Marching Forward: March update on COVID relief $, small biz, homelessness, safety, transportation, and more



Friends and Neighbors,

It’s natural to want to vote Yes! While it’s uplifting to vote Yes and, more often than not, I’m joining my colleagues to vote Yes on new legislation, some situations call for a vote of “Nay” to encourage amendments or to register objections to some City Council legislation.  With the diverse opinions throughout our district of over 100,000 residents, I typically get an earful no matter which way I vote on high-profile issues.  I appreciate the engagement and passion about city government among my constituents!  In many cases, I support the spirit of a policy or budgetary proposal, but I might grow concerned with the details (or lack of details), especially after getting input from constituents.  Often, my stance is “Yes, and let’s make it better,” but necessary amendments might not be adopted or there is not enough time to consider all the consequences of adopting permanent changes to citywide policy.  I’m in favor of sensible and sustainable city government policies and budgets and will continue to craft them and support them from colleagues.  This newsletter will highlight legislation I supported and explain a couple of bills I voted against. Hopefully, that’s intriguing enough to get you to read our entire newsletter!

Art by Yvonne Chen

Before delving into this newsletter, my City Hall colleagues and my office stand in solidarity with our diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander neighbors in King County in the midst of a growing rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have shaken and traumatized Asian American communities, as I noted in my newsletter one year ago today on the topic, “Racism — related to COIVD-19 or for any reason in District 4 or anywhere – is unacceptable.” For the recent statement from Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Diaz, CLICK HERE.

Anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise in Seattle. The Seattle Police Department received 14 reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, compared to nine in 2019 and six in 2018, according to the SPD Blotter. King County prosecuted 59 hate crime cases against Asians in 2020, a sharp increase from 39 cases in 2019 and just shy of double the 30 cases in 2018. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and its partner groups, since March 2020.

I agree with former Governor Gary Locke when he says: “It’s really great that you have so many groups all across the country, that are focused on civil rights and civil liberties, from the Anti-Defamation League to the NAACP, all coming out in solidarity, and support for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Locke said. “Quite frankly, all groups need to join together because victimization, harassment, discrimination, acts of violence against one group is really an attack and violence against every group.


IN DISTRICT 4

Touring our funky U District this March with Don Blakeney, the new Executive Director of the University District Partnership (the local nonprofit that manages the Business Improvement Area we recently renewed).

The new light rail station opening September 2021 on Brooklyn Ave (between NE 45th and NE 43rd Streets) and the construction spurred by the upzone approved in 2017 by the previous City Council are changing the U District neighborhood rapidly. While many are excited about the potential upsides such as increased vibrancy, City Hall needs to do a better job mitigating any material downsides of sudden large changes when local government grants new benefits to the private market. Negative impacts (which are already occurring) include the displacement of nonprofits and small businesses that relied on lower rents, demolition of naturally occurring affordable housing, over-stressing of our existing infrastructure (such as fire stations, sewer lines, schools, and bridges).  Over 65% of U District businesses are owned by woman and people of color and should be supported by their city government or — at the very least — not put at financial risk by future city government decisions.  We want to ensure we don’t lose the charm and diversity of The Ave to out-of-town chain stores.

Wallingford Business District

The relocated and reopened Octopus Bar, better than ever, in Wallingford.

Councilmember Pedersen enjoying a pint of Guinness (for Strength!) at Murphy’s Pub in Wallingford, March 2021, as we thankfully enter the Governor’s Phase 3.

Our e-newsletter has focused a lot on our University District lately and so I’d like to highlight other neighborhood business districts here in City Council District 4. This month, let’s walk Wallingford. First, if you don’t already subscribe to the neighborhood’s main newsletter, CLICK HERE for Wallyhood.  Wallyhood recently listed the businesses that have opened and closed during the pandemic (CLICK HERE).  Wallyhood also featured the re-opening on the Octopus Bar and implied you can Irish step-dance your way to Murphy’s Pub. (I confirmed this last week by conducting in-person research that included at least one pint.)

  • Murphy’s Pub: Opens at 50 percent capacity at 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and noon on the weekends. Kitchen closes at 10:00 pm.
  • Octopus Bar: Re-opened in a bigger space; can hire more people back!

Also worth a visit near those two Wallingford establishments is Fainting Goat Gelato. Recently the victim of vandals who smashed their storefront window, Fainting Goat, as with so many existing small and diverse businesses, needs our help.  The time-tested benefit of clustering small businesses together is that shoppers can take care of multiple errands with one trip and will make purchases to help more small businesses during that trip than if the businesses were scattered. So no matter where you are in Seattle, head on over to Wallingford’s business districts to explore N. 45th Street from I-5 to Stone Way and Stone Way from N 45 Street down to Lake Union. For the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce, CLICK HERE.

Speaking of our neighborhood small business districts, we are blessed with many of them in addition to the U District and Wallingford:  Eastlake Avenue, Ravenna (NE 65th Street), Roosevelt, and Sand Point Way NE (at Princeton Ave), Wedgwood (35th Avenue NE), and more. For a list of many small businesses open throughout D4 and Seattle, you can explore this website https://intentionalist.com/ “to find and support local businesses and the diverse people behind them through everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop.” Focusing our attention and encouraging customers to shop among these existing small businesses is important to ensure they reoccupy, recover, and rehire — and those are among the main reasons I voted against Council Bill 120001 on “home occupations.”

Explaining my “No” Vote on CB 120001 (“Home Occupations”)

The year-round University District Farmers Market. Photo from The Seattle Times.

I worked hard last year to renew the neighborhood business improvement area (BIA) for the University District in the heart of our City Council District 4. For small businesses throughout Seattle, I supported several financial and regulatory relief and recovery programs throughout the COVID pandemic.  In addition, my recent Op Ed points to many ways government can work with local employers to get people back to work and achieve an inclusive economic recovery. I also bring to the table significant private sector experience. After studying the issue, CB 120001 was, in my opinion, not an effective answer and could do more harm than good.

Recently a single, home-based alcohol business located in residential zoning in North Seattle ran into problems with the Seattle Department of Construction and Land Use over a retail service business they decided to launch in their garage by the sidewalk. In response to this, other councilmembers proposed legislation to relax the home based business section of the land use code (SMC 23.42.050) to allow retail businesses anywhere in the City.  After analysis and consulting constituents, I determined that the bill was not likely to provide net benefits for Seattle.

In addition to the direct impact on unexpecting neighbors throughout the city such as increased traffic and disturbances during the day, I am concerned about impacts on existing small businesses and neighborhood business districts that are struggling like those in our District 4 listed above.

Here are 10 reasons why I voted against the bill:

  1. Home-based businesses already allowed, per Seattle Municipal Code Section 23.42.050
  2. Questionable need for citywide changes
  3. Could hurt small business districts/clustering businesses together is better
  4. U District business district needs undivided attention to protect its diversity
  5. Cloaked in COVID, but lasts for at least another year
  6. Distracts key City department from other important work
  7. Impacts to other neighborhoods
  8. Other cities have not removed so many guardrails
  9. Other unintended consequences
  10. More appropriate solutions available

For a longer explanation of my reasons for not supporting this bill, please see my blog article: CLICK HERE. Nevertheless, the Council adopted the bill.

The City will be conducting a study over the next few months. Constituents with an interest are encouraged to read the study plan and engage with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI) and to provide comments. The study plan is section 4 of the bill, CLICK HERE.

Lower Speed Limit on Sand Point Way, NE 45th St, and Montlake Blvd NE

Map from SDOT. Solid blue line indicates new, lower 30 MPH speed limit negotiated with our State government (the dashed blue line indicates existing 30 MPH limit).

After alarming data showing that traffic collisions killed 24 people in Seattle in 2020, a year in which the number of traffic fatalities was unacceptably high all over the country, I’m proud that SDOT is partnering with the Washington State DOT to lower speed limits on some state routes in Seattle. Reducing speed limits is one of the proven ways we can reduce fatal crashes. In District 4, part of State Route 513 (including Sand Point Way, NE 45th St, and Montlake Blvd NE) now has a lower speed limit of 30 miles per hour. Signs indicating this change from the previous 35 MPH limit have been installed. Read more HERE and thank you for driving carefully and helping keep everyone safe.

Expanding Public Green Space in Eastlake

Proposal for the public plaza in Eastlake.

After we passed this community-driven proposal unanimously out of the Transportation Committee, the full City Council granted conceptual approval to create a small public path and plaza in Eastlake (at Fairview Avenue E). A partnership among the neighborhood, local business, and the city government led the process for this expanded and public open space and to better identify a handful of parking spaces. I visited the site recently to see it firsthand and we had a thorough presentation in my Committee. The project is an improvement the neighborhood has been working on with the Department of Neighborhoods and SDOT for several years and I’m glad to see it finally moving forward. For more in Council Bill 31988, as adopted, CLICK HERE. For the Eastlake Community Council, CLICK HERE.

Murals at Magnuson Designed by Kids

Visitors to Magnuson Children’s Garden will soon be welcomed by two new murals. The theme of the art is “All Are Welcome,” a principle that has been at the foundation of the garden since its inception. The murals are being designed and built by teams of children who attend youth programs in Magnuson Park or live in the park’s residential housing and surrounding neighborhoods. The project is supported by the City’s Neighborhood Matching Fund. For more info on the mural project, CLICK HERE.

Wedgwood Grocery Store Update

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.


SAFETY

Next Steps for Police Funding

Our concerns about longer response times to emergency 9-1-1 calls were validated by SPD’s latest data presented March 9, 2021 (CLICK HERE).

People calling 9-1-1 for emergencies need a rapid response, but the disturbing data shows response times going in the wrong direction in the wake of Seattle police officers departing our department in droves. This newly released data, which I requested as part of our budget process last fall, demonstrates how important it is to consider all the potential consequences before making major policy and budget changes. I believe this troubling trend is another reason City Council should postpone further cuts to the department until effective emergency response alternatives are in place and the police union contract is reformed to save money while retaining more officers.

This past Tuesday, March 24, the Council’s Public Safety Committee voted for a substitute version of Council Bill 119981 which would cut another $3 million from SPD. The majority of the Committee seems to be framing this as a “compromise,” arguing that cutting an additional $3 million is smaller than the original proposal of cutting an additional $5 million. But I have two concerns:

#1: this myopic framing misses the full picture: the City Council already cut $70 million just a few months ago and proposes to cut more – even as we are confronted with disturbing new data: a record number of officers have left the department and response times to 911 calls have slowed significantly.

#2: the time spent debating these additional cuts continues to distract from the hard work and the real path to justice: revamping the expensive, unfair, and unjust police union contract.  Let’s stop fiddling with their budget and fix the contract!

Overall, I share the concerns published by the Seattle Times editorial board last week (CLICK HERE) and I detailed my position in my previous e-newsletters (CLICK HERE).

  • For Councilmember Pedersen’s November 2020 request for a report on 9-1-1 response times, CLICK HERE.
  • For Council Bill 119981 proposing to cut another $5 million from SPD, CLICK HERE.
  • For Councilmember Pedersen’s 12 reasons to oppose Council Bill 119981, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Durkan Administration’s full PowerPoint report on 9-1-1 response times and police officer attrition delivered at the March 9, 2021 Public Safety & Human Services Committee, CLICK HERE.


Building Capacity for Community Organizations to Reduce Violence

Many of you know that reimagining public safety should include effective and appropriate alternatives to traditional policing when responding to certain emergencies such as dispatching mental health providers and/or our Health One Fire Dept units to neighbors experiencing a mental health crisis.

While we await the results from the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Task Force and specifics on emergency response alternatives from community-informed research, I am pleased the Council followed through on promises to approve $10 million in investments for experienced organizations to build additional community safety from the ground up to reduce violence and reduce crime in Seattle neighborhoods. This support builds on the $4 million awarded last year to the Seattle Community Safety Initiative, led by Community Passageways, which built community safety hubs and wraparound services to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals back into community. The new legislation made it possible for our city’s Human Services Department to structure an open and competitive Request for Proposals process to provide opportunity to organizations throughout Seattle to provide their expertise and services.

The Harvard Kennedy School of Government Performance Lab report on “Improving Government Vendor Diversity” concluded what is widely known among government professionals who award contracts:  “An expanded pool of bidders can lead to greater competition for government procurements, more innovative proposals from vendors, and lower costs and better outcomes for taxpayers.”

Applications are due April 9; to apply for the open, competitive opportunity, CLICK HERE.


New Executive Director of Community Police Commission Sworn into Service

Last week, I was pleased to vote in favor of Brandy Grant (on right in photo above) as the new Executive Director for the Community Police Commission (CPC).

The CPC, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), and Office of Inspector General for Public Safety (OIG) pursue ongoing accountability for policing in Seattle in addition to the independent monitor appointed by the federal judge to watchdog implementation of the federal consent decree. The consent decree was put in place to stem excessive force and bias policing (though the existing police union contract continues to impede full progress). The City of Seattle established the CPC by ordinance and it began work in 2013. Under landmark Accountability Legislation adopted in 2017, the CPC was made permanent, its responsibilities and authority broadened, and the number of Commissioners increased. While it continues to be responsible for its obligations related to the Consent Decree, it now is mandated also to provide ongoing, community-based oversight of SPD and the police accountability system. The Executive Director role is important to keep the work on the appointed commissioners moving forward.


HOMELESSNESS

As I wrote last month, I want to acknowledge the many concerns my office has been hearing from constituents about the rise in homelessness they are seeing in the parks, greenways, and sidewalks (unsheltered homelessness). As some of you may know, the COVID pandemic has made things worse for our homelessness crisis, partly because the shelters had to be “de-intensified” to create social-distancing space, which resulted in their capacity decreasing dramatically.  In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued guidance during the COVID pandemic that said, “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”  This is on top of the 2018 9th Circuit Court case (Martin v. Boise, Idaho, but affecting West Coast) that many believe reduces the ability of public agencies to move those living unsheltered unless there are clear housing alternatives for them.

Currently City Hall is knitting together various interventions (which I detailed in last month’s newsletter), but ultimately we need everyone vaccinated so that we can maximize the use of our shelter space and we need more supportive services for behavioral health challenges (mental health and substance use disorder/addiction) as we strive to create a sufficient amount of affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Clean City Initiative provides added support to Business Districts throughout the City

Starting last month, Clean City funds have enabled business associations and districts, including the University District BIA, to increase their efforts to clean up trash and graffiti for clean streets and sidewalks. You may not notice the difference but crews are, in fact, hauling away tons of trash including in District 4. Ultimately, the effort is not sustainable; we need to bring people inside as they get vaccinated and as more shelter and permanent housing becomes available.

If litter, trash, needles, or other materials are illegally dumped near you, you can always report via the City’s Find It, Fix It app, or call (206) 684-CITY (2489). The Clean City Initiative provides a surge of litter pick-up and maintenance that will continue through April 2021 and I hope my colleagues vote to extend it. To learn more and follow along with these efforts, please visit seattle.gov/clean-city

Speeding More Dollars for Shelter

Earlier this week, we approved Council Bill 120019 to appropriate an additional $12 million dollars for non-congregate shelter services in hotel rooms, tiny home villages, or enhanced shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness who are at increased risk for contracting COVID or having severe outcomes from COVID. We will pursue Federal and State funds to offset the cost of these services. Thank you to Mayor Durkan for her support and to Homelessness Chair Andrew Lewis for advancing this legislation.

New Director for King County Regional Homelessness Authority

Our first CEO Marc Dones  (photo from the new Regional Homelessness Authority)

I was heartened when Marc Dones, formerly with the National Innovation Service, accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer for the new Regional Homelessness Authority. As I have emphasized repeatedly, I believe we need regional solutions to this regional problem. Now that we have a leader for this new and necessary regional organization, we can finally move ahead for better results for those experiencing homelessness and for all our communities.

“I am honored to accept the role of CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority,” said Dones. “The work ahead of us will not be easy, but I am confident we will come together as a region to end homelessness. It is critical that as the Authority advances this work, we do so with a focus on racial justice and the voices of those who are most impacted. Those tenets will be the foundation for the Authority, and I look forward to working with leaders across King County to make that vision a reality.”

For a Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.


COVID RELIEF AND RECOVERY

Finally in Phase 3 for our Economy!

Nurse Myesha Williams injects Gliceria Abrenilla with her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (photo by The New York Times)

Effective earlier this week (March 22), Gov. Inslee announced a new third phase of his economic recovery roadmap.

The new phase also allows for up to 400 people maximum to attend OUTDOOR activities, as well as events in indoor facilities — so long as 400 people does not exceed 50% capacity for the location, and physical distancing and masking protocols are enforced. Larger venue events are capped at 25% occupancy, or up to 9,000 people, whichever is less, and must follow spectator guidelines. Sports guidance will change in Phase 3 to allow in-person spectators at events for the first time in a year.

Additionally, Phase 3 will allow up to 50% occupancy or 400 people maximum, whichever is lower, for all INDOOR spaces. This applies to all industries and indoor activities currently allowed; restaurants, gyms and fitness centers and movie theaters, among others, may all increase their capacity.

“Because of the progress we’ve made by decreasing our case rates and hospitalizations, as well as our tremendous efforts to get more people vaccinated, our reopening plan is once again based on counties, not regions,” said the Governor.  This is good news as we cautiously and prudently move forward into a changed world.  For more info, CLICK HERE.

Vaccinations update: eligibility, locations

Additionally, the governor announced that everyone in Phase 1B, Tier 2 is eligible for their COVID vaccine. On March 17, eligibility will expand further to an estimated 244,000 King County residents eligible under Phase 1b2, including:

  • high-risk critical workers in congregate settings (including agriculture, food processing, grocery and food banks, corrections and courts, public transit, first responders, and early learning programs)
  • people who are pregnant, and
  • residents with a disability that puts them at higher risk from COVID-19.

All Phase 1A, Phase 1B, Tier 1, and Phase 1B, Tier 2 eligible members of the public can sign up now for the City’s vaccination appointment notification list. Once eligible members of the public sign up for the City’s notification list, they will receive an email notification when vaccination appointments become available at any of the City’s three fixed sites in Rainier Beach, West Seattle, and the Lumen Field Event Center. The notification list is available here, and residents can also contact the Customer Service Bureau at 206-684-2489 from Monday through Saturday, between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. for assistance completing this form. In-language assistance is available over the phone.

For more detail about who is eligible, see the guidance from WA State Department of Health. For more information about COVID-19 vaccine, see our vaccine website.

For more information, including the notification list, visit the City’s vaccination website at www.seattle.gov/vaccine. The site contains vaccination information in seven languages, and in-language assistance is also available over the phone.

Even as more residents get vaccinated, public health measures like social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands remain critical. Please continue to follow all public health guidance, and visit this website from Public Health – Seattle & King County for more information

COVID Indicators for King County

 

The latest indicators on new COVID cases show how important it is to continue our vigilance in wearing masks and social-distancing even as the vaccines are more widely administered. To view them, see the most recent graphs below or CLICK HERE.

More Federal Dollars on the way: the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021

After already approving multiple relief packages, the federal government once again delivered:  The American Rescue Plan will provide direct relief to the American people, help the economy, and, importantly, roll out concrete plans to beat the virus. The plan includes a whopping $1.9 trillion to provide additional relief to address the continued impact of COVID-19 on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.  That brings the total from the federal government thus far to an unprecedented $5 Trillion.

Since the Federal government can spend more money than it collects in revenue (“deficit-spend”), this infusion of financial relief can help all cities, including Seattle, which are required by law to balance their budgets. I was pleased to see that it accelerates the national vaccination program by investing about $160 billion to provide the supplies, emergency response, testing, and public health workforce to stop the spread of COVID-19. It will also provide $130 billion to help schools serve all students, no matter where they are learning, and help achieve President Biden’s goal to safely open the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days of his Administration. These investments include set asides at the local and state level to ensure states and districts address the learning loss and social and emotional needs of students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities.

In addition, there are several beneficial tax credits in the plan:

  • For those without children, the American Rescue Plan increased the Earned-Income Tax Credit from $543 to $1,502.
  • For those with children, the American Rescue Plan increased the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child for children over the age of six and $3,600 for children under the age of six – and raised the age limit from 16 to 17.
  • The American Rescue Plan also increased and expanded the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, making more people eligible and increasing the total credit to $4,000 for one qualifying individual and $8,000 for two or more.

Sign up here for an update when the U.S. Department of Treasury announces more information on how tax credits will work.

Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee Extend COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums

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.

Councilmember Sawant’s Bill for Tenants (“Right to Counsel”): My No Vote at Committee

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 (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.

 

Seattle Preschool Program Applications Open

Tim Burgess, the architect of the nationally acclaimed Seattle Preschool Program (and literally the adult in the room), happily visiting a high-quality preschool in South Seattle, 2013.

There was already a great need for high-quality child care and preschool  before COVID and, as we emerge from the pandemic the need is even greater when more parents get back to work. Applications for the Seattle Preschool  Program are now open for 2021-2022, with 14 new classrooms opening this fall. The new additions boost the total number of SPP classrooms to 129, with capacity to serve up to 2,054 preschoolers!  For the news release from Seattle’s Department of Education & Early Learning, CLICK HERE.  It’s heartening to see this nationally acclaimed program (which I helped to craft as a Legislative Aide for Tim Burgess) enabling thousands of our youngest Seattleites to thrive.  When they are high-quality and evidence-based, early learning programs such as the Seattle Preschool Program not only enable kids to enter kindergarten ready to learn, but also send them on a life-long trajectory of success by building foundations proven to keep them out of the criminal justice system and lead healthier, happier lives. The real stars are the preschool teachers and the little learners.  To apply, CLICK HERE.


TRANSPORTATION, UTILITIES, AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

From The Seattle Times: “Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Friday on the shore of Portage Bay in Seattle to call for more state spending on highway, bridge and ferry maintenance. Behind him are MLK Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay and Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)”

Supporting Our Bridge Infrastructure

I continue to champion the cause of fixing our city’s aging bridges at every opportunity.

  • March 5 – Governor Inslee visited District 4 to bring attention to infrastructure needs. With our aging University Bridge as a backdrop – a bridge ranked poor by our recent audit of Seattle’s bridges – Governor Inslee spoke about the need to invest in transportation infrastructure: “Now we need to get our roads, bridges and ferries,” Inslee said. “All of these things are necessary for the rebuilding of Washington state’s economy. We need to make the investments first, and I emphasize first, in maintenance of our existing transportation system. “It is woefully underfunded.” Read the Seattle Times coverage of his visit
  • March 11 – I called on the Mayor and my City Council colleagues to prioritize bridge infrastructure jobs as we invest the federal funding we’ll receive in economic recovery. Read more HERE.
  • March 17 – Transportation reporter Mike Lindblom highlighted the millions of dollars in maintenance needs for Seattle’s drawbridges, including my work on this topic. Read the article HERE.
  • March 19 – Our efforts to support bridges even earned a write-up in The Architect’s Newspaper: CLICK HERE .
  • April 21 – I have invited the City Auditor and SDOT to my Transportation Committee for an update on the implementation status of the recommendations from the bridge audit I requested.

West Seattle Bridge Achieves 30% Design Milestone

I asked SDOT to update my Transportation Committee March 17 on the West Seattle Bridge. SDOT updated the public and my Council colleagues on the City’s progress toward restoration of the West Seattle “High” Bridge — and to strengthen the “low-level” bridge (Spokane Street Swing Bridge), which has had to carry a bigger burden during this infrastructure emergency. SDOT is now at 30% design for the restoration of the high bridge, a milestone which enabled them to solidify their total cost estimate, and publish a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for bids from general contractors who will be hired to complete the work and re-open the bridge by the 3rd quarter of 2022.

SDOT’s revised total cost estimate is $175 million, which includes the costs of the initial emergency stabilization efforts as well as the costs of establishing/improving alternative routes (“Reconnect West Seattle”). The actual construction costs for restoration of the West Seattle High Bridge is estimated to be $60 million (out of the $175 million). To cover the total cost, we have set aside up to $100 million of city government resources, but it would be ideal to secure additional funds from other sources. The City has been pursuing funding aggressively: Including regional (approximately $15 million from the Puget Sound Regional Council), State (ideally $25 million from the 2021 legislative session), and Federal sources (a $20 million “INFRA” grant). A portion of the renewed and revamped Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) will assist during at least the next year.

Here are some additional links with more information:

  • SDOT’s presentation to my Committee: CLICK HERE.
  • Seattle Times article on the 30% design milestone: CLICK HERE.
  • SDOT’s blog posts with ongoing updates: CLICK HERE.
  • While I’m the Chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee, the Councilmember who represents the 100,000 residents of West Seattle—Lisa Herbold—provides detailed updates for her constituents: CLICK HERE.
  • West Seattle Bridge updates on my blog: CLICK HERE.

Electrification for the Environment

We have been implementing important policies to improve our environment, including a renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District to boost transit, a new requirement to review all legislation through the lens of carbon emissions and resiliency in the face of climate change, and new building and energy codes.

On March 17, the City released its framework plan for increasing the clean energy “electrification” of transportation infrastructure. To see the Mayor’s Office announcement, CLICK HERE; for the departments’ plan, CLICK HERE. This important work to de-carbonize our transportation systems builds on previous work, including the opening this fall of two Sound Transit Link stations in District 4 (Brooklyn Ave in the U District and NE 65th Street in Roosevelt).

Overall, the Mayor’s plan is ambitious and aspirational. But the implementation may be challenging, especially when some of the same executive departments seem unable to produce the overdue ordinance to protect trees (carbon-sequestering conifers) within our Emerald City, after years of being told that the conservation of our urban tree canopy is vital not only to mitigate the impacts of climate change but also to achieve community healthy and equity. Our office will be closely monitoring the development and implementation of electrification plans (and the needed tree ordinance).

My Committee Passes Ordinance to Keep Seattle City Light Rates Steady

I appreciate both of our city-owned utilities (Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities) sharing my commitment to focus on affordability for our residents, especially during the pandemic and economic recession.  The City Light ordinance for electricity rates, as proposed in Council Bill 120015, strives to balance City Light’s goal to provide customers with stability and predictability in the amounts of their electric bills while enabling our municipally owned utility to recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic over the next couple of years.  The watchdog City Light Review Panel concurred.

On March 17, my Committee unanimously passed Council Bill 120015 and the full Council will vote on the bill next Monday, March 29. The bill re-affirms electricity rates for Seattle City Light. Our electricity bills are composed of various base electricity rates, pass-through power rates, and surcharges and — though a combination of actions — we can continue to prevent an increase in bills this year.  In addition, Seattle City Light will be keeping their promise for next year (2022) by sticking with the original rate path agreed to back in 2018 and possibly achieving a smaller increase if the pass-through rate from the Bonneville Power Administration comes in lower.

I believe this utility legislation is a success story and I’m pleased that City Light has managed to prevent an increase to customers’ bills this year and to keep or beat their promise for next year.

 


WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU

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.

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 into 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. You can also just send an e-mail to alex.pedersen@seattle.gov

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

We will get through this together, Seattle!

With gratitude,

 

 

 

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4

Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov
Find It, Fix It

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