Your New City Light General Manager!
Yesterday, the Seattle City Council unanimously confirmed Debra Smith as the next General Manager and CEO of Seattle City Light. This confirmation comes at a pivotal time for our publicly-owned utility, and I am excited to see Smith come on board. There has been plenty of news around issues City Light has faced, from unanticipated billing errors, capital project overruns, or a workplace culture – and Smith has shown that she is ready, capable and eager to take on these challenges.
Seattle City Light is also the greenest in the country; we receive nearly 100% of our electricity from renewable sources and we continue to be a leader in environmental conservation, protecting large swaths of forest land and salmon habitat. Our electricity rates continue to be some of the lowest in the nation. And our frequency and duration of outages routinely ranks as some of the best in the region. I am excited that Smith is committed to maintaining and improving upon this impressive standing, and taking on the current challenges in a collaborative and meaningful way.
Over the past two months, Smith has exhibited the skill and value set to lead City Light in the right direction, and her experience suggests a ready ability to change customer service outcomes for the better. Someone who listens, she has already begun collaborative work with workers and salmon restoration advocates, environmentalists, and industry leaders to lay the groundwork for successful engagement as General Manager. You can learn more here about her answers to my committee’s questions and her vision for the public utility.
I look forward to working with Debra Smith, and I appreciate you continuing to send your concerns, questions and billing issues our way so we can pass those along to City Light to get resolution quickly.
Public Lands for the Public Good
I believe that public land should be used for the best public good. And now I am proud to report that as of yesterday, we voted to adopt this principle in Seattle for City-owned property!
The legislation that my office drafted, directly with community groups and with the support of Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, prioritized using surplus and underutilized public property for the highest and best public good, notably affordable housing. And we went even further – these policies will help mitigate displacement, allow for long term master leasing of land, and create more affordable community ownership models of development in Seattle. Coupled with the City Light disposition policies adopted in July, our City has clear direction in statute for how to use surplus and underutilized properties for affordable housing, green open spaces, child care and education facilities, small business opportunities, and more!
Where prior administrations would use the sale of surplus property as a tool to fill budget holes, I am excited to work with Mayor Durkan who shares our values and belief that public lands must be put to the highest and best use for the public.
Hirobayashi Place in the CID is an example of a community-driven, transit-oriented housing development that includes affordable childcare on the first floor, and 100% affordable homes for families throughout.
More on the Mercer Megablock
One of the immediate properties that comes to mind when thinking of these policies is the Mercer Megablock. Combined, this nearly 3 acres of public land was approved for sale by the City Council in 2017, with guidelines that a Request for Proposal (RFP) process include considerations for affordable housing, labor peace, and other factors. This specific parcel faces some obstacles. First, prior administrations borrowed money against the sale of this property to fund the Mercer Corridor project from I-5 to Highway 99. Notwithstanding concerns about design that omits pedestrian, cyclist, and transit rider experience and priority, the concept of borrowing such a large sum (over $26 million) against a public parcel of land, followed by another previous administration borrowing another $4.5 million, is not in my opinion using public land for the best public good. It is heartening to see the current Mayoral administration opting against this type of budgeting that removes public opportunities to fulfill needs of future generations in order to fund the needs of today.
For properties like Mercer Megablock, which are difficult to develop into fully-affordable housing due to other funding constraints, we should maximize the requirement for housing on the land and use any net-proceeds to invest in building more affordable homes and community assets that might otherwise be disallowed due to primary funding sources.
Put another way, a lease or sale of this parcel could mean tens of millions to fund housing above childcare, next to open spaces, or with first-floor micro-business opportunities. I am looking forward to working with you and the Mayor to apply these shared principles to fund community-driven development, and was excited to hear Budget Director Ben Noble state that the Mayor’s office is committed to this type of funding during the budget committee meeting last Thursday, along with preference for leasing of public lands over outright sale, and look forward to continuing to work with community to ensure our priorities are funded. This is very welcome, and I am excited to continue working with the Mayor and the community on implementing our shared values!
Our Kiddos Need Care
I was recently talking with a friend who just had her baby! During this extremely happy (and exhausting) time in her life, I asked her how much time she had off until she returned to work – she informed me she was already back at work and went back just 3 days after the child was born.
While the City of Seattle has revamped our paid parental policies for our employees, and the state policies on paid parental leave that I worked on go into place in 2020, many in our City and in our State are still left without parental leave. Infant childcare and early education facilities in our City have longer and longer waitlists, are often in locations that aren’t near transit or work hubs, lack cultural competency and need significant workforce stabilization measures. This in combination with infant child care costing upwards of $2,300 a month or more in Seattle, often causing parents to make impossible decisions about staying in the workforce or paying their month’s salary toward childcare.
We need to do better – join me in 2019 as we figure out childcare and education solutions for our youngest kiddos. Let’s promote better work/life balance policies to pilot and advocate for parental bonding. Let’s make strides to end the consequences that are caused by the lack of child care, such as harming families financially and harming the health of the kiddos and new parents due to stress. It takes a village, it starts here. Email me your ideas, what you’ve seen work, what you wish you had. We will add you to our early learning list for engagement in 2019.
An early learning advocate (me!) with the daughter of an early learning advocate earlier this year
Budget Season Continues!
The Budget is out! Last Monday, the Mayor released her proposed budget outlining her priorities for the city over the next two years. All of the issues outlined above represent values and priorities of this office, and we are working collaboratively with community to review the proposed budget and ensure that our shared values and priorities are reflected – especially related to housing, health, early learning, workers’ rights, and small business supports!
Over the coming weeks, Councilmembers will be making proposals to modify and enhance the Mayor’s proposal. Is there something in the budget that is concerning? Something missing? Stay engaged with your District Councilmember and our office, and we’ll be working hard to ensure the budget adopted is one that reflects the priorities of our city!