What an exciting year it has been to be a Councilmember in Seattle. We passed historic legislation to raise wages for over 100,000 workers in the City and saw the voters support two progressive initiatives to establish a universal preschool program and expand transit service in Seattle. There is so much more to be proud of, so I am writing to today with a look back to some of the things we have accomplished together this year in the areas of planning and land use, sustainability, transportation and social justice. Thank you for sharing in these highlights with me and happy holidays to you and your family.
PLANNING & LAND USE — Starting in 2014, I became chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee. This is an interesting time to be in this role, as Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country. The crux of most of our land use discussion right now is how does Seattle grow – adding density, new housing and new jobs – while maintaining affordability and all that makes Seattle such a great place to live. This is the guiding question for me and my work in land use. Here are some of the highlights from Committee this year.
- Workforce Affordable Housing – Since 1981, Seattle voters have approved and implemented one of the most impressive public housing levy programs of any city in the country to build affordable housing in Seattle. But that only serves the lowest-income households, leaving many people who work in lower-wage jobs—like fast food workers, retail workers and others in the service sector—struggling to find a reasonably affordable place to live in the city. I believe affordability is the greatest challenge we face right now, and I have been working hard to find solutions for people don’t qualify for HUD or Section 8 programs, but who don’t make enough to afford the current market-rate units being built.
- In October, Council passed the Linkage Fee Resolution, which sets out a new path for the City by ensuring that new development better mitigates its own impacts on affordability. It asks that developers either build 5% of their new units at affordable levels or pays into the city’s housing fund. The Linkage Fee would apply to all new commercial and multi-family development and can be used to help fund new workforce affordable and family-sized units. Read more about why the linkage fee is important in a recent guest editorial to the Seattle Times.
- In September, Council passed Resolution 31547, which did two important things to help find more housing options in our city. First, it committed the City to participating in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), which aims to purchase property now around future transit stations in order to preserve some affordability and be able to incentivize future community development opportunities. Second, the resolution calls for a review and report on Seattle’s development regulations regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), also know as “backyard cottages,” to look at new ways to provide housing options for more people in our existing neighborhoods.
- North Rainier Rezone (aka Mt. Baker rezone) – This rezone of the area surrounding the Mt. Baker Transit Center will set the table for future development around the light rail station to help bring jobs, housing and various commercial uses to that neighborhood. Critically, the plan promotes a more walkable and bike-friendly neighborhood that is better connected to the investments we have made in bus and light rail there.
- Small lots & Microhousing – In both of these high-profile issues, I strived to strike a balance with the competing interests of neighborhood activists and density advocates, with legislation that allows these new innovations in housing development to continue in the City, while also addressing some of the major concerns raised by opponents.
SUSTAINABILITY – In addition, my committee also leads the Council’s efforts around sustainability. Below are some highlights from our work in 2014.
- Oil trains – For me, 2014 will be remembered in part as the year we saw a drastic increase in oil transport by rail through the City of Seattle. In March, Council passed Resolution 31504 asking the City’s Office of Emergency Management and the Seattle Fire Department to report to review and, if needed, update the City’s incident response plans for the increasing risk imposed by oil trains. These departments reported their findings in September, and I am working with the Mayor’s office to continue to explore how Seattle can protect itself in the event of an oil train catastrophe. I have also been working with the Mayor’s office and my colleagues on Council in asking the State and Federal Governments to step up efforts to regulate this growing threat to our public safety, property and environment.
- Duwamish cleanup – The Duwamish River is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site, and we recently received the final Record of Decision that mandates the City’s responsibility in clean-up. Throughout this process, I have been working with South Park and Georgetown communities to explore how we can create more livable, healthy and safe communities along Seattle’s only river. We have much work left to do on the Duwamish in 2015 and beyond.
- Advanced Green Lake cleanup — Green Lake is Seattle’s most popular park and one of its great swimming destinations. So this year in the 2015 budget, I worked with Councilmember Jean Godden to secure funding to speed up the City’s effort to treat Green Lake to deal with toxic blue green algae, which has led to multiple closures over the past couple of years. We now hope that have treatment completed in Spring of 2016.
- Pollinator health — This year we also worked with local sustainability advocates to pass a resolution ending the City’s use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on City-owned property in a move to help promote the health of bees and other critical pollinators that keep Seattle blooming year-round.
- Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 – I was extremely proud to support, and to see the voters of Seattle support, local ballot initiative STBD Prop 1 this past November. With this new funding, Seattle can help stave off potential future Metro service reductions in our city and expand the level of transit service for the residents, workers and commuters of Seattle. A robust public transportation system is essential to the future of this city in order to meet our economic, livability and environmental goals.
- Sound Transit – As a member of the board, I am working hard to help gather support for a new ST3 funding package to go to voters in 2016. We need the support of the legislature in Olympia to make it happen, and I hope you will join me in building the public and political will needed to build out the regional transit system we need.
- The Sound Transit board also recently adopted Sound Transit’s new Long Range Plan, which includes, among many other things, routes to Ballard & West Seattle that are so desperately needed to help move the growing number of people to and from those popular, but harder to reach neighborhoods.
- Bike & pedestrian safety – The budget that City Council recently approved included tens of millions of dollars in new and improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure to help implement our Bike and Pedestrian Master Plans. Council also passed legislation to implement a new bike sharing program, Pronto, with 500 bikes and 50 stations to help provide one more way of getting around town. Since the program, is not yet operating citywide, I sponsored new funding in next year’s budget to help plan for bike share expansion to Southeast Seattle. BREAKING NEWS: Just as the newsletter was going to print, we learned that the bike counter on the Fremont Bridge just passed 1 million trips for the year!
SOCIAL JUSTICE – What a year for social justice in Seattle! From the fight for $15 to a new preschool program, 2014 will go down in the history books for Seattle. I am both honored and grateful to be able to play a small role in the movement for social justice in Seattle, and I look forward to future progressive wins in our city.
- $15/hour Minimum Wage – Who could have guessed when fast food workers first walked off the jobs in May of 2013 that they would be celebrating the victory of a $15/hour minimum wage in Seattle just one year later? I was proud to be the first elected official in Seattle to participate in those early actions when I escorted one of the first courageous striking workers, Caroline, back to her job at Taco Bell to make sure she was welcomes back for her shift and was not retaliated against for exercising her right to strike. One year later, I was even more proud to vote in support of raising that courageous young woman’s wage. It was an historic victory won by workers who took matters into their own hands and organized for the right to earn a living that lets them live in the city they work. Major kudos also go to Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Kshama Sawant for their leading roles in the effort. For my part, I strengthened the enforcement provisions in the final legislation to make sure business were following the new rules. I also supported additional funding in the budget to accelerate $15/hour for City employees because I feel City should lead by example and pay all employees a living wage.
- Office of Labor Standards – In addition to this big win, the City also created a new Office of Labor Standards to ensure that our progressive new laws for workers—Paid Sick & Safe Leave, Jobs Assistance in Hiring (“ban the box”), Wage Theft, and Minimum Wage—are all being followed. Councilmember Nick Licata deserves credit for getting the ball rolling and Mayor Murray for making it happen. For my part, I worked to secure $1 million for the new office in the next biennium to help strengthen its enforcement work by partnering with community-based organizations to help workers know their new rights and how to exercise them.
- Priority Hire Legislation – This is an issue I have been working on since 2013 with Councilmember Sally Clark, but we are finally nearing adoption of a new ordinance that would ensure that we are hiring local workers when we are spending our local tax dollars and public works projects.
- Seattle Preschool Program – This year Seattle voters also supported a new program to provide access to preschool for every child in the city. The first step is a new preschool pilot program that will serve as the basis for a future universal program. The work was spearheaded by Council President Tim Burgess and Mayor Murray, and my office worked to help bring an racial and economic justice lens to the proposal to ensure that the pilot is accessible to the children who most need it.
- Food Access in Delridge – Early in 2014, my office partnered with the Seattle Women’s Commission to explore food access issues in the Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle. We put together a report which shows that the lack of sufficient income is the biggest barrier to accessing healthier food, not lack of transportation or grocery stores, as are often reported to be the main issues.
- Birth Doula Services – Another big victory for me in the budget was securing funding for birth doula services for low-income women in Seattle. Doulas are trained and certified to provide support to women before, during and in the weeks following birth and are a critical piece of the maternal and child health system, although they fall outside of traditionally government funded public health services. They are tied with increased health outcomes for both mother and child and I was excited to secure the support of my Council colleagues for this funding in the budget.
As you can see, it has been a incredible, busy year here for me and my staff. We are honored to serve you and excited to continue our work with you to bring about a city that reflects our values and embodies our vision of a city that works for our people and protects our planet. Thank you for your engagement on these and other issues throughout the year.