’m glad my office was able to successfully advocate for this increased attention and coordination within this Urban Center that has been undergoing substantial re-development.

Construction Hub Coordinators are based in SDOT and they work with private developers, public agencies, and utility companies to minimize disruptions caused by construction, so that people can access destinations and move past work zones safely and efficiently. For example, they ensure that at least one sidewalk remains open per block and they avoid closing major streets or sidewalks when other nearby streets are closed due to construction or during large sports events.

After the robust upzone approved by a previous City Council to allow bigger buildings in the University District — and the recent opening of the popular new light rail station — the U District is seeing many construction projects causing temporary growing pains with sidewalk detours and street disruptions for the increasingly vibrant neighborhood. A construction coordinator dedicated to this hub of increased activity will help to smooth out any conflicts so we can maximize access and mobility during this period of transition in the neighborhood.

For more info from SDOT’s blog, CLICK HERE.

U District:  Boba Fest!

This Saturday, April 30, 2022 from 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm, come to the University District to celebrate National Bubble Tea Day with the first-ever Seattle Boba Fest! The U District, in the heart of Seattle’s District 4 and now accessible by light rail, is quickly becoming the heart of the boba scene in our city. Learn more about this smooth & creative beverage — learn HOW TO BOBA — by checking out the U District Partnership website:  https://udistrictseattle.com/bobafest


ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

A recent survey confirmed that “Homelessness continues to be the top concern of Seattle voters…”

To view the entire poll conducted by EMC Research (and funded by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce), CLICK HERE.

The bottom line is that people are counting on their government at all levels and their nonprofit partners to produce better results and to bring more people inside.

 

Homelessness Forum in Northeast Seattle

The Sand Point Community Church in the View Ridge neighborhood organized a forum on homelessness in the region on March 30, 2022.  I was honored to join the panelists to help answer the full crowd’s many questions about the ongoing crisis of homelessness in our region.  One key point was that most of the city and county government functions have been transferred to the new Regional Homelessness Authority and that new organization is already making sure other Puget Sound cities do more to address homelessness in the region.

Panel Members:

  • Jenn Adams, telling her powerful story of experiencing homelessness
  • Alex Pedersen, Seattle City Councilmember (District 4)
  • Anne Martens, Director of External Affairs & Communications, Regional Homelessness Authority
  • Sharon Lee, Executive Director, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI)
  • Bill Kirlin-Hackett, Interfaith Homeless Task Force

For the TV news coverage of the event, CLICK HERE.

 

Groundbreaking for Sand Point Cottages

Following up on the Rosie’s Tiny Home Village we opened in the University District, the 254 permanent affordable housing units of Cedar Crossing opening above the new light rail station, and the many other new affordable housing projects in Northeast Seattle, there was a celebratory groundbreaking April 12, 2022 for new cottages on the eastern edge (NE 65th Street) of Magnuson Park. According to the press release from the nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), “This 22-cottage development will serve singles, couples and families exiting homelessness…Six of the cottages were built in part by students in construction trade pre-apprenticeship programs…Each cottage features one-bedroom, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, a loft and a front porch.  The Community House features community living space and community kitchen, property management office, a bathroom and a laundry room. Extensive landscaping, gardens, children’s play space, pathways and parking complete the design.” The city government provided the long-term lease to make this cottage housing possible and State Representative Frank Chopp was instrumental in securing State government support.

Funding sources include the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, KeyBank, Enterprise, NeighborWorks America, Federal Home Loan Bank, and Lucky 7 Foundation.

For a brief TV news story about it from KIRO-7, CLICK HERE.


PUBLIC SAFETY

Public Safety Surveys

Two recent surveys gauged concerns about public safety in Seattle.

The survey by EMC Research found that, “Homelessness continues to be the top concern of Seattle voters, but there has been a dramatic increase in concerns about public safety.” For that EMC poll which surveyed Seattle voters in March 2022, CLICK HERE.

I appreciate the Harrell Administration increasing their response to visible crime downtown and I am confident they will also ensure that other neighborhoods continue to get attention.  Our City Charter Article VI, Section 1 states, “There shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.” Neighborhoods in District 4 continue to lack community policing officers who used to meet with neighbors and small businesses, identify crime trends, and build trust in the communities to which they were assigned. For District 4, restoring community policing officers will be particularly important in Eastlake, University District, and Wallingford.

Since 2015, the Seattle University Crime & Justice Research Center has conducted an annual survey on public safety. Their 2021 survey, conducted October 15 through November 30, 2021, found that the fear of crime varies across city neighborhoods.  For that 2021 public safety survey, CLICK HERE. For a Seattle Times article by the “FYI Guy” about the annual survey, CLICK HERE.

Mayor Harrell Announces Process for Hiring Permanent Police Chief

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced his national search process for the next permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Here are excerpts from the Mayor’s March 31, 2022 press release:

“Facing increasing crime, gun violence, and public safety issues, our next permanent chief must be able to respond to these challenges with urgency and innovation. This comprehensive search will determine the leader best equipped to fill this challenging role and move our department forward,’ said Mayor Harrell. ‘…Although I expect to conduct a robust search process, I encourage Interim Chief [Adrian] Diaz to apply.’

“…The Mayor’s Office will hire an independent third-party firm to assist in identifying candidates nationwide for the position. The Mayor’s Office will also announce the members of the search committee tasked with selecting the candidates who will proceed to the competitive examination phase. The committee will be made up of local leaders including law enforcement experts, Community Police Commission members, and representatives from small businesses, communities of color, and other key voices.

“In the upcoming weeks, the Mayor’s Office will roll out a website providing an overview of the search process and launch an online community survey to collect feedback from Seattle residents, ensuring community voices from every neighborhood are heard. Through the survey, community members can list what they are looking for in the next chief and survey information will be made publicly available as part of the search process.

Too often, our neighbors and businesses are feeling the impacts of crime and public safety issues while at the same time our police officers face long hours, tough working conditions and serious morale challenges,” said Mayor Harrell. “They deserve permanency and support – a chief who shares my vision for One Seattle where every person has the absolute right to safety and where our police department is inspired and trusted.”

For the Mayor’s March 31, 2022 press release, CLICK HERE.

Loss of SPD Officers Continues at Alarming Pace

At this past week’s Public Safety Committee, I was alarmed to see the “candle burning on both ends”: higher than expected loss of police officers and detectives (attrition) AND lower than expected hiring. SPD now predicts only 98 new hires rather than 125. SPD also assumes 113 separations for a net loss of officers this year on top of the 350+ who have already left since the start of the pandemic.  Meanwhile we have no community policing, the specialty units are down from 119 in 2020 to 33 in 2022, and detectives down from 214 in 2020 to 161 in 2022.

Fortunately, there are at least two ideas on how to the lift restrictions on SPD’s budget to enable the Mayor and Chief to provide hiring incentives.

  • Chair Lisa Herbold discussed her Council Bill to allow just $650,000 to hire a fulltime recruiter and to pay for some moving expenses for “lateral” hires (i.e. police officers from other cities).
  • Councilmember Sara Nelson is converting her Resolution to a Council Bill to allow a substantially larger sum for flexible hiring incentives at SPD.

I support both of my colleagues because other jurisdictions are offering financial incentives (including moving expenses), AND I believe we also need a high-quality marketing campaign with both the Mayor and Councilmembers to attract recruits to Seattle to counteract the lagging reputation that City Council did not support police officers.  Yes, to deepening accountability, modernizing the police union contract, and launching alternative emergency responses for many mental health calls. I believe we also need to restore the vast majority of the 375 officers and detectives we have lost over the past two years. 

We will also benefit from a clear indication from the Executive on what they truly need this year to turn things in a positive direction on staffing. Do they need and want all $4 million in savings and, if so, for what exactly? Time is of the essence: the Public Safety Committee will vote on this in about 10 days (May 10).

At the Public Safety Committee, an important question was asked: If the number of active patrol officers deployed for 911 response has continued to be approximately 550 patrol officers each year since 2016 and we still have that figure deployed in 2022 AND, if we believe a percentage of 911 calls could be handled by non-police responders, then what’s the problem?

Here are the problems:

_ Many of the current officers on 911 patrol are working overtime (that’s not just expensive, but consider officer fatigue and wellness).

_The Seattle population has grown substantially since 2016, so the same number of officers is actually a drop in officers per the city’s population.

_ We have moved detectives, community policing officers, and other vital specialty units into 911 patrol, so that investigations, community policing, and responses requiring specialized skills are not happening. In other words, we are draining other vital functions of the department to respond only to 911 priority calls instead of preventing and solving crimes (see table below from the memo from our City Council’s Central Staff)

Hiring incentives are not spent until the person is hired, so if they don’t work, the funds are still available. Let’s give them at least 9 months to work.

  • For the committee agenda with links to the PowerPoints and memos, CLICK HERE.
  • To watch the Seattle Channel’s recording of the committee, CLICK HERE.
 

New National Number Coming for Behavioral Health: 988

In addition to updating the police union contract to deepen reforms, continuing investments in upstream programs such as early childhood education, and striving to restore many of the 375 police officers who left over the past two years, I have called for citywide effective alternatives to traditional emergency responses for certain behavioral health cases and requested implementation specifics from the Executive departments due later this year. For the specifics of that request, approved already by the City Council and seeking to incorporate the best practices proven to work in other jurisdictions, CLICK HERE.  I have received assurances that the Harrell Administration is systematically researching the best models to use in responding to behavioral health crises and other emergency events and I look forward to their specifics, which I suspect will blend the best approaches from other systems such as the STAR response in Denver, the CAHOOTS in Eugene, OR, our City government’s small scale Health One program, and our local nonprofit emergency responses.

Another boost to spurring alternative responses and consolidating a fragmented system will be a new phone number: 988.

As detailed in a recent Seattle Times article, “Every day at this inconspicuous office a couple of blocks from the Space Needle, dozens of volunteers and staff answer crisis calls and monitor the suicide hotline for King County and large parts of Washington state. In less than 100 days, this place will add dozens of new staffers for the rollout of 988, a nationwide crisis phone line that’s set to debut in mid-July…The challenge is this: consolidating a patchwork of crisis response systems across police, fire and mobile crisis teams, and across state agencies, county and tribal lines. Those building the hotline hope it will eventually connect to a robust behavioral health system that can provide next-day crisis appointments and support families with resources and treatment options. That system doesn’t fully exist today — and won’t for years, if ever — but those implementing 988 see the hotline as the first milestone…[A nonprofit called] Crisis Connections serves King County, the most populous and busiest part of the state for crisis calls. …While Crisis Connections has a volunteer program for its other hotlines, the 988 line will rely on 35 paid staff counselors who can provide crisis intervention and crisis counseling services around the clock, as well as referrals to local resources and a mobile crisis team when needed.” For the full Seattle Times article on 988, CLICK HERE.


CITY BUDGET: NEED TO GET COSTS UNDER CONTROL

Revenues and Expenditures

 

At our April 20, 2022 Finance Committee meeting we confirmed an increase in revenues from taxes and fees. In 2019 (pre-pandemic), the City’s General Fund was $1.4 billion (not shown above).  For 2023, we estimate $1.5 billion PLUS nearly $300 million more from the new payroll tax.  At the meeting I noted, “Seattle does not have a revenue problem, but we potentially have an expenditure problem.” I believe Seattle city government will need to better manage its spending going forward to navigate a crest in upcoming expenditures so that we avoid a budget deficit. Unlike the federal government, cities are required to balance their budgets.  Much of the spending challenge is driven by the rising costs of salaries (averaging $100,000), benefits, and pensions of the nearly 12,000 city government employees. Rising inflation could exacerbate this challenge.

To watch the Finance Committee presentation from April 20, 2022 on Seattle Channel, CLICK HERE.

For the PowerPoint presentation from the City Budget Office (CBO), CLICK HERE. (Note that the 2021 figures from page 9 of the online PowerPoint are incorrect with a $1,762,946 total whereas the correct figure for 2021 is $1,816,367, as shown above.)

 

INCREASING BUDGET FOR PARKS DISTRICT?

A dramatic Magnuson Park view of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier.

If you reside in District 4 and love your parks and community centers, but believe they need more funding, this is a good time to provide your input because the City is updating the 6-year spending plan of Seattle’s Parks District (dubbed “Cycle 2”).  To pay for new investments in parks and recreation, however, it is likely that the Board of Parks & Recreation Commission (BPRC) will ask the Mayor and City Council to raise property taxes. The next meetings of the BPRC are:

  • April 28, 2022 at 6:30 p.m.
  • May 12, 2022 at 6:30 p.m.

For Parks Board meeting calendar, CLICK HERE.

For the initial draft funding plan for the Parks District, CLICK HERE. Within that, you can search for some benefits to Northeast Seattle and Eastlake.  For example, you can click on “Restoring Clean, Safe, and Welcoming Parks and Facilities” and see some funds already contemplated for Magnuson Park Major Maintenance.


TRANSPORTATION & SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE

(This is the Committee currently chaired by Councilmember Pedersen, so we provide extra information on its issues.)

West Seattle Bridge Restoration Solidifying

An ongoing contract renewal dispute between 300+ drivers of concrete mixing trucks and their employers had stopped work on many large projects that rely on concrete, but truck drivers thankfully agreed to return to the West Seattle high bridge this month.

Concrete trucks arrived early the morning of April 5, 2022 on the West Seattle Bridge. The first pours of concrete (photo above) were for new expansion joints. Then a special grade of concrete was poured to create the blocks inside the bridge (photo below) for an improved post-tensioning system vital for the success of a long-term restoration of the cracked high bridge that has impeded the travel of 100,000 residents for more than two long years.

The $175 million question is, “Exactly when will the West Seattle High Bridge re-open?” SDOT is still saying “the summer.” To meet the July 1, 2022 completion date, SDOT said concrete needed to start pouring by Feb 20, 2022. Instead, concrete started pouring during the first half of April 2022.  The specialized concrete for the internal anchor blocks that hold the post-tension cables takes 28 days to cure. Stay tuned. For the latest on SDOT’s repairs of the West Seattle Bridge, CLICK HERE.

 

SDOT Turns Down Council’s Bridge Funding — For Now

If you’re an avid reader of my newsletter, you know I’ve been calling for faster action to improve the safety of our bridges in the wake of the West Seattle bridge closure and the audit I requested that showed the poor condition of several key bridges. A recent survey of Seattle voters ranked “maintaining bridges and infrastructure” as a key way to improve the quality of life in our city (just behind the top two issues of addressing crime and homelessness). After a year of research and debate, the City Council (in November 2021) authorized the Executive departments to issue up to $100 million in bonds for bridge safety. Unfortunately, they declined to use these funds in 2022.  I am confident the Harrell Administration appreciates the importance of our bridges and their connections for our communities and economy. We look forward to specifics on how and when SDOT will refocus their transportation programs to prioritize multimodal bridges and make the necessary upgrades.  For my April 4, 2022 statement about this issue, CLICK HERE.

 

Sound Transit’s Expansion Plans

On April 19, our Transportation Committee heard from Sound Transit staff, our City Council Central Staff, SDOT, and our City’s Designated (staff) Representative with more specifics on the forthcoming Sound Transit 3 expansion in Seattle. While this mega project is called the “West Seattle & Ballard Link Extension” (WSBLE), it will also impact the International District, SODO, South Lake Union, Interbay, and much of downtown.

While April 28 is last day for public comment on Sound Transit’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, your City’s executive departments and City Council plan to collaborate with the goal of adopting a Resolution that forges as much Seattle consensus as possible about the various alternative routes and station locations. The City of Seattle is ably represented on Sound Transit’s board by our own Council President Juarez and Mayor Harrell and that perse board will make the ultimate decisions. As the board has 19 members from across the three-county region, we are hopeful the Resolution will send a unified message from Seattle.  I believe the benefits of our District system of representation will shine because District City Councilmembers are likely to know best what their constituents and businesses want.  We’ll discuss such a Resolution at both the May 17 and June 7 committee meetings. All Councilmembers are invited to attend for consideration of that Resolution.

Link to materials from our April 19, 2022 committee:

  • For the April 19 presentation from the Executive staff team, CLICK HERE.
  • For the presentation from Sound Transit, CLICK HERE.
  • For Sound Transit’s main website for this mega project and to submit comments, CLICK HERE.
 

Scooter Evaluation Raises Concerns About Injuries

Back in September 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) asked City Council to allow for-profit companies to put thousands of e-scooters on certain parts of Seattle’s sidewalks so those companies could then charge people who ride the scooters on Seattle’s streets. While interested in alternative, environmentally friendly modes of short-distance transportation, I shared the concerns expressed by experts from Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center about not only safety, but also about the lack of data from other jurisdictions who had reported problems with scooters. After much consideration, I was the lone vote on the City Council against this new program.

SDOT recently finalized its evaluation of the first year of its e-scooter pilot program. To read SDOT’s 54-page evaluation of their scooter share program’s first year, CLICK HERE and, for their appendix about their customer survey, CLICK HERE. (Note: SDOT’s appendix about their customer survey does not provide the full comments made by people injured while using a scooter.) To read SDOT’s summary of their evaluation on SDOT’s blog, CLICK HERE.

I remain concerned that SDOT has not collected complete data on injuries and the data collected thus far seems to show a large percentage of injuries that SDOT and the private scooter companies will need to address.  From page 6 of SDOT’s evaluation: “Of the 5,189 respondents who had used scooters, 11% reported experiencing an injury.” That’s 570 reported injuries just from those who received the survey and chose to respond (5,189 x 0.11 = 570.7 injuries / 12 months = 47.5 injuries per month.) This excludes the police report data and hospital data.

The Seattle Times asked me for comments about SDOT’s scooter evaluation and I provided the following statement:

“I’m concerned that SDOT’s evaluation of their scooter program’s first year did not fully assess the safety questions raised at my Transportation Committee in December 2021,” said Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “I was the lone vote against authorizing the scooter program in September 2020 due to safety concerns expressed by officials at Harborview’s Injury and Prevention Center, so I want to be cautious in my assessment. But SDOT’s own evaluation shows that at least 570 people suffered injuries while riding scooters which averages to 47 injuries per month — and that does not even include data from Seattle’s hospitals or police reports.  Their evaluation says safety is SDOT’s top priority, but we still need answers to our questions about hospital injury stats and how the quantity and type of scooter injuries in Seattle compare to scooter injuries in other cities, so that we can learn more from other cities before allowing the private companies from expanding this risky program in Seattle.”

The 2020 legislation from SDOT that I opposed said it was a “pilot program,” but authorized SDOT to extend the program on its own. I am hopeful SDOT will be able to improve its data collection on injuries and put safety measures in place learned from other cities.

For the news stories from KIRO 7 TV, CLICK HERE, and for KOMO TV, CLICK HERE. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.

 

Searching the Nation for a New SDOT Director:

On April 8, Mayor Bruce Harrell named an advisory group of transportation leaders and community partners to assist in his national search for a new permanent director for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). I agree with the mayor’s sentiments from their press release which said, “Seattle deserves a transportation system that is safe, reliable, and equitable, and our SDOT Director is instrumental in implementing that vision. We have an opportunity to appoint a champion for innovative thinking and back-to-basics fixes, a collaborator who builds bridges – and repairs them.”  As stated in the Executive’s press release, Kristen Simpson will continue to serve as Interim Director until a new Director is nominated and approved. Ultimately the candidate selected by the Mayor will go through a confirmation process at the City Council pursuant to Resolution 31868.  For the Mayor’s press release with more information, CLICK HERE.

 

Wastewater Bills from King County:

Utility bills are regressive because the poor pay more — specifically, lower income households pay a bigger percentage of their income for the same utility bill when compared to higher income households. Regardless of each customer’s financial situation, utility companies have an obligation to be fiscally responsible. I’m proud that both of our City-owned utilities have worked hard to manage their costs and have successfully reduce the planned rise in rates for electricity, solid waste, and drinking water. Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) also offer Flexible Payment Plans, a Utility Discount Program, an Emergency Assistance Program, and a Low Income Housing Water Assistance Program. (Conversely, if you want to donate $$ to help low-income neighbors pay their Seattle utility bills, CLICK HERE for the Community Donation Fund.) For more information on recent efforts by the Harrell Administration to expand these utility relief programs, CLICK HERE.

But there is a huge wild card cost-driver impacting your utility bills: wastewater charges. Why? Because Seattle does not decide. Instead, the King County Executive and King County Councilmembers passthrough to your SPU bill whatever rate increase they decide they need for wastewater — and the wastewater charge can comprise nearly half of our SPU bill!

King County is making their decisions now on how much they will increase your SPU bill next year and for the next several years. Tell them what you think about your wastewater rates before it’s too late.  I have already implored the King County officials to control their rate increases for wastewater treatment. But they need to hear from you directly. Click on the button below to ask King County elected officials not to raise rates excessively.

Email King County officials: Don’t Raise Our Wastewater Rates!  

Mayor Nominates Andrew Lee as General Manager/CEO of Seattle Public Utilities

On April 26, Mayor Bruce Harrell nominated Andrew Lee, currently the interim head of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), to become the permanent General Manager / Chief Executive Officer.  SPU is a $1 billion enterprise that delivers our drinking water, handles recycling, removes waste, and handles many other vital functions of your city government.  It is the City Council’s purview to consider and confirm such nominations. Because the committee I chair monitors SPU (along with transportation), we will discuss and vote on his nomination at a June meeting. The City Council already has an organized confirmation process based on Resolution 31868.

Because I have had the opportunity to see Andrew Lee’s leadership in his role as Interim Director after Mami Hara left with the previous Durkan Administration, I have already formed a preliminary positive opinion: I support Andrew Lee to become the next permanent head of SPU (subject, of course, to public input and my committee’s discussions in June).

To review the Mayor’s nomination packet for Andrew Lee, CLICK HERE. People can submit public comment to me about this nomination by sending an email to Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov.

Here are excerpts from Mayor Harrell’s glowing transmittal letter from April 26:

“Andrew Lee has served as Interim General Manager/CEO of SPU for the last six months, and after review of his remarkably well-regarded performance, it is with total confidence that I recommend him for you and your colleagues’ consideration today. He has the right combination of compassionate managerial skills, inspirational leadership ability, strong personal integrity, and technical know how to run our publicly-owned utility with distinction.

“Andrew has over a decade of experience at Seattle Public Utilities, working his way up the ranks as a Program Manager, Deputy Director, and now as Interim General Manager/CEO. He has spent his entire 20-year career working on water, wastewater, and stormwater issues, including as Deputy Director of the City of Bellevue’s Utilities Department. Andrew has maintained a dedicated focus in implementing the SPU Strategic Business Plan and consistently stays attuned to costs, maintaining the utility’s stellar bond rating, and providing a positive customer experience. He is quick to absorb and understand highly complex issues and consults with his team to develop practical strategies to address new challenges.

“…I trust that after reviewing Mr. Lee’s application materials, meeting with him, and following Councilmember Pedersen’s diligent Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee review, you will find that Andrew is beyond capable and the right choice to serve as permanent General Manager/CEO of Seattle Public Utilities. When I heard that Andrew was out in his boots wading in the flooding South Park neighborhood earlier this year, I knew how fortunate I was to have someone who was on the ground and solving problems with our impacted residents.”

— Mayor Bruce Harrell

For more about the current leadership team at SPU, CLICK HERE.


COMBATING COVID

Public Transportation: Unmasking?

Airlines across the nation and transit agencies across Puget Sound lifted mask mandates. For April 19, 2022 articles on this topic from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE and HERE.  When taking the bus and light rail to City Hall, I notice that most people are still wearing their masks anyway, as am I.  Other cities have gone back and forth on mask mandates in the past few days, so we should not be surprised if local transportation agencies change their policies again.  Let’s show each other grace and space as we strive to emerge from the pandemic, being mindful of vulnerable neighbors and the fluid statistics on hospitalizations.

Cautious Optimism: Cases and Hospitalizations Remain Relatively Low

For the latest official data from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE or use this website: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx

Thanks, in large part, to our relatively high vaccination rate, COVID cases and hospitalizations in Seattle continue to remain low. (This snapshot was as of April 26, 2022 for the city of Seattle.)

  • To register to receive the vaccine or booster in Seattle, CLICK HERE. Information is also available in Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • For the most recent information on combating COVID from King County Public Health, CLICK HERE.
  • If you need language interpretation, help finding a vaccination or testing site, or ADA accommodation, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU:

Ways to Provide Input

City Council Meetings on the Internet

Listening: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or phone by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen on your phone by calling 253-215-8782.

NEW IN 2022:  Our City Council meetings moved to Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. Even after we return to in-person meetings, the public will still be able to call in their comments at City Council meetings – this is an important upgrade for public input. I would have supported moving our main Council meeting to the evenings to make it easier for people with day jobs to visit us, but the technological upgrades to enable calling in will still enable more of the public to participate even with meetings remaining in the daytime.  We also updated our City Council Rules and parliamentary procedures in hopes of improving the efficiency of the City Council, including enabling Councilmembers to focus their work on city government business rather than international affairs.

Commenting: You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. Now you can also phone in to the meeting to speak directly to the Council live. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.

 

Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen

I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Webex. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. I hope to return to in-person office hours Friday afternoons in July 2022.  You can also just send an e-mail to alex.pedersen@seattle.gov.

For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.

We are getting through this together, Seattle!

With gratitude,

     

Councilmember Alex Pedersen

Seattle City Council, District 4

Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov

Find It, Fix It


Concerns about Scooters

April 13th, 2022
photo from SDOT blog

INTRODUCTION: In September 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) asked City Council to allow for-profit companies to put thousands of e-scooters on certain parts of Seattle’s sidewalks so those companies could then charge people who ride the scooters on Seattle’s streets. While interested in another alternative, environmentally friendly mode of short-distance transportation, I shared the concerns not only about safety expressed by experts from Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center but also about the lack of data from other jurisdictions who had reported problems with scooters programs. After much consideration, I was the lone vote on the City Council against this new program. This blog post tracks some of the history of the scooter program.



APRIL 8-21, 2022 UPDATE: SDOT finalizes its first-year evaluation of its e-scooter share program

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recently finalized its evaluation of the first year of its e-scooter pilot program. To read SDOT’s 54-page evaluation of their scooter share program’s first year, CLICK HERE and, for their appendix about their customer survey, CLICK HERE (Note: SDOT’s appendix about their customer survey does not provide the full comments made by people injured while using a scooter.) To read SDOT’s summary of their evaluation on SDOT’s blog, CLICK HERE.

I remain concerned that SDOT has not collected complete data on injuries and the data collected thus far seems to show a large percentage of injuries that SDOT and the private scooter companies will need to address. This concern is shared by experts at Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center. From page 6 of SDOT’s evaluation: “Of the 5,189 respondents who had used scooters, 11% reported experiencing an injury.” That’s 570 reported injuries just from those who received the survey and chose to respond (5,189 x 0.11 = 570.7 injuries / 12 months = 47.5 injuries per month.) This excludes the police report data and hospital data.

The Seattle Times asked me for comments about SDOT’s scooter evaluation and I provided the following statement:

I’m concerned that SDOT’s evaluation of their scooter program’s first year did not fully assess the safety questions raised at my Transportation Committee in December 2021,” said Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “I was the lone vote against authorizing the scooter program in September 2020 due to safety concerns expressed by officials at Harborview’s Injury and Prevention Center, so I want to be cautious in my assessment. But SDOT’s own evaluation shows that at least 570 people suffered injuries while riding scooters which averages to 47 injuries per month — and that does not even include data from Seattle’s hospitals or police reports.  Their evaluation says safety is SDOT’s top priority but we still need answers to our questions about hospital injury stats and how the quantity and type of scooter injuries in Seattle compare to scooter injuries in other cities, so that we can learn more from other cities before allowing the private companies from expanding this risky program in Seattle.”

For the news stories from KIRO 7 TV, CLICK HERE and for KOMO TV, CLICK HERE. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.


DECEMBER 15, 2021 UPDATE: First annual review by SDOT

I had asked our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to return to our City Council Committee on Transportation & Utilities to provide their first annual report on their new scooter pilot program.

In the Fall of 2020, SDOT convinced a majority of the City Council to approve the new program; as explained below I voted against that initial authorization. SDOT’s report this week was upbeat, but it was missing vital hospital data on injuries, even after SDOT failed to follow through on an independent UW safety study it had promised when convincing City Council to authorize the new program. I am asking SDOT to follow up with injury data from hospitals.

I’m relieved that SDOT continues to view this program as a “pilot” rather than a permanent program because scooters are certainly under scrutiny. For an incisive and relatively critical analysis by SCC Insight (Kevin Schofield) of SDOT’s first year of this program, CLICK HERE. At the same time, I’m hopeful scooters — if properly regulated for safety — can be successful by serving a subset of Seattleites as a viable and clean “first-last mile” transportation solution without taxpayer subsidies (other than providing our public streets for travel and sidewalks for storage).

For a copy of SDOT’s annual report presentation, CLICK HERE. To view the December 15, 2021 meeting of the Transportation Committee, CLICK HERE.

For an incisive and relatively critical analysis by SCC Insight (Kevin Schofield) of SDOT’s first year of this program, CLICK HERE.


ORIGINAL POST: September 8, 2020

On September 8, 2020, I voted against scooters in Seattle and here’s why:

I support improved mobility options by encouraging environmentally friendly alternatives to gas-powered, single occupancy vehicles.  Ideally, electric scooters (e-scooters) would provide an alternative for some trips for some travelers. At the same time, the City government is essentially authorizing a new mode of transportation — thousands of scooters traveling within our streets and other rights of way. This is big change that warrants a careful tracking of the results.

I had been looking forward to a standard ‘pilot project’ on scooters that would measure results as we are seeing elsewhere in King County but, unfortunately, this SDOT legislation is not a real pilot project,” said City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee. “The proposed legislation transmitted by SDOT to the City Council did not explicitly and fully address safety, financial liability, infrastructure costs, or measures for success.”

SDOT, however, said this legislation was time-sensitive, so I fulfilled my role as Transportation Committee Chair to facilitate discussion, ask questions, and enable my fellow Councilmembers to vote on it. While a majority of my colleagues approved it at my Committee on August 19 and at the full City Council on September 8, I was personally not willing to vote yes for something that, in my opinion, lacked details.

Both Council Bill 119867 and Council Bill 119868 totaled only 2 pages in length. The legislation essentially cedes ALL details of the program to the Executive branch. To retain some oversight role and to encourage a more standard pilot program that evaluates initial results, as Chair of the Transportation Committee, I sent a letter asking our SDOT Director to return to our Committee by next June and next December to report on specific metrics from the first 6 months and 12 months of the new program.  To view my letter to the SDOT Director, CLICK HERE.

https://pedersen.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CM-Pedersen-letter-to-SDOT-Director-on-scooter-pilot-metrics-2020.09.08-FINAL.pdf

Having SDOT report back to the Council Committee on specific metrics of success – that would be standard with a pilot program — will enable SDOT to report consistently and thoroughly to the Councilmembers and to the general public on the pertinent details and results so that, together, we can evaluate this new program. In my conversations with Director Zimbabwe, I have been assured the Durkan Administration also wants to measure the results of this new scooter program.

I believe we need to measure the results so that we can truly assess whether the program is safe, equitable, and effective in getting people out of their cars—all without requiring tax dollars to cover injury lawsuits or to build special infrastructure that would subsidize the profits of private companies headquartered outside of Seattle.

I want to thank Dr. Fred Rivara, founding director of the Harborview Injury and Prevention Center,  for his compelling letter in August expressing his concerns about the scooter safety by providing several studies from around the country showing scooters to be dangerous. To view his letter, CLICK HERE. To view an interview with Dr. Rivara, CLICK HERE.

I’d also like to thank the City Council blogger Kevin Schofield of SCC Insight.com  for providing such comprehensive coverage of the scooter proposal on his website.

For one of the many news articles about the Council adopting SDOT’s scooter program, CLICK HERE.

For SDOT’s September 11, 2020 blog post about the 3 vendors they quickly selected, CLICK HERE. For SDOT’s scooter website, CLICK HERE.


New Funding Option to Increase Protection of Seattle’s Aging Bridges

April 4th, 2022
The University Bridge that connects the U District and Eastlake in District 4 was among the bridges ranked in “poor” condition along with the Magnolia Bridge, 2nd Avenue South extension, and the Fairview Avenue Bridge (which is being reconstructed).
Photo: by SounderBruce on Wikipedia


April 4, 2022: Disappointment in Harrell Administration rejection in 2022 of City Council’s $100 in bonds for bridge safety.

Statement from Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Regarding the Harrell Administration’s Decision to Decline Council’s Additional Funding for Bridge Safety

SEATTLE – Councilmember Alex Pedersen issued the following statement after the Harrell administration declined to pursue bond funding for bridge safety, which was authorized by the Council: 

“In the wake of hard lessons learned from the two-year closure of the West Seattle Bridge, the disturbing citywide audit of Seattle’s bridges, and the periodic malfunctioning of other bridges, I’m deeply disappointed that the Harrell Administration is declining to use the authority the City Council granted last November to generate up to $100 million in bond funding needed for projects to increase the safety of Seattle’s aging bridge network.  

In a city carved by waterways and ravines within a hazardous earthquake zone, we rely on our bridges to connect every community, enable all modes of transportation, and sustain our economy. Keeping One Seattle physically unified and getting back to the basics of sound government should include keeping our bridges open and safe by receiving the seismic upgrades and vital maintenance they need. By choosing NOT to use the $100 million in bridge safety funds authorized last year by the Council, the Harrell Administration would be essentially tossing aside two years of work and lessons learned the hard way about the condition of Seattle’s bridges. 

The City Council’s proactive authorization of the $100 million was supported not only by many residents and businesses, but also by construction labor unions who communicated their support in previous press releases, including on November 2, 2021.  

The bottom line is that residents, businesses, and workers expect and deserve to have their bridges open and safe — and not accelerating the needed repairs and upgrades this year could put Seattle’s bridges at risk.”

Council Budget Action SDOT-505-A-002-2022 requested the plan from the Executive on how it would utilize up to $100 million authorized via Council Bill 120224 (which became Ordinance 126480). It was due by March 31, 2022. 

“Of the appropriations in the 2022 budget for the Seattle Department of Transportation’s General Expense Budget Summary Level, $3,090,000 is appropriated solely for debt service on up to $100 million of limited tax general obligation (LTGO) bonds. Furthermore, none of the money so appropriated may be spent until the Seattle Department of Transportation provides a written report to Council detailing: (1) how much of the $100 million of authorized LTGO bonds will be issued in 2022; (2) what projects will be funded by the issuance of these bonds; and (3) what appropriations are necessary to support these projects. Council anticipates that SDOT will provide such a written report by March 31, 2022.” 

In a 4-page response dated March 31, 2022, the Executive states, “SDOT’s recommendation for programming bond investments in bridges is to not issue bonds at this time.” Instead SDOT points to planning through 2023 and potential work if/when voters consider a potential new ballot measure that would presumably not be operational until 2025 – 10 years after the failed promises for bridges of the previous Move Seattle levy and 5 years after the West Seattle Bridge cracked and closed. 

I’d like to briefly address some of the reasons the Executive provided for deciding not to issue these bridge bonds in 2022. Unfortunately, the excuses from the bureaucracy are the same ones we heard the past two years.  

  • Not Ready:  SDOT officials say they are not ready. This is disappointing because of the lessons learned from the two-year closure of the West Seattle Bridge, the disturbing citywide audit of Seattle’s bridges issued over 18 months ago, the periodic malfunctioning of other bridges, and the time that has elapsed since City Council granted the authority in November of last year.
     
  • Costs: SDOT officials indicate that future debt service payments could be a burden. But last year we increased SDOT’s budget from approximately $636 million to over $718 million. Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars SDOT spends, hearing executive officials say they cannot find $7 million dollars a year, 1% of their total budget, to boost bridges seems to indicate a lack of prioritization for bridges. Moreover, the interest rate we could lock in this year (and keep locked in at the same level for the next 20 years) could end up being lower than the estimate from our approved budget.

    One hundred million dollars today to address Seattle’s immediate infrastructure needs could be worth more than $100 million trickling out over 20 years because relatively low interest rates would be locked in place for a period of 20 years. Delaying the issuance of the bonds could end up costing more if future interest rates rise. Moreover, bonding provides a large sum upfront to obtain more of what we need for our city’s infrastructure when we need it—now.  
  • Other Levels of Government: SDOT officials say we should wait to capture funding from the federal government and/or State government. But the reality is the federal and Washington State governments focus on relatively large bridge projects in such as the Columbia River Bridge, the I-5 ship canal bridge, and the western portion of State Highway 520. The time is overdue for the City to step up to address its own aging bridges that connect our region as well as our communities.
     
  • Waiting Until the Next Levy in 2024/2025: Among the first words in the 2015 Move Seattle ballot measure were “bridge seismic upgrades.” Those seismic upgrades specifically included the Ballard Bridge that connects to Interbay and the Fremont Bridge that leads downtown. But after recommitting to those bridges in 2018, SDOT canceled this seismic work in November 2020 after receiving revised cost estimates: Ballard Bridge ($32 million) and the Fremont Bridge ($29 million). The bridge bonds could enable us to fulfill the promise made in 2015. Not delivering on those promises now imperils the ability of people to trust the integrity and promises of any future levy. Moreover, a future levy would not be operating until 2025—five years after the West Seattle Bridge cracked and closed – potentially putting more of Seattle’s bridges at risk. 

The letter also claims investments of $166.9 million for bridges, but the irony is that over 60% of that is to fix the West Seattle Bridge. 

As Chair of Seattle’s Transportation Committee, I cannot sit idly by while the can is kicked down the road again. Today I sent a letter to the Biden Administration asking our U.S. transportation officials to accelerate their federal compliance assessment of Seattle’s bridges.  Federal oversight can be helpful to spur action and results for bridge safety in Seattle, especially for bridges ranked “Poor” and for bridges City leaders promised to fix as early as 2015. 

Going forward, I would like to see the Harrell Administration include robust bridge infrastructure investment, including bonding, in their budget proposal that we expect to receive this September for the calendar year 2023.  

Regardless of whether the Harrell Administration reconsiders their disappointing decision so that we can boost funding for bridge safety this year, I look forward to continued collaboration with Mayor Harrell and his strong team on several priorities impacting our city.”

Background:  

Last year, Mayor Harrell said he wanted to “accelerate the repair and maintenance of aging facilities like the West Seattle Bridge, Magnolia Bridge, and other critical infrastructure needs that connect our neighborhoods and people.”  The audit of Seattle’s bridges that I ordered after former Mayor Durkan closed the cracked West Seattle Bridge shows problematic conditions of the aging Ballard Bridge, University Bridge, 2nd Avenue South, West Seattle’s lower bridge, and other City-owned bridges.

Shortly after the November 2021 election when the City Council approved the 2022 budget and authorized up to $100 million in bonds I said, “Today this Council delivers the authority for bridge bonds and, early next year, we expect the new Administration to use that authority to keep our infrastructure safe, to keep our economy moving, and to keep our communities connected.”  But the Harrell Administration’s decision this week essentially rejects that financial authorization.  

At City Council’s request, SDOT already provided a project list in September 2021. While we had been relying on SDOT to expand that list of bridge work and determine how the full $100 million could be used, the bridge safety improvements could have included the following projects:  

(1) $61 million for Bridge Seismic – Phase III (MC-TR-C008). Seismic upgrades or other improvements to the Ballard Bridge ($32 million) and the Fremont Bridge ($29 million). The first words in the 2015 Move Seattle ballot measure were “bridge seismic upgrades.” But after recommitting to those bridges in 2018, SDOT canceled this seismic work in November 2020 after receiving revised cost estimates. The bridge bonds could enable the promise made in 2015 to be fulfilled.  

(2) $29.5 million for Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement – Phase II (MC-TR-C039).  This funding could support rehabilitation of the Fauntleroy Expressway ($6.7 million), Spokane Street Swing Bridge Hydraulic Overhaul ($5.1 million), Magnolia Bridge Structural Rehabilitation ($5.5 million), and University Bridge Rehabilitation ($6.2 million).  These projects were identified in SDOT’s September 2021 response to Section 4 of ORD 126327, which requested that SDOT provide a list of projects eligible for bond financing. In addition, $6 million for Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project (MC-TR-C083) to support a type, size, and location study for the Magnolia Bridge, the eventual replacement of which would need to be funded by other means.   

(3) $9.5 million for Structures Major Maintenance (MC-TR-C112).  The Council created this project in the 2021 Adopted Budget in response to the City Auditor’s 2020 report on SDOT bridge maintenance. The mayor’s proposed budget would allocate approximately $17 million for bridge maintenance, so this would boost the amount so that it’s closer to the minimum recommendation of the City Auditor.   

# # # 


January 28, 2022: Bridge Collapse in Pittsburgh — Another Call to Action for Seattle

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) 

As reported by CNN, “Ten people were injured when a snow-covered bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed Friday morning, hours ahead of a previously scheduled visit to the city by President Joe Biden to discuss infrastructure.”

For a related article in Politico entitled, “Infrastructure bonanza might not head off future bridge collapses,” CLICK HERE.

Call to Action: Please email the office of our new Mayor Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov imploring the Executive to use the budget and legislative authority the City Council granted to him to issue $100 million in City bonds for bridge safety.  We already learned the hard way from the West Seattle Bridge closure and the disturbing audit of all Seattle bridges — and we know neither the federal government nor the State government are coming to the rescue for our city’s many aging, at-risk bridges.  


November 22, 2021 Update:

Here are my remarks about Seattle’s bridges during final passage of the City Budget for 2022:

“In keeping our City moving forward, I’m very grateful for the adoption today of Council Bill 120224 which is the companion legislation for my Council Budget Action SDOT-505-A-002 to build back better with a boost of bridge bonds. Bonds will enable us to finally address the growing backlog of vital bridge safety projects in the wake of the closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the subsequent audit of Seattle’s bridges that confirmed many key bridges are in poor condition. We were reminded of the vulnerability of our aging bridges again with the recent malfunctioning and temporary closure of the University Bridge, a multimodal bridge that may someday be the key to installing a new bus rapid ride line.  Bonds will enable us to fulfill more promises of the Move Seattle Levy by restoring some of the seismic upgrade projects cancelled by SDOT. Bonds can increase safety on multiple bridges on the project list we requested and received from SDOT. Bonds can also boost the capital-heavy line items identified by the City Auditor as being historically underfunded. Authorizing these bonds will enable the incoming Administration to seize the window of opportunity when interest rates are at historic lows.

“Today this Council delivers the authority for bridge bonds and, early next year, we expect the new Administration to use that authority to keep our infrastructure safe, to keep our economy moving, and to keep our communities connected.”


November 13, 2021 Update:

Our aging University Bridge remained stuck in an upright position November 12 and 13, 2021. The Seattle Department of Transportation reported electrical problems with the drawbridge. (photo by Councilmember Pedersen)

Statement by Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen on the Malfunctioning and Closure of the Multimodal University Bridge:

 “After the devastating closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the citywide audit of bridges I ordered last year, City Hall should not need additional evidence to do more for bridge safety,  but I’m hopeful the sudden two-day closure of the University Bridge – blocking  buses, freight, commuters, bikes, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles — finally propels our Seattle Department of Transportation to expedite how it addresses our aging bridge infrastructure. After a year of debate and delay to prioritize Seattle’s bridge network, I’m eager to have a majority of City Council finally approve later this month my long-standing proposal to authorize a boost of funds needed to fix our aging bridges. I want to thank the workers who have been struggling to repair and reopen another broken bridge and to urge all City leaders to give them the help they need to do their jobs to keep all Seattle bridges safe and secure.” 

For the Council Budget Action for the $100 million in bonds (SDOT-505-A-001), CLICK HERE. For the companion legislation (Council Bill 120224), CLICK HERE.

For SDOT’s explanation of the recent malfunctioning of the University Bridge, CLICK HERE.

For Seattle Times coverage, CLICK HERE and HERE, and HERE.

For my November 16, 2021 interview with King 5 News on the University Bridge, CLICK HERE.


November 2, 2021 Update:

Labor Leaders Join Growing Majority of City Council to Bolster Bridge Safety and Boost Jobs

Councilmembers Pedersen, Herbold, Lewis, Strauss Sponsor Budget Amendment to Authorize Bonds for Faster Investments to Strengthen Infrastructure Connecting Communities and Keeping our Economy Moving 

SEATTLE, WA – To bolster bridge safety and boost jobs as Seattle builds back better from the COVID pandemic’s economic slump, labor leaders have voiced their support for new efforts by Councilmembers Alex PedersenLisa HerboldDebora JuarezAndrew J. Lewis, and Dan Strauss to generate $100 million in bonds to help fix Seattle’s aging bridges. 

Councilmembers signed on to co-sponsor the amendment during a public Budget Committee meeting October 28, which resulted in majority support. Over the weekend, labor leaders, who have encouraged similar investments during the past year, affirmed their support for this renewed effort to expedite investments in bridge infrastructure safety: 

Billy Hetherington, Political Director for Laborers Local 242, added, “We know that in this world of COVID-19, the movement of goods and services have been essential to our daily lives as we try our best to work from home and social distance from our fellow citizens. We have seen the impacts a shutdown of a major bridge can have on the lives of Seattle’s residents. The Auditor’s report calls for $34 million to $100 million to adequately fund the preservation of SDOT’s bridge infrastructure, so this amendment is needed to address the backlog faster. Fixing our roads and bridges, throughout the region, has been overlooked for decades so I am happy to see Councilmembers making a stand to show this is a priority now.” 

Heather Kurtenbach, Political Director for Ironworkers Local 86, said, “Seattle’s bridges are in need of extra care and attention. Leveraging budget funds into bonds will allow the city to make a bigger and bolder investment in our bridges without delay.” 

Pedro Espinoza of Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters said, “May 23, 2013, was a perfect example of how bridge closures can impact our lives: a span of the bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River collapsed, severely impacting the movement of Washington State goods and services. We need more funding to fix our bridges in order to avoid events like this in the future.” 

Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee said, “In a city carved by waterways and ravines, we rely on bridges to support all modes of transportation that connect us and keep our economy moving. After the West Seattle bridge closure, our bridge audit confirmed many other Seattle bridges in poor condition due to age and underinvestment. To build back better after the COVID crisis, we should accelerate the fixing of our city’s aging bridges not only to improve safety but also to encourage additional living wage jobs. Issuing bonds enables us to generate the maximum resources needed to tackle a backlog of safety repairs and create construction job opportunities. Kicking the can down the road risks missing the opportunity to lock in today’s historically low interest rates and could end up costing more in the long run. With the entire City budget in our hands now, we have the flexibility to leverage a modest investment to go big on bridges for safety and jobs now.” 

Councilmember Dan Strauss, as Chair of the City’s Land Use Committee and Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee said, “Our backlog in bridge repair, maintenance, and replacement will require hundreds of millions of dollars and issuing bonds will give us the immediate financial capacity to make our bridges safer and more resilient. It is imperative we invest in our infrastructure to avoid preventable emergencies that could impact the safety and health of our residents and the movement of people and goods. For this to be successful we need to identify an appropriate revenue source for the bonds, and to have a shovel-ready project list in-hand for us to get to work on. We need projects to be shovel ready, so we don’t pay interest on bonds for work that isn’t ready to begin, and we need to take advantage of historically low interest rates – so let’s get going!”

Despite support from construction labor unions and bridge safety advocates, the Council became divided over previous efforts to bond for bridges as it tried to synthesize a variety of input on how best to invest just $7 million in new revenue it created from Vehicle License Fees. Some Councilmembers said they wanted to wait until the comprehensive Fall budget process, which is occurring now. The fiscal landscape has, in fact, widened because Council has before it the entire $7 billion budget proposal from the mayor, which includes $1.6 billion in flexible General Fund dollars. The proposed 2022 budget for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is $718 million, an increase from last year, which includes both operating and capital spending.  In addition to the varied sources of funds available to leverage the bonds, the Council could also raise the Commercial Parking Tax and/or take advantage of a forthcoming revenue forecast update which is likely to show an increase in funds available.  

Here is the current title of the proposed budget amendment:  “Amend and pass as amended CB 120198 to issue an additional approximate $100 million of LTGO bonds in 2022; add $100 million of LTGO bond proceeds to SDOT bridge-related CIP projects; and add $3.1 million of Transportation Fund to SDOT for debt service” 

This budget amendment for bridge bonds, if incorporated by the Budget Chair into her rebalancing package or added by a majority of Councilmembers on November 12 per the budget calendar, would piggyback onto Council Bill 120198. That budget bill would authorize the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to issue 2022 limited tax general obligation (LTGO) bonds for several projects already.  

This budget amendment for bridge bonds would revise Exhibit A (Description of 2022 Projects) to CB 120198 to add approximately $103 million. While the exact list of bridges targeted for this investment is still being finalized, bridge safety improvements could include: 

(1) add Bridge Seismic – Phase III: $61,000,000 

(2) add Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement – Phase II and other line item: $29,500,000 

(3) add Structures Major Maintenance: $9,500,000 

(1) $61 million for Bridge Seismic – Phase III (MC-TR-C008). While still relying on State and federal contributions for safety improvements and future planning, this funding could support seismic upgrades or other improvements to the Ballard Bridge ($32 million) and the Fremont Bridge ($29 million) that are no longer being funded through the Move Seattle Levy.   

(2) $23.5 million for Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement – Phase II (MC-TR-C039).  This funding could support rehabilitation of the Fauntleroy Expressway ($6.7 million), Spokane Street Swing Bridge Hydraulic Overhaul ($5.1 million), Magnolia Bridge Structural Rehabilitation ($5.5 million), and University Bridge Rehabilitation ($6.2 million).  These projects were identified in SDOT’s response to Section 4 of ORD 126327, which requested that SDOT provide a list of projects eligible for bond financing. In addition, $6 million for Magnolia Bridge Replacement Project (MC-TR-C083) to support a type, size, and location study for the Magnolia Bridge, the eventual replacement of which would need to be funded by other means.  

(3) $9.5 million for Structures Major Maintenance (MC-TR-C112).  The Council created this project in the 2021 Adopted Budget in response to the City Auditor’s 2020 report on SDOT bridge maintenance. The mayor’s proposed budget would allocate approximately $17 million for bridge maintenance, so this would boost the amount so that it’s closer to the minimum recommendation of the City Auditor.  

The goal would be to tackle long-delayed projects, including bridge projects promised to voters who approved the Move Seattle Levy in 2015. In addition, Seattle would want investments to supplement, rather than replace funds, to maximize the leveraging of State and Federal dollars.  

Interest rates on the most recently issued bonds were under 2.0% but, out of an abundance of caution and to be consistent with other estimates, City Council Central Staff is using an interest rate of 4.0% as a placeholder for the 20-year bonds. This bridge bond amendment would authorize up to $3.1 million of Transportation Funds to SDOT for interest-only debt service in 2022, assuming nine months of interest accruing in the issuing year. If issued at a 4.0 percent interest rate, and with repayment of principal beginning in 2023, the City would be obligated to fund approximately $7.6 million of debt service annually in future budgets for the duration of the 20-year term. Using a 2% rate, the City would be pay approximately $25 million of total interest over the life of the bonds or, with a 4% rate, the City would pay approximately $50 million of total interest over the life of the bonds.  

While there is a cost of interest when issuing bonds (just as there is an interest cost when taking out a mortgage to buy a house), thanks to the time value of money, the $100 million received today to address Seattle’s immediate infrastructure needs could be worth more than $100 million trickling out over 20 years because relatively low interest rates would be locked in place for a period of 20 years. Delaying the issuance of the bonds could end up costing more if future interest rates rise. Moreover, bonding provides a large sum upfront to obtain more of what we need for our city’s infrastructure when we need it – now.  

As the Seattle Times editorial board noted last week, “City Hall has a history of kicking the can down the road…The Seattle City Council ought to end this practice, and get to work on appropriately funding vital infrastructure once and for all.”    

# # # 


May 10, 2021 Update:

The full City Council adopted Council Bill 120042 as we had amended it in my Transportation Committee. The Seattle Times requested a statement from me and here is what I provided:

The legislation we adopted today is a strong step toward stronger bridges and can boost the aging infrastructure that connects our communities and keeps our economy moving. The sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the audit of all bridges I ordered last year should be a wake-up call for everyone who cares about mobility for all modes of transportation. Our bridges are not going to fix themselves – we need to stop kicking the can down the road and instead think bigger and bolder to build back better with bonds as we emerge from the COVID pandemic. I look forward to our Seattle Department of Transportation stepping up to produce the information my colleagues and I unanimously requested so that we have concrete options to issue bonds to produce the tens of millions of dollars for our city’s bridges and other aging infrastructure important to buses, freight, and other modes of transportation.”


May 5, 2021 Update:

Our Transportation Committee unanimously passed Council Bill 120042 which invests the new dollars from the additional $20 in vehicle license fees (VLF) for 2021 (annualized amount would be approximately $7 million). But first we amended our original amendment on potentially issuing bonds to generate $100 million to accelerate the fixing of our City’s aging infrastructure, including our multi-modal bridge network. The final amendment not only increased flexibility by removing some of the more rigid language from the original amendment, but also requires additional info on the timing of projects from SDOT when they deliver their $100 million list of capital projects to the Council in September. For the final amendment that passed, CLICK HERE. For a Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE, though please note that the Council is actually making final decisions as part of our 2021 Fall budget process (which will impact 2022). This enables a more holistic approach so that both SDOT and the City Council can consider the recent feedback from stakeholders within the context of SDOT’s entire $600-$700 million annual budget (including potential bonds) rather than just isolating the small $7 million from the VLF.

Here are my prepared remarks from the Committee discussion: “Thank you for bringing forward this amendment, which I consider as friendly toward our overall efforts to punctuate the priority of Seattle’s aging infrastructure. I am pleased to have a collaborative legislative process among Councilmembers whenever possible so we ultimately build out transportation priorities we all can support. Incorporating ANY amendment to SDOT’s plan that prioritizes Seattle’s aging infrastructure and considers how to leverage more money faster is a strong step toward stronger bridges, so that we can address the alarming audit of our bridges. I think this revised amendment still successfully intensifies our commitment toward the safety and sustainability of multimodal bridges that connect our communities and keep our economy moving. I look forward to making sure SDOT follows through on the recommendations from our City Auditor and gets bridge projects ready faster, so we can take advantage of federal dollars and finally address the dangerous backlog for our bridges that we rely on to connect our communities and keep our economy moving.”


April 21 and 26, 2021 Update:

Our Transportation Committee heard SDOT’s proposal (CB 120042) for how to spend $7 million a year of the newly approved Vehicle License Fees, while several Councilmembers supporting a bolder leveraging of those dollars to generate $100 million to boost our infrastructure had an opportunity to present our amendment. During the Committee meeting, Councilmember Debora Juarez announced her support for our bonding amendment and joined us as a co-sponsor.

The Seattle Times editorial board recently endorsed our infrastructure amendment! CLICK HERE.

Nicole Grant, the head of the MLK Labor Council, announced her support for the $100 million in bonds at our Transportation Committee, adding her strong voice to the many labor unions who joined us in the original press release.

Nicole Grant, the head of MLK Labor told our Transportation Committee April 21, “I want to weigh in in favor of the bonding to fund our bridges here in the city of Seattle. I know it’s expensive; it’s among the prices we pay for having a beautiful city full of hills and waterways. It’s not something we can ignore. We are lucky also to have the best Targeted Local Hire policy in the country to make sure that the employment to repair / to replace this infrastructure gives back to the community and hires people that could really use a strong career advantage — including formerly incarcerated workers — and to make sure that everybody has health insurance for their family and apprenticeship to learn a skill that’s going to last their whole life. So support it, I think it’s a good decision, a good use of the money. Thank you.” 


April 19, 2021 Update:

PRESS RELEASE:

Councilmembers Pedersen, Herbold, Lewis, Mosqueda Propose $100 Million in Bonds for Multimodal Bridges and Other Transportation Infrastructure Needs to Create Jobs Sooner by Leveraging the New $20 Vehicle License Fee

SEATTLE, WA – To boost jobs as Seattle emerges from the COVID pandemic’s economic recession, Councilmembers Alex Pedersen, Lisa Herbold, Andrew J. Lewis, and Teresa Mosqueda are proposing $100 million in bonds to fix our aging multimodal bridges and modernize transportation infrastructure in 2022, after implementing the Seattle Department of Transportation’s spending plan for the additional $20 Vehicle License Fees for 2021.

The Councilmembers issued this joint statement: “We appreciate the Seattle Department of Transportation convening community partners to offer ways to invest the expected funds from the $20 vehicle license fee authorized by the City Council. They have crafted a thoughtful 2021 spending plan that we should implement immediately. At this critical juncture, when we seek to build back better after the Covid-19 crisis, we must also think bigger and bolder with this opportunity. We should supercharge the VLF dollars by financing $100 million in bonds in 2022 and take on the too-long-delayed task of fixing our city’s aging multimodal bridges and modernizing Seattle’s transportation infrastructure while creating good, living wage jobs. Our bridge audit showed so many bridges in poor condition and illustrated the economic benefits of frontloading government resources. By leveraging these dollars we can finally commit to a strategy of significant timely investments rather than piecemeal fixes. In a city carved by waterways and ravines, we rely on bridges to support all modes of transportation that connect us and keep our economy moving. We have a duty to stop kicking the can down the road, and now we have an opportunity to go bigger and bolder to build back better.”

The Councilmembers are introducing an important amendment to SDOT’s bill (Council Bill 120042) to fund the stakeholder plan for 2021 and then to generate $100 million in 2022, with at least 75% of the bonds going to fix multimodal bridges. The rest of the funds can be used to leverage other federal or state dollars for other transportation infrastructure such as those proposed in SDOT’s spending plan.

A coalition of construction labor unions support the amendment.

Billy Hetherington, Political Director for Laborers Local 242, added, “We know that in this world of COVID-19, the movement of goods and services have been essential to our daily lives as we try our best to work from home and social distance from our fellow citizens. We have seen the impacts a shutdown of a major bridge can have on the lives of Seattle’s residents. The West Seattle bridge is nowhere near the oldest in the city nor was it considered in “Poor” condition at the time of its shutdown. The Auditor’s reports calls for $34 million to $100 million to adequately fund the preservation of SDOT’s bridge infrastructure, so this amendment is needed to address the backlog faster. Fixing our roads and bridges, throughout the region, has been overlooked for decades so I am happy to see Councilmembers making a stand to show this is a priority now.”

Pedro Espinoza of Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters said, “May 23, 2013, was a perfect example of how bridge closures can impact our lives: a span of the bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River collapsed, severely impacting the movement of Washington State goods and services. We need more funding to fix our bridges in order to avoid events like this in the future.”

Heather Kurtenbach, Political Director for Ironworkers Local 86, said, “Seattle’s bridges are in need of extra care and attention. Leveraging the funds from Vehicle Licensing Fees will allow the city to make a bigger and bolder investment in our bridges without delay.”

Local business leaders also support the amendment. Executive Director Erin Goodman of the SODO Business Improvement Area said, “SODO is the industrial heart of Seattle, and during COVID-19 we have seen how many essential businesses are located here including food and supply distribution, PPE manufacturing, and more vital activities. Increased funding to fix our bridges now is necessary to support these essential businesses and their operations throughout our region.

Most drivers were previously paying $80 for their annual VLF, but that decreased briefly to $20 until City Council adopted this new $20 for a total of $40. The additional $20 (which drivers will start paying this July) is expected to generate $3.6 million in 2021 and $7.2 million in 2022 and each year thereafter.  A City Council spending plan was delayed until after more stakeholder engagement.  Bonding has several advantages over SDOT’s current plan. Rather than allocating the funds in several small pieces each year over several years, bonding will provide a large sum upfront to obtain more of what we need for our city’s infrastructure when we need it – now. Bonding should also protect the VLF from future attempts to cancel the fee, because those future dollars will be encumbered upfront.

In addition to the dollars needed to restore the West Seattle High Bridge, Seattle’s aging bridges have the following immediate needs:

  •   $20 million to $88 million more annually for bridge maintenance. (Annual maintenance needed is $34 million to $102 million, per the City Auditor’s report on bridges. Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget for 2021 provided only $10 million among four line items and Council increased it to $14 million.) Bridges ranked poor by the audit include the 2nd Avenue South extension bridge.
  •  $8 million for our City’s older bridges that have aging moveable parts (such as the University, Ballard, Fremont, and Spokane bridges). When draw bridges / bascule bridges / swing bridges get stuck, they prevent all modes of transportation — including buses and bikes — which could impede Seattle’s fragile economic recovery.
  • Millions to start the seismic retrofits of 16 Seattle bridges, including $32 million for Ballard, $29 million for Fremont, and millions to seismically upgrade the 100-year old University Bridge.
  •  Millions to replace the 90-year-old Magnolia Bridge, which is part of the Ballard-Interbay Regional Transportation (BIRT) corridor.

The Seattle City Council approved the $20 vehicle license fee as part of its fall budget process. At the time, Councilmembers Pedersen, Herbold and Lewis proposed legislation (supported by Councilmember Juarez) to use Vehicle Licensing Fees to boost maintenance of multimodal bridges throughout Seattle. An amendment narrowly adopted by other Councilmembers in November 2020 directed SDOT to establish a stakeholder process to recommend ideas for spending the funds. Since that time, there have additional reports of immediate needs for bridges and confirmation that issuing bonds would be possible to create jobs.

Assuming an interest rate of 3.5% fully amortized over 20 years, the approximately $7 million in VLF annually will support the issuance of bonds totaling at least $100 million.

The Seattle City Council will consider and ultimately pass a spending plan over the coming weeks, with legislation going through its Transportation and Utilities Committee. The first briefing on the spending plan is planned for April 21, 2021. 

Media coverage:

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December 21, 2020 Update:

Today’s Seattle Times article on the costs to make earthquake-resistant improvements to Seattle’s bridges is additional evidence that the 4 Councilmembers (Pedersen, Herbold, Juarez, Lewis) who voted to immediately designate these additional dollars for bridge maintenance were correct: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-scales-back-earthquake-work-on-city-bridges-as-costs-soar/

From the article: “After promising Seattle voters [in 2015] that the city would reinforce 16 bridges to better withstand earthquakes, the Seattle Department of Transportation now says that work would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than once expected. Instead of 16 bridges, the city plans to complete seismic retrofits on 11, leaving notable and costly locations like the Ballard and Fremont bridges off the list. Costs for some bridges increased by several million dollars, like a span along 15th Avenue in Ballard now set to cost about $5 million instead of $1 million. Other estimates rose by far more...”

Councilmembers who voted against designating the funds immediately for bridges were Gonzalez, Morales, Mosqueda, Sawant, and Strauss. As the 5-person majority, they unfortunately prevailed to delay that decision.


November 19, 2020 Update:

The reasonable decision this week by our Mayor to repair and maintain the existing West Seattle bridge underscores the need for more steady funding for bridge maintenance throughout Seattle to honor our recent audit of bridges. We could have secured an immediate and dedicated source for bridge maintenance if a majority of the Council had supported this week the decisive proposal that Councilmembers Herbold, Lewis, and I advanced with the support of Councilmember Juarez. Despite the disappointing 5 to 4 vote to delay a decision on funding more bridge maintenance, I am hopeful the additional process will lead to a robust increase in funding for bridge safety from several sources, which would benefit all modes of travel and keep our economy moving.

  • For the Seattle Times coverage of the City Council vote, CLICK HERE.
  • For a Seattle Times editorial criticizing my colleagues’ disappointing decision to delay my proposal for immediate bridge maintenance funding, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Council Bill 119951, CLICK HERE. Please note that the Council’s Legistar system is limited in that it does NOT display all amendment votes; therefore, the unfortunate (yet pivotal) 5 to 4 vote to reject investing the funds directly into bridges (Council Budget Action BLG-042-A-001) and to delay the decision on how to spend the money (Council Budget Action BLG-042-B-001) after consulting advocacy groups can be found only by watching the November 18, 2020 Budget Committee meeting on Seattle Channel (start at 1:18).

November 13 and November 17, 2020:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We have an important opportunity during the remaining week of our annual budget process to support our city’s bridge infrastructure. Our Budget Committee is meeting again November 18 and 19.

In a city defined by its many waterways and ravines, our bridges connect us and we must ensure they are maintained to stay safe and strong. Vital for all modes of travel and our regional economy, bridges require ample maintenance not only to ensure they remain safe but also to avoid costly and disruptive shutdowns and replacements.

The recent independent audit of Seattle’s bridges proves city government must do a better job investing in this basic infrastructure, including bridges that serve public transit. The audit concluded that our city government has been substantially under-investing in the maintenance of our bridges. The result of underfunding our bridge infrastructure increases the risk of harm and disruption — failing to invest at adequate levels today means taxpayers might have to bear even larger replacement costs later. Pay now or pay more later. The sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge should be a wake up call that we must take care of our city’s infrastructure to keep our residents and our local economy moving.

During our budget deliberations in November, City Council received broad input from residents, business leaders, and labor unions (including Laborers, Carpenters, and Ironworkers) calling for more maintenance of our vital bridges.

While the Mayor’s budget team worked hard to preserve the amount of spending for bridge maintenance despite budget deficits, we should do more as additional funding options become available.

For both 2020 and the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget, the bridge maintenance items identified by the City Auditor total approximately $12 million, though approximately $2 million is for reimbursable work on other projects resulting in a current net investment of only $10 million.

To achieve the increased spending levels for bridge maintenance recommended by the City Auditor’s 2020 report, Councilmembers Pedersen, Herbold, and Lewis proposed adding $24 million to the 2021 budget (“Form B”: Council Budget Action SDOT-008-A-001) which gained initial support from Councilmembers Juarez, Sawant, and Strauss on October 30, 2020.

The $24 million increase for bridge maintenance would have achieved a total of $34 million for 2021, which is still on the low-end of the City Auditor’s recommendation of $34 million to $102 million annually (equivalent to 1% to 3% of total replacement costs).

While the Budget Chair’s balancing package was able to restore or fund several transportation projects including those for transit, pedestrians, and bikes, it added only $4 million from the $24 million request for bridge maintenance.

More funding options are needed now to address the bridge maintenance gap with the urgency it deserves.

Vehicle License Fees (VLF) (a.k.a. car tabs)

Thanks to the Supreme Court overturning the harmful Initiative 976, the City Council now has the flexibility to adjust the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) to $40 as authorized by RCW 36.73.065 and RCW 82.80.140. While residents currently pay $80 which would otherwise drop to $20 in 2021, the RCW permits the Council to “increase” it by another $20 (for a total of $40) in 2021. 

Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (Chair Council’s Transportation Committee), Lisa Herbold (West Seattle) and Andrew Lewis (downtown, Queen Anne, Magnolia) have introduced Council Bill 119951 to adjust the vehicle license fee to $40. (Residents currently pay $80 for the city portion each year, but it is scheduled to drop to $20.)

or at least 2021, the additional vehicle license proceeds can be focused on the maintenance of Seattle bridges that support high-capacity transit or multiple modes of travel with a focus on our Frequent Transit Network.

Underfunding our bridge infrastructure increases the risk of harm and ends up costing taxpayers more later, so let’s listen to the independent audit and increase bridge maintenance now to keep our people and economy moving,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

The impending decision whether to repair or replace the West Seattle Bridge highlights the importance of ongoing investment in maintenance of Seattle’s bridges,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (West Seattle). “Bridges are critical not only to residents and local businesses, but also to our regional economy.”

District 7 is stitched together by bridges we depend on for reliable bus service and freight mobility for our working waterfront,” said Councilmember Andrew Lewis (downtown, Queen Anne, Magnolia). We need to step up our commitment to this critical infrastructure.”

To read their press release from Nov 13, 2020, CLICK HERE.

The adjustment of the underlying vehicle license fee (VLF) to $40, if adopted by the City Council, is anticipated to raise an additional $3.6 million in 2021, and an additional $7.2 million in subsequent years. (The difference in amounts is explained by the fact that it will take the Washington State Department of Licenses six months to update the new fee in 2021.) Therefore, the additional $20 VLF ($3.6 million in 2021) could nearly double the Council’s additive investment to $8 million for 2021, with more dollars available in later years. That would bring the grand total for 2021 bridge maintenance to nearly $18 million for 2021.

Seattle will need additional sources of revenue to support our network of aging bridges, but dedicating a portion of additional Vehicle License Fees is an immediate downpayment that responds to the time-sensitive concerns raised by the recent bridge audit.

To support our environment and address climate change, it is also critical to continue to prioritize transit and related projects that ensure the reliability of transit:

  • We are thankful to Seattle voters for approving Seattle Proposition 1 in November 2020 to authorize a six-year 0.15% sales tax for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which focuses on supplementing the bus service from King County Metro as well as providing free transit passes for those most in need.
  • IN ADDITION TO that new 6-year STBD measure (approximately $30 million in 2021 increasing to $41 million in 2022), the City Council Budget Chair was able to work with colleagues to restore funding for several transit/bike/ped projects for 2021.
  • IN ADDITION, there are still over $23 million in reserves remaining for transit from the 2014 STBD measure, all of which will benefit from input from the Transit Advisory Board.
  • IN ADDITION, our proposal for the VLF for bridge maintenance will focus on bridges serving our Frequent Transit Network.

Billy Hetherington, Political Director for Laborers Local 242, said “We know that in this world of COVID-19, the movement of goods and services have been essential to our daily lives as we try our best to work from home and social distance from our fellow citizens. We have seen the impacts a shutdown of a major bridge can have on the lives of Seattle’s residents. The West Seattle bridge is nowhere near the oldest in the city nor was it considered in “Poor” condition at the time of its shutdown. The Auditor’s reports calls for $34 to $100 million to adequately fund the preservation of SDOT’s bridge infrastructure, so this measure represents the bare minimum. Preservation and maintenance of our roads and bridges, throughout the state, has been overlooked for decades so I am happy to see Councilmembers making a stand to show this is a priority moving forward.”

Heather Kurtenbach, Political Director for Ironworkers Local 86, said, “Seattle’s bridges are in need of extra care and attention. Using funds from Vehicle Licensing Fees will allow the city to begin reinvesting in the maintenance of our bridges.”

Pedro Espinoza of Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters said, “May 23, 2013, was a perfect example of how bridge closures can impact our lives. A span of the bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River collapsed, severely impacting the movement of Washington State goods and services. We need more funding for bridge maintenance in order to avoid events like this in the future.”

Erin Goodman Executive Director of the SODO Business Improvement Area said, “SODO is the industrial heart of Seattle, and during COVID-19 we have seen how many essential businesses are located here including food and supply distribution, PPE manufacturing, and more vital activities. Increased funding for bridge maintenance is necessary to support these essential businesses and their operations throughout our region.”

Background: 

  • The specific budget line items identified by the City Auditor as “bridge maintenance” include Bridge Load Rating (capital), Bridge Painting (capital), Bridge Structures Engineering (operating), and Bridget Structure Maintenance (operating). It may make sense to add a new line item for Structures (for capital improvements).
  • Chapter 36.73 RCW provides for the establishment of Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD) by cities and counties and to levy and impose various taxes and fees to generate revenues to support transportation improvements within the TBD. In 2010, the City Council passed Ordinance 123397 which established the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (“District”). The District imposed an initial vehicle license fee of $20 pursuant to RCW 36.73.065 by adopting Seattle Transportation Benefit District Resolution 1.
  • In 2014, Seattle voters approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, which imposed an additional $60 vehicle license fee pursuant to RCW 36.73.065 and resulted in a combined vehicle license fee of $80. In 2016, the City Council passed Ordinance 125070 which absorbed the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and vested the City Council with the District’s duties and authority, including the authority to collect a $20 vehicle license fee and the voter-approved $60 vehicle license fee. The voter-approved $60 vehicle license fee expires on December 31, 2020.
  • The needs for improvement, maintenance, and protection of public ways within the boundaries of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District have grown, as evidenced by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s shut down of the West Seattle Bridge in March 2020 for public safety and the City Auditor’s 2020 report on bridge maintenance.
  • For 2021, the additional vehicle license proceeds could be used for maintenance activities on Seattle bridges that support high-capacity transit or multiple modes of travel, specifically bridges serving our Frequent Transit Network (see map below). Bridges support all modes of travel. For those who are concerned that bridges are “car-centric,” all the more reason that car drivers should help to pay for added maintenance through the car tabs (vehicle license fees).

More about the Bridge Audit Results:

The Ballard Bridge needs work.
Magnolia Bridge, another bridge ranked by the 2020 Audit as “poor.”
West Seattle “High” Bridge: The sudden closure of the West Seattle “High” Bridge in March 2020 has been a major challenge. This is infrastructure is vital not only to the 100,000 people of West Seattle but also to the entire region, especially as it impacts the economic engine that is the Port of Seattle.
The University Bridge that connects the U District and Eastlake in District 4 was among the bridges ranked in “poor” condition along with the Magnolia Bridge, 2nd Avenue South extension, and the Fairview Avenue Bridge (which is being reconstructed). Photo: by SounderBruce on Wikipedia

In a city defined by its many waterways, our bridges connect us and this audit report proves city government must do a better job investing in this basic infrastructure,” said Transportation Chair Pedersen who requested the citywide bridge audit. “Vital for transit, freight and our regional economy, bridges require relatively large investments to build and maintain to ensure they remain safe for generations. I requested this audit of our bridges because the rapid deterioration of the West Seattle Bridge underscored the need for City officials and the general public to have a clear, thorough, and independent understanding of the condition of major bridges throughout Seattle, including the adequacy of the City’s preventative maintenance investments and practices.”

After an extensive document review and numerous exchanges by the auditor’s office with the Seattle Department of Transportation’s engineers and managers, the audit report was completed on schedule. The auditor’s report was presented to the City Council at its Transportation Committee chaired by Councilmember Pedersen Wednesday, September 16.

Pedersen initiated the audit with an April 23 letter to the City Auditor asking his office “to assess the physical conditions and maintenance investments for the major bridges owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).” Pedersen’s letter requested a report from the Auditor by mid-September to inform the City Council’s fall budget process.

The audit concluded the city government’s annual spending is far below what is needed to maintain its bridges and SDOT confirmed this: “SDOT estimates its annual spending is tens of millions of dollars less than what is needed to maintain its bridges.”

The audit report makes 10 recommendations for improving the City’s bridge maintenance and investment policies. According to the report, SDOT generally concurs with the report’s recommendations and plans to implement them. However, it will take action from the Mayor and City Council to fill the gap in funding. “I am hopeful City Hall will pay close attention to this audit report and respond appropriately during the 2021 budget discussions to ensure that critical infrastructure does not continue to deteriorate with potentially disastrous consequences,” said Councilmember Pedersen.

City Auditor David G. Jones added, “Our report shows that there is a large gap between what is budgeted for bridge maintenance and what is needed to keep them in good condition. Our recommendations are for activities that SDOT should do now to better inform where investments are made, and more effectively use the resources they currently have.”


Additional Resources (on both VLF and Bridges): 

  • Council Bill 119951 to adjust the car tab fee to $40.
  • Council Budget Action to dedicate the funds to bridges (supported by Pedersen, Herbold, Juarez Lewis, but failed 4 to 5), CLICK HERE.
  • Replacement Council Budget Action 042-B-001 to delay decision on the $3.6 million for 2021 and impose a “stakeholder engagement process” (supported by Gonzalez, Morales, Mosqueda, Sawant, Strauss; passed 5 to 4), CLICK HERE.
  • Press release (Nov 13, 2020) from Herbold, Lewis, Pedersen to focus additional $20 VLF on bridge maintenance, CLICK HERE.
  • The bridge audit report, from the City Auditor, CLICK HERE.
  • Transportation & Utilities Committee website, CLICK HERE.
  • Media reports on focusing additional $20 VLF on bridge maintenance:
  • Media reports on the citywide bridge audit:

From the Seattle Times editorial: “New City Councilmember Alex Pedersen deserves kudos for requesting the audit after the West Seattle Bridge closure. It gives the council facts and improvements to consider, and has already prompted change at the Department of Transportation. Yet the situation demands more, including a new mindset at City Hall and an authentic effort, starting with the next budget.”

# # #


Strengthening Seattle’s Tree Ordinance

March 29th, 2022
Let’s not allow efforts to update Seattle’s Tree ordinance delay into a never-ending story!

INTRODUCTION:

We call ourselves the “Emerald City” within the “Evergreen State” and yet our City laws have many loopholes that enable the removal of scores of trees each year, including healthy, large conifer trees that city law defines as “Exceptional.”  Trees should be treated as valuable infrastructure because they provide numerous benefits including carbon sequestration, absorption of rainwater to reduce harmful runoff into Puget Sound and Lake Washington, shade for cooling during the warmer months, and proven health benefits. The bigger the tree, the better. As we take a long overdue, serious look at racial injustice issues, we know some communities of color have fewer large trees and are seeing them removed more often. Saving and planting more trees will help to address the disparities of heat islands exacerbated by climate change. As far back as 2009, our City Auditor determined that fractionalized management of trees and urban forestry issues was a major problem for the City of Seattle and recommended consolidation. Instead, the City for eleven years has continued to try to make a multi-departmental approach to tree management work. As it has boomed with development, Seattle has struggled to prevent continued loss of significant numbers of large trees and reduced tree canopy area. Our city government’s oversight to protect trees is not only fractured, but also weak. 

After the City adopted Resolution 31902 in 2019, we waited for all of 2020 and 2021 for the Durkan Administration’s Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to deliver an updated tree ordinance to the City Council as required by the resolution. Finally, on February 25, 2022, the Harrell Administration forwarded to the City Council a bill crafted by SDCI, which appears to have several shortcomings. (See below for updates.) Meanwhile, many constituents have been contacting my office with legitimate concerns about numerous “exceptional trees” being ripped out across our District 4 and our city. My staff and I will be carefully monitoring our City government’s efforts on these important environmental and equity issues – and may take legislative action sooner if we continue to see excuses instead of progress. We will update this ongoing blog post to provide new information as it becomes available in what seems to be a never-ending story.

To view our Council Bill 120207 to register tree cutters for better transparency and accountability, CLICK HERE.  This registration bill is a small, but might step forward while we consider how best to adopt a more comprehensive tree protection bill. Councilmember Dan Strauss, who chairs the relevant Land Use Committee, co-sponsored CB 120207.




August 22, 2022 UPDATE: Hearing Examiner Overrules Developers that Challenged Tree Protections

The City Hearing Examiner affirmed the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI)’s decision to issue a “Determination of Non-Significance” (DNS) for their proposed tree protection ordinance. The Hearing Examiner’s decision removes a major obstacle to the long-held goal of adopting stronger tree protections.

I am very pleased that the City Hearing Examiner rejected the appeal by some real estate developers that, unfortunately, resulted in yet another delay in our efforts to strengthen Seattle’s tree protection ordinance. We already know trees provide numerous public health and environmental benefits, which include reducing the harmful heat island impacts of climate change. More trees need to be protected and planted now, especially in low income communities. I look forward to working with the Urban Forestry Commission and other stakeholders to finally implement an effective tree ordinance for our ‘Emerald City.’”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen, (District 4, Northeast Seattle)

URBAN FORESTY COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS: Regarding next steps on tree protections, I am interested in incorporating into new legislation nearly all of the recommendations of the Urban Forestry Commission.

CONCERNS ABOUT IN-LIEU FEE: I’m very concerned that the so-called “in-lieu fee” proposal from SDCI will have the perverse effect of losing more trees, because it would enable real estate developers to simply pay a modest fee in exchange for ripping out mature trees that are 12 inches or more in in diameter. When testifying at City Council in December 2019, the manager of Portland’s urban forest programs cautioned Seattle about an in-lieu payment scheme because the fee often fails to discourage for-profit developers from just writing a check to chop the tree. I agree with the UFC’s goal in dedicating a source of funds for new trees, but I believe we should use funds from sources other than those generated by the removal of existing trees. Trees are vital infrastructure we must protect in the midst of climate change and, to pay for new trees desperately needed in lower income areas, we can use other City funding or fees.


March 29, 2022 UPDATE: City Council adopts our Council Bill 120207 to finally register tree cutters; looming ahead is a larger discussion for more tree protections.

This legislation finally ends the ‘wild west’ of tree cutting in Seattle and is a small but mighty step toward protecting the health and environmental benefits of mature trees in our Emerald City,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 Northeast Seattle, Wallingford, Eastlake). “As heat waves and flooding increase with the climate crisis, we need to get serious about protecting our priceless tree infrastructure, and Council Bill 120207 delivers the foundational accountability and transparency needed as we work to deliver a more comprehensive tree protection ordinance later this year.” 

For a link to our press release, CLICK HERE. Thanks to all the urban forest conservationists who have called into public comment periods at Council committee meetings and sent emails of support over the past several months!

March 23, 2022 UPDATE: Land Use Committee unanimously approves Council Bill 120207, as amended, to register tree cutters.

Council Bill 120207 was originally introduced October 18, 2021, heard in the Land Use Committee February 9, 2022, and amended at Land Use Committee March 23, 2022.  At the March 23 Committee, Councilmembers adopted Substitute Bill 1 from Strauss and Pedersen, adopted Amendment 4 by Strauss, rejected Amendment 3 by Pedersen, and unanimously adopted the bill as amended. (There was no Amendment 2.) The bill is scheduled for a vote by the full City Council Tuesday, March 29.


MARCH 9, 2022 UPDATE: Urban Forestry Commission issues recommendations on SDCI’s proposed bill

While the Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) appreciates that the tree regulation bill proposed in February 2022 by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) would expand the definition of “exception tree” from 24 inches in diameter at standard height (DSH) to 30 inches, they issued a letter noting several concerns and recommendations: CLICK HERE. Here is a summary of the concerns raised in their 4-page letter, dated March 9, 2022, to SDCI:

  1. Provide some protections for trees 6 inches or greater in diameter at standard height in locations other than on undeveloped lots. (The UFC will need to get more specific about this iteml.)
  2. Retain meaningful community input: Delete SDCI’s proposal to make tree decisions a “Type 1” decision. Changing to a “Type 1” decision gives all power to SDCI with no public input and removes the ability for any appeals to a neutral Hearing Examiner.
  3. Require developers to document on their site plans all trees 6 inches or greater in diameter at standard height (DSH).
  4. Implement a system that requires permit requests and approvals prior to removing trees and make such permit costs affordable. The lack of a tracking and permitting systems for tree removal requests has contributed to the City government’s poor job in tracking tree loss in real time. Learn from the systems used by Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC.
  5. Require posting a notice of the impending tree removal on-site and online two weeks prior to removal, to be consistent with the requirements used by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
  6. State the expectation that the landowners and real estate developers maximize tree retention throughout their development process.
  7. Clarify language for removing “non-exceptional trees” greater than 12 inches in diameter at standard height (DSH).
  8. Reduce the number of significant, non-exceptional trees a landowner is permitted to remove to two such trees every three years (instead of maintaining the current allowance to remove three trees per year).
  9. Recognize that canopy coverage does not capture all the benefits of trees. Delete the proposal for replacement trees to “result, upon maturity, in a canopy cover that is at roughly proportional to the canopy cover prior to tree removal,” because such a proposal would allow large mature trees with modest canopy spread to be replaced with less valuable short trees with similar canopy width.
  10. Require at least 2 for 1 replacement for ANY tree 6 inches or greater in diameter at standard height, including hazardous trees and City street trees (inside and outside of real estate development) and require a larger number of replacement trees when removing larger existing trees. As stated by the UFC letter, “The long growth time required for replacement trees to attain the stature of the tree removed results in a lag during which the values and services provided by the replacement tree are far less that what the removed tree previously provided to people and wildlife.”

February 25, 2022 UPDATE: SDCI releases initial draft of tree protection ordinance (Our Council Bill 120207 to register tree cutters can move more quickly on separate track)

After many months of delay, the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) released their proposed tree protection bill for consideration by the general public and the City Council.

The department decided that their proposed policy change to protect trees is subject to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Their review, per the SEPA requirements, concluded with a “determination of non-significance” (DNS) which is now subject to a comment and appeal period. Members of the public can provide feedback to Gordon Clowers, SDCI Senior Planner, at gordon.clowers@seattle.gov until March 3, 2022. The City Council will formally consider SDCI”s proposed legislation once all comment windows close and any SEPA appeals are resolved. For SDCI’s proposed legislation and SEPA materials, CLICK HERE.

While I was initially grateful the department finally released their overdue comprehensive proposal to protect trees and, the devil is in the details as to whether their proposal does enough to protect our dwindling tree canopy vital during the climate crisis. I’ve already heard many concerns raised by urban forestry conservationists who understand the health and environmental benefits of protecting our dwindling tree canopy in Seattle. If the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) produced a tree protection proposal that does not clearly protect trees, it again raises an important question: Can a City department that is paid to approve real estate developments be relied upon to protect our City’s dwindling tree canopy? (Hence my proposal for Chief Arborist.)

In the meantime, I’m excited that our other Council Bill 120207 can be part of these overall efforts on a separate, faster track because it can quickly deliver accountability and transparency by finally requiring the registration of all arborist professionals in Seattle. (SDCI’s bigger bill does NOT include a registration system for tree cutters.) Here’s the title of Council Bill 120207: AN ORDINANCE relating to land use and urban forestry; adding a tree service provider registration procedure and requirement. On February 9, 2022 the Council’s Land Use Committee had the first hearing of Council Bill 120207, which, when adopted, will be a small step toward greater tree protections in Seattle. Ideally the bill could be voted out of Committee by March 23.

For a Seattle Times editorial reinforcing the importance of the City Council adopting stronger tree protections, CLICK HERE.


February 9, 2022 UPDATE: Committee hears our tree-cutter registration bill: a small, but necessary step toward finally protecting our urban canopy

A small, but necessary step toward greater tree protections is a bill my office introduced to register arborists and others who cut down/remove trees in Seattle, Council Bill 120207. Land Use Committee Chair Dan Strauss is a vital co-sponsor. It is tentatively scheduled to be heard at his Land Use Committee on February 9 and 23.

We could benefit from public support to pass this bill, so please send an email to Council@seattle.gov with a message to all 9 Councilmembers:  Please start to save Seattle’s trees by adopting Council Bill 120207, “AN ORDINANCE relating to land use and urban forestry; adding a tree service provider registration procedure and requirement.” Then let’s make substantial progress by completing and advancing a comprehensive tree protection ordinance to save our city’s dwindling urban canopy which is necessary for public health and the environment in the midst of the climate crisis — especially Seattle’s larger exceptional trees.

Key Points to Support CB 120207:

  • Don’t Delay: We have waited years to save Seattle’s trees, so please don’t delay adoption of Council Bill 120207, “AN ORDINANCE relating to land use and urban forestry; adding a tree service provider registration procedure and requirement.” Ideally the bill is heard again Feb 23 at Committee and approved by full City Council March 1, 2022.
  • Fulfill a Piece of the Promise: The simple standards in Council Bill 120207 were promised over two years ago by Resolution 31902 which called for “requiring all tree service providers operating in Seattle to meet minimum certification and training requirements and register with the City.” Even if the new Harrell Administration finally releases the more comprehensive tree protection bill that we all seek, let’s at least move ahead with CB 120207 so we no longer have a gap in this basic registration requirement for tree cutters.
  • Adopt All 3 Amendments from Councilmember Pedersen:  One amendment codifies requirements concerning documentation of why an Exceptional Tree has been identified as “hazardous.” Another amendment codifies existing guidance that developments should “maximize conservation of existing trees” by requiring related reports during subdivisions be prepared by qualified professionals (tree service providers or landscape architects). 

To watch the February 9, 2022 Committee meeting recorded on Seattle Channel, CLICK HERE. Thanks to the over 100 people who sent emails supporting CB 120207 and my 3 initial amendments — and for everyone who took the time to call during the Committee’s public comment period! We appreciate your steadfast support for Seattle’s trees and this initial legislation!

For more on the multi-year saga to try to get your city government to save Seattle’s trees with a more comprehensive update to our existing tree protection ordinance, keep reading…


December 28, 2021 Update: Press Release

Mayor Durkan Breaks Commitment to Protect Trees

SEATTLE – Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), Chair of the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee issued the following statement today in response to news that Mayor Durkan will not complete promised work on tree protections:

“I am deeply disappointed that Mayor Durkan has chosen to delay action to protect trees in Seattle once again,” said Councilmember Strauss. “For the past two years I have worked to strengthen tree protections despite repeated delays. Just two weeks ago, Mayor’s Office staff and City departments reiterated their promise to publish new tree protections this year. Last week I learned that Mayor Durkan will not make good on these promises, meaning another year will pass before Seattle takes meaningful action to grow and prevent loss of our tree canopy.”

Before taking office, Councilmember Strauss led the effort in late 2019 to pass Resolution 31902, by which the Mayor and Council jointly committed to considering stronger tree protections in 2020. The resolution included a commitment from the Mayor to “submit legislation in 2020 for consideration by the Council.” While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed work on tree protections, City departments pledged to complete this work in 2021.

Throughout 2021, City departments repeatedly committed publicly before the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee that a proposal for stronger tree protections would be published before the end of the year. Earlier this month Mayor’s Office staff told Councilmembers that the proposal was on track to be completed in December. At the December 8th meeting of the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections reiterated their commitment to “develop draft recommendations and make a draft proposal available with environmental (SEPA) review for public comment.” Unfortunately, Mayor Durkan’s administration broke this promise just one week later.

“Sadly, Mayor Durkan is ending her administration failing to deliver a tree protection proposal, even though it was promised both in October 2019 when she signed Resolution 31902 and as recently as December 2021 when her appointees appeared before our Land Use Committee,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle.) “In the ‘Emerald City’ within the ‘Evergreen State’ — where the health and environmental benefits of trees are well known as are the disparities of heat islands exacerbated by climate change — we cannot afford to wait any longer to protect Seattle’s dwindling tree canopy. As Council President in 2019, Mayor-Elect Bruce Harrell also signed Resolution 31902, so we are eager to have his team deliver the already drafted bill to our Land Use Committee for Council action in January 2022.”

“The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is extremely disappointed with the Durkan administration’s unwillingness to act to protect and adequately manage our city’s trees and forests. After nearly 13 years of working on this issue the time for Seattle to have even a satisfactory tree code has long passed,” said Weston Brinkley, Chair of the Urban Forestry Commission. “We have had conceptual agreement on the issues amongst the Forestry Commission, the City Council and the administration; inaction is simply inexcusable. Hopefully, with the Harrell Administration we can finally enact meaningful policy to aid our trees and forests and the support they provide our public health and the environment.”

“As record temperatures in the Northwest this year showed, the climate crisis is real. It’s important that Seattle move forward now to increase protection for our existing trees and to plant more trees to address tree equity and climate resiliency,” said Steve Zemke, Chair of TreePAC. “Trees are essential to healthy communities. We look forward to the Seattle City Council and Mayor-Elect Bruce Harrell enacting a strong Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance in 2022.”

“I remain committed to adopting stronger tree protections, passing arborist registration legislation, and working collaboratively with Mayor Harrell to finish this important work,” said Councilmember Strauss.

###


Dec 20, 2021: Polls Re-Affirm Overwhelming Support for Seattle Trees and Registering Tree Cutters

Following their statistically significant survey regarding trees published September 15, 2021 (with results from their poll of 617 likely Seattle primary election voters conducted July 12-17, 2021), the nonprofit Change Research published on December 20, 2021 another survey regarding trees (with results from their poll of 617 likely Seattle general election voters conducted October 12-15, 2021). The newer poll published December 20, 2021 found, among other things, 77% of likely Seattle voters want to “Increase building setbacks to allow larger, street-facing trees to be planted.”

The poll released September 15, 2021 showed, among other things, 75% of likely Seattle voters supported “requiring tree care providers (arborists) to meet minimum certification and training and register with the city.” The registration of tree cutters is exactly what Council Bill 120207 would accomplish — if adopted by City Council.


December 8, 2021 UPDATE: Possible to See a Tree Protection Bill by December 31, 2021!

During today’s Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee, the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) announced that — despite their PowerPoint presentation indicating we would not see a proposed bill until next year –they intend to make public a draft bill by December 31, 2021. We will look forward to reviewing the details because we want to make sure the bill actually does MORE to protect trees in Seattle than the current Seattle Municipal Code and Director’s Rules. While I’m eager to see us expand the definition of “Exceptional Trees” to protect, I’m deeply concerned about then allowing real estate developers or homeowners selling their properties to pay a small “in lieu” fee that allows them to rip out those same trees.


December 1, 2021 UPDATE: Tree Protections Delayed Again

At the Urban Forestry Commission meeting on December 1, 2021, the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) and the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE) revealed yet another delay. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, but this disappointing update indicates that we probably should have made a second attempt to convince our Council colleagues in November 2021 to proviso (hold back) a portion of 2022 funds from SDCI in order to guarantee delivery of the ordinance under the next mayoral administration. As the PowerPoint slide shows, the Durkan Administration is acknowledging that they will NOT deliver an ordinance this year as they had repeatedly promised but is giving the departments at least another 3 months (through the first quarter of 2022).

October 28, 2021 UPDATE: Introduced Budget “Proviso” to Hold Back of Funds Until Executive branch delivers tree protection ordinance and asked for position of “Chief Arborist” outside of real estate development department (SDCI).

• BUDGET PROVISO TO REQUIRE DELIVERY OF NEW TREE ORDINANCE: Councilmember Pedersen introduced a budget “proviso” to withhold a portion of its funds from the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) if an updated tree ordinance council bill is not delivered to the Council by early 2022. While we are expecting the comprehensive tree protection ordinance from the Durkan Administration before the end of this calendar year (2021), we want to ensure the next Mayor delivers it IF the Durkan Administration falls short. CLICK HERE to read the proposed budget action which is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Herbold and Strauss.

• REQUEST TO CREATE “CHIEF ARBORIST” TO ADVOCATE FOR TREES: Councilmember Pedersen formally requested the addition of a new City tree advocate who would be independent of the department that reviews and permit new real estate developments (SDCI). The new position, which is found in other cities, is tentatively called “Chief Arborist” and would independently monitor our City’s tree resources. The Chief Arborist’s authority could include final say over applications to remove exceptional trees (as long as it does not delay the permitting process). CLICK HERE to read the initial proposal, which was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Sawant and Strauss. Update: For the amended version of the Chief Arborist Statement of Legislative Intent that was adopted, CLICK HERE.)


October 18, 2021 UPDATE: Tree Cutter Registration Bill Introduced!

Have you ever been jolted by the roar of a chain saw in the neighborhood, witnessed a mature tree being chopped down, and wondered whether the company removing the tree is even authorized?  On October 18, I was proud to introduce, with Councilmember Dan Strauss as co-sponsor, a bill that will finally require tree service providers/tree cutters/arborists to register with the City government and have their business information available to the public online. If the public can see who is authorized to cut down trees, it would help to increase accountability and transparency and ideally protect more trees. Large trees provide numerous environmental and health benefits which cannot be replaced by the saplings planted by developers after they clear-cut a site. In our August newsletter, we asked constituents whether we should require tree cutters to register with the city government. In addition to the positive anecdotal feedback, we also saw statistically significant feedback from a recent poll indicating 75% of voters support a tree cutter registration program.  To review Council Bill 120207 as introduced on October 18, CLICK HERE.  We will consider this bill after our Fall budget season when we also expect to receive the comprehensive tree protection ordinance due from the Durkan Administration last year. For current info on how to report illegal tree cutting, CLICK HERE.  


September 24, 2021 (quarterly update from Durkan Administration):

Another quarter and another round of excuses from the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) regarding the Durkan Administration’s increasing delays in providing a tree protection ordinance. This slide from SDCI’s presentation shows how the executive departments continue to move the “goal posts” farther away:

See the timeline getting pushed back with each quarterly update:

March 2021 Update: “Q3/Q4: Share public draft of legislation and issue SEPA decision.” Note how the legislation was promised in Q3/Q4, but then in July 2021 there is no mention of legislation — while the SEPA work is clearly pushed into the next quarter.

July 2021 Update: “We anticipate that we will complete public outreach in August/September, with the goal to make a draft proposal available for environmental (SEPA) review by the end of Q4 2021.” Similarly, the executive’s Powerpoint this week said, “Q4: Goal to issue SEPA decision by end of year.”

September 2021 Update: “September/October: conclude public outreach.” “November/December: Target to issue SEPA Decision before end of year.


September 23, 2021 (Update from our newsletter):

Tree Protection Legislation


Photo by Amy Radil, KUOW. “Maria Batayola chairs the Beacon Hill Council. She said she hopes a poll showing strong voter support for new tree regulations spurs the Seattle mayor and city council to act.”

Poll Demonstrates Strong Support for Trees: Last week, environmentalists held a press conference in our district to release poll results indicating very strong support for various tree protections they would like to see implemented by City Hall. I was chairing my City Council Committee at the time of their press conference, but KUOW News contacted me afterward and I was happy to provide this statement of support for the news article.“I agree with the environmentalists who spoke out today that City Hall should not need [to see] such strong polling results to do the right thing and save Seattle’s trees. The Durkan Administration should immediately deliver the tree protection ordinance that was required over a year ago by City Council Resolution…In the next couple of weeks, I plan to work with colleagues to produce an ordinance requiring registration of tree cutters to increase transparency, accountability, and the proven environmental justice benefits of a flourishing urban forest.”

New Legislation to Register Tree Cutters: As we await the comprehensive tree protection ordinance from the Durkan Administration, some environmentalists floated an idea to impose a moratorium to prevent the removal of larger exceptional trees. Upon further consideration, the consensus seems to be that a moratorium could have the perverse impact of developers “rushing to cut” trees while they waited for the City Council to approve the moratorium (and it was not clear that a majority of the Council would vote to enact the moratorium anyway).

An additional idea that has surfaced is to require tree service providers/tree cutters/arborists to qualify and register online. If the public can see who is authorized to cut down trees, it would help to increase accountability and transparency and ideally protect more trees. Large trees provide numerous environmental and health benefits which cannot be replaced by the saplings planted by developers after they clear-cut a site. In our newsletter last month, we asked constituents whether we should, in the meantime, at least require tree cutters to register with the city government — and we received a lot of positive feedback. Thanks to everyone who wrote to us! Separately, the poll mentioned above shows that a tree cutter registration program is supported by a whopping 75% of the Seattle voters surveyed. Working with our Central Staff and City Attorney’s Office, we crafted legislation for discussion. 

To view a preliminary version of the bill to register tree cutters for better transparency and accountability, CLICK HERE. While the City Council is about to enter into its 2-month budget deliberations, we thought it would be a good idea to provide the bill to the public for informal input now. Councilmember Dan Strauss, who chairs the relevant Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee, has indicated initial support for this concept– his support is appreciated and will be vital to secure Council approval.

Tree-Friendly Oversight: I am still considering proposing a consolidation of all tree protections under the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE). Presently, Seattle’s tree ordinance delegates most tree regulation implementation to a department largely funded by real estate developers through permit fees—the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). When we asked the Executive a year ago for proposals to unify tree protections under a more environmentally sensitive city agency, we received what seem to be excuses. (For our request, CLICK HERE. For their response to our request, CLICK HERE.) During last year’s budget, we had considered a “proviso” to hold back part of SDCI’s funding until they delivered the tree protection ordinance. It might make sense to revisit this leverage. Here’s another idea: rather than spending money on consultants to debate organizational chart charges, we could simply create the position of “Chief Arborist” within OSE who would need to approve the removal of any exceptional trees (which are typically larger trees that provide the most environmental and health benefits).

Executive Action Needed: Many have asked, why can’t City Council craft its own comprehensive tree protection ordinance as the legislative body of our city government? Here’s a key reason: because implementation of tree “protection” rules is scattered across various Executive branch agencies and our City Council Central Staff has just one person available to work on this complex issue, it was decided the Executive branch would be the best originator of the proposed bill. Hence the 2019 Resolution from City Council directing the Executive to deliver the ordinance in 2020. The comprehensive tree protection ordinance is long overdue and we will continue to press the Durkan Administration to produce the required tree protection ordinance asap– and you can help us:

To call into the Land Use Committee to voice your views on the Durkan Administration’s quarterly tree update report and presentation this Friday, September 24 at 2:00 p.m., CLICK HERE to register for public comment.

For a recent KUOW story about tree protection, CLICK HERE.


August 23, 2021 (Update from our newsletter):

Supporting Trees at Yesler Terrace

The City Council adopted my amendment to the large-scale, mixed-income Yesler Terrace redevelopment project to make sure tree replacements benefit low-income areas that typically have less tree canopy. To read my amendment, CLICK HERE. I am pleased to report that this provision establishes a policy of prioritizing tree conservation and replacement in communities most in need of more trees. The amendment was negotiated with the Seattle Housing Authority along with expertise from our City Council’s Central Staff and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). I appreciate the collaboration as well as the result.

Time to End the “Wild West” of Tree Cutting by Licensing and Registering Arborists?

illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt

Many constituents complain that it seems like the “Wild West” of chainsaws in our Emerald City. One of the reasons is that SDCI does not have even basic licensing or registration for tree cutters or arborists.  The public doesn’t know who the tree cutters are (without registration) or their qualifications (without licensing) and yet they are paid by developers to decrease our tree canopy for projects approved by your city government. Meanwhile we wait and wait for the Durkan Administration to produce a stronger tree protection ordinance.

Despite the environmental and health benefits of trees in the midst of a climate crisis, the loss of trees—especially large native conifers—has been an increasing problem in Seattle with disproportionate negative impacts for communities of color. Some of these tree losses could be prevented by the basic licensing and registration of arborists. Even a recent $100,000 penalty by the City for removing a large cedar tree doesn’t seem to be sufficient to stop profit-motivated real estate developers and tree cutters from continuing to violate our already weak tree ordinance.

Our City’s Urban Forestry Commission and many tree advocates believe the licensing and registration of arborists could help to maintain a sustainable urban forest that produces health and environmental benefits. While my office continues to encourage the Durkan Administration to produce a stronger tree protection ordinance by this September, we recognize the separate common-sense need for the licensing and registration of tree cutters and arborists.

We appreciate hearing from constituents about possible violations of our City’s existing weak tree ordinance to help us to craft specific policies to protect Seattle’s declining tree canopy. If you become aware of impending removal of large trees—or while it’s happening—please send photos and the location to my office at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov.


July 14, 2021 (Update): Delays Continue to Prevent New Ordinance to Protect Trees (Quarterly Report from Durkan Administration)

Today the Durkan Administration, once again, tried to explain the ongoing delay in delivering the promised tree protection ordinance. Following years of delay, the heads of the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) and the Office of Environment & Sustainability (OSE) wrote in a memo to the City Council’s Land Use Committee, “We anticipate that we will complete public outreach in August/September, with the goal to make a draft proposal available for environmental (SEPA) review by the end of Q4 2021.” Similarly, their Powerpoint this week said, “Q4: Goal to issue SEPA decision by end of year.” Yet, their previous quarterly report from March 2021 said, “Q3/Q4: Share public draft of legislation and issue SEPA decision.” Note how the legislation was promised in Q3/Q4, but now there is no mention of legislation — while the SEPA work is clearly pushed into the next quarter. If this were not on the heels of years of delay and the Durkan Administration were not coming to a close, this would seem like a minor delay. But now it appears that they are trying to run out the clock and kick the can into the next Administration while large trees continue to get cut down in the midst of heat waves.

Considering how many complex laws and programs SDCI have advocated for and implemented during the past two years, using the excuse of the COVID pandemic no longer holds water. Outreach could have been conducted years ago and during the past year with social distancing at community meetings, phone interviews, and electronic surveys. When those same departments spoke to our committee in December 2019, they said they were already conducting community outreach and would have recommendations soon — before the pandemic hit. Moreover, the departments should, in a transparent manner, be providing a draft bill now to the public (and to the Council), so that the public knows the specifics on what they are providing input and feedback. An actual piece of legislation is also useful for the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. In the wake of the record-breaking heat wave and continued loss of our urban forest, it was frustrating to hear the departments say they will not produce an actual piece of legislation before the Mayor delivers her city budget proposal on September 27, 2021.

Many public commenters this week called for a different approach: institute a moratorium on the removal of Exceptional Trees. A temporary (6-month) moratorium — as long as there are exceptions for hazardous trees and the construction of low income housing — would stop the harm of many tree removals and give SDCI the additional time they say they need. For the Durkan administration’s Powerpoint, CLICK HERE and, for their memo, CLICK HERE.


July 11, 2021 (Update): Extreme Heatwave Reinforces Need to Preserve Trees for our Environment and Equity

The record-breaking heat wave recently scorching Seattle was accompanied by renewed evidence of the environmental benefits of a healthy tree canopy – and it exposed the inequitable disparities of lower income households suffering more due to lack of trees. 

Even if you’re not a “tree hugger,” it’s easy to embrace the multiple benefits of trees. Trees capture harmful carbon and provide cooling shade as temperatures rise with climate change. During the rainy season, Seattle’s trees absorb polluted runoff to protect Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Trees deliver public health benefits, including improved mental health. The bigger the tree, the better. The small sticks planted next to new real estate developments cannot provide the many benefits already provided by a decades-old conifer tree.  The benefits of large trees and the harms of overheated neighborhoods were recently confirmed in the Seattle Times, the New York Times, National Geographic, the Nature Conservancy, Inside Climate News, and scholarly journals. This underscores the importance of protecting the large trees we still have.  Once they are gone, we cannot regain that loss for decades. Yet, for years, we have waited for Seattle’s city government departments to produce stronger rules to protect Seattle’s trees.  As we wait, large trees continue to be ripped out.

Recent evidence about the importance of trees:

  • Environmental Justice

KUOW, (June 23, 2021) “Heat wave could hit Seattle area neighborhoods differently – possible 20 degrees difference”

Seattle Times, (July 5, 2021) “Communities of color are the ‘first and worst’ hurt by climate change; urgent action needed to change course”

New York Times, (Opinion, June 30, 2021) “Since When Have Trees Existed Only for Rich Americans?”

National Geographic, (June 17, 2021) “Los Angeles confronts its shady divide”

National Geographic, (July 2021) “How L.A.’s urban tree canopy reveals hidden inequities”

Hoffman (January 2020): “The Effects of Historical Housing Policies on Resident Exposure to Intra-Urban Heat: A Study of 108 US Urban Areas”

Wolfe, et al. (2020) “Urban Trees and Human Health: A Scoping Review” and Powerpoint presentation summary

  • Climate Mitigation

Inside Climate News (August 2, 2021 as published by Seattle Times) “A triple whammy has left many U.S. city neighborhoods highly vulnerable to soaring temperatures”: “Urban cores can be 10 degrees or more warmer than the surrounding countryside, because of the way cities have been built, with so much pavement, so many buildings and not enough trees. And decades of disinvestment in neighborhoods where people of color live have left them especially vulnerable to heat.

Seattle Times (July 11, 2021) “Newly discovered fungus spores spurred by heat and drought are killing Seattle street trees”

New York Times, (July 2, 2021) “What Technology Could Reduce Heat Deaths? Trees.”

National Geographic, (June 22, 2021) “Why ‘tiny forests’ are popping up in big cities”

Seattle Times, (July 2, 2021) “Trees save lives in heat, so why aren’t we saving trees?”

NPR piece (2019): “Trees Are Key To Fighting Urban Heat — But Cities Keep Losing Them”)

EPA page: “Using Trees and Vegetation to Reduce Heat Islands”

Policy Analysis (Boston, 2020): “A tree-planting decision support tool for urban heat mitigation”

Rottle Presentation (UW, 2015): “Urban Green Infrastructure For A Changing Climate”


April 27, 2021 (from our newsletter):

Earth Day in District 4: A Reminder That a New Tree Protection Ordinance is Long Overdue.

We call ourselves the Emerald City within the Evergreen State and yet our current laws have many loopholes that enable the removal of scores of trees each year, including healthy, large conifer trees that city law defines as “Exceptional.”  Trees provide numerous benefits including carbon sequestration, absorption of rainwater to reduce harmful runoff into Puget Sound and Lake Washington, shade for cooling during the warmer months, and proven health benefits. The bigger the tree, the better. As we take a long overdue, serious look at racial injustice issues, we know some communities of color have fewer large trees and are having them removed more often. As far back as 2009, our City Auditor determined that fractionalized management of trees and urban forestry issues was a major problem for the City of Seattle and recommended consolidation. Instead, the City for eleven years has continued to try to make a multi-departmental approach to tree management work. As it has boomed with development, Seattle has struggled to prevent continued loss of significant numbers of large trees and reduced tree canopy area. Our city government’s oversight to protect trees is not only fractured, but also weak.  Last fall, I proposed a budget “proviso” to withhold funds from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) if it didn’t deliver an updated tree ordinance to the City Council by mid-2021 as required by Resolution 31902. Unfortunately, not enough of my colleagues supported the proviso and the process for delivering the tree protection ordinance has slowed.

My staff and I will be carefully monitoring the City’s actions on these important environmental and equity issues – and may take legislative action sooner if we continue to see excuses instead of progress.


March 24, 2021 (Land Use Committee):

This required update presented to our Land Use Committee highlighted additional delays and excuses from our Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), with no new tree ordinance in sight. The new ordinance has been delayed for over a year. While the Durkan Administration has cited the COVID pandemic as a key excuse, that doesn’t hold water because SDCI and other City departments — as well as Councilmembers — have obtained public input as well as crafted and adopted dozens of complex bills during the past 18 months.

For the Durkan Administration’s report to the Committee, CLICK HERE and, for their Powerpoint presentation, CLICK HERE.

While there is a new draft Director’s Rule to replace the current Director’s Rule published in October 2018, the proposed draft is merely “to clarify the definition of ‘exceptional tree’ pursuant to Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Chapter 25.11, Tree Protection.” Therefore, it does not officially strengthen existing code. Moreover, even that proposed Director’s Rule remains in draft form — even though comments were due August 17, 2020, according to SDCI’s website of Director’s Rules. [update: At the Land Use Committee on July 14, 2021, SDCI Director Torgelson said the Director’s Rule will require “SEPA review,” which further delays that Rule.]

To watch the video of the Land Use Committee, CLICK HERE.


December 18, 2020 (from our newsletter):

Prodded bureaucracy to speed protections of trees.

Source: Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission

Washington is the “Evergreen State” and Seattle is the “Emerald City.” Trees provide numerous benefits including carbon sequestration, absorption of rainwater to reduce harmful runoff into Puget Sound and Lake Washington, shade for cooling during the warmer months, and proven health benefits. The bigger the tree, the better. As we take a long overdue, serious look at racial injustice issues, we know some communities of color have fewer large trees and are having them removed more often. As far back as 2009, our City Auditor determined that fractionalized management of trees and urban forestry issues was a major problem for the City of Seattle and recommended consolidation. Instead, the City for eleven years has continued to try to make a multi-departmental approach to tree management work. As it has boomed with development, Seattle has struggled to prevent continued loss of significant numbers of large trees and reduced tree canopy area. It’s oversight to protect trees is not only fractured, but weak.  I proposed two budget provisions to improve Seattle’s management of its urban forest resources: A budget proviso to withhold funds from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) if it didn’t deliver an updated tree ordinance to the City Council by mid-2021 under Resolution 31902, and a request for an important analysis (HERE): “the Executive, Urban Forestry Commission (UFC), and Urban Forestry Interdepartmental Team [shall] evaluate models for consolidating the City’s urban forest management functions and, based on this evaluation, make recommendations on how changes could be implemented.” Unfortunately, not enough of my colleagues supported my tough proviso, but the Executive is aware that the public and councilmembers are impatient and will be demanding action in 2021. Fortunately, the requirement for strategies to better manage our urban forest passed and will delivered to Council by September 15, 2021. My staff and I will be carefully monitoring the City’s implementation of these important quality of life and equity items.


November 23, 2020 (from our newsletter):

Spurring protection of Seattle’s Trees. Washington is the “Evergreen State” and Seattle is the “Emerald City.” Trees provide numerous benefits including carbon sequestration, absorption of rainwater to reduce harmful runoff into Puget Sound and Lake Washington, shade for cooling during the warmer months, and proven health benefits. The bigger the tree, the better. As we take a long overdue, serious look at racial injustice issues, we know some communities of color have fewer large trees and are having them removed more often. As far back as 2009, our City Auditor determined that fractionalized management of trees and urban forestry issues was a major problem for Seattle and recommended consolidation. Instead, the City for eleven years has continued to try to make a multi-departmental approach to tree management work. During that time, I’m concerned we are seeing a declining tree canopy and loss of numerous large trees. Decentralization urban forestry management had its chance, but it does not work. Our budget action, approved by my colleagues, will have the Executive produce a plan for Council consideration that could rationalize and consolidate protections of Seattle’s trees, with a preference for an agency focused on the environment. To read the official budget action, CLICK HERE.


December 20, 2019 (original post and newsletter):

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Briefing on overdue Tree Protection Ordinance, December 18, 2019 Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee

In the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee on December 18, 2019, I convened neighbors, environmentalists, scientists, and urban forestry experts to discuss the need to implement Resolution 31902 to finalize a stronger ordinance that protects and increases trees in our Emerald City.

I appreciate all the residents from across Seattle who took the time out of their day to attend this briefing on making Seattle’s tree protection ordinance stronger and enforceable — with the goal of expanding the health and environmental benefits of larger trees in our Emerald City. It was informative to hear from a wide array of tree experts. Thanks also to Councilmember-elect Dan Strauss for joining me at the table and for all his work already on this important environmental and social justice issue. I look forward to working with him, my other City Council colleagues, our executive departments, and other stakeholders to enact a tree ordinance in 2020.

Over the past year (2019), I heard from hundreds of concerned citizens who want City Hall to implement stronger protections for our tree canopy in addition to planting more trees throughout our city. In addition to improving the livability and enjoyment of our communities and critical habitat for birds, a robust tree canopy fosters a healthy city by decreasing pollution, sequestering modest amounts of carbon, and cooling homes and buildings – all vitally important for our environment. In fact, the “Green New Deal” Resolution that garnered a lot of attention earlier this year specifically calls out trees:  “Encouraging preservation and planting of trees citywide to increase the city’s tree canopy cover, prioritizing historically low-canopy and low-income neighborhoods.” To hold City Hall accountable on this issue, we need a stronger tree ordinance that is enforced. I heard you, and I am proud to keep the ball rolling on increasing environmental protections across our city. As we eagerly await their next update on the ordinance, you can visit the city’s website on trees by CLICKING HERE.

To read the KUOW news article titled “Seattle tree rules are too lax, critics say. New city council members want to change that,” CLICK HERE.

Excerpt from Dec 18, 2019 KUOW article: “Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen and Councilmember-elect Dan Strauss said they’re committed to passing new legislation in 2020. ‘We’ve heard them in the community that they care about the environmental and health benefits of our tree canopy, and we want to make it stronger with a new ordinance that’s coming next year,’ Pedersen said. ‘The executive department’s very engaged, and we’re very excited about that,’ Strauss said. He said city agencies are engaged in community outreach and will come back with recommendations at the end of January.”

To view my Committee meeting, including the experts on the benefits of trees as well as public comment from those supporting a stronger tree protection ordinance, CLICK HERE for the video. For the materials presented at that Committee meeting, CLICK HERE for the agenda and HERE for the Powerpoint from UW’s College of the Environment.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 49347663268_ca05ce73f2_k-cropped-1024x754.jpg
I was honored to have the living legend Ron Sims swear me into office to start my 4-year term January 2020. Because I was elected to a seat the previously elected Councilmember left early, I actually started the job at the end of November 2019. This enabled me to chair the previous Land Use Committee in December 2019, with a focus on protecting our Emerald City’s trees. Since January 2020, however, that Committee has been chaired by Councilmember Dan Strauss and I serve as a member (I chair the Transportation, Utilities, Technology Committee instead). While Ron Sims is perhaps known best for serving as our King County Executive and Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development under President Obama, Sims has also been a passionate advocate for the positive health outcomes and other environmental benefits of preserving large existing trees in the Seattle area, especially in low-income areas of our city.

June 3, 2019 (Here’s a KUOW article on trees published before Alex Pedersen was sworn in as a Councilmember, but it provides important background on the long-delayed tree ordinance and Councilmember Pedersen’s rationale for protecting trees:)

They’re treasures’: Advocates want more protections for Seattle’s big trees,” by Amy Radil of KUOW

Efforts to update Seattle’s tree regulations fizzled last year. Now a new effort to protect the city’s trees is under way.

New legislation is expected to be unveiled in coming weeks by the City Council. Advocates say the most important thing Seattle can do now is retain the trees it currently has, especially in more environmentally stressed neighborhoods.

The group Plant Amnesty is encouraging the public to photograph and help map Seattle’s remaining big trees: any tree that is 30 inches wide or more – basically the width of a front door. They believe there are roughly 6,000 left that fit this description in the city.

Dominic Barrera is Plant Amnesty’s Executive Director. He said living near South Park, he’s grateful for trees that provide a buffer from warehouses and Boeing Field.

“Looking at that juxtaposition of the industrial district and then a few trees that protect us from it just really shows how important these trees are for everybody,” he said. “Especially those of us living in those environmentally tarnished areas.”

The City Council proposed a new tree ordinance last year, but tree advocates were disappointed that it appeared to weaken protections for “exceptional” trees – the big trees that help most with cooling, carbon emissions and stormwater. Ultimately nothing passed. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw plans to introduce a new version of tree legislation this summer, with input from the city’s Urban Forestry Commission.

caption: Maria Batayola at El Centro de la Raza says Beacon Hill residents need more trees to help counter air and noise pollution.
Maria Batayola at El Centro de la Raza says Beacon Hill residents need more trees to help counter air and noise pollution. Photo by Amy Radil, KUOW.

Maria Batayola wants Beacon Hill residents to be represented in this effort. She is the Environmental Justice Coordinator for El Centro de la Raza. The Beacon Hill neighborhood is bounded by interstates and airfields. It’s got air and noise pollution and faces additional pressures from upzoning.

Batayola has heard the argument that increased density in cities helps address climate change – but she said people in Beacon Hill need trees and green space for their own health.

“If you really are dealing with and understand environmental justice, then you have to look at the impact on people of low income and people of color,” she said. “I think there is a balance that we’re looking for. And in Beacon Hill, our first responsibility is to the residents.”

El Centro de la Raza recently sent a letter asking Councilmember Bagshaw to support the recommendations of the city’s Urban Forestry Commission “and that for any environmentally challenged neighborhoods and communities such as Beacon Hill, that there be a higher tree canopy goal” to bring them more in line with the rest of the city, Batayola said. The neighborhood scored a victory recently with the preservation of the orchard around the historic Garden House.

caption: Joshua Morris with Seattle Audubon says Seattle's big trees are vital and there is currently no penalty for removing them.
Joshua Morris with Seattle Audubon says Seattle’s big trees are vital and there is currently no penalty for removing them. Photo by Amy Radil, KUOW

In Northeast Seattle, the century-old Douglas Firs around the Seattle Audubon office make visitors feel like they’re deep in the woods. Joshua Morris is the urban conservation manager with Seattle Audubon and serves on the city’s Urban Forestry Commission. He said he’ll be watching for more tracking and protections for existing trees.

“We’ll never see the size of these trees again. So where we do have them, they’re treasures, and hopefully we can convince Seattleites of that, and write something into the tree protection ordinance.”

A 2016 assessment found Seattle had 28 percent canopy cover, short of its 30 percent goal. Morris said current city regulations don’t do enough to protect mature or “exceptional” trees. “There’s a lot of loopholes in it,” he said. “Basically you can just cut down a tree and grind the stump down to the earth and if nobody notices, there’s no penalty whatsoever.”

While these advocates say city protections fall short of what’s needed, Seattle does require permits to remove trees from public rights of way. On developed land, approval from the Department of Construction and Inspections is required to remove an exceptional tree, trees in environmentally critical areas (ECA), or more than three trees six-inches or greater.

“If you are developing your property,” SDCI states, “you have more flexibility to remove trees if they prevent you from using your property.” But it says developers can receive more credit toward tree retention requirements if they retain mature, healthy trees.

Morris said even those existing trees are facing more stress now.

“Our climate is changing. Insect invasions are going to become common. Droughts are going to become extended,” he said. “So where we wouldn’t have had to water trees in August, we will have to start watering.”

But he said the new regulations have to strike the right balance so property owners will adhere to them. “There’s difficulty insuring compliance, getting private property owners to actually comply with a tree ordinance, not making it onerous or too high a permit fee,” he said.

caption: Volunteer Jim Davis demonstrates how to find "majestic trees" for Plant Amnesty: they are 30 in. diamater "at breast height."
Volunteer Jim Davis demonstrates how to find “majestic trees” for Plant Amnesty: they are 30 in. diamater “at breast height.” Photo by Amy Radil, KUOW

Developers will be paying attention to whether new regulations increase the costs of building projects, or restrict what can be built. Pat Foley is a developer with the firm Lake Union Partners.

“As we’re trying to build housing in this city for the demand that’s out there — and especially affordable housing which is in great shortage — any potential ordinance could affect our ability to move these projects forward,” he said.

Foley’s firm is building the Midtown: Public Square project at 23rd and Union in Seattle, which includes affordable housing and a central plaza where the plan is to install a large, mature tree. He said the tree proposal was not welcomed by everyone on the city’s Design Review Board.

“There were a number of people on the board that didn’t like the idea of a tree in there because they thought it would be providing too much shade” or block visibility, he said. “We were sort of perplexed by that given that it was a significant expense” to include it. The tree was ultimately approved.

The City Council’s previous legislative proposal included fees a developer could pay if they do remove a tree, with the money going to plant trees elsewhere. Foley says he’d rather install the trees himself. “I would like to just see us plant more mature trees as part of a new development on a property,” he said. “So Day One they look like they’ve been there a long time.”

He said there’s no requirement now for developers to plant larger or more mature trees, but adding those trees could help Seattle meet its goal to increase canopy.

The suburb of Lake Forest Park requires permits for removing trees. They’ve seen their tree canopy increase in the last few years from 46 percent to nearly 50 percent.

Lake Forest Park City Council member John Resha said, “Our regulations are focused on the end state of maintaining and growing canopy rather than restricting removal.” But he said, “There is one place where we say no.” That’s the removal of trees that qualify as ‘exceptional.’ “These quiet giants are part of the fabric of our city,” Resha said. He said they’ve successfully grown their canopy by creating a city code “that resonates with its community.”

Editor’s Note : This story has been modified to clarify Seattle’s current restrictions on tree removals. 6/4/2019.

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Additional Resources:

  • Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI) “Tree Protection Code” website, CLICK HERE.
  • While there is a new draft Director’s Rule to replace the current Director’s Rule published in October 2018, the proposed draft is merely “to clarify the definition of ‘exceptional tree’ pursuant to Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Chapter 25.11, Tree Protection.” Therefore, it does not officially strengthen existing code.
  • Auditor’s 2009 report on tree management.
  • Auditor’s 2011 report on tree management. P. 29 covers consolidated management issue.
  • Urban Forestry Commission Draft Memo from July 2021 regarding Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) MO-001-A-002 drafted by Councilmember Pedersen and adopted in November 2020: “Request that the Executive recommend strategies for consolidating urban forestry functions.”


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