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West Seattle Bridge: May 8 Update; COVID-19 Update; New Eviction Defense for Renters; Advocacy for Small Businesses; Changes at District 1 Parks; Payroll Tax Legislation/Governor’s Order

West Seattle Bridge: May 8 update

Emergency Response Plan

On Monday, May 4th SDOT announced an emergency response plan developed with a multi-agency task force in the event that the West Seattle Bridge becomes unstable. The plan would entail evacuation of areas near the bridge in the event it becomes necessary. SDOT says “there are currently no indications that we will need to put our emergency response plan into action,” and that the bridge remains stable. The purpose of this plan is to preserve public safety, should the need arise.

SDOT further notes that the “only section of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge that currently has cracks is the highest span directly over the Duwamish River between West Seattle and Harbor Island.”

The evacuation area would include the lower bridge, part of Harbor Island and the Duwamish, and part of West Marginal Way.

The task force includes the City of Seattle, King County, Washington State, Port of Seattle, Northwest Seaport Alliance, United States Coast Guard (USCG), and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The plan calls for three potential scenarios: immediate evacuation; one to five days notice; and controlled demolition.

The plan notes there are no residences within the area that would need to be evacuated. More information is available here; SDOT encourages people to sign up for Alert Seattle for any emergency notices.

I have asked what SDOT’s plan is for traffic management, should the emergency plan be implemented.

While SDOT indicates the West Seattle Bridge remains stable, cracks continue to grow, though at a slower rate than before it was closed. SDOT has installed real-time monitoring equipment that will allow a clearer picture of whether the bridge can be first stabilized, then repaired.

SDOT’s design consultant, WSP, estimates crack growth rate at two inches per day in the worst cracked section in the south girder wall of the south girder, center span. SDOT’s consultants expect to have results from updated evaluations based on monitoring equipment in mid-May.

Road Work Updates

SDOT is planning to repave the westbound lanes of Roxbury between 16th and 18th Ave SW as early as mid-May, depending on weather. SDOT indicates they are coordinating with King County, which has jurisdiction over the eastbound lanes. SDOT will be doing outreach in advance.

On May 1, SDOT replaced the second pedestrian gate on the lower bridge, which will result in few outages affecting lower bridge openings. SDOT continues to adjust traffic signals.

Traffic Levels

SDOT has reported that citywide traffic levels are now at 50%; until recently they have been at 40%. King County Metro notes that bus ridership is down 75% overall, including 60% on Route 120, and 78% on the C Line, and down sharply for water taxi service.

Though traffic levels are lower than average in most areas, they continue to be two and a half times higher on West Marginal as compared to the early February baseline. The Lower Bridge is 29% below the early February baseline.

COVID-19 Update

Governor’s Phased Safe Start

Governor Inslee announced this week a phased reopening of Washington.  Dubbed Safe Start, the phased approach includes four phases, that will last at least three weeks each. Phase one began on May 5 and continues much of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, but allows for some outdoor recreation including hiking, golfing, fishing, hunting, and boating. Gatherings of any kind are still not allowed. Travel will still be limited to essential travel needs and travel associated with the previously mentioned activities.

Phase one also opens some new businesses including existing construction that meets specific criteria, landscaping, auto sales, retail with curb-side pick-up order only, and pet walkers. Again the below phases will last three weeks each at least, and the Governor will rely on meeting metrics in order to move into the next phase.

New Eviction Defense for Renters

On Monday the Council unanimously passed Council Bill 119784 which creates a defense to evictions for non-payment of rent for six months after the end of the declared public health emergency.  It requires that renters file a certification of financial hardship with the court in raising the defense.

This coming Monday the Council will consider two additional pieces of related legislation. CB 119788, sponsored by Council President González,  would allow residential tenants to make up past due rent in installments. I’m bringing forward an amendment that would allow the payment plans to be a year in length, if more than two months of rent is past due. As crafted the legislation would require that two months’ rent be paid back over the course of six months. However, that burden of such a large payment is concerning to me. If, for example, someone’s rent is $2,000 and they miss three months of rent, they would (under the current proposal) have six months to pay back $6,000 which would make their total monthly payments $3,000 each, which would be incredibly difficult to meet.

The second piece of legislation, CB 119787, sponsored by Councilmember Morales, is related to the use of eviction records and would prohibit landlords from considering evictions related to COVID-19, as part of an application, during and six months after the civil emergency.

 

Advocacy for Small Businesses

This week, I joined my colleagues in signing a letter requesting additional assistance for small businesses from our state leaders and federal delegation.  Among other things, this letter asks for: forbearance of business mortgage payments; supports to ensure that smaller small businesses have equitable access to funding opportunities; direct grant stimulus to small businesses; and adequate testing and contact tracing capabilities.  Based on concerns I heard from constituents, I added these requests to the letter:

  • Provide technical assistance to all small businesses to help them navigate federal assistance programs.
  • Increase production and distribution of personal protective equipment (such as masks), so that all small business employees can protect themselves.
  • Reform the federal Payroll Protection Plan to set aside funds based on the characteristics of the businesses to be supported, instead of the characteristics of the lender.

The situation for small businesses changes rapidly.  An important resource to keep on hand is is the City’s Office of Economic Development (OED).  They provide technical assistance for small business owners and share information about resources available from multiple levels of government.

 

Changes at District 1 Parks

This coming weekend will see changes at some of our most popular parks.

Alki Beach, Lincoln Park, and West Seattle Stadium will all close for the night at 8pm (instead of 11:30pm), starting on Friday.  This change is meant to deter the gatherings that have been occurring there in the evenings.  In all, seventeen parks across the city will observe the new 8pm closing time each day.

Parking lots remain closed at major parks, but at Lincoln Park, nine accessible ADA parking spaces (four at lower beach lot, and five at the southern upper lot) will be available.  No other parking will be allowed, and violators will be ticketed.

Stay Healthy Streets will now be closed to traffic 7 days a week, 24 hours a day –  not just on weekends.  In addition to High Point, the City will add Stay Healthy Streets in Delridge/Highland Park, and Beach Drive SW in Alki.  These are pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets, often adjacent to local businesses and amenities, where only local traffic is permitted.  They’re a great alternative to destination parks, which may be crowded.

Mother’s Day is traditionally one of the busiest of the year at Seattle parks.  Please following these  “Keep It Moving” guidelines:

  1. Stay Home. If you need to leave the house, visit your neighborhood park.
  2. Keep it Moving. Keep walking, running, rolling or biking. That means no picnics, no BBQs, no sports, no gatherings at our parks.
  3. Visit at Off Peak. Visit parks, greenways and farmers markets at off peak hours.
  4. Crowded Spaces will mean Closed Spaces. If you see a crowd, go somewhere else.

To report crowding at parks, call 206-684-4075, email pks_info@seattle.gov or tweet @seattleparks. pks_info@seattle.gov or tweet to @seattleparks

Questions about what’s open and closed?  Seattle Parks keeps this list updated.

 

Payroll Tax Legislation/Governor’s Order

The Council’s Select Budget Committee has recently met twice to consider legislation related to a proposed payroll tax on large businesses, a bill for a related spending plan, and a bill to enact an interfund loan to allow the City to spend the funds on the spending plan priorities before the City collects the payroll tax.

I’ve long believed we need progressive revenue sources and a more fair tax structure.  I have worked on and will continue to work toward these goals. I also strongly believe in the importance of open government as a linchpin to our democratic system of government.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 23rd, Governor Inslee released Proclamation 20-28, “suspending certain statutory requirements in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA) for 30 days.” He subsequently extended the order through May 4th, and later through May 31st.

The order a. prohibits public agencies from holding in person meetings and b. prohibits them from taking action as long as meetings are not being held in person  “unless those matters are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

This proclamation carries the force of law, and notes penalties for failure to comply.

The State Attorney General offered the following guidance for this order:

“As a result, we suggest that an agency will want to keep in mind the OPMA’s open government cornerstones. These cornerstones would support reasons to temporarily limit a governing body’s usual business during this outbreak and for it to focus instead on only those matters necessary and routine, or those needed to deal with the outbreak, until the public can again fully attend all OPMA meetings, including in person if they choose.” (underline added)

In person governance is a critical aspect of open, democratic governance. This was starkly highlighted for me in a digital town hall on the West Seattle Bridge I co-hosted on April 22nd, when 3,200 people viewed the town hall. I couldn’t tell if anyone shook their heads in disappointment, frowned or nodded, booed or clapped.

Due to my concern about two of the bills, CB 119722 and CB 119774, not meeting the standard of the Governor’s order and the Attorney General’s advice, I declined to participate in the discussions of the Select Budget Committee about these bills. I sent a letter to Council President González expressing my concerns about two of the three proposed bills not meeting the standard in the Governor’s proclamation.

I proposed two alternate paths for the Council to consider for moving forward on consideration of legislation: 1) to scope the bills so that they complied with the Governor’s order to address needs arising from the COVID-19 public health crisis, or 2) taking up the proposed legislation after the restrictions on in person meetings in the Governor’s order expire.

In response to the letter I sent last week, yesterday Council President González sent a memo to the Council.  In it she thanks me for my ongoing conversations with her about my concerns and my clear communication to the Council.  She explains her intent to strictly comply with the Governor’s order and the Open Public Meetings Act.  She goes on to say that she too has serious concerns about whether the package of bills meets the standard of “necessary and routine “ or “necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”  She concludes by requesting the Council Chair of the Select Budget Committee, Councilmember Mosqueda, to cease deliberations on these bills through at least May 31st.  Councilmember Mosqueda has agreed.

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