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Now Live – Vacant Building Monitoring Program; West Seattle Junction Association: Commercial Block Watch, Rainbow Flag Adoption, and Restoring West Seattle Murals; Capital Projects Q1 2019 Update: Center City Streetcar

Now Live – Vacant Building Monitoring Program

The Council passed legislation during budget last year to implement a fee-based enhanced vacant building monitoring program. The enhanced vacant building monitoring program went into effect on June 1.  I will continue to monitor its effectiveness and receive monthly reports from the department. As the program rolls out, I want to hear from you about your experiences with vacant buildings and whether or not you believe the enhanced monitoring is effective.

Vacant buildings have been a major issue in the city and especially in District 1. District 1 had the most vacant building complaint cases of any area in the city with 95 cases, yet, District 1 had the least number of buildings in the previous monitoring program with only 2 properties being checked on a quarterly basis!

Look how quickly an unmaintained property can degrade to the point of it no longer being safe. The condition of this property has degraded after only one year of being vacant.

The new program requires monthly inspections for vacant buildings, which (1) have received three notices of violation, (2) are located on a lot for which a master use permit or building permit application has been filed, or (3) are included on a list maintained by the police or fire departments of vacant buildings that have generated large numbers of calls for dispatch and take away resources for public safety.

Buildings will be removed from the Program after they have been either repaired and reoccupied, have been inspected three consecutive times with no violations, or they have been demolished.

The Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI) anticipates an increase of about 1,200 new properties in the monitoring program. In order to support the increased number of properties SDCI has hired three new inspectors.

West Seattle Junction Association—Commercial Block Watch, Rainbow Flag Adoption, and restoring West Seattle Murals

The West Seattle Junction Association is currently District 1’s only Business Improvement Area or BIA.  They do great work in the Alaska Junction. You’ll see the results of some of their programs in the weeks to come, including:

  1. a Commercial Block Watch
  2. Rainbow Flag Adoption celebrating Pride Month
  3. Murals in West Seattle

BIAs are organizations that are established by and run by neighborhood businesses to identify important needs and allocate funding for things like street maintenance, community events and programs, promotions, public safety programs, and in some cases, street outreach and case management services and I encourage you to check them out to stay abreast of all this good work:

Rainbow Flag Adoption

60 Rainbow Flags will be raised in celebration of Pride Weekend on June 29-30 along California Avenue. This is exactly the kind of solidarity and creativity a BIA like the West Seattle Junction can lead on with neighborhood participation.   I’m particularly proud of the Junction BIA in initiating this program having learned just 3 hours ago today, that the Trump administration is rejecting requests from U.S. embassies to fly the rainbow pride flag on embassy flagpoles during June, LGBTQ Pride Month.

I’ve been elevating the issue of an uptick in hate crimes in Seattle with the goal of crafting legislation that would allow the City Attorney to prosecute misdemeanor hate crimes, and update descriptions of gender identity and expression and disability. Pride Month is about celebrating greater acceptance, inclusion, and access for our LGBTQ community members, and physical expressions like Rainbow Flags throughout the Junction go a long way in encouraging those principles. (Dr. Tim Thomas will be joining my Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee on June 11 to give a presentation about how hate crimes are showing up in different neighborhoods in Seattle, and what this may mean by the racial and economic characteristics of the City).

Commercial Block Watch

In January, the West Seattle Junction Association invited merchants in the Junction to a focus group to strategize about how to create a communication network to help community members support one another by sharing “suspicious activity” in the business district. The Commercial Block Watch plans to meet quarterly and will be joined by an officer with Seattle Police Department to provide an update about the illegal activity in the area.

I value the concerted effort of our small business community members, working with law enforcement, to develop and implement local solutions to address illegal activity in our neighborhoods. Creating greater cohesion in business districts can go a long way to ensure that we aren’t over-committing our limited City resources on individuals who repeat low-level property crimes out of desperation or as a symptom of a behavioral health challenge. Eyes and ears on the street to sound the alarm on this kind of activity is an effective strategy to divert people to more effective interventions than the criminal justice system provides.

You can check out a video from the focus group and register to be part of the Commercial Block Watch here.

Murals in West Seattle

There are 11 beautiful murals depicting the history and recreating photos of the Duwamish peninsula maintained by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. The West Seattle Junction Association is helping to steward the restoration of these murals, and was recently awarded with a $100,000 donation from Adah Cruzen in honor of her late husband Earl Cruzen’s work to attract “world-renowned artists” to beautify and tell the story of West Seattle. This gift will supplement other fundraising campaigns to restore the murals.

Capital Projects Q1 2019 Update: Center City Streetcar

The City Council has received the First Quarter Enhanced Capital Project reports for the 2019 watchlist that I sponsored and that the Council adopted earlier this year.

The reports add new projects not included in the 2018 trial, including the Center City Streetcar, South Park Stormwater Program, and the Center City Gateway (Denny Way) projects.

In the Q1 Watch List report for the Center City Streetcar the project is rated “red” for risk factors, unsurprisingly, given cost increases.

The report notes SDOT will present funding options to the City Council later in 2019, and anticipates requesting a proviso lift from the City Council later this summer; Council limited project construction spending in the 2019 budget.

I sent a note to SDOT Director Zimbabwe that the Move Seattle levy approved by Seattle voters in 2015 requires that “Any proposal to use Levy Proceeds to build or operate streetcars must be accompanied by a narrative presented to the appropriate Council committee evaluating the proposal’s geographic value, productivity, and effect relative to race and social justice implications. The narrative shall describe findings from applying the Racial Equity Toolkit.”

The most recent cost estimate is $286 million; funding proposals have included $75 million from federal funds. Without that funding, the January estimate is that $140 million would be needed.

The 2019 Q1 report notes this funding is less certain, due to the likely expiration of the $50 million included in the 2017 federal budget:

 “FTA Small Starts funding – The City is expecting $75 million in Small Starts Grant funding from the Federal Transit administration. $50 million was allocated to the project in the FFY 2017 budget. The $50 million will expire in Sept 2020 if a small starts grant agreement is not yet executed. We do not expect to have an executed small starts grant agreement by Sept 2020 under the revised, draft schedule, and will need to get that money re-allocated in the federal budget.”

The Risk Profile and Mitigation Plan section notes a concern regarding areaways, though it notes the use of inside lanes of 1st Avenue was informed by earlier analysis:

“Areaways – SDOT will be assessing the impacts of streetcar construction and the current operational plan, which has all non-streetcar traffic operating in the curb lane, adjacent to areaways, on First Avenue. (The decision to operate the streetcar in the inside lanes was informed by earlier analysis of areaways.)”

SDOT is conducting an assessment of areaways in Pioneer Square.

The Watch List reports notes that two projects received bids above the engineer’s estimate. First of all, for the Main Corridor of the Alaskan Way Viaduct; the report says the project budget has contingency to cover the cost. Secondly, the Northgate Bridge and Cycle Track received bids higher than the estimate, so the project is being modified to reduce costs, and re-bid.

The quarterly monitoring reports also include separate updates for Ongoing Programs and Discrete (individual) Projects.

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