Environmental Protection: Ship Canal Water Quality Project Updates

March 28th, 2021

SUMMARY: The Ship Canal Water Quality Project is a “mega project” planned over many years due to the state and federal governments requiring the city and county governments to prevent harmful stormwater and wastewater from polluting our local waterways. With a cost estimated at $570 million (shared with King County), this environmental protection project includes a new tunnel-boring machine starting its work in 2021. This ambitious 2.7-mile long, 19-foot diameter stormwater storage tunnel should be completed by 2025.

In some parts of Seattle, sewage and stormwater (rain) share a set of pipes underneath our city streets; this is called a “combined sewer.” During heavy rains, the untreated water often exceeds the pipes’ capacity (known as a combined sewer overflow), which then dumps portions of the untreated sewage and stormwater into our natural waterways. These polluted overflows can harm our environment, including fish and wildlife. This environmental protection project will enable us to store 29 million gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater during large storm events, until the treatment plant it ready to process it over time. Because every year has multiple storm surges with combined sewer overflows, the storage capacity translates into preventing approximately 75 million gallons annually from contaminating our precious waterways — from Salmon Bay to Lake Union.

Because this is one of the most expensive projects ever undertaken by the City of Seattle and it involves multiple layers of government, additional scrutiny is warranted to ensure the project is on time and on budget. Like most large capital projects, the Ship Canal Water Quality Control Project is on the City’s “Watch List” so that it receives extra attention.

Illustration from Seattle Times

APRIL 12, 2021 UPDATE:

The winner is Mudhoney, with potential new band member Mami Hara 🙂 (photo from Seattle Public Utilities, April 9, 2021)

Astonishingly, over 30,000 people voted to name the tunnel-boring machine for the environmental protection project. The winner is: Mudhoney!

The rock-blasting Mudhoney band was the tip of the spear for Seattle’s grunge music and their namesake on this drilling machine will be the tip of the spear to carve this mega project so important for protecting our city’s waterways,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who chairs Seattle’s Transportation & Utilities Committee. “Thanks to tens of thousands of people who participated in the contest to name the massive new drill needed for this massive environmental protection project.”

As chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee, I joined on April 9 several officials from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), King County government, and the workers constructing the project to see the massive drill up close (it’s certainly not boring :). The new drill (which creates a diameter that is similar in size to the successful Sound Transit tunnels) will be lowered into its starting point in Ballard and drill the new water storage tunnel all the way to Wallingford in District 4.

MARCH 28, 2021 (ORIGINAL POST):

Tim Barker, left, and Keith Ward discuss the assembly of the tunnel boring machine being prepared in Ballard. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
What’s in a name? The tunnel-boring machine ready for assembly.
(photo by the Seattle Times)

To vote on the name of the new 19-inch boring machine, CLICK HERE before April 1, 2021. The five finalists offered by area residents are Boris the Plunger, Daphne, Molly the Mole, Mudhoney, and Sir Digs-A-Lot.

Currently During Storm Surges (before project is completed):

During heavy rain, sewage and stormwater can overflow into a nearby body of water.

After project is completed:

During heavy rain, sewage and stormwater overflows will be held in the new storage tunnel to be sent to the treatment plant at a later time.

More Info:

  • For the official Seattle Public Utilities site on the project, CLICK HERE.
  • For the official website detailing activity in each neighborhood (Wallingford, Fremont, East Ballard, Ballard, and Queen Anne), CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times article published March 27, 2021, CLICK HERE. Here’s an excerpt: “Currently, drainage basins in Queen Anne, Ballard, Fremont and Wallingford, overflow an average of about 144 times a year — basically any time there’s heavy or prolonged rain, the city said. Once the project — which is mandated by a federal consent decree that requires the county to reduce storm and wastewater pollution — is completed in 2025 (hopefully), overflows should drop to fewer than six per year, the city said.”


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

March 25th, 2021

March 2021

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 and inflexible 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


Councilmember Pedersen follows through on the audit he ordered on Seattle’s Bridges — need more investments in our bridges for safety, regional economy.

March 11th, 2021
Councilmember Pedersen viewing the seismic retrofit of the 15th Ave NE bridge connecting Roosevelt and the U District at Cowen Park in District 4.

NOTE: This blog post focuses on the audit of Seattle bridges I ordered in the wake of the safety closure of the West Seattle Bridge in March 2020.

  • For more about the West Seattle Bridge, CLICK HERE.
  • For more about the funding needs and opportunities for Seattle bridges including bonds for bridges, CLICK HERE.

March 11, 2021 UPDATE:

I have asked the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to participate in my Committee in April of 2021 to report on their progress implementing the bridge audit. In the meantime, I issued this press release:

Prioritize Bridge Infrastructure Jobs When Investing New Federal Dollars for our Economic Recovery

Stop kicking the can down the road – fix our aging bridges now,” urges Transportation Chair and Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen

SEATTLE – With President Biden this week signing legislation to speed $1.9 Trillion in additional federal dollars to the nation, Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen is calling on city leaders to invest millions more to create jobs by repairing Seattle’s aging bridges as part of our relief and recovery efforts. 

With Seattle expected to receive over $230 million this year from just this single piece of federal legislation, Councilmember Pedersen believes this is an historic job creation opportunity for City Hall to finally address the growing maintenance backlog for our bridges, several of which are ranked in poor condition or in urgent need of seismic retrofitting

“The next time a Seattle bridge is cracked, stuck, or closed, the people of Seattle will look back to this decision point when we had additional funds and ask, who failed to fix our bridges?”said Councilmember Pedersen.“As Transportation Chair, it’s my responsibility to keep sounding the alarm and encouraging the Mayor, transportation officials, and a majority of City Council to step up and fund this vital infrastructure that connects our communities and keeps our economy moving.”

“It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and over the bridge,” Councilmember Pedersen continued.“In a city carved by waterways and ravines, we rely on safe bridges to support all modes of transportation that connect us and keep our regional economy moving. Let’s hear the wake up call of the West Seattle Bridge and seize this historic opportunity of additional federal dollars to invest a substantial portion toward creating jobs that finally repair our aging bridges.”

Since the premature cracking of the West Seattle Bridge required its shutdown a year ago, Councilmember Pedersen has made several attempts to get City Hall leaders to invest more in Seattle’s brittle bridges. After successfully securing funds for most of the West Seattle Bridge restoration, several opportunities to invest more in the aging bridges across Seattle have encountered too many excuses and too little action.

  • During last year’s budget deliberations in October 2020, Councilmember Pedersen sought $24 million more for bridges, but received only $4 million while individual transportation projects received more additional funds than all Seattle’s other bridges combined. 

With Seattle about to receive hundreds of millions more in cash from the federal government, there are no more excuses available to ignore our aging bridge infrastructure.  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 yet Council amended Councilmember Pedersen’s request down to $4 million for a total of only $14 million.)
  • $8 million for our City’s older bridges that have aging moveable parts (such as the University, Ballard, Fremont, and Spokane bridges). Why not replace those old components right now before they fail?  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. (Councilmember Pedersen ventured inside the aging University Bridge on February 4, 2021 to see its maintenance challenges firsthand.)
  • 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 before it collapses. (Tolls could be part of the solution to pay for a new bridge there, but that might not cover the entire cost and dollars are needed upfront to complete the design of a new bridge.)

Fixing our bridges is consistent with the strategic direction from our Governor and the new U.S. Transportation Secretary. Just days ago, Governor Inslee was in our District 4. With 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. 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,” Inslee said. “It is woefully underfunded.”  Similarly, Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg last week punctuated preservation: “’Fix it First’ is going to be a very important mantra for us…It doesn’t always have the same sizzle as doing something new, but we’ve got to be doing both. You just look at the condition of so many roads and bridges in this country. We can’t allow that backlog to continue.”

  • For the recent audit of Seattle’s aging bridges that shows bridge maintenance has been neglected by City officials, CLICK HERE.
  • For recently missed opportunity to invest newly approved Vehicle License Fees for bridges, CLICK HERE.
  • For the recent SDOT memo about the increased costs of seismic retrofits for Seattle’s bridges, CLICK HERE.
Councilmember Pedersen inspecting underneath the University Bridge, February 2021.

November 2020 UPDATE:

For a opportunity to use new funds to help our bridges, CLICK HERE. I’d like to thank Councilmembers Herbold, Juarez, and Lewis for supporting this effort with me to dedicate new funding to support our bridges but, unfortunately, this effort was waylaid by the rest of the Councilmembers.


SEPTEMBER 14, 2020 PRESS RELEASE:

Council Transportation Chair Pedersen Announces Delivery of Audit of Seattle Bridges 

SEATTLECouncilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle), Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee announced the delivery of the audit report on Seattle’s bridges with a focus on the efficacy of the City’s infrastructure maintenance program.

“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 Pedersen. “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, Councilmember Pedersen is pleased to report the completion of the audit report on schedule. The auditor’s report will be presented to the City Council at its Transportation Committee to be chaired by Pedersen this Wednesday, September 16 at 9:30 a.m.

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 solve the insufficiency of funding. “I am hopeful that Mayor Durkan and the City Council will pay close attention to this audit report and respond appropriately during the 2021budget 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: 

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.”

The aging University (bascule) Bridge that connects much of District 4 to downtown Seattle.

# # #


May 31, 2020: For a thorough article by the Seattle Times about bridge maintenance needs — which mentions my audit of city bridges — CLICK HERE.

April 25, 2020: For the Seattle Times editorial supporting our launching of the bridge audit, CLICK HERE. “One step to restoring trust is an audit of citywide bridge maintenance, requested last week by new City Councilmember Alex Pedersen.”

April 23, 2020: To read the initial article by the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

April 23, 2020: Here’s the press release:

SEATTLECouncilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle), and Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, today asked the City Auditor to complete an audit to assess the conditions and maintenance of Seattle’s bridges.

“In a city surrounded by several waterways, our bridges are the backbone of Seattle’s infrastructure for its residents and local economy and are vital for transit, freight, and other uses,” said Pedersen. “Bridges require relatively large investments to build and maintain to ensure they remain safe for generations. The rapid deterioration of the West Seattle Bridge underscores 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 preventative maintenance investments and practices.”

Pedersen’s letter to the City Auditor states the purpose is “to request, as chair of the City Council’s Transportation and Utilities Committee, that the Office of City Auditor complete an audit report to assess the physical conditions and maintenance investments for the major bridges owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)…”

“We look forward to performing this important and valuable body of work,” said David G. Jones, the City Auditor.

“I appreciate SDOT’s recent transparency, responsiveness, and proactive sharing of information regarding the West Seattle Bridge.  I want SDOT to remain focused on the immediate needs of the West Seattle Bridge and I am therefore, flexible on the Auditor’s final completion date for reviewing the other bridges,” said Pedersen, who has also requested an interim summary of the maintenance investments on bridges by mid-September to inform the City Council’s fall budget process.

According to the City of Seattle’s adopted 2020 operating budget (page 411) and SDOT’s 2019 Capital Roadway and Structures report (page 19), there are 124 bridges owned and operated by the City of Seattle. The City Auditor’s report will focus on SDOT’s bridge maintenance program for the major bridges in the City’s portfolio and may discuss other non-bridge assets managed by SDOT.  While SDOT already obtains and monitors much of this underlying information on our City’s bridges and the federal government and state government also provide important oversight, the audit will gather, summarize, and analyze that information for review by the City Council.

For the proposed scope of the audit, use the following website link: https://pedersen.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CM-Pedersen-letter-to-Auditor-on-Seattle-bridges-2020.04.23-to-Auditor-.pdf

In addition to summarizing key information on all major bridges, the report should include a deeper analysis of a sampling of major bridges across our city including, but not limited to, the Ballard Bridge, Magnolia Bridge, Montlake Bridge, University Bridge, and West Seattle Bridge.

The Auditor will discuss the final scope with SDOT, which could include a description of other major non-bridge infrastructure assets owned by the City to provide context for SDOT’s broader asset management portfolio.

# # #


Reasons for Voting NO on Home Occupation Bill (CB 120001)

March 10th, 2021
The year-round University District Farmers Market, photo by Seattle Times

March 12, 2021 Update:

ALERT: The full City Council is voting on this land use bill this coming Monday, March 15, 2021. I’m disappointed this bill was rushed to the full City Council by invoking an exception to our parliamentary procedure rules which state, “If a committee recommendation is not unanimous: Unless otherwise authorized by the President and the committee Chair, the committee report shall be reported to the second regular City Council meeting after the date of the recommendation” (page 25). Therefore, Council President Gonzalez and Chair Strauss (both co-sponsors of the bill) unfortunately decided to use their powers to skip the additional week of public review time to speed it to a full vote. (I appreciate that Chair Strauss provided ample time in his Committee for me to articulate my strong track record for small business as well as my concerns with the bill. I wish there had been more time, however, for more input from existing small businesses and communities.)

March 10, 2021 (original post): Many of us are grateful for the small businesses in our neighborhood business districts that provide not only jobs, goods, and services but also fun, flavor, and funkiness. I have consistently supported small businesses throughout Seattle. In fact, my concern for the recovery of EXISTING small businesses, our neighborhood business districts that support them, and the potential unintended consequences of yet another change to Seattle’s complex land use codes are my primary reasons for voting No on Council Bill 120001.  I expand on the reasons for my vote below.

(For the original press release from the sponsors in favor of the bill, CLICK HERE.)

Despite my concerns about the bill, I would like to thank the original sponsor, Councilmember Dan Strauss, for providing enough time to consider this legislation in an era when bills are often rushed too quickly through the Seattle City Council.  While the bill was discussed quickly after it was introduced, Chair Strauss provided ample time and grace in his Committee to air the concerns and to provide staff time to analyze it. Ultimately, though, the subsequent memo from our Central Staff analyst, conversations with the department that will implement this, and, most importantly, my outreach to small businesses did not alleviate the concerns I raised during the previous Committee meeting on February 24.  In fact, many business districts had not heard of the legislation and offered additional concerns.

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 for an inclusive economic recovery 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 is, in my opinion, not an effective answer and could do more harm than good. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. HOME-BASED BUSINESSES ALREADY ALLOWED: Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Section 23.42.050
  2. QUESTIONABLE NEED FOR CITYWIDE CHANGES
  3. COULD HURT SMALL BUSINESS DISTRICTS / CLUSTERING BUSINESS 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. NOT TO THIS EXTENT IN OTHER CITIES
  9. OTHER UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES (see below)
  10. MORE APPROPRIATE SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE

For details on each, please read on…

  • HOME-BASED BUSINESSES ALREADY ALLOWED: First, it’s important to reiterate that you can already operate a business out of your home. Our Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Section 23.42.050 CURRENTLY states, “A home occupation of a person residing in a dwelling unit is permitted outright in all zones as an accessory use …” subject to various requirements. The requirements essentially require the business to keep a low profile externally and minimize impacts to neighbors. (CB 120001 would remove some of those requirements to benefit the home business.)
  • QUESTIONABLE NEED FOR CITYWIDE CHANGES: We have not heard from home-based businesses requesting these proposed regulatory changes, except for the popular Yonder Bar business which has since secured a location near other businesses. According to the Seattle PI news site, “Yonder Cider and Bale Breaker Brewing to open Ballard taproom this summer.” While we received e-mails in support of CB 120001, it appears that most were spurred by an e-mail campaign launched by Yonder Bar in northwest Seattle, rather than arriving organically from a diverse or citywide effort. Neither our Central Staff analyst working on this bill nor the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection (SDCI) that would implement the bill has a list of home-based businesses seeking or needing the proposed changes. While it’s possible there are some aspiring home businesses that could benefit, I do not think it’s appropriate to make citywide land use changes based on anecdotes or conjecture.  In short, this bill could currently be considered more of “a solution in search of a problem” than addressing an urgent specific or widespread need. Allowing for one-off exceptions, rather than blanket, citywide changes would be more targeted and appropriate.
  • COULD HURT SMALL BUSINESS DISTRICTS / CLUSTERING BUSINESS TOGETHER IS BETTER:  I am very concerned that suddenly lifting restrictions to allow retail food and alcohol businesses on any block in our city will draw customers away from existing neighborhood business districts and their struggling small businesses.  In addition to the 10 Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) spread throughout our city, there are many other small business districts that rely on foot traffic generated by several shops clustering together – more customers are attracted to each area to efficiently take care of their daily needs for goods and services. In addition to the University District BIA, there are many neighborhood districts just in our District 4 such as:  Eastlake Avenue, Ravenna (NE 65th Street), Roosevelt, and Sand Point Way NE (at Princeton Ave), Wallingford (North 45th Street and Stone Way), and Wedgwood (35th Avenue NE). Much of the outreach I conducted directly with owners of small businesses yielded serious concerns. These small neighborhood businesses are struggling today to bring back customers and workers. They are in the middle of multi-year commercial leases for their storefront space and some of them have made substantial investments for outdoor dining to meet public health requirements. Having the city government suddenly toss aside the current rules to let anyone run a retail, food, or alcohol operation out of their homes or garages, will drain customers away from the existing small businesses we say we want to help emerge from the pandemic. Let’s instead first help businesses to stay in business and re-hire their workers. (Other ideas for incubating new micro businesses are below)
In addition to the 10 Business Improvement Areas, there are scores of neighborhood business districts throughout Seattle that rely on the clustering of other small businesses to generate foot traffic of customers.
  • U DISTRICT BUSINESS DISTRICT NEEDS UNDIVIDED ATTENTION TO PROTECT ITS DIVERSITY:  Approximately 65% of small businesses in the heart of the U District business improvement area are owned by women and people of color. Let’s focus first on supporting these existing businesses – especially those that have had to shed jobs — so that we don’t lose them and so they can rehire all their workers and emerge successfully from the COVID pandemic. [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.”]
Many small businesses have recently spent thousands of dollars for new “streeteries” and other outdoor dining areas
  • CLOAKED IN COVID, BUT LASTS FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER YEAR:  Here’s the title of the proposed law:  “AN ORDINANCE relating to land use regulation of home occupations; adopting interim regulations to allow home occupation businesses to operate with fewer limitations during the COVID-19 civil emergency, amending Seattle Municipal Code Section 23.42.050, and adopting a work plan.”  But the Council Bill is NOT actually tied to the COVID pandemic or even to a “civil emergency.” The memo from our Central Staff analyst states, “Because CB 120001 would be adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.390, which allows jurisdictions to approve interim development controls, the bill includes a work program for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to analyze and propose more PERMANENT changes to home occupation regulations” (emphasis added). In other words, these changes would be put on track to become permanent.  

(I believe the City Council should soon start transitioning away from using COVID as the reason for new legislation and we should instead have proposals stand on their own merits as we take a post-pandemic, long-term view.)

  • DISTRACTS KEY CITY DEPARTMENT FROM OTHER IMPORTANT WORK:  Our Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) is already behind on improving permits and delivering an overdue ordinance to protect our trees. Saddling the city government staff to develop and monitor this new program — and enforce future inquires or complaints about it — could delay other priorities.
  • IMPACTS TO OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS: Policymakers need to be careful NOT to stop legislation just because it might alter neighborhoods — as long as the people impacted have ample opportunity to provide input and policymakers genuinely consider that input, as long as the city will be receiving ample public benefits for anything the city government gives away to the private market, and as long as the changes are prudent, sensible, and reasonable. So, while I believe we have a sufficient number of other concerns about why this legislation might not be prudent, it’s important to recognize what I’ve heard from some neighbors who might not be happy with the increased traffic, reduced parking, new retail signage, and nearby activity of employees and customers coming and going in their residential neighborhood.
  • NOT TO THIS EXTENT IN OTHER CITIES: To avoid unintended consequences, it’s often helpful to see whether other cities have adopted the legislation. Before pioneering risky experiments with Seattle residents and businesses, we can learn from other cities and their false starts, sharp edges, and outright mistakes. Our Central Staff analysts did not find other cities with such loose regulations on home businesses.
  • OTHER UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES:  Granting the business rights to single family structures could increase their value and make them less affordable. Moreover, aspiring businesses may choose to buy a house and convert it to a business which would further draw away customers from the neighborhood business districts. In addition to drawing away customers, it could draw away small business tenants that are renting commercial spaces, thereby decreasing the value of those properties as costs rise for homes. 
  • MORE APPROPRIATE SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE:
  • INCUBATING TOGETHER:  Moreover, incubators typically work best when they cluster together in — you guessed it — existing business districts. The new startups share space where they not only benefit from cheaper rent and shorter leases, but also learn from each other, receiving technical assistance together, and attract customers together. 
  • FARMERS MARKETS: Those hoping to make and sell food and drinks (using local farm ingredients) could use Farmers Markets to sell their products rather than trying to attract enough customers to their house. For U District, West Seattle, and Capitol Hill Farmers Markets, CLICK HERE. For other Farmers Markets in the Seattle, CLICK HERE or HERE.
  • EXCEPTIONS RATHER THAN BLANKET CITYWIDE CHANGES:  As mentioned earlier, the legislation does not seem to be addressing an urgent specific or widespread need. Therefore, allowing for one-off exceptions, rather than blanket, citywide changes would be more targeted and appropriate.
A rare opening of a new store DURING the pandemic (on The Ave in the University District).

Let’s continue to encourage shoppers to come back to our existing neighborhood business districts!

More Info:

_ Links to Council Bill 120001 and an analyst memo, CLICK HERE.

_ For the press release supporting CB 120001, CLICK HERE.

_ For an article by the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.


February Updates: District 4 Projects, Small Businesses, Safety, Homelessness, Vaccines, and More

February 25th, 2021

February 2021

Friends and Neighbors,

In addition to advancing legislation in February, I toured our aging University Bridge that connects several District 4 neighborhoods to the rest of our city; visited with the owner of small businesses in Eastlake; participated in an online meeting of the Maple Leaf Community Council; and appeared on the Seattle Channel’s “Council Edition” program. I continue to work hard to support District 4 residents and small businesses through the pandemic. This newsletter contains updates on that work as well as other developments in transportation, public safety, and our homelessness response.

Visiting with the owner of 14 Carrot Café in Eastlake.

IN DISTRICT 4

Another commendable response to winter snowstorms

Sledding at Gas Works Park in our District 4. (photo from Seattle Times, Feb 13, 2021)

During the snowstorm earlier this month, I was impressed to see our University District Farmers Market still operating! We are so fortunate to have a hearty, year-round market — every Saturday morning on “The Ave” at NE 50th Street.  I want to thank all the city government work crews and their managers for working around the clock that weekend, especially those departments we see at my Committee:  the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) with help from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) clearing arterial roads and Seattle City Light (SCL) restoring power.  It is a testament to our Mayor Jenny Durkan and her team that they were, once again, so prepared and then so ably launched into action – just as they did during last year’s snowstorm.  This is your local government doing the important, basic work it was meant to do.

For information about the February 2021 snowstorm and useful information on preparing for future storms, CLICK HERE.

Supporting transportation connections: University Bridge tour

Venturing underneath the University Bridge earlier this month was a riveting experience.

This month I ventured inside and underneath the aging University Bridge, which connects the University District, Roosevelt, and Wallingford to Eastlake and downtown. I’d like to thank SDOT for arranging the bridge tour and for the bridge operator who welcomed us. She popped out to say Hello before we walked underneath the bridge to examine some of the components which are still operating after 100 years!  This major transit bridge was ranked in “Poor” condition by the City Auditor in his report that we ordered last year after the West Seattle Bridge closed due to cracking. In a city carved by waterways, the University Bridge is just one of many examples of bridge projects that need more money if we want to take care of the basics and keep all modes of travel moving as our economy reopens and recovers.  I will continue to advocate for us to prioritize more funding for bridges across our city. CLICK HERE to read the City Auditor’s report. Some stakeholders who want to use transportation dollars for purposes other than bridges often claim that fixing our bridges costs too much to make a difference with the various pots of money that we have. But I believe we can – and should — be strategic. For example, we now know that our City’s older bridges with moveable parts (such as the University, Ballard, Fremont, and Spokane bridges) have immediate needs of just $8 million to replace their aging components. Why not replace those old components RIGHT NOW before they fail?  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.

District 4 transit projects are moving forward

Test trains at UW Husky Stadium Station preparing for the quick trip to new stations at Brooklyn Avenue and Roosevelt (both in District 4) on their way to Northgate. Photo from SDOT.
  • TRANSIT: Test trains are now running from UW Husky Stadium Station through both the Brooklyn Ave / U District station and the Roosevelt station, thanks to funding from the Sound Transit 2 measure approved by generous voters in 2008! I am so excited for the game-changing mobility these stations will offer District 4 residents when they open this September. Read more HERE and HERE.
  • 520 BRIDGE: The 520 bridge will be closed westbound from 11:00 pm on Friday, February 26 through 5:00 am on Monday, March 1 and eastbound between 11:00 pm on Friday, March 5 and 5:00 am on Monday, March 8. CLICK HERE to learn more about the closures and the Montlake Project.
  • 15TH AVE NE REPAVE: Starting February 25, SDOT is hosting monthly virtual office hours to answer questions about the 15th Ave NE paving project, which includes bike lanes to connect riders to Roosevelt High School and the incoming light rail at Roosevelt. (No small businesses should be negatively impacted by these bike lanes.) The office hours will take place 3:00-4:00 pm the fourth Thursday of each month and THIS LINK has the details for attending.

Disappointing decision by Kroger Company to shut down two of its 15 Seattle stores

The Wedgwood QFC store. Photo from The Seattle Times.

I was very disappointed by the recent 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 at 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 both the store manager to offer any assistance that we can provide and 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!) 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, 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.
  • Have I consulted stakeholders (in this case, the business community and the labor union)? YES, though I wish I had more time to engage everyone.
  • 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.

Ongoing work of the Clean City Initiative

The Clean City Initiative is a new effort from Mayor Jenny Durkan investing an initial $3 million  to clean up our city. The Initiative pulls together and expands efforts from Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and Seattle Department of Transportation to address the backlog by activating additional SPU litter routes, paying greater attention to parks, increased trash pick-up from encampments and additional needle collection efforts.

We cherish our parks and so I’m pleased to see our Clean City Initiative boosting removal of graffiti, garbage, and needles,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4). “Litter and illegal dumping have increased in our beautiful city during the pandemic and we all want to see a cleaner Seattle.  To see the benefits of the Clean City Initiative firsthand, I joined a crew to pick up trash in the heart of our district a few weeks ago. The challenge is enormous, but having multiple departments working together to clean up our city is the kind of back-to-basics approach Seattle desperately needs to emerge stronger than ever.” 

The Clean City Initiative can improve its focus further with reports from the public, so please call 206-684-CITY or use the “Find It, Fix It” smartphone app report issues to your city government. Learn more about the app HERE.

The “Find It, Fix It” app enables you to report problems to your city government.

 

Lyles case is finally proceeding

The case of the tragic killing in 2017 of Charleena Lyles (a District 4 resident) by two Seattle police officers still needs action. There is a promising new headline regarding the case: “Appeals Court Rules Charleena Lyles Wrongful-Death Suit Against Seattle Police Can Proceed.” For the Seattle Times article from February 16, 2021, CLICK HERE.  In addition, King County needs to complete the inquest into her killing. Back in August 2020,  a King County Superior Court judge August 21 unfortunately ruled in favor of other King County jurisdictions challenging the reformed inquest process established by our King County Executive. One of the key demands of Lyles family members is to allow the inquest to proceed, as they reiterated at the vigil I attended for her in June 2020. The City of Seattle thankfully withdrew its challenge of the inquest process and I sent a demand letter to the other jurisdictions calling on them to allow the process to proceed. That tragedy also reinforces the need for trained professionals other than armed police officers to respond to those who need help in many situations — a key rationale for re-imagining public safety. 
 

Supporting D4 businesses through the pandemic

Edouardo Jordon, owner of JuneBaby restaurant in Ravenna, which is currently available for takeout or delivery. (photo from PR newswire)

During the pandemic, I have been able to interview several owners of small businesses in our District 4 to hear their struggles and find ways for government to be supportive.  As we rollout the COVID vaccines and our economy re-opens, I hope you can mask up and venture out to your favorite local stores and restaurants. Our District is full of special local businesses such as Eastlake’s 14 Carrot Café, JuneBaby restaurant in Ravenna (see photo), The Bryant Corner CafeRick’s Big Time Brewery on The Ave in the University District (see “streetery” photo), Uncle Lee’s Kitchen between Laurelhurst and Hawthorne Hills, and Wedgwood Barbershop. Some small businesses have had to adapt during the pandemic or find a new niche to survive. For example, as more and more people work remotely and as small businesses move ahead without fulltime, inhouse IT employees, they can thrive by engaging the friendly and talented local computer professionals from Roosevelt’s Progressive Tech to take care of all their technology needs.  For a list of many small businesses open throughout D4 and Seattle, 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.”

Behold the brewer’s bold New “Streetery” in the University District in the heart of District 4: Rick’s Big Time Brewery on “The Ave” near NE 42nd Street

New Bill to Loosen Land Use Restrictions in Residential Areas for Small Businesses

Other Councilmembers introduced a new bill this past Monday, February 22 that would, for at least the next 12 months, remove several existing land use restrictions to allow more small businesses to be run out of homes/garages in residential areas.  Thanks to the Committee Chair Dan Strauss, both Councilmember Debora Juarez and I were able to ask all our questions. You can watch the committee meeting on Seattle Channel by CLICKING HERE (and going to 1:21:00). To review Council Bill 120001 and other materials, CLICK HERE.  We look forward to a memo from City Council’s “Central Staff” analyst before the next Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee on March 10. To communicate your views on Council Bill 120001, you can email all 9 Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov


IN THE NEWS

On Council Edition with host Brian Callanan and Councilmembers Juarez and Strauss.

I enjoyed appearing on the Seattle Channel’s Council Edition program with my colleagues Councilmembers Juarez and Strauss last week. CLICK HERE to watch our wide-ranging discussion on our city’s award-winning municipal television station. Thanks for having us, Brian Callanan!
Here is some more local media from the past month if you have an extra few minutes:

  • My letter to the editor about the steps we’ve taken to boost public transit published in the Seattle Times – CLICK HERE.
  • My Seattle Times Op Ed with an economic strategy that involves working with Seattle employers instead of against them – CLICK HERE.
  • I was quoted in the Seattle Medium about the Clean City Initiative – CLICK HERE.

TRANSPORTATION & UTILITIES

(because I happen to chair that Committee)
 

City Council approves Transit Service Agreement for more bus service

Graphic from SDOT.

On Monday, February 22, City Council unanimously approved the legislation I sponsored to renew and improve our Transit Service Agreement with King County Metro for expanded and reliable bus service throughout Seattle. After voters overwhelmingly approved funds (0.15% sales tax) for our Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), we needed to update this intergovernmental agreement to guide how we allocate additional bus service hours and get more people back onto transit as our economy recovers and our regional transportation networks grow. King County is poised to approve the same document. Every year we will review the details, in case any future changes are needed. In my next newsletter, I hope to share more details about some of the other “puzzle pieces” of the Transportation Benefit District, namely how we will invest both one-time and ongoing Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF) revenues. In my role as Transportation Chair, I am committed to finding truly regional solutions to fund and operate our infrastructure and transit systems (both light rail and bus networks), because fracturing transportation systems by each jurisdiction could become overly inefficient and impede our regional economy. 

To read the legislation and see the presentation to the City Council, CLICK HERE

For an excellent article by the “The Urbanist” blog regarding the Transit Service Agreement and other STBD-related issues, CLICK HERE.

Transportation Tidbits

  • Take King County Metro’s survey to help them plan post-COVID-19 bus service decisions! Read more about the survey at THIS LINK and give your input at THIS LINK.
  • The Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board is looking for three new members. You can learn about the opportunity and how to apply at THIS LINK.
  • King County Metro is working to install mask dispensers on its entire bus fleet by the end of March. You can read more at THIS LINK.

An Electrifying Opportunity:  City Light Review Panel Seeks a Residential Customer Representative

The City Light Review Panel is seeking a candidate to represent our residential rate-paying customers. The Review Panel plays an important role in providing input and engagement of City Light ratepayers in the development and review of the utility’s biennial update to the six-year Strategic Plan. The Review Panel is also tasked with reviewing electricity rate proposals, assessing City Light’s electricity rate design, and considering the implementation of cost allocation changes among customer classes. The current vacant panel position is designated for a City Light “Residential Customer representative,” preferably with knowledge and interest in the electricity industry. City Light is committed to racial diversity and inclusion in recruitment for this position. CLICK HERE and HERE to learn more. To be considered, please send a letter of interest and resume by Friday, March 19, 2021 to SCL_CLRPquestions@seattle.gov.


CRUSHING COVID

Ongoing vaccine distribution work

My office is working with the Mayor’s office to ensure that vulnerable, high-risk individuals across D4 will be a focus area as soon as more vaccines are available.

Do you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine or want to know when you are eligible to get vaccinated? Sign up to receive weekly email vaccine updates at the City of Seattle COVID-19 vaccine website and learn more about how vaccines are being distributed in Seattle to those who are eligible. Currently, adults 65 or older are eligible to get vaccinated as are adults 50 or older who live in a multigenerational household. To learn more, CLICK HERE.  (translated information is also available).

Looking for more information about vaccine distribution? Use some of these resources:

Nearby testing sites

COVID-19 testing is available at the University of Washington site in their  E01 parking lot (in between Husky Stadium and University Village off Montlake Boulevard). This location is NOT for pre-surgery patients and is in addition to the Husky Coronavirus Testing program for UW students, faculty and staff.

This location is a self-swab site, where individuals conduct their own swab while being observed by a healthcare provider. Follow these links to schedule a COVID-19 test at this location.

Updates from Seattle-King County Public Health

I was pleased to be a speaker at the Maple Leaf Community Council meeting on February 10. The presentation by Seattle King County Public Health Department at THIS LINK was full of informative materials regarding how vaccines work. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are on the path out of this crisis stage of the pandemic with the distribution of vaccines.

State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) K-12 Internet Access Program

We know how important the internet is during the pandemic, especially for school-age children attending remote school. One of the key strategies from the Internet for All Resolution I sponsored is to assist families with access and adoption of internet services. CLICK HERE to learn about OSPI’s K-12 Internet Access Program, its eligibility requirements, and how to sign up.


PUBLIC SAFETY

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, commenting on the local political environment and the challenges it creates for police reform (photo from SCC Insight)

Federal Court Judge rebukes City Council

At a recent hearing with the federal court overseeing the consent decree that requires and monitors Seattle Police Department (SPD) reforms, Judge Robart “…took the Council to task for announcing a 50% reduction in SPD with headcount and salary cuts ‘without talking to the police and ignorance to the consequences…” (as reported by SCC Insight).  Even with  Judge Robart’s caution to the City Council regarding further budget cuts,  the Council’s Public Safety Committee on February 23 again entertained a $5.4 million cut to SPD.  As I have previously shared, I believe the most critical path toward police reform is to revamp the inflexible and expensive police union contract. I explain my concerns below…

Continued concerns about proposal to cut more from Seattle Police before alternatives are ready

Earlier this week, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee discussed a controversial proposal to cut more from the Seattle Police Department.  As I mentioned in my newsletter last month, I oppose more cuts to Seattle Police at this time. I will continue to demand accountability from our police department and to attack institutional racism and, at the same time, I am deeply concerned that some City Council colleagues are considering harsher cuts now to Seattle Police with Council Bill 119981 — even after an alarming number of SPD officers are leaving the department and before we have a detailed public safety plan. Let’s first receive research results and put in place proven emergency response safety alternatives – such as hiring enough mental health professionals to respond to certain crisis calls 24/7.

To explain my reasoning in greater detail, please see my blog post titled “Twelve Reasons to Oppose More Cuts to Seattle Police at this Time,” please CLICK HERE.  Here’s a quick summary list:

  1. To deliver justice and save money, let’s focus now on revamping the police contract – it’s expired!
  2. We need a plan, not a percentage.
  3. We need alternatives in place first.
  4. Studies show we have too few officers already.
  5. We need sufficient police budget and staff to comply with required reforms.
  6. We need more SPD staff to comply with public disclosure requests.
  7. We need to restore community policing efforts.
  8. Officer are leaving SPD at alarming rate (attrition of 186 officers in 2020; net loss of 135).
  9. The City Charter requires adequate police protection in each district.
  10. 911 response times have slowed.
  11. Some crime stats are up.
  12. While the State legislature is meeting now, let’s focus on getting statewide reforms enacted.

For the details underlying each these points, please CLICK HERE for the full blog post.

The new reforms monitor for the federal consent decree, Antonio Oftelie, stated similar sentiments in his February 24 Op Ed in the Seattle Times (CLICK HERE): “For the City Council, mayor and other city stakeholders, taking a long-term view will be essential. Knee-jerk and short-term responses to long-term public safety challenges risk setting the city back. Through the consent decree, the city made a set of binding promises about how SPD will promote public safety. Compliance with the decree requires that the city provide resources necessary to carry out those promises. Stripping away funding from SPD without meaningfully standing up the alternative community resources and social programs necessary to provide for community well-being risks undermining the progress that Seattle has made over the past eight years.”

You can communicate your views on Council Bill 119981 (or the police budget in general) to all 9 Councilmembers at the same time by e-mailing to council@seattle.gov

Ongoing state police reform efforts

Last week I raised the importance of Senator Jesse Salomon’s bill SB 5134, which was the strongest police reform bill because it removed private arbitration for those carry a gun.  It’s a shame that SB 5134 did not advance and, since our meeting last week, The Seattle Times published an editorial that also supports SB 5134. SB 5134 was supported strongly by the ACLU and I hope to see it back again next year.  In the meantime, the lack of support from other State legislators and interest groups for the strongest reforms did not do any favors for our labor negotiators here in Seattle who may now have a harder time crafting a just police contract, which expired two months ago.  (To be clear SB 5134 is much stronger than SB 5055 because SB 5134 would have eliminated a complex arbitration appeal process that has historically allowed police officers who committed misconduct to be reinstated to their jobs.)


HOMELESSNESS

A Tiny Home Village. (photo from Seattle Human Services Department)

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 (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 (listed below), 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 with extremely low or no income. We also need to do a better job preventing economic displacement and homelessness in the first place. Here is the current patchwork of efforts to reduce homelessness, which I believe we must improve:

  • Seattle’s Human Services Department programs:  Continue to invest over $100 million per year from the City government (which includes pass-through from the federal government, but does not include “public housing” from the public housing authorities) to house and help those experiencing homeless – in addition to the funding our King County government spends. (City Operating budgets for Human Services Department page 184 and Office of Housing, Low-Income Multifamily Housing page 248).  This includes contracts to nonprofits to serve those experiencing homelessness and to prevent homelessness. These contacts must be performance-based so we ensure our tax dollars are being used effectively to help people stay out of homelessness.
  • Outreach:  As you may recall, I did not support the vote of the majority of the Council to dismantle the inter-departmental (“Navigation”) team that engaged with unauthorized homeless encampments. As part of the recently approved 2021 budget, funding was included for an untested, less centralized outreach model called “Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem” (HOPE). Thankfully, the Council adopted my amendment to make sure we measure the results of this new effort so that we can gauge its effectiveness.
  • Shelter Surge: Mayor Durkan’s Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller is overseeing a “shelter surge” during 2021, including use of vacant hotel space aiming for 125 hotel rooms, plus 300 shelter beds, for a total of 425 additional spots.  The Mayor released a press release February 23 regarding 350 new units of shelter, which is a step in the right direction.  To view the press release, CLICK HERE.
  • Tiny Home Villages:  Chair of the Homelessness Strategies Committee (Councilmember Andrew Lewis) is proposing several new Tiny Home Villages in addition to the one I am shepherding in the University District. This will hopefully alleviate some of the suffering in the parks and near I-5.
  • New Regional Authority:  We must quickly staff the new Regional Homelessness Authority because a regional problem needs a regional solution and the surrounding cities in King County are not pulling their own weight or helping those whose homelessness may have originated there. After months of delay, RHA finally picked a CEO earlier this month, but unfortunately, she declined the job offer this week. We need a qualified CEO in that position ASAP. I look forward to working with that sorely needed regional leader.
  • More Permanent Housing:  Continue to build permanent affordable housing from our Seattle Housing Levy (approximately 2,400 new units per year), which includes a range of 240 to 450 permanent SUPPORTIVE housing units for chronically homeless suffering from behavioral health challenges. Regarding the new legislation sponsored by Councilmember Lewis to speed the production of permanent supportive housing, I was grateful to colleagues for adopting all three of my amendments at the Homelessness Committee this past week. Due to my amendments, we will encourage broadband internet in low income housing, require at least one community meeting for new projects, and ensure that critical human services are made available to residents of the new projects that skip the design review process.

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 Skype. 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


12 Reasons to Oppose More Cuts to Seattle Police At This Time: No on Council Bill 119981

February 11th, 2021

JUNE 1, 2021 UPDATE: Council Bill 119981, thankfully, failed by a vote of 3 to 6. Councilmembers who voted against the bill had various reasons for voting NO, as explained in an article by SCC Insight: CLICK HERE. Here are my reasons:

Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s Statement on City Council Narrowly Rejecting Council Bill 119981 on June 1, 2021

“I’ve worked hard to be clear and consistent for my constituents: at this time, I cannot support additional cuts to public safety until effective alternatives are in place. This Council Bill is complex but, at the end of the day, it continues to reduce resources from our police department at a time when we are seeing record-breaking attrition of officers, so I will be voting No. I believe it’s premature to label the loss of police officers through attrition as budgetary “savings” that can be immediately scooped away and spent elsewhere. The record-breaking attrition of officers is alarming and response times to priority 911 calls are too long. By the end of the year, I want to be sure the department has the funds it needs to hire more crime prevention officers, to retain good officers, to ramp up recruitment of diverse and progressive officers, to implement the federal consent decree and heed the warnings of the federal judge and his monitor, to increase training, and to return experienced officers to their community policing work instead of working overtime on patrol. Yes, let’s lift the budget provisos to free up some of the dollars, but not by cutting more with the other hand.

“While I believe the intentions of the sponsors of the bill were positive, this bill has become a distraction since its conception six months ago. Despite the hard work of the Committee Chair to craft a compromise and the well-intentioned amendments, I believe this bill not only sends an unproductive and negative message to the remaining city government workers in the public safety field who are already stretched thin, but also steals time and attention away from the most impactful task at hand for justice and reform — and that’s revamping the inflexible and expensive contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Let’s get back to supporting the work of our Labor Relations Policy Committee, so they can revise the police contract in a way that is positive for the community, for the officers, for the budget, and for sustainable and systemic justice. Thank you.”


FEBRUARY 11, 2021 (ORIGINAL POST):

After carefully considering Council Bill 119981, I issued the following statement the morning of Tuesday, February 9, 2021 prior to the start of the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting:

  • “I will continue to demand accountability from our police department and to attack institutional racism and, at the same time, I am deeply concerned that several City Council colleagues are considering harsher cuts to our Seattle Police Department with Council Bill 119981 — even after an alarming number of SPD officers are leaving the department and before we have a detailed public safety plan. Let’s allow the time to receive research results and put in place proven emergency response safety alternatives – such as hiring enough mental health professionals to respond to certain crisis calls 24/7.”
  • “Cutting more now and asking questions later is reckless and sends the wrong message that City leaders may be shirking their paramount duty to provide public safety under our Seattle City Charter.”
  • “I will continue to implore my colleagues not to cut more from our public safety systems until we have plans and programs in place and to focus instead on revamping the expensive and inflexible police union contract that expired several weeks ago and to ask our State lawmakers to end harmful arbitration by supporting State Senate Bill 5134 (endorsed by the ACLU) instead of acquiescing to bills that are weaker on police reform.”

To reinforce my current stance on this important matter, here are 12 reasons to oppose further cuts to our Seattle Police Department at this time

TO DELIVER JUSTICE AND SAVE MONEY, REVAMP THE POLICE CONTRACT — it’s expired! Instead of bumper sticker slogans and blunt budget cuts, my research led me to conclude the true path to delivering justice, enhancing safety, and redeploying savings is to revamp the inflexible and expensive police union contract — which expired weeks ago. Instead of micromanaging the police budget after already cutting it by 20%, the Councilmembers on the Labor Relations Policy Committee should be spending all their spare time getting to the heart of the matter: a police contract worthy of our city’s progressive and practical values to achieve true safety in all communities.

WE NEED A PLAN, NOT A PERCENTAGE: I support funding several proven community safety alternatives to traditional policing, but I did NOT pledge to “defund” SPD by a dramatic 50%, because I concluded that was an impractical and arbitrary number not tied to any specific community safety goals. After last year’s partial defunding of our Seattle Police Department by approximately 20% (which is more than the percentage reduced from the Minneapolis Police Department), some Seattle Councilmembers are disturbingly proposing to cut more: Council Bill 119981 would cut $5.4 million more from our police department’s 2021 Budget. Cutting more now without effective alternatives in place first is reckless.

NEED ALTERNATIVES IN PLACE FIRST:  While I voted in favor of reallocating tens of millions of dollars from SPD to other crime prevention strategies, many of those community-driven alternatives are not yet crafted or have not had time to grow to the scale needed to serve Seattle 24/7. We are naturally still awaiting the final results from both the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force and from the sole-source contract awarded by Council President Gonzalez and Councilmembers Herbold, Mosqueda, and Morales to the local Black Brilliance Project organization(s) . Ideally, those two efforts coordinate with each other, consult a statistically significant number of people impacted by policing, and invest the time necessary to confirm which alternatives and supplements to traditional policing are going to be effective in increasing safety and reducing harm.  Therefore, for the safety of all communities, I believe we should not further cut our police staffing before these alternatives and supplements are in place and working well. In addition to a common sense approach to have the replacement in place before you cut more, we’re being instructed by the federal judge who on February 4, 2021 said, “…You can’t simply charge off in a direction without knowing what the consequences are, and having in place plans to replace essential services currently being provided by the police. If you do that, then you start to violate provisions in the court’s consent decree.”

STUDIES SHOW WE HAVE TOO FEW OFFICERS ALREADY: If our City government’s labor negotiators can produce a more efficient police contract soon, we can save money while still retaining a sufficient number of police officers for community safety. Both the 2020 analysis by the Seattle Times and the 2016 consultant report by Berkshire confirmed Seattle has a shortage of officers per capita as compared to other cities.  Whenever someone calls 9-1-1 for help from the police, someone has to respond – and that means having sufficient officers available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year able to respond quickly across the 83 square miles of our city.

As reported in The Guardian March 2021, “The Rev Harriet Walden, a Seattle advocate who has long fought for police accountability, said she was worried about rising crime rates and feared defunding efforts could leave some Black communities and victims of violence vulnerable: ‘Crime is escalating … and people aren’t going to get arrested or charged.’ Walden said she supported reforms that made it easier to fire officers who violate policies or brutalize people, but that she didn’t want fewer police overall.”

NEED SUFFICIENT POLICE BUDGET AND STAFF TO COMPLY WITH REQUIRED REFORMS:  We need ample positions filled at SPD to implement the reforms of the consent decree required by the Obama-Biden Administrations and over seen by the federal courts (Judge Robart).  Even the City Attorney Pete Holmes acknowledged the potential problem with additional reductions to SPD, noting on February 4, 2021 to the federal judge, “The City recognizes that additional, major reductions to SPD’s staffing could threaten to undermine Consent Decree reforms in areas such as supervision, training, and use of force reporting, investigation, and review. The City will work with the Monitor [of the Consent Decree] and DOJ [Biden’s U.S. Department of Justice] to help prevent that outcome.”  The Monitoring Plan for compliance with the consent decree reforms filed by Dr. Antonio Oftelie on February 4, 2021 (Item 47) uses similar language:  “At the same time, the City recognizes that major reductions to SPD’s funding or staffing could threaten to undermine substantial compliance with the Consent Decree requirements in these areas: supervision; training; crisis intervention; data tracking and analysis; and use of force reporting, investigation, and review.”

NEED SPD STAFF TO COMPLY WITH PUBLIC DISCLOSURE REQUESTS:  Cutting more from SPD will make it hard to comply not only with the reforms required by the federal consent decree but also with the good government Public Disclosure Act. On February 9, 2021, the Seattle Times reported on the growing backlogs to public disclosure requests from the media and others seeking police reports, body camera footage, etc. SPD has been asking for more resources to comply with the information requests; therefore, cutting the department’s budget could make it harder to comply with that important sunshine law.

NEED TO RESTORE COMMUNITY POLICING:  Due to cuts initiated by a majority of the City Council followed by unprecedented attrition of officers leaving the department, Interim Chief Diaz concluded he needed to divert Community Policing Officers away from their crime-solving and crime prevention duties to staff patrol car shifts that to respond to emergency crimes in progress.  We need sufficient staffing and budgets to return the Community Policing Officers to their neighborhoods where their on-the-ground knowledge to recognize crime trends block-by-block and their community connections to prevent spikes in burglaries and other crimes is vital for crime prevention and community safety.

ALARMING ATTRITION:

Despite the need for an adequate number of officers, we are heading in the opposite direction due to attrition (officers leaving). Some have argued that we should not allow SPD to spend the $5.4 million if any of those dollars are needed to for overtime costs because Section 7 of Resolution 31962 stated, “The City Council will not support any budget amendments to increase the SPD’s budget to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.” Like my colleagues, I have been frustrated by SPD overspending its overtime budget year after year. Assuming we budget sufficient overtime to begin with, requiring SPD to stick to their overtime budget is generally good policy.  But we must not ignore the reality of the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen.  Since the Council adopted the Resolution in August 2020, the pace of officers departing has nearly tripled with total annual attrition (for the year 2020) breaking a new record at 186 officers departing (with 51 new officers, net decrease is 135). 

The main point of that non-binding Resolution, as its title suggests, was establishing “Council’s intent to create a civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention.” That Department would manage the crime prevention and harm-reduction alternatives and supplements to traditional policing once they are crafted and/or scaled up — while our city would still have a reformed and effective police department to deal with violent and other emergencies. Moreover, that same Resolution also stated in Section 4(C) that the Department must “Stay in compliance with the [federally required] consent decree, including maintaining sufficient qualified, first line field supervisors” and Section 4(D) “Make no layoff decisions that conflict with City Charter obligations including the need to maintain adequate patrol staffing in every district.” Since the Council adopted this aspirational Resolution in August 2020, circumstances changed dramatically with (as stated earlier) the pace of officers departing breaking a new record.  We should be alarmed that highly trained officers are leaving the department at rates much higher than anticipated last year. Rather than addressing the sudden staffing shortage, Council Bill 119981 would essentially scoop away more dollars that are desperately needed now to fill empty patrol shifts with overtime.  Failing to see the sharp changes and acknowledge the new reality of attrition — and the need to backfill lost positions with overtime funding — is a failure to manage our public safety system for the residents and businesses of Seattle.

CITY CHARTER RESPONSIBILITY:  Cutting more now but asking questions later is reckless and sends a message that the City Council is shirking its paramount duty to provide public safety.  Article VI, Section 1 of the Seattle City Charter states, “There shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.

RESPONSE TIMES HAVE SLOWED:

(UPDATE: On March 9, 2021, SPD finally presented their data on police response times at the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, CLICK HERE. This data confirmed the disturbing increase in police response times, as originally posted here on February 11.)

911 response times have jumped to a dangerously high level. As part of our budget sessions last year, I requested a report on 9-1-1 response times because we need that basic data when considering major changes and because there have been valid concerns that budget cuts would negatively impact how quickly police respond to emergency calls. That report was due January 1, 2021, but SPD informed us it would be delivered at the end of February 2021 instead. Fortunately, former Councilmember and Mayor Tim Burgess assembled this vital data himself and published it. The results, thus far, are troubling.

As Burgess, a former police officer, noted in his research, “Priority 1 incidents involve life-threatening crimes in progress such as shootings and stabbings and other assaults, serious injury vehicle collisions, and other highly dangerous situations requiring police immediately. The performance standard is to have an officer on the scene of these highest priority events, on average, within 7 minutes — a very long time if you are seriously injured in a collision, or you’re awakened at night by someone breaking into your home.  In 2020, citywide, Seattle officers needed an average of 9 minutes and 41 seconds to arrive on scene for Priority 1 dispatches. As shown in the chart below, Priority 1 average response times failed to meet the 7-minute standard in every police precinct throughout the city.”

SOME CRIME STATS UP:  People tend to cherry-pick statistics to make whatever point they want and I’ll try hard not to fall into that trap. I think it is, however, prudent not to ignore crime rates when deciding how to fund or operate our public safety systems.  It would be like government regulators ignoring statistics for airplane crashes when deciding whether to change airline safety standards.  While I am not currently attributing an increase in certain crime categories in 2020 to the budget cuts made in the second half of 2020, I believe it’s important to consider these trends before making additional cuts to the police department.

LET’S GET THE STATE TO ENACT REFORMS, TOO:  Instead of micromanaging the police budget after already cutting it by 20%, we should be encouraging State government legislators to enact police reforms before they adjourn in April. Better baseline police accountability from Olympia strengthen our hand in Seattle because, if the reforms are imposed statewide (like requiring officers to wear body cameras), then we don’t need to negotiate and pay for such common sense measures every time we update the labor contract here in Seattle. We can instead focus on saving money (to retain a sufficient number of officers) and deepening other reforms.  Even now, forces across the political spectrum in Olympia are attempting to water-down the strongest police reforms to preserve complex arbitration rules that allow bad cops to stay. We should instead encourage State lawmakers to end harmful arbitration for city employees who carry guns by supporting State Senate Bill 5134 (endorsed by the ACLU) instead of acquiescing to bills (such as Senate Bill 5055) that are clearly weaker on police reform.

Additional Resources:

POLICE BUDGET:

  • For Council Bill 119981, introduced by Councilmembers Herbold and Mosqueda on December 10, 2020, to cut the additional $5.4 million, CLICK HERE. This includes links to analysis memos.  The Council Bill was scheduled for discussion at both the January 26 and February 9, 2021 Public Safety Committee, but held both times for potential discussion later.
  • For February 10, 2021 editorial by the Seattle Times against Council Bill 199981, CLICK HERE.
  • For the original December 17, 2020 Seattle Times article on Council Bill 119981, CLICK HERE.

MISDEMEANOR CRIMES: It appears that the proposal to provide an additional defense to those committing misdemeanor crimes has been shelved for now. For my concerns with that proposal, CLICK HERE.

OTHER BLOG POSTS:  For my ongoing and high-level support for funding effective alternatives to traditional policing, combating institutional racism, and securing a police contract that saves money and delivers justice, CLICK HERE.

# # #


Let’s row together for economic recovery

January 28th, 2021

January 2021

Friends and Neighbors,

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2021! As we continue to tackle the COVID crisis, I believe Seattle can emerge from this pandemic stronger — if we all row together.

I outlined what our city can do to achieve an inclusive economic recovery in the Seattle Times last week. Below you can read my Op Ed on economic recovery as well as updates on the pressing priorities of public safety, homelessness, COVID vaccines and, of course, our dynamic District 4.


NATIONAL REFLECTION

Amanda Gorman’s poem at the presidential inauguration, January 20, 2021.

To honor the national holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I joined thousands of Seattleites in the annual march from Garfield High School to the King County Administration Building. Later that day, I watched the recent PBS documentary “Against All Odds: The Fight for a Black Middle Class” by journalist Bob Herbert (CLICK HERE)  and listened again to the last speech of Dr. King, which you can listen to by CLICKING HERE. Having participated in MLK marches starting decades ago as a student, it can be discouraging to think how far we still need to go as a nation and, yet, this month’s march in solidarity during these tumultuous times seemed to strengthen everyone’s resolve.

The inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20, 2021 was an important turning point for our nation and our city. In case you missed it, I hope you can listen to the inspiring poem by Amanda Gorman delivered on the steps of our U.S. Capitol Building.


ACHIEVING AN INCLUSIVE ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Photo from ENR Northwest, June 2020: NOT Councilmember Pedersen underneath West Highrise Seattle Bridge. The bridge stabilization work is done, which enabled the long-term repair work to begin. There’s much more work to do on bridges throughout Seattle — which can create jobs for our economic recovery.

Here is my complete Op-Ed published in The Seattle Times on Friday, January 22:

Economic Recovery Requires Rowing Together

Dear potential candidates for mayor of Seattle,

Are you seeking to bring Seattle together for a post-COVID economic recovery? Do you seek solutions from data instead of Twitter? Do you have what it takes to manage 40 departments with 12,000 employees investing $6.5 billion? Do your stump speeches encourage good jobs to stay, instead of chasing them away? If yes, please toss your hat into the ring.

Whatever you think of Mayor Jenny Durkan, she has been keeping city government afloat despite the colliding tidal waves of pandemic, recession and racial reckoning.

What’s on the horizon? A choice: Sink into dysfunction or row together toward an inclusive economic recovery.

Policy experts at The Brookings Institution — outside our City Hall bubble — examined smart strategies for an equitable recovery, which inspired much of this Op-Ed. Big picture: If City Hall wants to steer clear of an unfair K-shaped recovery that will harm our residents, it must work with — instead of against — Seattle’s employers. Priorities include:

Prioritize common ground at City Hall. If a mayor asks all council members to list their priorities, I believe they’ll find common ground in key areas. For example, we all agree we must revamp the expensive police union contract to address institutional racism and to reimagine public safety. Yet City Council is sucking up precious time flirting with a divisive proposal to give legal defenses to those who commit misdemeanor crimes. Mayors and council members should advance shared goals, rather than doubling down on division. Employers require stability and effectiveness from their government as a stable foundation upon which to risk their investments and expand their quality jobs for the Seattle residents who need them the most.

Admit government cannot do it alone. Local government must continue its leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, but it cannot alone achieve an inclusive economic recovery. Government spending comprises only one-third or so of the economy. Only the private sector has the potential to provide widespread upward mobility that the public sector wants for more Seattle residents.

Protect Seattle’s tax base. We need tax revenues from the business community to fund the basics (safety, roads, etc.) and subsidies (food, affordable housing, etc.). Yet when elected officials demonize “business” and devise divisive proposals for public safety and homelessness, they alienate the same employers who form our tax base. With so many employees already working remotely, 2021 is the fork in the road for many employers to decide where to recover and rehire. To help all residents recover, we cannot afford to provoke employers to relocate to the suburbs.

Radically reset recruitment. Seattle’s high cost of living requires that we retain and expand high-paying jobs. An equitable recovery requires more of those jobs for marginalized Seattleites. The next mayor must have the skill to encourage employers not only to stay within our city, but also to tap the talents of Seattle residents. Seattle companies, especially in our growing tech and real estate industries, must do better in recruiting and retaining women and people of color from Seattle. Requiring a four-year college degree for most jobs perpetuates the privilege of those with intergenerational wealth. Building on Mayor Durkan’s Promise Program, companies can work with community colleges on two-year degrees that provide the skills needed to enter upwardly mobile professions. Local tech companies and venture capital firms also need more diversity among their boards and managers which, in turn, hire more diversity. This is in everyone’s best interest because studies prove diverse companies do better.

Rebuild infrastructure with union jobs. Make it easier for construction unions to apprentice more Seattle high school graduates and employ them to rebuild Seattle’s infrastructure. As an example of common ground, I worked with the mayor and council colleagues to renew Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District to reduce the cost of transit and fund infrastructure improvements, which will enable more people to get to jobs downtown as the recovery takes off. Let’s put people to work in well-paying jobs, fixing our aging bridges to make sure no more bridge closures interrupt our recovery.

Close the digital divide. Build on common ground by implementing our “Internet for All” action plan to expand high-speed, affordable internet so everyone has access to online education, training and jobs.

Address the gender wage gap. The pandemic has worsened the gender wage gap. Coupling the high quality Seattle Preschool Program and our other early learning programs with the recent rezoning to allow more child-care space, the mayor can incentivize large employers to aggressively expand on-site child-care to help lower income parents (disproportionately women) who dropped work hours to pick up additional household burdens during the pandemic.

Expand ownership opportunities with condos and small business. To deliver upward mobility and a deeper stake in the community, a mayor can incentivize the rapid creation of condominiums in all neighborhoods with transit to enable thousands of Seattleites to become homeowners. Let’s incentivize larger Seattle businesses to buy more goods and services from women-owned and minority-owned small businesses. Let’s incentivize local universities to expand efforts to incubate new microbusinesses owned by people of color. A Brookings study confirms that investing in Black businesses would provide the double benefit of an inclusive recovery and expanding the economy of the entire city.

Tap private-sector savvy for solutions. Build on Mayor Durkan’s Innovation Advisory Council that leverages Seattle’s tech sector to craft solutions for urban problems through a lens of race and social justice. Tap their tech savvy to enable city government to provide real-time data on shelter availability for those experiencing homelessness and to distribute COVID-19 vaccines faster.

Invest in Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. Seattle has been spoiled by not having to fight to attract, retain and expand local businesses as other cities must do. Now Seattle is a high-cost city with growing urban challenges. The next mayor needs to empower our Office of Economic Development to focus on nurturing and expanding those sectors of our local economy best poised to provide well-paying jobs to the most people from marginalized communities. Regardless of what the City Council does, the mayor must methodically and extensively survey businesses to ask what they need to renew their leases, recover and grow our tax base in an inclusive way.

If we chart a course with many of these strategies, Seattle can speed toward an inclusive recovery.


PUBLIC SAFETY UPDATES

Concerns About Proposal to Cut More from Seattle Police Before Community Safety Alternatives Ready

Number of Police Officers in Seattle: graph from City Council Central Staff, January 2021

Burglaries are up 34% in our North Precinct when comparing 2020 and 2019, as shown in this City of Seattle Crime Dashboard. To view the dashboard (and use the dropdown menus to look at different years, crimes, and areas of the city), CLICK HERE.

Graph: Seattle Police Department, January 2021

After last year defunding the Seattle Police Department by approximately 20% (which is more than even the Minneapolis Police Department), some Seattle Councilmembers are disturbingly proposing to cut more. On January 26, 2021 the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee was scheduled to discuss CB 119981, which would cut $5.4 million more from our police department’s 2021 Budget. I have several concerns about additional cuts at this time.

This cut proposed by other Councilmembers would come not only on top of the 20% cut by a majority of City Council in 2020, but also after we received new data showing attrition of SPD officers leaving the department at an all-time high. As more officers depart, there are concerns about an increase in 911 response times and a lack of response to some Priority 2, 3, and 4 calls.

Additional impacts of these proposed cuts could also include: difficulty in hiring diverse officers, long-term reassignment of Community Policing Officers away from crime-solving work, reduced ability to hire civilian support like Crime Prevention Coordinators, and reduced enforcement of speed limits that keep pedestrians safe, especially as schools and stores re-open.  Moreover, we need to face the unfortunate reality that, with so many more officers leaving SPD than expected, overtime funds are needed temporarily to make sure all shifts are filled 24/7.

As is well-known, I did not pledge to “defund” SPD by the arbitrary 50%. Instead, after researching the issues, I recognized that the true path to delivering justice, enhancing safety, and redeploying savings is to revamp the inflexible and expensive police union contract — which expired last month!  While I voted in favor of reallocating tens of millions of dollars from SPD to other crime prevention strategies, many of those community-driven alternatives are not fully crafted or have not had time to grow to scale. Therefore, for the safety of all communities, I believe we should not further cut our police staffing before these alternative supports are in place and working well.

A second hearing on CB 119981 is scheduled for February 9, 2021. To call in to provide comments at that 9:30 Public Safety & Human Services Committee, CLICK HERE to register online. You can also email all 9 Councilmembers at any time at Council@seattle.gov.

For recent memos on this from both the City Council’s public safety analyst and from our Seattle Police Department’s budget director, CLICK HERE.

 

The Importance of our Community Policing Commission

Our D4 budget town hall last year welcomed the co-chair of the Community Policing Commission (CPC) the Reverend Aaron Williams.  We recently checked in with the staff of the CPC to discuss the most pressing police accountability issues.  The vision of the CPC: “communities and Seattle’s police aligned in shared goals of safety, respect, and accountability.” The mission of the CPC: It “listens to, amplifies, and builds common ground among communities affected by policing in Seattle. We champion policing practices centered in justice and equity.”  Here are some key links to learn more:

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 scope of 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. Thank you, CPC!

 

State-Wide Police Accountability and Reforms to Help Seattle

You can help support police accountability and reform across our state by tracking key bills addressing arbitration reform. While some claim Senate Bill 5055 (CLICK HERE) is “reform,” it’s clear that Senate Bill 5134 (CLICK HERE) is the strongest version, especially for disciplining police misconduct. CLICK HERE to contact your State Representatives and encourage them to pass the strongest police reform measures. I commend our State Senator Jamie Pedersen (43rd legislative district) for the strong reforms he has crafted, including his leadership on SB 5134. For some additional background on key reform measures, CLICK HERE.

In addition to fixing the disciplinary system statewide AND making it easier to decertify police officers for misconduct, we need the state government in Olympia to raise the standard for accountability so that we no longer need to negotiate or pay for common sense baseline reforms with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. For example, while officers in Seattle already wear body cameras, body cameras are not required statewide. That means we need to spend time in Seattle negotiating to keep body cameras and providing expensive “premium pay” to officers who wear them. If body cameras are required everywhere in the State, then we don’t need to negotiate them in the next police contract and can redeploy those “premium pay” dollars to prevent crime with upstream programs such as behavioral health services and affordable housing.

 

Transportation Safety: Much More Work Needed for “Vision Zero” Goals

While crashes in 2020 decreased compared to 2019, the reduction in fatalities was disturbingly minimal considering how few vehicles were on the road since the March 2020 COVID shutdowns and how much SDOT has been doing to improve safety, such as lowering speed limits and improving crosswalk signals. For a Seattle Times article analyzing the initial results, CLICK HERE. For SDOT’s blog that contains the data and several graphs attempting to explain it, CLICK HERE. The Council’s Transportation & Utilities Committee will explore this more in 2021 and we all look forward to SDOT continuing to install safety improvements at dangerous locations, including Rainier Avenue South and State Highway 99 (Aurora).


HOMELESSNESS UPDATE

Even though the annual One Night Count of homelessness is not happening this year due to the public health risks of the COVID pandemic, I share the concerns of District 4 residents that unsheltered homelessness in our streets, greenways, and parks has increased. As the Durkan Administration works to implement a surge in shelter funded by the City Council, as deeply affordable housing units are built by nonprofits funded by our Office of Housing, and as we move full speed ahead with another Tiny Home Village in District 4, we need more action and results,  I was glad to see two recent efforts by Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the Chair of our Homelessness Strategies and Investments Committee:

  • Council Bill 119975: This proposed ordinance is being debated over the next couple of weeks and seeks to speed the construction of “permanent supportive housing” that is not only deeply affordable (serving those from 0% to 50% of the area median income), but also provides wrap-around services for residents with the greatest needs. My office is working on an amendment to ensure the legislation contains this critical connection to services for those experiencing homelessness.
  • “It Takes a Village”: This initiative works with the private sector to raise the capital funding to create more Tiny Home Villages throughout Seattle. But Tiny Home Villages work only when operated by successful organizations and staffed by competent and compassionate case managers who connect the temporary residents to services and into permanent housing as it becomes available. How well these new villages are operated will be vital for the success of the people who move from their tents to the tiny homes. For more on Councilmember Lewis’ proposal, CLICK HERE.

In addition to more temporary shelter and permanent affordable housing, I believe we need stronger efforts from our region to address the behavioral health challenges engulfing so many people experiencing homelessness. The current efforts from King County government are clearly not sufficient to address the scale of mental health and addiction disorders. More emphasis is needed to scale up evidence-based strategies proven to work, so that those suffering the most get what they need in addition to housing to stabilize their lives and connect back to families, education, and jobs as our economy recovers from the COVID pandemic.


IN DISTRICT 4

North Precinct Advisory Council

The North Precinct Advisory Council (NPAC) is a community organization devoted to promoting partnership between residents, schools, businesses, and the Seattle Police Department to effectively address public safety issues in North Seattle. On January 6, 2021 I participated in the NPAC meeting. You can review their meeting minutes by CLICKING HERE.

NPAC meetings are held remotely with Zoom on the first Wednesday of the month at 7pm. Learn more from their website by CLICKING HERE.

 

Fighting to Keep our Vital National Archives Here in the Northwest

Last week I participated in the public forum hosted by our Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson regarding the Trump Administration’s attempts to sell the national archives facility located on Sand Point Way in our District 4. Dozens spoke in favor of keeping the precious archives here in the Northwest and in support of Bob Ferguson’s litigation to prevent the sale proposed by the federal agencies. Here’s the statement I made at the public forum: “We must not allow the last gasps of the Trump Administration to cause any more harm and that means we must work together to save the archives by preserving these priceless historical records here in the Northwest. I am proud to support Attorney General Bob Ferguson, indigenous leaders, nonprofits and researchers protecting historical records, and fellow public officials including Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and Councilmember Debora Juarez. Together we must stop the sale of the vital facility and  demand proper public process on how best to preserve these irreplaceable regional histories.”

For more information on the archives, CLICK HERE.

Councilmember Pedersen on January 19, 2021 joins Attorney General Bob Ferguson and dozens of others speaking in favor of preserving the archives here in the Northwest.

 

Continue to Help the Hungry in District 4 and Throughout Seattle

Councilmember Pedersen volunteering at FamilyWorks food bank in Wallingford during holiday season.  More at THIS LINK.

Even after the holiday season ends, food insecurity continues in our communities. In District 4, during the week of Christmas, I volunteered at the food bank FamilyWorks, which is located in Wallingford. Earlier in the year, volunteered at the U District Food Bank. I mention this because food banks continue to see high demand during the pandemic. This need was highlighted Saturday in a Seattle Times article entitled “Need for free food in Washington state has doubled, many groups report, as COVID-19 rips away jobs and security.”  I was humbled by witnessing the perseverance of those struggling in poverty to feed themselves and their loved ones.  I also appreciate the generous volunteers for allowing me to help and the leadership of those nonprofits for the essential work they provide to our communities.  Many thanks also to our own city government employees at our Human Services Department and Office of Sustainability & Environment for the work they do to provide food security to those most in need throughout Seattle. Even though the traditional season of giving has passed and the terrible year of 2020 is behind us, the number of families seeking assistance to avoid hunger continues to grow. If you are willing and able to help, please Google “Seattle food banks” to find a nonprofit near you that needs help, such as FamilyWorksSeattle.org or udistrictfoodbank.org.  Thank you.

 

Historic Blue Moon Tavern Featured in National Documentary “American Portrait.”

For a timely and close-to-home story of a historic District 4 business grappling with the COVID pandemic, see this Seattle Times article.


COVID VACCINES: THE SHOT IN THE ARM WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR!

Essential medical workers in the COVID-19 ICU at Harborview Medical Center are among those receiving the first vaccinations. Photo by Mark Stone/University of Washington, Dec 15, 2020.

Vaccine Info Is Here

On Monday, Governor Inslee announced Phase 1B, Tier 1 of their vaccination plan:  people 65 and older (and people 50 and older who live in a multigenerational household) are eligible to be vaccinated now. The City is working with the state and other partners to increase our vaccine allocation so that we may stand up more vaccination sites.

  • You can go to Washington State’s Phase Finder online tool to confirm your eligibility.
  • If you have a doctor / health care provider, visit their website or call to see if they have vaccination appointments.
  • If you don’t have a provider or if your provider doesn’t have the vaccine available, the state’s website will provide you with a list of possible vaccination locations.
  • If you can’t use Phase Finder and have no one to assist you, call Washington state’s COVID-19 Assistance Hotline: Dial 1-800-525-0127, then press #. The hotline is available Monday-Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday/Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

You can stay informed on what the Mayor and the City are doing with vaccines and rapid stand up of vaccination sites at THIS LINK.  For a Seattle Times article entitled, “What to do if you think you qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine — and what to do after you receive it,” CLICK HERE. To track how many vaccines have been administered, CLICK HERE (and scroll down) for the Department of Health COVID dashboard.

COVID Testing Is Still Crucial and Available Now in our District 4!

While we are excited that vaccines were developed so quickly, testing is still important. Great news to start the year for D4 residents: The City of Seattle in conjunction with the University of Washington (UW) recently opened a NO SYMPTOMS self-swab COVID-19 testing site as a drive up from vehicles, right in the E-1 parking lot off Montlake Blvd (north of Husky Stadium). The hours are 8:30am-5:30pm. It is FREE, but photo ID is required with date of birth. Insurance card and info is not required, but if a person has it, the insurance will be billed and pays 100%, with no charge to the recipient of the test. Preregistration is REQUIRED, and results are 24-72 hours. The registration form is on the City’s COVID-19 testing website: CLICK HERE. Thank you to Mayor Durkan’s team for offering this more convenient service, especially as we hear about the new variant which spreads more “efficiently” among the population. Please continue to wear masks and practice social distancing!

 

Eviction Moratorium Extended by Feds, Governor, and Mayor

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 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.

 

Small Business Stabilization Fund for Restaurants and Bars

On December 14, 2020, City Council unanimously passed a joint proposal with Mayor Durkan to provide an additional $5 million in grants to support small businesses and workers in the hospitality industry. Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has committed $2.25 million in Small Business Stabilization Fund grants to restaurants and bars. Application period closes on February 15, 2021.

OED has partnered with Scholarship Junkies to award this funding to eligible restaurants and bars that applied to the Small Business Stabilization Fund in November. Eligible businesses must be current on their business license and Business and Occupation Tax. For more information, CLICK HERE.

The City of Seattle’s Human Services Department contracted with Wellspring Family Services to administer and distribute the $2.17 million in direct cash assistance in partnership with the Seattle Hospitality Emergency Fund for hospitality workers. Through this fund, hospitality workers that have experienced economic distress caused by job or income loss due to COVID-19 may be eligible to receive up to $2,000 per family. To learn more and apply, please CLICK HERE.

The City also has a number of relief programs for working people, including emergency grocery vouchers, rental assistance, and support for immigrants and refugees. The City’s Disaster Relief Fund for immigrants recently distributed $7.94 million to 3,730 applicants.

Residents and businesses can find a list of existing COVID-19 relief resources and policies by CLICKING HERE.

 

Renewed Federal Resources for Small Businesses

The newest federal stimulus package has renewed and expanded financial support for small businesses across sectors. Key changes include:

  • $284 billion for the renewed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including added flexibility. The PPP offers forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees and other expenses during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is extended to December 31, 2021. EIDL programs offer low-interest working capital loans to help small businesses meet financial obligations and cover operating expenses.
  • $20 billion has been added for additional Loan Advance grants.
  • $15 billion grants for shuttered live venues.

The City’s Office of Economic Development provides free technical assistance to businesses applying for the PPP, EIDL, and Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. This includes helping businesses navigate the application process. For general inquiries, please email OED@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-8090. If you need language assistance enter the number for the corresponding language (Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Somali, Amharic), leave a voicemail in your preferred language and a bilingual staff member will call back.


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. 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 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


Seven Gables Theatre Building and Parcels in University District

December 24th, 2020

located at Southwest corner of NE 50th Street and Roosevelt Way NE

Firefighters battle flames as the old shuttered Seven Gables Theatre burns Thursday in Seattle’s University District. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

December 24, 2020 (original post):

STATEMENT by Councilmember Pedersen:

“I’m very sad to see todays’ devastating fire at the historic and beloved Seven Gables Theatre that has been closed since 2017 in our University District. My chief concern this Christmas Eve is the safety of everyone impacted, including the firefighters who responded to this blaze. I was relieved to confirm from the Fire Chief there were no injuries for firefighters or civilians. This has been a problem property for months and it is important that the owner secure it to prevent people from getting inside this increasingly unsafe structure.”

“As soon as I learned of the fire this afternoon, I went to the intersection to survey the scene, thank the firefighters, and confer with the incident commander. I connected with the Fire Chief to seek next steps on the fire investigation. Looking forward, I reached out to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI) for next steps on securing the property as well as redeveloping the building and adjacent parcels in a way that properly preserves what remains of the historic exterior as required by our City’s Landmarks Preservation Board and considers input from the immediate neighborhood. I believe it’s important for that prominent corner near a City library and a City park to return to a vibrant and productive part of our neighborhood.”

More Resources:

  • Seattle Times article, Dec 24, 2020: CLICK HERE.
  • Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board (which coordinates with the City’s Department of Neighborhoods): CLICK HERE.


First Year Highlights for Our District 4

December 18th, 2020

Friends and Neighbors,

I hope this final newsletter for 2020 finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy during the winter holidays — and hanging on — as we finally see the light at the end of the long tunnel with the COVID pandemic.  It’s hard to believe we’ve already finished my first year as your City Councilmember for District 4 — and what a year to serve! 2020 was full of unprecedented challenges: a global pandemic, a rapid recession, a racial reckoning, the persistent homelessness crisis, the West Seattle bridge closure, and an antagonistic Trump administration. But I am proud of how our communities have risen to all challenges.

While your local government has provided relief programs quickly, I know many of my constituents are disappointed with this Seattle City Council. As your Councilmember, I have been in a unique position:  I have worked hard to balance the need to get things done, while making key policy decisions different from the majority of the City Council whenever I concluded my colleagues were proceeding without prudent plans.  To read my Seattle Times Op Ed describing both the negatives and positives of our City’s recently adopted $6.5 billion budget, CLICK HERE.

This holiday newsletter reflects on our citywide responses to the unprecedented challenges, as well as some wins for our district during my first year in office. I know we are all looking forward to next year, too! If you have time during this busy holiday season, please email me and my team at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov to let me know what you would like to see from your City Hall in 2021 — I continue to want my priorities to be driven by my constituents here in District 4.

 

FIRST YEAR HIGHLIGHTS IN DISTRICT 4

At the close of such a difficult year, our office wanted to highlight some positive things.  We share these with you in hopes of offering optimism.  Wishing you all a peaceful and healthy holiday season and a 2021 that brings relief and joy!

 

Addressing Homelessness

Set up Regional Homelessness Authority. A year ago, I cast a key vote to support the Regional Homelessness Authority between King County and the City of Seattle. It is clear the status quo has not worked, and a regional response to this regional crisis is needed.  In taking this groundbreaking step, we are honoring the research and advice of experts to end the fragmented approach we currently have. It is my hope that we will now unify in a holistic and aligned manner to achieve better results. Although the selection of a CEO to stand up the organization has been delayed by COVID, we look forward to action in 2021. In addition to establishing the RHA last year, the City budget we recently approved finally sets aside the funds to fulfill the City’s financial commitment to this new regional effort. CLICK HERE for a link to the legislation, CLICK HERE to see King County’s statement on this issue, and CLICK HERE for the website of the new Regional Homelessness Authority.

Funded a Tiny Home Village in the University District. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing homelessness crisis, I agree that well-organized tiny house villages can be a cost-effective intervention in conjunction with case management and a performance-based contract with our City’s Human Services Department.  We have seen a sharp rise in encampments in D4, done the legwork of finding a suitable short-term location for a Tiny House Village, and wish to move expeditiously to address this urgent concern of finding shelter and housing compliant with CDC guidelines. This new Tiny Home Village at NE 45th Street and Roosevelt Way NE will provide shelter (30 to 40 tiny homes) and case management for those experiencing homelessness there. The village will be temporary (1 to 2 years) until the COVID pandemic is completely behind us and the site is developed, most likely with affordable housing.

Photo from nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute

FYI: For 90 of the coldest days, the University of Washington will once again host “Tent City 3,” which will have shelter for between 40 and 70 people experiencing homelessness.  The location is the southern edge of campus behind the Wallace Building at NE Pacific Street & Brooklyn Ave in parking lot W35. For more info from UW, visit their “Addressing Homelessness” website by CLICKING HERE.

Improved accountability for homelessness response. At a time when homelessness appears to be growing, a majority of my Council colleagues unfortunately used the budget to dismantle our city’s interdepartmental Navigation Team that engaged with unauthorized homeless encampments. Instead, I believe we should have allocated more resources to our Human Services Department to track and evaluate the effectiveness of such changes. By a vote of 6 to 3, my colleagues accepted my proposal to require at least some tracking of results of their new model of outreach to homeless encampments. I firmly believe that we should always measure outcomes to make sure we are truly helping people.

 

Supporting District 4 Neighbors

Renewed the Business Improvement Area. This year the City Council unanimously approved the legislation which I co-sponsored to reauthorize the Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the University District, which is the heart of District 4. BIAs are positive, community-driven economic development tools that help keep neighborhood business districts clean and safe throughout our city. The legislation I crafted with the Mayor incorporates many key principles sought by smaller businesses, including better representation, good governance, and as well as a more formal focus on preserving existing shops and restaurants. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to give our small neighborhood businesses the support they need to thrive. For a link to the Council Bill 119779 and related docs, CLICK HERE. For a link to the map of the proposed BIA, CLICK HERE.

Preserved funds for sidewalk projects benefiting Magnuson Park. We preserved the vital funding to build and enhance sorely needed sidewalks and crosswalks to safely connect Magnuson Park to the surrounding communities along Sand Point Way NE and to the bus stops and Burke-Gilman Trail across from the park. These sidewalks and crosswalks are needed now to meet the goals of three city government initiatives: Vision Zero, our Pedestrian Master Plan, and our Safe Routes to School program helping to safely connect dozens of children to Sand Point Way elementary school.   This is about safety for pedestrians, it’s about safety for cyclists, it’s about connecting 850 low-income and BIPOC Magnuson Park residents to their neighbors, and it’s about safely enhancing access to the regional asset that is Magnuson Park. Funded feasibility study for a new pool at Magnuson Community Center. We secured funding to study the feasibility of a new pool at Magnuson Community Center. Frankly, a new pool there might not be feasible, but the vision of hundreds of low-income kids who call Magnuson Park home taking swimming lessons within a city surrounded by water and having fun year-round in a pool they can walk to is too irresistible not to study the possibilities. Data reveal children of color have less access to parks and recreational programming that enhance self-confidence, maintain health, foster creative expression, and increase social and emotional bonds that strengthen community cohesion.

Funded pedestrian safety improvements on I-5 overpass to connect Wallingford with U District. There are only two east-west crossings of I-5 between 65th/Green Lake and North 40th Street:  NE 45th and NE 50th Streets. Both are heavily traveled by cars, and 45th by many buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Both 45th and 50th are very difficult and dangerous for non-motorized users. As a result, the University and Wallingford communities have advocated for improvements for many years. Unfortunately, the bridge itself is a Washington State DOT asset, making it difficult for our Seattle DOT to implement fixes. Solving the problem has become more urgent as the new Sound Transit Link station in the U District prepares to open in 2021. SDOT completed some initial design work in coordination with WSDOT, but it lacked funding to implement. Community leaders and transportation safety advocates worked with my office to insert $400,000 into the 2021 budget, so that construction of the improvements on the I-5 overpass are possible now. To see the official budget action, CLICK HERE.

Supported additional funding for litter cleanup under the Mayor’s Clean City Initiative. CLICK HERE to read an overview of this $3 million dollar initiative to surge the clean-up of litter and illegal dumping. The City will stand up a rapid response team within Seattle Parks and Recreation to address trash in parks, and make infrastructure improvements in key parks to improve overall cleanliness. The proposal increases the purple bag program, the number of needle disposal boxes in the city and would expand the graffiti ranger program. Funding would also be directed to business districts throughout the city to increase contracted cleaning in their neighborhoods such as the University District. In addition, SPU would more than double the number of trash pickup routes which provide twice weekly collection of trash and bulky items in public rights of way which should greatly benefit District 4. I also took the simple, yet unprecedented step directly imploring the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to pick up the trash along the I-5 greenways they own. WSDOT replied to say they will strive to do a better job to make their I-5 greenways cleaner.

 

Delivering COVID Relief
Supported funding for food vouchers, small business support, and rent relief.  City Council and Mayor Durkan have been working to mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic. This work has included relief for people who could not access federal aid, food support, small business grants, internet and computer access, and assistance with rent, utilities, and other bills. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Reduced utility bills by removing COVID-era late fees. When the COVID pandemic struck early in the year and the economy went south, many utility customers have had difficulties keeping up with their bill payments. Working with both Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, I sponsored a bill to eliminate late fees and interest on both SCL and SPU bills during the crisis. The period of relief under that bill is expiring at the end of 2020, so I led the passage of another bill extending the relief at least through the first half of 2021 (or until the City/State emergency declarations are lifted). The first bill is HERE, and the new one is HERE.

More COVID relief: For more about specific COVID relief programs in Seattle, scroll down to the end of this newsletter for links to key city government and other helpful websites.

 

Prioritizing Equity

Initiated Action Plan for Internet for All. We reaffirmed our commitment to our ambitious Internet for All initiative in the budget document to increase accountability to follow through on the Internet for All Action Plan’s eight strategies. The next report from Seattle’s Information Technology Department to my Transportation & Utilities Committee will be in the first quarter of 2021. The report will summarize progress to increase access and adoption of affordable and reliable internet service, including setting up accountability dashboards to track results.

Requested new relief program for small businesses impacted by transportation construction. During this year’s budget process, in order to address concerns of businesses in the U District and other neighborhood business districts, I advanced a “Statement of Legislative Intent” to have the Office of Economic Development (OED) collaborate with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to propose a strategy for funding and distributing financial assistance to small businesses that are adversely impacted during the construction of City-led transportation projects. This is easier said than done due to constraints of State law, but it’s important to pursue this because vulnerable small businesses are too often impacted by our government’s own construction projects.

Required improved data collection to prevent economic displacement. When adopting major new land use changes or moving ahead with new construction projects, we need to ensure we have a detailed and accurate system to track the potential loss or demolition of existing naturally occurring affordable housing—and the displacement of low-income households. The data on displacement of low-income households needs to include rent levels and supply of naturally occurring affordable housing. We need to better understand the NET impacts. This information will enable us to better quantify our new and existing stock of affordable housing. The Council included in the 2021 budget my request that the City actually obtain the data we need to implement Resolution 31870, section 2.G. and Executive Order 2019.02.  Getting this information will provide a more comprehensive picture of our City’s affordable housing stock, so that we can do more to prevent economic displacement in Seattle. To read the official budget action, CLICK HERE.

Introduced and passed Justice for George Floyd Act Resolution to support police reform at the federal level, too. Despite disagreements on various public safety issues, City Council unanimously passed my Resolution 31963 which I drafted to voice our support for the national legislation entitled “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” That federal bill is H.R. 7120, introduced by Congresswoman Karen Bass, Democrat from California and supported by Seattle’s congressional delegation Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives but has yet to advance in the U.S. Senate.  This federal bill addresses many concerns raised by protesters that are authorized by federal law, such as the need to restrict qualified immunity for police officers across the nation.

 

Getting Back to Basics

Requested analysis of City Government Employees’ Retirement System expenses. While we want city government employees to have access to retirement benefits from a sustainable retirement system, my concern is that Seattle taxpayers continue to pay an increasing amount to support the pension program of our City government employees. My colleagues agreed to my budget request to have the city government clearly quantify and shine a light on these expenses paid by Seattle’s taxpayers, so that the general public and media are more aware of these costs and the upward trend. We want a sustainable retirement system for our employees.  At the same time, we are conscious that every extra dollar paid by City taxpayers to support a government employee lifetime pension is a dollar not provided for other urgent needs, such as housing those experiencing homelessness.  While we cannot change current pensions, we may want to consider providing more sustainable retirement options for FUTURE new city government employees, so that these retirement programs available only to government employees do not unnecessarily drain money from external-facing programs serving our city’s most vulnerable populations and communities. The next generation of younger, new employees who have a more mobile and versatile career path might appreciate other options that do not rely on decades of local government service to provide the most retirement benefits.

Obtained funding for transportation priorities from Vehicle License Fees. After the Supreme Court overturned Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 as unconstitutional, the City of Seattle is able to tap again the vehicle license fees (VLF) as a source for transportation projects and programs, including bridge maintenance. Currently we pay $80 to the City and that was going to drop to only $20 because a $60 VLF approved by voters in 2014 is expiring. As allowed by State law, the Council adjusted it to $40. That incremental $20 VLF will raise $3.6 million in 2021 and $7.6 million per year when there is a full year of funding starting in 2022. We could have immediately dedicated the funds for bridge maintenance (see article below), but a majority of the Council decided to do a public process to decide how to spend the revenue; described in the legislation HERE (last two “Whereas” clauses). Despite the disappointing delay, I am hopeful the additional process will lead to a robust increase in funding for bridge safety from several sources, which was called for by the audit of bridges I initiated and would benefit all modes of travel and keep our economy moving. For a Seattle Times article explaining the renewed VLF fee, CLICK HERE.

Councilmember Pedersen inspecting underneath West Seattle Bridge

Initiated safety audit of Seattle’s bridges and secured additional funding for bridge maintenance. After the Mayor had to close the West Seattle Bridge suddenly in March, I initiated an audit by the City Auditor to review the status of the bridges across Seattle and their ongoing maintenance needs. The audit report concluded that the City should be spending at least $34 million per year on bridge maintenance, but spent about $10 million in 2020 and less in earlier years. This underspending results in deterioration of the City’s infrastructure over time. As I had requested, this audit was delivered to the Council in time to inform the 2021 budget. I worked hard on a number of fronts to increase the City’s commitment to bridge monitoring and maintenance, and succeeded in raising the 2021 figure to about $14 million. While that’s a step in the right direction, we need a larger and longer source of stable revenue. Frankly, I’m disappointed that some of my colleagues did not use this budget as an opportunity to take infrastructure safety more seriously by providing more dollars. My blog posts discussing the bridge audit and related budget items are HERE and HERE. For an editorial by the Seattle Times on this topic, CLICK HERE.

Protecting our Environment

Renewed Transportation Benefit District for 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. Exactly how to spend renewed STBD funds as well as other transportation infrastructure dollars in 2021 will be a major topic for discussion in my Transportation & Utilities Committee — and for many Seattle residents.

Crafted Climate Note policy to consider climate change and resiliency with new legislation. The Seattle City Council unanimously approved Resolution 31933, which I crafted. The Resolution will, for the first time, require the City Council to formally consider the crisis of climate change when reviewing new legislation. For more about climate change and the new Biden Administration, see below.

Prodded bureaucracy to speed protections of 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 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 a report (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, my colleagues did not support 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.

Source: Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission


2020 IN D4

January: sworn into office as your City Councilmember by a public servant hero, Ron Sims

January: Eastlake Town Hall

January: Kicking off weekly Office Hours at Magnuson Park

February: District 4 Restaurant Roundtable

February: Touring the new Roosevelt Light Rail Station

March: Supporting local business with take-out in our district as pandemic led to restrictions on indoor dining

April 2020 Earth Day: touring Transfer Station in Wallingford, as Chair of Transportation & Utilities Committee

May: visiting Murphy’s Pub in Wallingford and other small businesses to listen to what they need (and to get a growler).

May: joining an early peaceful march in North Seattle with Nathan Hale students, shortly after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd.

August: On a ride-along with Harbor Patrol to see District 4 and its bridges from Lake Union and Lake Washington

October: another D4 Town Hall; this one focused on our City budget

November: Picking up litter in our district with Seattle Public Utilities employees


REVAMPING PUBLIC SAFETY

The budget, as amended by the City Council, unfortunately cuts police officer positions drastically before there is a community-driven plan and proven alternatives in place. While the Council approved my request to study the impact on response times to 9-1-1 priority one emergency calls, this will be after-the-fact, instead of careful upfront planning. I strongly support more police reform and proven alternatives to traditional policing such as sending mental health professionals to help people in mental health crisis. But we need the plans in place first. And how City Hall allocates your tax dollars must be done effectively. Even after a Seattle Times analysis indicated our police department has fewer officers per capita than other cities — and after we learned highly trained officers are leaving at a faster rate — my Council colleagues chose to permanently eliminate police officer positions without first  finishing the formal community input processes created by the Council and Mayor. The budget also sidesteps the real issue: the urgent need to revamp the unjust, inflexible, and expensive police union contract. Redoing that contract is how we can save money, improve discipline, honor good work of first responders, and deploy unarmed professionals for lower priority calls to reduce harm. “Police contracts are one of the keys to police reform,” said Community Police Commission Co-Chair, Reverend Aaron Williams, at my Budget Town Hall. “When you’re talking about changing anything from the discipline of officers to them receiving pay, it all comes back to contracts.”  Moreover, expanding accountability reforms requires ample staffing for supervision and community policing.  Yet Council’s amendments cement in a sharp reduction in officers before proven alternatives are in place.  I’m concerned the remaining officers will be stretched thin and responding late. Our former Police Chief Carmen Best was clear: “I do not believe we should ask the people of Seattle to test out a theory, crime goes away if police go away, that is completely reckless.”

Concerns With Controversial Proposal to Add Defenses for Misdemeanor Crimes

I agree that reimagining public safety should include preventing crime, increasing police accountability, and investing more in community health and wellness. We have made more progress and there is much more work to be done. It also remains the responsibility of policymakers to strike an appropriate balance by assessing whether any proposed policy that is unconventional and untested may, in fact, be unwise and make matters worse.

At this time, I have ten specific concerns regarding my colleague’s proposal to amend our Seattle Municipal Code to add defenses found nowhere else in the nation for those who have committed misdemeanor crimes:

  1. It’s important to have local laws that foster respect among each other, rather than enabling individuals committing crimes to sidestep codes of conduct and avoid consequences for breaking basic laws that set standards for how we interact with each other. I’m concerned that minimizing consequences for breaking our laws will not make our communities safer. While it has made sense to reform laws such as drug possession meant to protect oneself, I’m concerned about weakening laws meant to protect each other and our communities. This proposal seems to create too easy of an excuse for repeated vandalism, trespassing, shoplifting, and other crimes that harm other people.
  2. Let’s first see effects of other big changes: I believe we should wait until we can see the impacts of the recent cuts to the police budget as well as the results of the community-led participatory budgeting process next year, the implementation of alternatives to traditional policing, and the revamping of the police contract to finally put in place the missing reforms. Let’s first see how these other changes work before this Council is immersed in a time-consuming and distracting debate over whether we should be the first city in the U.S. to weaken basic local laws that protect each other. Once again, it seems we would be unwisely proceeding with a controversial proposal without a plan.
  3. Negative impact beyond Seattle: As with the unfortunate incident called C.H.O.P. where Seattle became, in the eyes of many, a national embarrassment, I’m deeply concerned that such a controversial proposal could have a negative impact that reverberates beyond the bubble of City Hall and the boundaries of our city. It could inadvertently impede police reform efforts we want enacted at the state level in Olympia early next year…The Seattle Times recently quoted the concern of State Rep. Roger Goodman, a Kirkland Democrat who chairs the House Public Safety Committee: “Those who are alarmed by this can use this as a talking point to undermine what I believe are responsible justice system reforms on the state level.”
  4. Ignores victims of crimes: The December 7 memo from Central Staff does not discuss any impact to the victims of the crimes, including physical, emotional, or economic harm to the victims.
  5. Ignores input from the general public: We often say proposed legislation must have stakeholder input and, in this case, I strongly believe the general public and small businesses are key stakeholders. While advocates might have the ear of some Councilmembers and offer some commendable ideas, we also need to listen to the general public and small businesses, which is harder to do as communications are limited during the COVID pandemic. Our city cannot afford to have more local businesses leave our city and shrink the tax base we rely on to fund programs to help our low-income neighbors.
  6. Could increase insurance premiums: The December 7 memo from Central Staff does not discuss the cost borne by renters, homeowners, and small businesses to replace stolen merchandise or broken windows or increased insurance expenses. I’m concerned this could give insurance companies an excuse to classify all of Seattle as a high-risk zone which will, in turn, increase the cost of renters insurance, homeowners insurance, and business loss insurance.
  7. The December 7 memo from Central Staff does not say whether any other U.S. cities have experimented with expanding affirmative defenses to misdemeanor crimes. If other cities are doing this, can we review the data of how it actually works elsewhere? If no other U.S. cities are experimenting with this, why should our communities and small businesses in Seattle once again be the national guinea pig?
  8. Would this apply just to Seattle residents? If not, how would this proposal prevent those struggling throughout the region from simply driving into Seattle to shoplift because they know they can claim poverty as a defense?
  9. Not needed now: This proposal is not needed for at least 1 to 5 years because the existing City Attorney who is likely seeking another 4-year term next year has already acknowledged in his October 30th memo that he does not prosecute so-called crimes of poverty.
  10. “Necessity” defense already available: The proposal is not needed because, as the City Attorney already points out in his October 30th memo, defendants can already use the common law defense of “necessity.”

For more on this topic, you can visit my blog post by CLICKING HERE.


COVID RESPONSE AND RELIEF

The Washington State Department of Health and Public Health – Seattle & King County are working to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in our region. Vaccination is currently only available to people in the highest risk groups (such as frontline health care workers), and will become available to more people in 2021 as King County receives more supplies. CLICK HERE to learn more about the vaccine. As people begin to receive vaccines, the rate of new cases in King County is still very high and it remains crucial to social distance, avoid gatherings, and wear a mask.

If you have symptoms or learn that you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, health official recommend that you get tested immediately.

  • Testing is available in North Seattle on Aurora Avenue (register HERE), Neighborcare Health (call 206-296-4990), and Northgate Community Center (register HERE)
  • Free at-home testing by mail is also available—register HERE.
  • Click THIS LINK to see other testing locations in Seattle and King County.

Mayor Durkan and City Council have extended COVID-19 relief efforts.

  • The eviction moratorium for residential, nonprofits, and small businesses will remain in place through March 31, 2021.
  • Late fees on utilities bills remain suspended.
  • A pilot program to lower Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light bills by up to 60 percent will continue operating through June 30, 2021.
  • Enforcement of the 72-hour parking rule remains suspended.
  • Temporary loading zones for restaurants and small businesses have been extended.

King County, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and Greater Seattle Partners are administering a survey of small businesses to understand the economic impacts of the pandemic. If you are a small business owner, nonprofit representative, or independent worker, CLICK HERE to take the Business Impacts Survey before December 23.

CLICK HERE to read more about Seattle’s ongoing response to the public health and economic crises.


TRANSPORTATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Is the climate cavalry coming?

Seattle is not about to let up on its efforts to address climate change, which currently include reducing carbon emissions and increasing our resiliency (“adaptation”) in the face of the negative environmental changes already underway. But as the Chair of the Council’s Transportation & Utilities Committee, I can tell you it’s a relief that a new federal administration is entering that clearly embraces the science, the national and international efforts required to reverse the global threat, and the environmental and economic benefits of transitioning to a more green economy. This includes President-Elect Biden’s appointments to the U.S. Dept of Transportation, the Dept of Energy, and a new cabinet-level climate advisor.  I believe the climate calvary is coming.

I’m also more hopeful with the Biden Administration and their experience with the U.S. Senate that we could see more funding for infrastructure which would benefit our efforts to repair or replace Seattle’s aging bridges – bridge that we must keep safe and open to support other investments in several modes of transportation, including public mass transit.


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 Skype. 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 toalex.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


Criteria for Deploying Your Tax Dollars Effectively:

December 13th, 2020

How More Accountability Can Ensure We Do the Most Good for the People Most in Need

I believe our city government can and should be more transparent and thorough when allocating and tracking your tax dollars to ensure we do the most good for those most in need.

I have devoted more than half of my 30-year career to public service through government because I want to help people in need and enable cities to thrive. As we know, a key “business model” of government is to impose taxes and fees and then to redeploy those dollars to do good for the public.  Local governments are typically more equitable and fair than the private market, we can impose and enforce laws (including taxes), and our relatively large size can enable cost-saving “economies of scale.” In addition to delivering city government basics like safety, zoning, and transportation, big cities with big needs like Seattle often supplement the social services of other levels of government (county, state, federal) by providing our own subsidies, programs, and projects to help low-income and marginalized communities.

Because governments collect and spend your tax dollars — and we want to do good with those dollars — it should follow that we want to be accountable by carefully deploying the dollars in ways likely to produce positive outcomes. We certainly don’t want to misuse or squander your dollars because that would undermine both the validity and effectiveness of government. This is why it’s always surprising to me whenever governments or their officials do not employ basic due diligence procedures when deciding how to deploy your money. It’s almost as if, some public officials are afraid to ask basic questions for fear of seeming callous or uninformed when, in fact, we need answers to basic questions to make sure we are doing the most good and can continue to do so.

For example, Antonio M. Oftelie, executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University who served on the Commission on the Future of Policing, wrote an Op Ed in Crosscut about why we must measure results for any new community safety programs. He wrote, “To be transparent and accountable, they will need systems to track incidents, analyze data and report outcomes to the public. So, while we reinvent policing, we must also rebuild human services.” For the full Op Ed, CLICK HERE.

As someone who has worked for the federal government, other local governments, and the private sector in the financial arena, I’d like to share with you the checklists I strive to consider when deciding whether a project or organization should receive your tax dollars. Frankly, legislators rely a lot on the executive branch (with their 12,000 employees vs. our 100 or so legislative staff) to make sure dollars are deployed with accountability. But legislators typically have final approval authority over the budget and we are expected to provide oversight to make sure your tax dollars are doing the good work we intended.

If we simply deploy your dollars to city government executive departments responsible for delivering proven programs and benefits for residents and communities, then that’s a good start for accountability because those employees work for the government. If, however, we are contracting out those dollars to private organizations (including nonprofits), then extra effort is warranted to keep track of your tax dollars and put in place performance-based contracts to keep track of goals and outcomes.

Unfortunately, some public officials allow tax dollars to be deployed without sufficient due diligence upfront or without specifying and measuring positive outcomes. Many politicians are adept at devising ways to spend money — spreading it around to respond to vocal and well-meaning advocacy groups — but they might not be as focused on a methodical, transparent process for deciding who receives the funds or a methodical, transparent process for tracking results. Much of the City’s $6.5 billion budget is already targeted toward those most in need and, during each annual budget season, policymakers strive to do more. Following that desire to direct more dollars should also be the desire to make sure ALL the dollars are actually achieving their goals – to ensure we are truly helping people. I will continue to demand that your tax dollars are invested effectively.

I have useful experience in awarding grants to organizations while at HUD during the Clinton Administration (homelessness and economic development), in Oakland (youth programs), and in Seattle (the evidence-based Nurse Family Partnership, Seattle Preschool Program, and the original gun safety study). As I learned the hard way, not all organizations with well-intentioned, heartfelt missions actually achieve sufficiently positive results.

Having worked in this position as a Councilmember for only one year, I’m still assessing whether the existing Seattle ordinances and procedures provide sufficient accountability when deploying your tax dollars.  As with most things in a dynamic organization, I suspect there is room for improvement and will work on this accountability issue in 2021. For example, the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Chapter 20.50Procurement of Consultant Services” may need tightening by closing “loopholes” to ensure greater accountability. In a process critiqued by the independent SCC Insight, four City Councilmembers used an existing Seattle Municipal Code provision to award $3 million directly to organizations, when many (including me) had believed those funds — which we all supported for community-informed participatory budgeting — would instead be awarded through an open Request for Proposals process. (See below for several public benefits of using the best practice of an open RFP process.) In addition, when awarding funds to specific organizations, the City Council may want to beef up our analysis by adding to our Summary/Fiscal Note a clear and consistent due diligence checklist (which could include some of the financial and programmatic criteria discussed in this blog post).

As a partial defunding of our Seattle Police Department (SPD) and other budgeting efforts make available additional dollars available for alternative crime prevention and community wellness programs, we have a tremendous opportunity to put in place smart performance measures ahead of time, so we can make sure we actually deliver the positive results we all say we want. We can also fund technical assistance to empower many promising community-led organizations so they can apply for funds, track results, measure their effectiveness, and implement continuous improvements. Performance measures also enable us as policymakers to collect and review the information needed to scale up the most successful prevention and intervention anti-carceral programs proven to work so that we help more people.

Either way, basic accountability is needed to allocate dollars strategically and to ensure positive outcomes. I divide this assessment into two sections:

  1. Deciding who receives your money and
  2. Assessing effectiveness (for both social programs and capital projects):

1. DECIDING WHO RECEIVES YOUR MONEY:

The Process (transparency):

  • Was a public and competitive process used to award the funds?
  • A Request for Proposal (RFP) process has the benefit of having organizations think through how they would best use these tax dollars which, if successful, will give the general public more confidence to make more investments. An RFP can incorporate the other points raised here. It can also ask for things such as the budget of the organization and the proposed budget of the program(s)/project(s). This basic info helps to confirm the organization is solvent and our City dollars would not be backfilling or solving organization problems, but rather providing additive direct services to benefit city residents in need.
    • An RFP would need to be affirmatively marketed so that BIPOC-led and culturally competent organizations are aware of the opportunity and have the information and time they need to submit competitive proposals.
    • Those reviewing the RFP should place substantial weight on Race & Social Justice outcomes.

Several city departments have experience running a Request for Proposals process, including the Human Services Department, Office of Planning and Community Development, and Office of Economic Development.  

Conversely, awarding funds in a sole-source manner (providing dollars directly to a single organization without an opportunity for others to compete) should be avoided because it typically lacks rigor and transparency — and might not produce the best results. [An exception to an RFP process may include short-term loans to nonprofit Public Development Authorities (PDAs) because (a) those loans will be paid back, (b) PDAs were created by the City government, and (c) PDAs have limited access to certain other funding sources such as the federal government’s COVID relief Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) program.]

The Recipient (track record):

  • Is the recipient a nonprofit or for-profit?
  • Is the recipient a reputable organization?
  • Does the recipient have a strong track record of delivering results, such as tangible benefits to low-income or marginalized individuals?
  • Does the organization make their financial statements available to the public?
  • Have we examined the organization’s financial statements to verify financial need as well as future solvency?
  • If the organization is seeking funds because it is under financial duress rather than to provide additive services to the public, what evidence is there that circumstances will improve and not require more funding to support the organization?

Their Proposal (either social service program or capital project):

  • Is the money being used to help people in need or just the organization itself? (When donating money to charitable nonprofits, a best practice is often to make sure the organization is using less than 20% of its annual budget for its own overhead, administration, and fundraising. In other words, at least 80% is going “out the door” to help actual people in need outside of the organization.)  This balance should be assessed at both the level of the organization as a whole and at the level of the proposed project seeking government funds.
  • Is it a grant or a loan?
    • If it’s a loan:
      • What is the likely source of repayment? Cash flow? Fundraising?
      • What are the secondary sources of repayment? Refinancing other loans to cash out some resources?
      • What is the collateral of this public loan in case the loan is not re-paid as agreed?
  • Are we permanently giving away public land (not ideal) or providing a long-term (e.g. 99-year) lease so that the public retains ownership of public lands while the organization still benefits and provides its services?
  • More Criteria: See below for the different checklists for effectiveness: Social Service programs vs. Capital Projects…

Technical Assistance: If a promising organization seeking the funding could benefit from technical assistance to craft their application and/or produce the requested documentation, the city government should strive to provide it. For example, some organizations may have vital knowledge (language proficiency, cultural competence, trust in the community, etc.) but lack experience competing during an RFP process and/or tracking and reporting results. For example the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) completed an RFP process in December 2020 and ensured smaller organizations received technical assistance with their applications.  

2. ASSESSING EFFECTIVENESS:

The checklist for assessing a social service program is different than the checklist for a capital project. That’s because constructing a new low-income apartment building (capital project), for example, is very different than targeting income supports for low-income families. Both types of investments are worthy of consideration for your tax dollars to prevent homelessness and both should be appropriately assessed for their effectiveness — as city government should do for all social service programs and capital projects that are seeking your tax dollars.  

A. Social Service Programs:

  • NEED: What is the specific problem we are trying to solve? Is there data that demonstrates how big the problem really is so we know how much further we need to go? (“needs assessment”). Will solving this particular problem have a positive multiplier effect to improve other aspects of society? 
  • PROGRAM DESIGN: Is the program clearly designed to succeed?
    • Theory of Change: How does the program propose to make things better? What is the “theory of change”? Before providing money, we must ensure each program is designed with a clear and logical theory of change that explains how a particular intervention will directly result in the outcomes sought, rather than just hoping for results because the need is great or the program’s organizers have political connections to City Hall.
    • Targeted Impact: Is the program targeted to those who need it the most and/or will the proposed dollar amounts proposed be sufficient to make a meaningful impact? Are we going upstream to prevent the problems from occurring rather than spending ineffectively on problems that already occurred.
  • MEASURED OUTCOMES: Does the program define outcomes rather than just “inputs” and “outputs”? Rather than measuring only the “inputs” of dollars spent or the “outputs” of number of youth served, we must measure also the most relevant final outcomes (meaningful long-term goals) such as how many of those youth go on to get their high school diploma, obtain/keep a good-paying job, and/or stay out of the criminal justice system.
  • BEST PRACTICE: Does the program already have a track record of achieving positive outcomes, as verified by others (rather than just self-reporting success)? Is there is evidence (yet) of it working here or in other similar cities? A “best practice” or “evidence-based” program has a greater chance of truly helping people. Potential sources for evidence-based programs proven to reduce crime and harm are highlighted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, and other independent, non-partisan research.
  • PUBLIC / COMPETITIVE REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFPs): discussed above.
  • PERFORMANCE-BASED CONTRACTS: Does the organization see the benefits of performance-based contracts? The contract can provide an agreed-upon framework for measuring results, feedback, and continuous improvement. If the organization does not achieve outcomes, the City could provide technical assistance or eventually move those funds to other organizations that can achieve the results for residents in need. As the funder, I believe the city government’s focus should ultimately be on achieving positive outcomes for Seattleites, rather than on sustaining the organizations with tax dollars.
  • EVALUATIONS: Are there process evaluations and outcome evaluations set up at the beginning to track and report results and provide feedback? The more money we are investing in a particular, untested intervention, the more it might warrant a higher quality evaluation.

While presented in much more detail above, the approach above is consistent with my amendment on “effectiveness” approved by City Council to the JumpStart spending bill (CB 119811) and similar to the process in awarding funds for the Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative.

B. Capital (Construction / Infrastructure) Projects (not owned by the City government):

Minimum Docs Needed to Assess a Proposal

Based on my experience, I believe the following documents are needed for any funder (the city government with your tax dollars, in this case) to reasonably understand both the physical and financial parameters of the proposed project.  Receiving consistent information from each proposed project also enables the funder to compare the relative benefits, challenges, and feasibility of each project. (The list below is similar to the basic information members of our State Legislature ask for when considering funding requests from community groups.)

  1. A detailed description of the proposed project, including the physical structure(s), community engagement, direct beneficiaries of the project, and intended outcomes.
  2. Proposed Sources and Uses of all funds. Where are all of the dollars coming from and how will they be spent? Sources should include the requested City funds and Uses should include the construction / renovation budget (if applicable), any real estate developer profit / fee and any loans (along with financial terms of any loans). Do they need our money and will it be spent wisely?
  3. Certified historical operating statements of the project (if the project already exists) with line item detail of revenues and expenses (including any City subsidies and/or tax exemptions as well as any debt service on any loans). How well has the project been operating?
  4. Projected (proforma) operating statement for at least the next five (5) years with line item detail of revenues and expenses (including any City subsidies and/or City tax exemptions as well was debt service on any loans). We should consider how well the project is likely to operate over the long-term.
  5. The most recently available independent audit of the project and/or organization to be receiving the city subsidy (if the project or organization already exists).
  6. Drawings, diagrams, photographs, and maps of the proposed project, including a site plan.
  7. A detailed list of direct public benefits resulting from the proposed project.
  8. Any other documents pertinent to determining financial need, feasibility, and public benefits.

Note: A City government office adept at assessing capital projects is our Office of Housing. Each year OH issues Notices of Funding Availability (NOFAs) that enable nonprofit housing organizations to apply for Seattle Housing Levy funding to help build or preserve affordable housing throughout Seattle.

By employing basic accountability checklists like those detailed above, your city government’s policymakers can ensure that your tax dollars are deployed in an effective manner to achieve the positive outcomes we all want for Seattle. Less rhetoric and more results for our city.

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