It’s Budget Season Again!

September 26th, 2017

This Monday kicked off my second City budget cycle as Mayor Burgess presented his proposal to the Council (you can watch the budget speech here). Councilmembers and staff are in the initial stages of reviewing the investments detailed in the proposal, but I wanted to call out a few early budget wins and projects included in the Mayor’s proposal that align directly with my priorities, and those of my constituents.

Earlier budget wins:

  • With the historic levels of growth our city is experiencing, funding affordable housing and supporting projects that reflect our cultural heritage are absolutely necessary investments. This year I proposed a new tax on short term rentals that gives long term and permanent funding to build more affordable housing projects and funds projects that preserve our city’s cultural heritage.
  • I’m a big believer in green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), so recently I sponsored an amendment to double the amount we spent on GSI without raising consumer rate paths. What is GSI? Click here to learn more, but overall, these investments help to address flooding and climate change impacts, create long term job opportunities (both in the creation and maintenance of the new GSI projects), incentivize more private sector development, and increase walkability and greenspace.

Highlights of investments in the Mayor’s draft budget:

  • I am thrilled to see funding allocated for the renovation of the Magnuson Park Community Center. This renovation, beginning in 2018, will provide much needed space for additional programming for the kids and adults who live, work, and play in the park.
  • I’ve heard from many constituents about the unsettling rise in property crime throughout our neighborhoods, so I am pleased to see the funds needed to fulfill our commitment to expand the police force by 200 officers. Resulting in a 15% increase in SPD’s uniformed personnel, this funding builds off of my 2017 budget goal to increase the number of officers and reduce response times.
  • With the success our Navigation Team has demonstrated getting those living outside to accept offers of shelter, I am happy to see additional funds for a second team outlined among other critical investments to address the homelessness crisis.
  • Because I strongly believe that including arts in education is an integral component of setting our students up for success, I am very glad to see the funds allocated to ensure Creative Advantage (a collaboration between our Office of Arts and Culture, Seattle Public Schools, and community partners) is operating in all Seattle’s public schools by 2022.

There are additional priorities I’ll be pushing for over the course of the budget process, including the renovation of the Burke Gilman Trail from UW to the U Village and ensuring the expansion of our successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to the north end.  I’ll also be looking for ways that we can increase support for our local businesses to grow and how we can make our neighborhood streets safer for kids. Look out for more updates as the budget process gets underway.

Details on the Mayor’s proposed budget can be found here. More information can also be found on the Council’s budget page. There are two public hearings at City Hall (as usual, I made sure that we offer childcare at both):

  • Thursday, October 5 at 5:30 pm in Chambers
  • Wednesday, November 1 at 5:30 pm in Chamber

I hope you are able to join us and share your thoughts! If you are unable to attend, you can always reach out to our office with your comments at 206.684.8808 or Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov.

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Shared Vision for Magnuson Park

July 20th, 2017

I’ve had some very meaningful conversations over the last month with residents and neighborhood leaders in and around Magnuson Park, city officials, and Solid Ground Administrators about changes they want to see in their community – changes that are even more important following the tragic death of Charleena Lyles.  Through these conversations, we’ve outlined a set of strategies to realize a safer community offering more positive and healthy opportunities.

That list is a long one, including community center space renovation, better lighting in the park, increased transit access, and significantly better healthy food access. Many of these needs I will address through our budget process in the fall. However, the second quarter supplemental budget (currently being discussed in the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance Committee) represents an opportunity to re-prioritize existing funds and use them to help support some short-term needs of those living in the park.

One priority I heard loud and clear from everyone with whom I spoke was the need for more engaging programming for youth and adults at Magnuson Park Community Center. We need to fund a staff member dedicated to creating positive mental and physical health programming and to connecting users with the many nonprofit programs that already exist in the park.

I plan to bring an amendment forward at the August 2nd AHNF committee meeting to use city funds to support programming and staffing at the community center.  And I have called on different departments and agencies to address needs as well: the Department of Parks and Recreation is exploring modifications to enhance lighting in Magnuson, our Human Services Department is looking into helping Solid Ground provide more on-site support at Brettler Family Place, and Metro is making changes to provide bus service to the park on evenings and weekends.

It is deeply important to me to work with my colleagues to see these critical near term changes implemented by the start of the school year to support the residents and our community.

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Why I Support Arts and Culture

March 30th, 2017

Next week, Seattle’s Pacific Science Center will open its doors to the exhibit Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, transporting viewers back 2,200 years to discover the story of the First Imperial Dynasty of China and the untouched tomb of the first Emperor.

I was honored to work with the Pacific Science Center during the budget season last year to allocate $100,000 towards their goal to make their exhibits, programs, and events accessible to everyone, regardless of income. These funds will go towards outreach and accessibility initiatives around this historic Terracotta Warriors exhibit by lowering the cost barrier for those who otherwise might not be able to attend.

I am proud to support art and culture in Seattle – namely access to art and cultural experiences – at a time when, at the national and local level, their relevancy and level of priority are being seriously questioned. To me, investment in the arts are an investment in our community – in so many different, fundamental ways.

Quite literally, our arts, cultural, and scientific organizations contribute in a big way to our local economy. In 2014 alone, spending by King County arts, cultural, and scientific organizations and their patrons generated $20 billion in business activity in Washington State’s economy. This activity in turn supported 30,721 jobs, and $859 million in labor income, and resulted in $87 million in sales, business and occupation, and hotel-motel room taxes. For more information on this sector’s economic impact, read this study.

Investment in the arts also represents an investment in the next generation. Arts and cultural experiences can provide young people the tools they need to succeed in school, life, and our City. An education complete with arts opportunities – whether we bring art to the classroom or classrooms to the arts – results in a next generation of Seattleites who are creative and critical thinkers who can collaborate to solve problems and engage with their communities. For more information on the 21st century skills our students learn through art, read this report.

Lastly, investment in the arts is an investment in the community as a whole. Not only does art and culture provide a beauty that promotes livability in a region, but art is powerful because it has the ability to make us feel differently. Art is a meaningful and personal way to enact change. Art is a way to inspire. It’s a way to connect us to others who might think differently than us and it’s a way for us to break barriers and cross cultures.

I am thankful to live in a city that values arts and culture for all it is and can inspire – not just for those who can afford it, but for everyone.

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We are a Welcoming City

February 13th, 2017

At a recent Transit Talks meeting, I said “It’s really disturbing for me when I hear somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked,” and I’d like to provide commentary about the spirit behind the sentiments. This remark reflects my passion for Seattle to be a welcoming city, and to me, being welcoming means making space – at the national, local, and neighborhood level.

Every day, as many as 40 people choose to move to Seattle to call it home. Whether it is a new job opportunity, an education, or the desire to live in a place where one can be themselves without fear of violence or harassment, Seattle is their destination. Others have lived in this city for 40 years and the milestones experienced represent a very personal history here. For both those new to Seattle and for those who have lived here for many years, my goal is to ensure that Seattle’s growth is founded in welcoming and inclusive values.

As a planner, I understand the challenges that can come alongside growth (added congestion on streets, a loss of neighborhood character, and increased demands on elements of neighborhood livability like parks and schools) may make many long-term residents of Seattle wary of growth. But it’s these hurdles that we work to address through land use policy. Here are a few examples of how we support and enhance the aspects that have for so long drawn people to our city while simultaneously welcome new neighbors and build pathways for everyone to prosper as a result of future growth:

  • Increase access to economic prosperity and more affordable housing for a wide variety of households and housing types all throughout the city;
  • Require new development to contribute to long-term subsidized units that allow low and moderate income people to stay in our city as housing costs rise;
  • Contribute to neighborhood character through better design quality and strategies to protect historic structures;
  • Make room for working families through new approaches to family-sized housing that allow for more families to occupy space that previously held one home and to encourage larger units to be built within higher-density areas;
  • Encourage more spaces for neighbors to come together in our schools, parks, cultural institutions, and commercial districts;
  • Establish new requirements for certain residential and commercial buildings to support multi modal transit for their occupants, and;
  • Support the character of neighborhood businesses districts to reflect the vitality of the neighborhoods that they serve as more people call the neighborhood home.

To be able to extend more housing choices allows people to participate in and prosper from the opportunities presented by growth as well as increase the ability for established and emerging communities to be able to call this city home.

I’ll reiterate that to be welcoming means a lot of things, but through my land use work, it means to make space. Here’s how you can get involved to help have a voice in how we make space at the city and neighborhood level:

  • Attend a workshop. To date we have supported 12 Urban Village Community Design Workshops, a number of neighborhood walks, and have 6 additional Workshops coming up between late February and March. Through this process to date, we have gotten feedback and questions from nearly 1,000 people throughout the city.
  • Stay tuned for the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This document will identify potential impacts related to citywide zone changes and how those impacts might be mitigated.
  • Add your thoughts online. By using the city’s online engagement tool you can share concerns and opportunities as well as comment on your neighbors’ ideas.
  • Talk with your neighbors.  Attend one of your neighborhood meetings. Host a neighborhood or block meeting. Find ways to interact with more people who may have a different experience or lifestyle from you and meet new people in your neighborhood. In neighborhoods across the city, neighbors are talking about ways to both celebrate and improve the city; add your voice to the conversation.
  • Sign up to receive updates at Seattle.Gov/HALA.  
  • Call the HALA Hotline, (206) 743-6612. Call with your questions or comments M-F from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

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Homelessness Update

February 2nd, 2017

Many constituents have asked where we are in the process of addressing Seattle’s homelessness crisis. The proposal of CB 118794 last fall shined a spotlight on areas where the city needed to step up. While that piece of legislation did not move forward, I am glad that it ultimately inspired the council and the executive to increase investments in short-term support to people living without homes while longer-term strategies, like Pathways Home, are established. In the months that have followed, there has been quite a bit of work done to address the homelessness crisis and in this blog post I want to:

  • Address two common concerns;
  • Report on the status of new and increased investments to support our homeless neighbors;
  • Share new draft city rules regarding the removal of encampments and invite you to share your feedback;
  • And provide resources for you to take action and help us solve this crisis.

 

Two concerns to address:

First, some constituents have let me know that police officers have received ‘stand down’ orders from city council when it comes to calls concerning homeless encampments. While it’s clear that when our encampment removal policies lack clarity, confusion amidst departments results, but when it comes to criminal activity, there is no confusion with SPD in regards to enforcing the law.

The city council does not dictate how the Seattle Police Department enforces city laws; officers investigate reports of criminal behavior and take appropriate enforcement action, regardless of the housing status of those involved. Chief Steve Wilske, who commands the Patrol Operations Bureau, is the only person who gives commands to SPD patrol officers and he has never given orders to not enforce the law. Please read this SPD blotter post for more information.

And second, my office receives many calls from constituents frustrated by the trash accumulation on freeway on and off ramps. While I commend the very responsive work of SPU’s illegal dumping team, they do not have the jurisdiction to clean up WDOT owned land. The city is in the process of working out a memorandum of understanding with the state, but the trash accumulation happening now is simply unacceptable.

I encourage you to contact members of Washington State’s transportation committee and let them know how you feel about waste accumulation on WSDOT property.

 

Bridging the Gap Status Update:

In October 2016, the Mayor announced the Bridging the Gap to Pathways Home plan, outlining investments in short-term support to people living without homes while longer-term strategies to address our homelessness crisis are addressed through longer term solutions. Below are a few pilot programs I’d like to highlight (for a full report, feel free to watch this Human Services & Public Health committee meeting, starting at 27:11):

Encampment Trash Pilots

Goal: Consistent, safe removal of trash located near unsanctioned homeless encampments without disrupting lives of encampment residents by mistaking personal items for trash. SPU helps people living unsheltered better manage their own trash by providing specific encampment sites either scheduled or on-call pick-up of their trash.

Current status: SPU works with city departments and external contractors to provide scheduled and on-call trash pick-up at specified locations throughout the city. Currently, scheduled pick-ups occur at unsanctioned sites at the Ballard Locks, 13th and Nickerson, and  4814 15th Ave NW. The Myers Way site that was previously collected from has moved to regular garbage collection as a sanctioned encampment.

 

Business Improvement Agreements & Litter Abatement Pilots

Goal: SPU works with neighborhood Business Improvement Areas to support local Clean City efforts to address graffiti and litter.

In 2016, SPU conducted Litter Abatement Pilots in three communities: Little Saigon, Ballard, and Chinatown/International District (CHID) to determine the best way to resolve litter issues. The Pilots delivered litter services, pressure washing, and other as needed service. Desired outcomes included cleaner neighborhoods, satisfied communities, along with viable and sustainable litter abatement programs and services.

Current status: SPU’s first phase of the Litter Abatement Pilots serviced Little Saigon, CHID, and Ballard for six months in 2016. Community partners have taken over services in these areas as of February 1, 2017, and intend to access Office of Economic Development grants to fund their efforts. SPU is now identifying three new locations for the pilot, using the Race and Social Justice Initiative tool kit. SPU aims to settle on locations by the end of March, and start serving the new areas in the second quarter.

 

Needle Pick-Up

Goal: SPU responds to complaints concerning sharps in the public right-of-way made via the Illegal Dumping Hotline, “Find It, Fix It” Mobile App, or on-line Website report, within 24 hours from the time of receiving the complaint.

Current status: SPU has successfully placed 6 large sharp boxes in 2016, and responded to sharps complaints within 24 hours (apart from complaints received Friday after 5pm – Saturday 10 am, and holidays). Since its inception in August 2016, this program resulted in over 1,100 sharps having been collected in response to over 165 complaints through the end of 2016.

New draft city rules:

Since 2008, the City has had specific rules for the removal of encampments that balance providing services and alternatives to people living in encampments while addressing public health and safety concerns.

The purpose of these rules is to streamline procedures for removal across departments that do not have their own protocols set in place. With the many different city departments playing roles at various stages of an encampment removal, these rules are complicated – so complicated that confusion and inconsistent application often result. I strongly believe that because the subject of these rules are the shelters and possessions of homeless individuals, achieving a higher degree of clarity and consistency for our department protocols will benefit everyone involved.

Recognizing this need for increased clarity among departments, the Task Force on Unsanctioned Encampment Cleanup Protocols convened throughout 2016 and made recommendations on changing the encampment removal rules. The new draft rules can be found here, but to summarize, compared to the existing rules, the new rules:

  • Identify specific criteria for prioritizing the removal of encampments;
  • Require the offer of a shelter alternative in order to remove many encampments;
  • Require the City to deliver personal property it stores from encampments to their owners;
  • And streamline the process for removing encampments that obstruct the intended use of public facilities like sidewalks and parks.

The City wants to know what you think about these changes and will be accepting public comment on the proposed rules through Wednesday, Feb. 15. I encourage you to send your feedback:

By mail: City of Seattle
Department of Finance and Administrative Services
Attention: Frances Samaniego
P.O. Box 94689
Seattle, WA 98124-4689
By email: frances.samaniego@seattle.gov

 

Resources for you:

If you see trash accumulation on city owned public property, use the Find It, Fix It app or call 206.684.7587. This geo-locates the trash accumulation in question and adds it to the queue of areas for SPU to address. I’d encourage you to report trash/illegal dumping as you see it, and to encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. For more information, visit:

If you come across dangerous litter, like needles, please call the needle hotline at 206.684.7587 and SPU will ensure pick-up within 24 hours.

With each of these channels of feedback, data accumulated helps SPU and FAS to prioritize areas that get an influx of complaints. When patterns like these are made clear, it’s easier for our departments to ensure these areas get more regular attention.

Lastly, I know that many of you are active volunteers in our community, and for that, I thank you. But if this has inspired you to take action and you happen to be looking for an organization with whom to volunteer, here are a few of my personal favorites:

U District Foodbank

Youthcare

Mary’s Place

TC3

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Celebrating the Victories of the 2017-2018 Budget Process

November 22nd, 2016

I approached my first budget process as I do most of my work here at city hall – through the lens of my urban planning and policy background, and holding firm to four core values: fostering community, making the city more affordable, achieving greater public safety, and supporting kids and families.

After an incredibly busy eight weeks, I believe that the final result is a budget full of incredibly positive things for our community that align with these priorities, and I want to highlight a few projects for which I feel particularly proud to have sponsored or supported.

With the goal of fostering community:

  • I sponsored the addition of $800,000 to the Parks and Recreation Department to be able to install lights on an additional city-owned athletic field. This year’s change in bell times has had quite an impact on field usage, and this add allows us to see more kids on the fields later in the evening;
  • I co-sponsored the advancement of $6.5 million for Equitable Development Initiatives to allow organizations who currently call Seattle home to put brick and mortar behind their objectives;
  • I very much supported the capital improvement investments we made in our city’s arts organizations, both big and small, as these organizations contribute so much to the vibrancy and economic well-being of Seattle;
  • I supported the activation of King Street as it represents such a cultural asset in its infrastructure and I am excited to support the economic and social goals of this important revitalization project;
  • And I sponsored the addition of $340,000 in education and outreach funding for the Office of Labor Standards to provide outreach to workers and employers about our labor laws ensuring everyone in this city is treated fairly and with respect.

With the goal of making the city more affordable:

  • I sponsored the addition of $190,000 to be able to extend tenant relocation assistance to the residents of the soon-closing University Trailer park – an option not available to them prior to this budget action;
  • I supported utilizing the city’s bonding capacity to direct $29 million toward the creation of more affordable housing;
  • And I co-sponsored the addition of $400,000 to fund community planning and project feasibility work for development of affordable housing on publicly owned land in Seattle and $90,000 to fund the creation of an affordable housing strategic plan for more transit oriented development in the Northgate area.

With the goal of achieving greater public safety, especially in our public right of ways:

  • I co-sponsored the acceleration of spending $1 million in 2017 and $4 million in 2018 of Move Seattle funds on Bike Master plan initiatives such as making 65th Ave NE a much safer street;
  • I supported the addition of $150,000 for a parking benefit district pilot program to create more revenue to fund neighborhood transportation needs;
  • And I co-sponsored legislation that will result in an increase of business license fees to fund 200 additional police officers so we can reduce our response times and increase public safety.

And with the goal of supporting kids and families:

  • I co-sponsored the addition of $650,000 in contingency funds to be made available for childcare providers to use if they need to make improvements to a space so they can move quickly if necessary or get a space certified;
  • I co-sponsored an the expansion of the Backpack Programs for Kids with $350,000 in both 2017 and 2018 to ensure that our kiddos are getting the sustenance they need to come to school prepared to learn and succeed in the classroom;
  • And I supported the addition of $750,000 in both 2017 and 2018 to expand the reach of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship program – a critically important program providing college prep to some of Seattle’s high school seniors who need it most

I want to extend my thanks to the constituents of D4 for sharing their budget priorities and helping guide the process through civic engagement, to the representatives from different organizations advocating for support of the meaningful work they do in our community, and to my council colleagues who worked so hard to invest in a core set of values reflected in this budget.

Thanks to the diligence of many during this budget process, I feel proud that our collective additions reflect a commitment to equity and access, support infrastructure for our growing community, keep a vigilant focus on the creation of affordable housing, improve pedestrian and bike safety on public right of way, and so meaningfully invest in the next generation.

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The City Budget Process Now Underway

September 29th, 2016

This Monday kicked off my inaugural City Budget Season as the Mayor presented his proposal to the Council (you can watch the speech here). Staff and councilmembers are in the initial stages of diving into the Mayor’s proposal, and next week the Council will be hearing more details from the various department heads.

Ever since I took office I’ve been hearing from members of the public about their priorities and how the City can support those through our investments – and I’ve been taking note. I’m particularly happy to see a few elements included in the Mayor’s proposal that align directly with my priorities, and those of my constituents:

  • Funding the expansion of community center hours, staffing and programming to underserved communities. This is critically important for centers like Magnuson Park.
  • Funding to keep us on track to have 200 more fully trained police officers in service by 2020. I’ve heard from many about the unsettling rise in property crime throughout our neighborhoods and this funding will ensure that our officers can be more responsive and have the time to enact community based policing strategies like our Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that I feel are incredibly important.
  • Dedicating capital funds for new or renovated performing arts centers around the City and creating an annual capital fund for cultural institutions. Last year several candidates including myself pushed for 100% of our city’s arts admissions tax revenue to be dedicated back to arts investments and that promise is fulfilled in the Mayor’s budget.
  • Maximizing our investments in the expansion of our Seattle pre-school program, which this past summer finished its successful first year in 15 classrooms serving 280 students– 75% of whom were students of color.
  • Combating homelessness. There is work to do to ensure we’re serving the most people with our city’s resources and I am happy to see new approaches suggested in the Mayor’s Pathway’s Home initiatives are included in his proposed budget, but I believe we can also provide better immediate outreach and services to folks currently living on our streets.

There are additional priorities I’ll be pushing for over the course of the budget process, including working with SDOT to promote Vision Zero efforts, specifically along NE 65th, and identifying capital funds we can use to preserve or maintain spaces that play vital roles in our neighborhoods, like U Heights. I’ll also be looking for ways that we can dramatically increase our funding for green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). GSI investments are an important way for us to build out our green space and tree canopy, create jobs, increase safety on our streets, and improve our environment.  Look out for more updates as our budget conversations are now underway.

Details on the Mayor’s proposal are here. More information can also be found on the Council’s budget page. There are two public hearings at City Hall (this year I made sure that we can offer childcare at both):

  • Wednesday, October 5 at 5:30 pm in Chambers
  • Tuesday, October 25 at 5:30 pm in Chamber

I hope you are able to join us and share your thoughts! If you are unable to attend, you can always reach out to our office with your comments at 206.684.8808 or Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov.

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Shaping Growth in the University District

September 12th, 2016

Today the City of Seattle released a proposal to shape housing and job growth in the University District equitably and affordably. The proposal combines changes to land use regulations, like zoning and development standards, with City investments in open space, transportation, and social services to reflect the community’s priorities which have been expressed over five years of community input. The passage of these changes will be our first opportunity to implement the Mandatory Housing Affordability program which will require all new development to include or fund new affordable housing units for the first time in our City’s history.

The proposed zoning changes here in the University District are the result of a five year process which has involved over 90 meetings and hundreds of participants. I want to thank everyone who, through their hard work and their feedback, has gotten us to this critical milestone today.

The University District is a thriving and asset rich neighborhood in our city. The neighborhood’s local businesses contribute to strong employment opportunities and represent the foundation of its unique character. The students, faculty, and staff of the University bring a vibrant diversity to the community, and we’ve made incredible transit investments that people are clamoring to utilize.

We all know how quickly our city is growing. Recently we’ve been adding 35 new jobs and welcoming 50 new neighbors a day. Unfortunately, we have only been adding 12 housing units a day, which increase housing costs and contribute to displacement.

Without a proactive, comprehensive strategy for the University District’s growth we risk losing what makes it so special. We need to keep this neighborhood affordable both for residents and our locally owned businesses. And we need to ensure our neighborhood’s faith-based communities and our social service organizations can stay here.

I look forward to working with the Mayor’s office to ensure that we are implementing his commercial affordability task force recommendations in this legislation to ensure that the University District remains supportive of small, locally owned businesses.

The strides we make in allowing for increased growth also must be matched by city funded capital investments in our schools, parks, open spaces, transportation choices, and community based organizations to ensure our livability keeps pace.

For example UHeights needs funding for a new roof to ensure it remains a safe gathering space for the thousands of community members who participate in their programs, and ROOTS needs more funding for case workers to help homeless youth find employment.

Without these critical upzones, displacement is the unfortunate reality, occurring as we speak. Just last week, I spoke to a resident whose rent increased by a prohibitive $350 a month. Every rent increase of $100 results in an increased percentage in economic displacement with far reaching impacts on our community.

The proposed zoning changes the Mayor will transmit does not represent the singular fix-all solution to respond to our city’s growth, but these changes will certainly lead to more production, and when combined with Mandatory Housing Affordability will yield more critically important funding for affordable housing.

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Here’s to the Start of a Successful School Year

September 7th, 2016

Many kids throughout Seattle woke up this morning welcoming their first day of school. And as I watched my daughters fill their backpacks and walk into their kindergarten classroom for the first time, I couldn’t help but reflect on this milestone in their lives and how they will be shaped by the Seattle Public School system. Although there are many pressing and timely decisions facing the Council right now (which will undoubtedly be topics of blog posts to come), I want to briefly shift that focus to commemorate the start of the school year for all of the students in this city – from our preschoolers up to our high school seniors.

We have two exciting achievements to celebrate today as students return to school. First, building upon a successful 2015/2016 pilot year that served 280 students in 15 classrooms, Seattle’s Preschool Program (SPP) kicks off its second academic year today serving an impressive 600 kids in 32 schools.

In order to maintain the high-quality standards of the program and facilitate SPP’s expansion across the city, today’s roll out features a few changes that have taken effect this school year, including:

  • Raising the payments to our early learning providers by an average of 21 percent;
  • Expediting the curriculum waiver process;
  • Updating the student selection process to be more “parent friendly;”
  • And allowing providers who serve targeted populations to reserve a select number of spaces in their classroom to enroll on their own.

These changes were made after hearing directly from those who administer and participate in SPP and help us get closer to our ultimate goal of closing the opportunity gap for so many of our kids.

Second, I want to celebrate the great news regarding smaller class sizes. In the last few days, five brand new schools have come online and will welcome their inaugural classes today. Thanks to these critical openings and funding from the Legislature’s 2016 budget process, our kindergarten through third grade students will benefit from the increased attention and guidance smaller class sizes provide.

Lastly, I will work to ensure we maintain our partnerships with Seattle Public Schools and identify new ones to keep accessible childcare a priority for our office. Before and aftercare represents a critical piece of the puzzle that sets students and their families up for success and accessible opportunities make a huge impact on the achievement gap our City works so hard to close.

Here’s to a successful school year for all of Seattle’s students, families and administrators!

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My Thoughts on the North Precinct

August 18th, 2016

On Monday, the Council took action on a resolution regarding the North Precinct, a proposed new facility that would serve most of the residents of District 4. Though much as been made of previous Council discussions on the project, I’ve heard from many constituents that they want to build the new precinct, but that the cost is too high.

During Monday’s discussion, I wanted to avoid “green-lighting” a hard number for the Precinct but did want to gather additional information to make a sound decision. The resolution that was adopted accomplished these goals. Although the real funding decisions ultimately will be made during the budgeting process, I worked to assure that this was expressly spelled out in the resolution. As such, our work on the North Precinct will continue from September through November as we find ways to keep costs down.

Staff at Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) and Seattle Police Department (SPD) have indicated that the design of the precinct is in response to several needs, chief among them being that this facility contains crucial training spaces that SPD needs to remain compliant with the federal consent decree on police use of force and bias free policing. On the other hand, we’ve had lots of public feedback regarding the North Precinct, receiving hundreds upon hundreds of phone calls and emails over the last month and a half, and I’d like to recognize the organizing efforts of the many community based organizations for showing up consistently, making their voices heard, and demanding that we provide additional scrutiny and a new evaluative lens to $160M worth of policing infrastructure.

After hearing multiple points of view, I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of where you may stand on policing issues, a new precinct at $160M or even $149M is far too large a sum for one building.

As we’ve engaged in conversations and briefings with SPD and FAS as to how and why this project has gone from $88M to more than $160M then through value engineering revised down to $149M, I’ve been frustrated by the difficulty of getting the project costs down. This is why I added language to Section 1 that calls for an additional third-party cost estimation, with that third-party to be selected in consultation with Council. This separate estimation, combined with the use of the City’s Racial Equity Toolkit, will provide Council with crucial information to make a much more well-informed decision for what type of funding will need to be appropriated during the Budget season.

Additionally, as I mentioned this Monday morning during Council Briefing – as a new council member, I’ve been taken aback by the significant cost overruns in several City capital projects:

  • Spending for the Seawall Project is scheduled for an additional $40M in 2016 and $31M in 2017 – $71M over a project originally estimated and advertised to voters at $300M in 2012.
  • Spending for the New Customers Information System by Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities is scheduled for an additional $43M in spending over the approved project budget of $66M in the 2015 Adopted Budget.
  • And, according to a Seattle Times column published in October of last year, the 2003 Fire Levy was $109M over an estimated $197M budget.

In response, Councilmember Herbold and I issued a press release calling for the creation of a new City Capital Projects Oversight Committee. This committee would share characteristics with capital oversight best practices, such as creating a series of systematic check-ins as projects progress, both through planning and construction. Using Sound Transit as an example, I appreciate that as they develop their projects, staff seeks Board authorization at eight points throughout the process, including for preliminary engineering, final design, and baseline budget, which includes total project costs and construction.  The goal of this proposed oversight committee would be to establish a baseline of transparency to help ensure City capital projects – such as the Seawall and North Precinct – remain on time and within budget.

Transparency should be the name of the game as we develop our capital facilities. As a Seattle City Councilmember, I expect the public to hold me accountable for delivering our capital projects on time and within budget, but we need the tools necessary for proper oversight. If City facilities are projected to run over-budget, the Council should have plenty of lead time to develop alternatives or contingencies.

When it comes to the North Precinct, I am looking forward to reviewing the findings of our third party consultant and of the Racial Equity Toolkit. I think these are all necessary and important steps for this project that must be incorporated into any final budgetary decisions. I appreciate the work of my colleagues (particularly Councilmember González) and community activists in shaping the discussion over the past few weeks and months – and hope to continue dialogue with all those wanting to speak out about this project.

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