Barrier Reduced for Utility Shut-off for Late Payments
Whether because of a lay-off at work or an unexpected medical expense, Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utility (SPU) customers sometimes come up short when it’s time to pay their bill and face a shut-off of their utilities. When a customer receives a shut-off notice, SPU currently charges a minimum of 75% of the balance due to prevent the shut-off, and SCL up until a couple months ago charged only 50%.
In June I learned that SPU and SCL were intending to make their delinquency policies consistent. I had no concerns with consistency, but I was concerned that the policy proposed was not for both utilities to require a 50% down payment, thus lowering the barrier for people with SPU shutoff notices, but that the utilities proposed instead to require that both SCL and SPU customers pay at least 75% of the outstanding balance in order to avoid shutoff.
SPU’s standard already represented a significant barrier to many customers attempting to establish a payment plan in order to avoid a utility shut-off. Shut-offs should be the City’s last resort. Councilmember Sawant (the Chair of the Council Committee with oversight of SCL) and I sent a letter to the Directors of both utilities asking that they align their policies at the SCL level of 50% of balance due in order to prevent a shut-off.
To demonstrate how the 75% down-payment standard acts as a barrier to preventing SPU shutoffs, the West Seattle Helpline provided, and I shared with the utilities, data demonstrating the number of people that they were able to assist avoiding utility shutoffs in 2015.
|Shutoffs avoided with Helpline pledges in West Seattle:||44 shutoffs avoided||138 shutoffs avoids|
|Total amount paid||To SPU: $13,282.00||To SCL: $28,540.55|
|Average overdue amount||$600.48
|Average pledge amount from the West Seattle Helpline||$308.88 (49%), the remaining 26% is paid by the customer||$208.33 (49%)|
|Estimated savings/cost if shutoff threshold had been 50%/75%||– $6,455.12 (meaning at a 50% threshold about West Seattle Helpline could have helped 10 more people)
|+ $12,979.13 (meaning at a 75% threshold SCL would have been able to help 30 fewer people)|
In response, the utilities agreed to examine the delinquency policies. Concerned about these impacts, I submitted a budget proposal to maintain the 50% down-payment standard to avoid shut-off for both utilities, instead of the 75%.
I learned yesterday that the General Manager of SCL and the CEO of SPU have agreed to utilize the 50% down-payment to prevent shut-off. This will be implemented through a Director’s rule, and will be in place by January 1.
I’m thankful for the utilities’ quick response and their decision that paying 50% of an outstanding balance is sufficient to avoid shut-off. I will continue looking for other opportunities to help residents keep their power on.
Public Safety Survey
Seattle University is administering the citywide 2016 Seattle Public Safety Survey. This survey is conducted independently by Seattle University researchers, and collects data at the neighborhood level about perceptions of crime and public safety, and police-community interactions.
The survey is accessible at publicsafetysurvey.org from October 15th through November 30th and is available in Amharic, Chinese, English, Korean, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
A report on the survey results will be provided to the Seattle Police Department to assist them in their work and evaluation of the department’s Micro Community Policing Plans, which are designed to address the distinctive needs of each community. You can find out which Micro Community Policing Plan area you live in at the Micro Community Policing Plan map website Crime data for each area can be found here.
Please tell your friends, family, co-workers and community members about the 2016 Seattle Public Safety Survey and feel free to post the survey link on your social media. Public safety and security are community concerns. Please make sure your voice is heard by completing the public safety survey today.
Background on the partnership with Seattle University is available here.
The 2015 survey results are available at the Seattle Police Department Public Safety Survey website, and shows results at the neighborhood level. Results are listed in District 1 for Alki, Fauntleroy SW, High Point/Alaska Junction/Morgan Junction, Highland Park, North Admiral, North Delridge, Pigeon Point, South Park, and Westwood/Roxhill/Arbor Heights.
In the Southwest precinct, when combined, car prowls and lack of police capacity/presence were listed as the top safety concerns—the same as the other four precincts citywide. However, drilling down to the neighborhood level reveals diverse concerns: in Alki, parking issues were listed as a top issue, in Fauntleroy it was car prowls, in Pigeon point residential burglary; in South Park littering/dumping.
The Ponderosa Pine
Over the last few months, many community members have asked me to help save the Ponderosa Pine at 3036 39th Ave SW in the Belvidere/Admiral neighborhood from being removed as a result of a proposed development on a small lot that required approval of Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). In response, I met with concerned neighbors and wrote to and met with SDCI Director Nathan Torgelson to seek: (1) clarity about the process SDCI uses to approve development on these small lots under 3,200 sq. feet; (2) information about the cost of a code interpretation letter; and (3) support for better land use policies that protect exceptional trees.
Here is some background on the law that allows developer to build on these small lots. Several years ago, community members discovered that developers were developing some very small lots in ways that were not intended by the drafters of the code. The Department engaged in a lengthy process, involving much public input, and proposed a series of recommendations. After much debate, and with amendments by several Councilmembers, the Council unanimously adopted Ordinance 124475 in 2014.
One of the things the neighbors sought was public notice of all developments on undersized lots. Typically notice is provided for Type II projects, but not for Type I projects. The Council decided in 2014 that these should be Type I projects, but with public notice when the development is on a site smaller than 3,200 sq. feet. The City Council also decided that these small lot projects may be appealed, but that the appeal would be limited to whether special exception criteria are met. The criteria relates to the depth of the structure on the lot, the width of the lot, and window placement on the building lot to take into consideration the interior privacy in abutting houses.
A code interpretation letter explains how SDCI interprets the code – in this case community members are seeking a code interpretation letter from SDCI of how they interpret the code that allows SDCI to permit some developments on these small lots. There is a charge to requesters for these interpretations. SDCI is a fee supported department, like many regulatory departments with a cost recovery funding model, and 85% of the Department’s services are supported with fees from the public to pay for these services. The average time it takes SDCI to produce one of these letters is about 31hours and, of the letters reviewed, the least time was 9 and a half hours.
Director Torgelson has agreed to consider and review the following options for future changes, including:
- Eliminating the base fee for interpretations and charging on an hourly basis, or collecting less than 10 hours of work as a base fee, especially concerning issues where a legal building site letter has been completed (thus initial staff analysis has already been completed);
- Posting more information on-line about the process for legal building site letters; and
- Reviewing the legal building site and interpretation process for lots under 3,200 square feet as they already have a notice and Type II appealable decision component.
In response to the community suggestion that we eliminate the base fee for interpretations and charge on an hourly basis. I submitted a proposed amendment to the SDCI fee ordinance legislation to address the 10 hour minimum requirement. Further, I am proposing a Statement of Legislative Intent requiring, by March 31, SDCI review for improvements the process for requesting and issuing legal building site letters and code interpretations and update and post information on-line and in the Public Resource Center more clearly describing the process.
Finally, I have concerns about the fact that the 2014 ordinance did not consider additional criteria that SDCI should use to make a determination whether sites are buildable and have requested that SDCI consider additional changes to the Small Lot Exceptions Ordinance to include exceptional trees as a criteria that must be considered in its determination on whether the site is a buildable lot.
Next week in the budget
Two key events in the Council’s budget process are scheduled for next week. First of all, the Budget Committee Chair, Councilmember Burgess, will release his initial balancing package for the budget on Wednesday, November 2. There are $73 million in proposed Council additions to the budget, which were heard in the Budget Committee during the last week. I wrote last week about my proposals. Budget Chair Burgess’ balanced budget package will not include all $73 million for these proposals—it will only include those that he decides to prioritize. You may wish to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding items you support.
Secondly, Councilmembers wanting to propose amendments to the Chair’s balancing package can propose amendments for presentation at the Budget Committee two weeks from now. A total of three sponsors will be needed for items to appear on the agenda and each proposal will need 5 votes in support to ultimately be included in the budget. The deadline for proposals is on Friday, November 4 at 5 p.m.
Additional information, including an archive of budget documents from 2009 to the present, is available at the Council’s Budget website. Meetings can be viewed live on the Seattle Channel’s live feed; past meetings can be viewed at the Seattle Channel’s Budget Committee archive.
In-District Office Hours
I will not be having in-district office hours during the month of November due to Budget Committee meetings as well as the Holiday. Therefore my next office hours will be in December.
I will be at the South Park Community Center (8319 8th Avenue S) on Friday, December 16, from 12:00pm – 7:00pm. The final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30pm. These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (email@example.com).