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Fifty-five Ways to Success

At year’s end, reporters customarily are assigned to write “year-enders” or as we sometimes irreverently called them: “rear-enders.” You know the kind of thing: long, barely readable thumbsuckers about the status quo or sometimes lists of “the 10 most” whatevers.

In my years as a reporter, I wrote my share. It was a character building experience.  And I would say, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to own up to our accomplishments or missed opportunities.

All of this leads me to report on LUC, the Seattle City Council committee I’ve chaired these past two years. The initials stand for Libraries, Utilities and Center. I like to think of it as good LUC because we’ve had some remarkable successes, reviewing and passing 55 pieces of legislation and providing oversight for the ongoing work of three city departments.

recycling cans

Credit for the accomplishments belongs to hard-working city employees, but also to the LUC committee, an energized group consisting of vice chair Richard Conlin, member Sally Bagshaw and my legislative assistants Bailey Bauhs (who served as clerk), Monica Ghosh and Carlo Davis (who worked on a variety of projects and communicated with advisory committees and an active customer review panel).

In the realm of utilities, the committee focused on affordability and environmental priorities for Seattle Public Utilities’ four lines of business: water, drainage, wastewater and solid waste services. Among our accomplishments were three ground-breaking actions on low-income rate assistance.

We expanded re-enrollment time periods for qualifying seniors, so that seniors need re-enroll for low-income assistance only every 36 months, instead of every 18. This cuts down on paper work as, realistically speaking, qualifying seniors seldom experience boosts in income.

We also discovered that SPU customers who qualify for low-income assistance (a 50 percent saving) were not receiving reductions in bills until after their applications were processed and approved. That sometimes meant months without help. We were able to change the system so that those who properly qualified could receive utility discounts retroactive to the date of their application as well as speed up the application process.

Finally, we’re especially proud of a successful program we’re calling “No Child Without Water.”  After we heard story after story from social service workers about how strapped families – unable to pay utility bills in tough times—had their water shutoff.  Some of those families – many with young children – would find themselves forced to beg neighbors for water for sanitation purposes. The solution we found was to allow needy families with young children a second emergency assistance credit. That essentially means there need be no child without drinkable water.

On another important front, LUC and the Council took additional steps toward our Zero Waste goals, adopting a ban on disposal of paper, glass, plastic and metal in the commercial waste stream. The goal is for businesses to match the levels of residential recycling (now 55.7%), a potential savings of 150 boxcars of waste now trucked off to landfills.

The Council, led by LUC, also approved legislation requiring that construction and demolition materials be recycled instead of disposed of as garbage. And, as a final year-end move, the Council gave approval to SPU to embark on planning for an every-other-week pickup of trash, building on the experience of Councilmember Richard Conlin’s One Less Truck pilot.

In two of the biennium’s most important accomplishments, the Council authorized signing of a consent decree with the EPA allowing for no more than one Combined Sewer Overflow outfall per year by 2020 and approved formation of a customer review panel to draw up a Strategic Business Plan for the utility.

Meanwhile, the LUC committee has been working on issues at the Seattle Center, which just marked its 50th anniversary as Seattle’s aptly named “best living room.” We convened an ad hoc group of community members, business and real estate interests to consider next steps for the KeyArena should a new arena be built. They’ll help hire a consultant to develop options for a reimagined venue, enlivening and enriching the Center.

We approved a lease renewal for Pottery Northwest, one of the Center’s longest tenants, and worked out a new lease with Cornish College of the Arts for the Center’s Playhouse. Both leases include provisions to give the Center needed flexibility, looking ahead to future decades.

We had occasion to meet with the Seattle Center Advisory Committee, getting to know the folks who volunteer their time to provide feedback on Center activities and development. This year a few of the long-time volunteers stepped down and new members, bringing fresh ideas, joined. The Commission, under the leadership of Jan Levy, will be an important resource as we move ahead.

Finally, as regards to the Seattle Library, the committee’s oversight work was to view the work of the Library’s Board of Trustees, who manage day-to-day operations at the city’s much-admired system of a Central Library and 26 branches. The city’s overwhelming approval of a seven-year Library levy enabled the library to keep its doors open longer and to institute Sunday hours. The Library continues its popular focus, holding regular conversation sessions to receive feedback from patrons. It’s obvious that, in Seattle, everyone reads; everyone recycles, and no child is without water.

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