City Hall and Coronavirus Updates
Friends and Neighbors, It’s working. I’m so grateful for the sacrifices we have made collectively for each other and for Seattle. With both pain and purpose, we have canceled schools, sent workers home, closed businesses—because it saves lives. New evidence confirms it’s working and our progress is gaining national appreciation. As our curve begins to flatten we must remain diligent in our efforts to protect public health. This glimmer of hope doesn’t mean we can cease social distancing just yet, but it’s a heartening look at how our sacrifices are starting to pay off.
On behalf of our district, thank you.
UPDATES ON COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND RELIEF
Announcements from Governor Inslee, Mayor Durkan, and D.C.
STATE: Governor Jay Inslee, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, has extended school closures for the remainder of the school year.
The Governor also announced the formation of the WA Food Fund, a statewide food relief fund that will help feed communities across our state. The number of individuals relying on food banks has doubled in recent weeks, and this relief effort is much needed. To donate to the WA Food Fund, visit www.wafoodfund.org.
Furthermore, Governor Inslee announced that Washington, California, and Oregon would form the Western States Pact, which includes a shared vision for reopening our economies and controlling COVID-19 moving forward.
Governor Inslee also “extended and expanded his moratorium on evictions and has imposed a new freeze on increases of residential rents.” For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.
CITY: To further reduce the spread of coronavirus in our community, Mayor Durkan last weekend announced the full closure of some city parks where social distancing recommendations were not being followed. Parks closed in and around District 4 include Green Lake, Magnuson Park, Gas Works, and Woodland Park. SPR and SPD deployed staff to encourage social distancing at these highly frequented parks.
FEDS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). This is to slow the spread of the virus and prevent people This is to slow the spread of the virus and prevent people who may have the virus (but not know it) from transmitting it to others. For more info about making your own mask, CLICK HERE.
Flattening the Curve
Recent data suggests that the Seattle area is doing a great job of decreasing the spread of coronavirus. Though it’s challenging to stay home, data shows that our efforts are working. We continue to heed the guidance of Dr. Jeff Duchin, our region’s Public Health Officer, to determine when is the appropriate time to lift restrictions on social distancing.
During this health crisis, the ability for the unsheltered to attend to their hygienic needs is a critical issue. I support the recent actions of Councilmember Lewis as Chair of the Select Committee on Homelessness, and share his concerns regarding increased access to additional hygiene stations through the city to improve public health during the pandemic. To view our recent meeting CLICK HERE.
After conferring with social service providers in District 4, I recently asked the Mayor’s Office to deploy more temporary hygiene stations in the U District. Here’s a map of the current facilities.
Relief from Federal Government
The Office of Intergovernmental Relations (OIR) provided a briefing to Council this week to review the $2 trillion federal COVID relief bill.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:
- Individuals making up to $75,000 (or married couples making $150,000) are eligible for the full $1,200 (or $2,400 if married) check.
- $150 billion will be allocated to states and localities to use for expenditures related to COVID-19.
- For bigger unemployment benefits and more help for small businesses, keep reading.
Where to Find Updates on COVID and Relief
The Seattle City Council continues to update its COVID-19 webpage which includes resources supporting workers, childcare, small businesses, and tenants/landlords. You can also visit Mayor Jenny Durkan’s centralized COVID-19 webpage, as well as the Mayor’s blog for additional updates. Additionally, our Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has been translating and sharing information on COVID-19 in several languages. For links to OIRA’s fact sheets and other translated materials, go to their blog: https://welcoming.seattle.gov/covid-19/
And for the latest from Public Health Seattle-King County you can visit their website to track our region’s response to the virus.
Unemployment Benefits Boosted
- The federal stimulus package boosted existing unemployment benefits for those laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic – in addition to emergency cash payments that will be disbursed to low and moderate income families. People who qualify for unemployment insurance can receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government for up to 13 weeks (that’s on top of the unemployment payments from the State government). For more information on the substantial relief for those suffering job losses, CLICK HERE.
- For Seattle Times article “What to do if you get laid off or furloughed,” CLICK HERE.
Income Tax Deadline Extended
The deadlines to file and pay federal income taxes are extended from to July 15, 2020. For a helpful link to the IRS website regarding Economic Impact Payments and other timely news, CLICK HERE.
SMALL BUSINESS SUPPORT
Bigger and Better Support for Small Businesses
The most recent stimulus package from the federal government included forgivable loans for small businesses that retain employees (the new “Paycheck Protection Program”). This is new program is more generous than the low-interest “disaster loans” from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The demand for the program has been overwhelming and at the time we were printing this, Congress was debating how/when to provide more funding for PPP. To apply for this variety of financial relief on the SBA website, CLICK HERE. Because relief packages are frequently improved and updated as all levels of government try to respond, you can sign up for SBA updates by CLICKING HERE.
For the Seattle Times article that answers key questions, CLICK HERE.
Small Business Stabilization Grant Awardees Announced
Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle Office of Economic Development announced the first round of COVID relief grants for 250 “micro businesses.” Many businesses throughout Seattle applied and I’m glad to see several in District 4 will be receiving these grants, including Cafe Racer on Roosevelt Way. Microbusinesses can apply for the second round of the Stabilization Fund by visiting OED’s website. (Micro businesses are defined as 5 or fewer employees, as required by the source of this particular federal CDBG funding.) To view an interactive map with the 250 small grantees, click here. For Frequently Asked Questions about the City’s $10,000 grants for businesses with 5 or fewer employees, click here.
Additional Relief for Small Businesses
There have been many efforts to assist small businesses at the City, State and Federal government level. This link from the Mayor’s Office is a good place to start if you’re looking for resources. For a comprehensive up-to-date guide for assistance, you can also visit the Office of Economic Development’s website for businesses impacted by COVID-19, which also includes information on utility payment relief, B&O tax deferment, and other tax filing extensions, stabilization funds, weekly webinar registration info, unemployment and benefit information, toolkits and technical assistance, and links to private and philanthropic funds as well.
DISTRICT 4 UPDATES
5-Car Safe Lot Pilot Program for Homeless
Councilmember Pedersen attended a virtual forum hosted by U Heights, the Urban League, and University Temple Methodist Church to hear the nonprofits’ plans for a 5-person, overnight safe lot pilot program for individuals or families living in their vehicles located in the University District. You can still watch the public forum online by CLICKING HERE. You can also write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or visit their Safe Lot FAQ page. The City’s Human Services Department will administer the contact to measure and report progress on moving those experiencing homelessness into permanent housing.
Beware of Unscrupulous Real Estate Speculators
Renters are hurting a lot during the economic fallout of this public health pandemic and, thankfully, the Mayor and City Council have been enacting relief for both residential renters as well as nonprofits and small businesses renting their spaces. For a summary of assistance for renters, click here and here.
As documented in a recent article in the Seattle Times, homeowners on fixed incomes such as senior citizens are vulnerable to economic displacement from the city we all love, especially at the hands of unscrupulous real estate speculators. When I knocked on doors on every block of our District 4, I heard countless stories of anxiety from older homeowners surviving on fixed incomes in the face or rising taxes and utility bills being harassed by unsolicited offers to buy their homes. I’d like to make homeowners aware of the relief that can help them survive financially:
- Foreclosure Moratorium: If your mortgage is backed by FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the bank cannot foreclose through at least May 17 and payments can be deferred for a year. Contact your mortgage loan servicer/ bank if you need help. I crafted a letter with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, asking Governor Inslee to implement a statewide ban on banks from foreclosing.
- Utility No Shut Off and Payment Plans: Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle City Light (SCL) will keep utility services on during the COVID-19 Civil Emergency in Seattle. This will provide immediate utility relief for customers, both residential and commercial, financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Effective immediately, all SPU and SCL customers can set up deferred payment plans if their financial stability has been jeopardized by COVID-19. Utility service will stay on as their deferred payment plans are developed and implemented.
- Utility Discount Programs: SPU and SCL have created a Utility Discount Program (UDP) self-certification form for income-eligible customers.
- Property Tax Deferral: King County has postponed April 30 property-tax payments for many homes until June 1.
John Wilson, the King County Tax Assessor “urged homeowners who receive unsolicited offers during the pandemic to contact his office or file a complaint with the state attorney general’s consumer-protection division.”
How to Help Food Banks in D-4
Grateful to the big-hearted team at University District Food Bank for letting me experience their joy in fulfilling the food wishes of neighbors struggling to find their next meal — a fundamental fear that has spread during the COVID crisis. Our local foodbanks are working overtime to respond to the urgent needs of our community. What food banks need most right now are financial donations rather than volunteers or food donations. During the COVID crisis, the required social-distancing limits and the extra time it takes to train volunteers makes it difficult to deploy more volunteers. Financial donations, on the other hand, enable food banks to leverage their buying power to obtain lower-cost bulk quantities and to pivot to items people need most right now. You can support the two food banks in our District 4 by donating to Family Works in Wallingford or the University District Foodbank. For a list of additional food banks to support, please CLICK HERE or
Eastlake Residents Can Provide Input on Terry Pettus Park
Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) invites the community to participate in the future renovation of Terry Pettus Park, a waterfront pocket park on the shore of Lake Union at 2001 Fairview Ave. E.
Public input is essential for the success of this project to improve the health and safety of the existing park and its new addition directly south of the park. While we cannot conduct in-person meetings at this time, you can take this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TerryPettusParkRenovation–and participate in the future of Terry Pettus Park.
The new parcel, purchased with approval of the City Council, will add 4,000 square feet of shoreline property to the existing park, at its south side. For more information, CLICK HERE.
Mayor Opening Farmers Market This Weekend With Caution and Cauliflower
After receiving many e-mails from constituents in District 4 and throughout the city about the importance of access to healthy foods, this weekend the Mayor is reopening two popular Seattle farmers markets — University District and Ballard — but with new rules and a request that shoppers take an oath of “strict distancing, routine sanitation, and extended health measures at our food access points…to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” The U District Market will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For a Seattle Times article with details, CLICK HERE.
YOUR CITY COUNCIL
Concerns About New Payroll Tax Proposal
Your City Council voted to assign the controversial payroll tax bills from Councilmembers Sawant and Morales to the Budget Committee, rather than to Councilmember Sawant’s Sustainability and Renters’ Rights committee.
Although I am still evaluating the details of Councilmember Sawant’s proposal and I am hearing the views of my constituents, I have major concerns. I’m concerned it’s ill-conceived and ill-timed. That’s why I wanted to make sure we referred it to the Budget Committee on which all nine Councilmembers serve. I will provide more thoughts before our Budget Committee discusses the bills on Wednesday, April 22.
Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times recently concluded their proposal is falsely advertised as an “Amazon Tax” even though it would impose a new tax on over 700 Seattle employers. For Mr. Westneat’s April 10 column, CLICK HERE. For the April 5 Seattle Times editorial against the proposal, CLICK HERE.
For Councilmember Sawant’s explanations in favor of her proposal, CLICK HERE.
The tax proposal is actually 3 bills and you can learn more by perusing them:
- For the tax bill, Council Bill 119772, CLICK HERE.
- For the spending bill, Council Bill 119744, CLICK HERE.
- For the “interfund loan” bill, Council Bill 119773, CLICK HERE.
For a 6-page summary, CLICK HERE.
The City Council passed legislation this week to assist Seattle’s small businesses and nonprofits hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. I supported Councilmember Herbold’s bill to help prevent displacement of small businesses and nonprofits.
The legislation follows Mayor Jenny Durkan’s order prohibiting the eviction of a small business or nonprofit tenant for non-payment of rent or because an existing lease terminated during the civil emergency period.
“Struggling small businesses, which make up the heart and soul of our neighborhoods, are struggling to stay afloat and we want them to be able to relaunch successfully as soon as it is safe to do so” commented Alex Pedersen, District 4.
The legislation applies to nonprofits and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees that have been closed due to emergency orders or suffered loss due to COVID-19.
Enhancing Fiscal Accountability
Last week I voted in favor of Resolution 31941, which creates a working group to develop recommendations to enhance the Office of the City Auditor. As we face an economic recession in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever we need to look for cost savings in our budget so the City can function more efficiently.
Performance Audit of Seattle City Light’s Billing Systems
As a result of major changes by Seattle City Light to its meter and billing systems starting in late 2016, customers throughout Seattle began receiving extremely high bills. This pattern of erroneous overbillings of Seattle City Light customers was especially harmful to low income customers. In response to complaints in August 2018, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda requested a performance audit. After extensive research, the Auditor’s Office published its report on April 3, 2020.
As the chair of the City Council’s Transportation & Utilities Committee, I will make sure SCL expeditiously implements the Auditor’s recommendations and this oversight will include requiring progress reports from SCL both before and after the busy Fall budget season.
The Auditor identifies the causes of the problems and makes 16 recommendations. Among the problems were allowing too many “estimated” meter readings before confirming actual usage, insufficient training and authorization of staff to deal with problems, better outreach and communication with the public, and the need for better internal controls and monitoring. According to the audit report, “City Light has taken steps to reduce unexpected high bills but could further reduce them” by streamlining their dispute resolution process and empowering frontline staff to provide solutions to customers (page 2).
While Seattle City Light already stated that it agrees with the City Auditor’s recommendations and will be implementing by December 2020 all the remaining recommendations not already implemented, the Seattle Times editorial board published April 12 an editorial calling for swifter action during the COVID crisis to assist ratepayers. SCL published April 14 a blog post reiterating the relief and other supports SCL, the Mayor, and City Council been providing to customers, including no shut-offs, waivers of late fees, and expansion of the utility discount program.
- For the full performance audit, CLICK HERE.
- For relief from utility bills due to financial hardship from the coronavirus pandemic, including our policy of “no shut offs,” CLICK HERE for the City Council info and HERE for related info from Mayor’s info.
- For a link to our blog post with more information, CLICK HERE.
West Seattle Bridge – closed through 2021
On April 15, we learned from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) that, while the rate of cracking of concrete under the West Seattle Bridge has slowed, new cracking continues even with no vehicles. Unfortunately, SDOT now estimates the bridge cannot be made safe for traffic for at least the next 21 months (through the end of 2021). Safety will continue to be the top priority during this infrastructure emergency. SDOT is developing plans to shore up the bridge in advance of the likely extensive repairs. SDOT believes, however, that repairs would extend the life of the bridge for only 10 years.
The impact of this long-term closure on West Seattle cannot be understated. We will need additional work to manage traffic and mobility for residents. Ensuring access to emergency services and transit will be critical as well. What we are doing now to provide alternate routes will not be sufficient once traffic resumes normal levels.
We look forward to working with our State and federal governments to identify the funding for both the repairs and the eventual replacement of the bridge, including an expected stimulus package for infrastructure from Congress. This situation also reinforces the importance of renewing the Seattle Transportation Benefit District to provide additional bus service.
I support SDOT creating a technical advisory panel to leverage engineering expertise. As the chair of the City Council’s Transportation & Utilities Committee, I will require timely updates from both SDOT and the technical advisory panel. We will also pursue Legislative Department participation on the technical advisory panel to increase oversight of the complex solutions.
Here in District 4, we are fortunate that SDOT is seismically upgrading the 15th Avenue NE bridge next to Cowen Park. The closure of the West Seattle Bridge, however, underscores the need to get back to the basics with our transportation budget.
Councilmember Pedersen inspecting seismic retrofit of 15th Ave NE bridge near Cowen Park in District 4.
SDOT’s Bridge Group Supervisor Matt Donahue recently “pointed out that SDOT dramatically under-funds ongoing maintenance for fixed assets such as bridge structure; the standard for budgeting for annual maintenance is 1-3% of the value of the structures being maintained. Donahue’s department manages $8.3 billion of bridge structures; if fully funded, that would equate to an annual maintenance budget of at least $83 million. In contrast, his maintenance budget is only $7 million. It should be no surprise that there is a substantial amount of deferred maintenance in the city’s bridges and other transportation infrastructure.”
Presentation: For SDOT’s April 15, 2020 presentation to update the media on the condition of — and plans for — the West Seattle Bridge, CLICK HERE.
SDOT: For more information on the West Seattle Bridge, please see SDOT’s website by CLICKING HERE.
West Seattle Blog: For updates from the detailed West Seattle blog, CLICK HERE.
Councilmember Pedersen: For his original March 23, 2020 blog post on closure of West Seattle Bridge, CLICK HERE.
We Want to Hear From You
CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ON THE INTERNET: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or phone here, or listening on your phone by calling 206-684-8566. You can also submit public comment by sending a fax to 206-684-8587, or emailing your comment to email@example.com. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments.
VIRTUAL MEETINGS WITH YOUR COUNCILMEMBER: I’m having virtual in-district office hours so we can chat by telephone or via Skype. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. You can also just send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.
Hunker down, chin up — and soap up your Seattle hands. We will get through this together, Emerald City.
With gratitude — and community fortitude,
Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4