As we prepare to send another year off into history, it’s time to take stock of the Year That Was. For the City Council, as an institution, and for me, personally, it was an eventful year.
In January, I took on new committee assignments, graduating after four years as chair of the council’s Budget Committee and the tough job of keeping the city’s core services strong in lean times.
My new committee chairmanship involves oversight of Libraries, Utilities and Center. For short: L.U.C. I also took on chairmanship of the Council’s Waterfront Committee, overseeing work on the Seawall and replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Oversight of these important aspects of city government had its challenges and rewards. Foremost among the successes was passage of two critical ballot measures: In August, it was the seven-year library levy, helping to keep the lights on and the doors open at our Central Library and its 26 branches.
The second ballot measure, the $290 million bond issue for the Elliott Bay Seawall, passed in November by an astonishing 77 percent of the vote. In order to find similar approval, one has to look back to the 1940s when a parks measure passed with a similar landslide. There’s no doubt that the Seawall is crumbling and needs to be replaced, but still it was heartening to have Seattleites vote so overwhelming to tax themselves in uncertain times.
These two accomplishments are the signal achievements of the year, but they are not the only ones. One of the headier successes was that, after years of wrangling, the city reached an agreement with the Department of Justice and state Department of Ecology over how to deal with chronic overflows of untreated sewage and storm water into city waterways. The agreement is exceptional. It allows the city to use a mix of tools that reduce the frequency and volume of combined sewer overflows with responses that save money and use green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, street swales and low-impact development.
A quieter – but no less important – win for Seattle Public Utility ratepayers was the LUC committee wrestling with details to work out honest and predictable four-year rates for Solid Waste, Drainage and Wastewater (rather than resorting to annual adjustments and discovering that “surprise!” there just happened to be King County charges not previously acknowledged).
The LUC Committee opted to continue to work toward Zero Waste, instituting a money-saving One-Less-Truck pilot program and implementing the plastic bag ban. The Committee also worked to make the low-income rate assistance program more user friendly, asking only that seniors reapply every 36 months and that those who qualify receive help retroactively.
And, when it comes to proud moments, there was the summer morning when Joanie Wedes (aka Mrs. J. P. Patches) and I helped open the new South End Transfer Station. Unfortunately J. P. was too ill to join us. But, no matter, to Patches’ Pals, he will always be Mayor of the City Dump.
One of the year’s accomplishments was successful negotiation of a proposal to build a new basketball. The council thoroughly examined the proposal, intent on ensuring that any public/private partnership agreement would be a benefit to citizens. Among the changes negotiated with the investor was a $40 million contribution to improved transportation in the arena district, as well as setting aside KeyArena tax revenues to study Seattle Center finances.
Finally, my committee gave me the chance to help celebrate the anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and the Seattle Center’s summer-long Next 50 commemoration. It was a joy to help read letters from the Time Capsule, penned by the Seattle Council of that 1962 World’s Fair year, and to help co-author a letter for our City Council colleagues to read 50 years in the future.
While councilmembers are not prophets and probably have not imagined what the future can bring, at least we are making plans for the years ahead, thinking about how we can structure the Seattle Center so that it continues to thrive and to offer something special for every citizen.