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West Seattle Bridge Update, August 14; Statement on Retirement of SPD Chief Best; Parks & Alki; Jumpstart Veto Override and Spending Plan

West Seattle Bridge Update, August 14

Next week the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force will meet on Wednesday, and continue its review and input to the development of the cost-benefit analysis model that will be used in part to decide whether to repair or replace the bridge.  We will also continue review of and input to the draft Reconnect West Seattle plan.

On Wednesday August 19th, the Transportation and Utilities Committee plans to consider legislation to authorize two interfund loans  of up to $70 million to fund work on the West Seattle Bridge. I serve on the committee and look forward to supporting this legislation.

Through August 3rd, SDOT spent $3.8 million on bridge and related work.

Last week, in my ongoing conversations about the funding opportunities for the West Seattle Bridge with the office of US Representative Jayapal, I learned about a new potential federal funding source, called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure (BRIC) grant program. The application period for this opens on September 30th; applications are due on January 29, 2021. By this deadline SDOT will have better project definition, which will assist in developing a grant proposal.

BRIC grants are for states, local communities and tribes for pre-disaster mitigation activities. BRIC priorities are to incentivize public infrastructure projects; projects that mitigate risk to one or more lifelines; projects that incorporate nature-based solutions, and the adoption and enforcement of modern building codes.

I thank the office of Representative Jayapal for diligently monitoring potential federal grant opportunities, and quickly letting the city know whenever they are available.

According to SDOT, the lower bridge has opened 858 times through the end of July: 757 times for marine traffic, and 101 times for maintenance, testing or aborted openings. The most common operator is Broughton and Beckwith; openings last an average of 12 minutes; 357 openings occurred during peak travel hours.

I asked SDOT about openings in 2019. For the entire year, there were 1390 openings for marine traffic, 502 during peak travel hours, and 371 times for maintenance, testing or aborted openings.

The Coast Guard currently uses a “standard of care” that asks mariners to voluntarily limit their requests for openings during peak travel hours.  502 openings during peak travel hours for the entire year of 2019, as compared to 357 openings during peak travel hours through July of this year, has led me to make additional inquiries of SDOT of whether or not the Coast Guard is using the “standard of care” as intended.

Here are the most recent traffic volumes; traffic continues to be high on Highland Park Way and West Marginal, and above pre-COVID levels on the South Park Bridge and Roxbury, and South Michigan Street in Georgetown.

Travel times are listed below:

Traffic volumes for the lower (Spokane Street) bridge are shown from the start of February through August 1st:

 

Statement on Retirement of SPD Chief Best

Below is the statement I issued in response to Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s announcement that she plans to retire next month:

“As chair of the committee that oversees public safety in Seattle, I want to start by sincerely thanking Chief Best for her 28 years of dedication and service to our City.

“Make no mistake:  the Chief’s retirement is a staggering loss to leaders of the Black and Brown community.  I remember the 2018 annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which occurred during another time of uncertainty for the future of her leadership.  One official after another spoke, each met with polite applause. That day, Chief Best’s speech received not one, but two, standing ovations.  I texted her at the time to say that I didn’t want to jinx her, but that after two standing ovations I believed she had cinched the top job and that I hoped it was the case.  The importance of her tenure and achievement as the City’s first Black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department can not be overstated.

“At times of social unrest, police chiefs are often in no-win situations. I’ve seen it before.  In the wake of the WTO demonstrations, Police Chief (Norm) Stamper resigned in the absence of clear direction from the Executive or obvious support from the Police Union.  The Council, now that we’ve passed a new SPD budget, needs to work with the Chief in order to successfully implement it. If she did so, she could lose the support of the police union, SPOG, which is continuing to move to a more conservative point on the political spectrum.  At the same time, if she doesn’t work to make deployment decisions that only she is authorized to make in order to implement the Council’s budget, she will continue to face criticism.

“Any career in policing, at this time in our nation’s history, will involve engagement with a large segment of the public questioning the third rail of local politics: that larger police departments equal better public safety outcomes.  Every major city in the nation has a police chief who is learning that leadership means understanding that they may need to figure out how to accept – and get their departments to accept – that the public wants less policing and more community safety.

“Policing at the highest levels in our country has been forever changed by what we’ve observed since George Floyd’s death.  We are in an historic time that requires everyone in leadership and service – in Seattle and throughout the country – to question, to learn, and to change.  This is especially true for law enforcement, an institution being called upon to reckon with the harm it has done to Black and Brown communities, while accepting the opportunity to embrace fundamental, structural change that will lead to true community safety.

“I am deeply and sincerely sorry that the Chief feels Council’s actions have been disrespectful toward individual officers and that our journey to reimagine community safety has been personally directed at her. As public safety chair, I take responsibility and offer my apology to Chief Best.

“The Council is in a difficult position as well.  We have to be able to say when we disagree, and strive for accountability when necessary.  We have to be able to ask hard questions about the SPD, and engage in difficult debate about the appropriate role of policing, the SPD budget, and SPD’s recent actions in response to demonstrations against violent policing here in Seattle.  After the first weekend of demonstrations, after the Chief addressed the Council, she told me that the Council had disrespected her in questioning her in committee about the actions of the police.  Indeed, it is the Council’s job to ask questions.  And with Council’s role in appointing a new Chief clearly spelled out in Resolution 31868 re Council confirmation of department directors), any candidate will be subject to the same scrutiny as Chief Best has faced.

“Chief Best deserves our recognition and respect for nearly thirty years of dedication to policing and public safety, duty, and service to the people of Seattle.  I am grateful for her service.  I am also committed to continuing the work around rebuilding community safety and trust in our City.”

 

Parks & Alki

After hearing from many members of the public, and receiving inquiries from my office as well, Parks & Recreation agreed to provide funding for SPD officers to close the gate at Don Armeni and assist with closing Alki Beach.  Specifically the announcement, reported last week on the West Seattle Blog and the Seattle Times, was that:

“The Parks Department has generously agreed to fund a three-officer detail to support Parks staff in closing Alki Beach and the Don Armeni Boat Ramp at night, starting tomorrow (Thursday), August 6th. The officers will work three hours, from 8-11 pm, every Thursday through Sunday night for the remainder of the summer, until Sunday, September 27th.”

My office immediately inquired with Parks Superintendent Aguirre, requesting an update on the situation, and whether we should expect a request for a Council approval of a transfer of funding from Parks to SPD for this purpose.

The question was resolved on Monday when we were informed that Parks will be contracting with off-duty officers to close Alki Beach and the Don Armeni boat ramp at night. Parks has the resources and appropriation authority to pay for this work so no further appropriation authority is needed from the Council.  I still have an outstanding inquiry with the Parks Department why they determined that Parks Ambassadors are not sufficient to close Alki Beach and the Don Armeni Ramp.  I recognize, having been in both locations at night, that there may be some closure compliance issues, but I’d like to understand why they cannot be addressed on a case by case situation, rather than relying on off-duty officers to close the park and boat ramp.

 

Jumpstart Veto Override and Spending Plan

On Wednesday this week, the Full City Council held a special meeting to discuss the Mayor’s veto of the Jumpstart spending plan passed unanimously by the City Council on July 20.

CB 119812 authorized spending from the City’s two emergency “reserve funds” in 2020 to support people and businesses impacted by COVID, including support for small businesses, nonprofits, immigrants and refugees; food security; rental assistance benefiting landlords and tenants; and immediate housing needs. The two reserve emergency funds would be replenished in 2021 with the projected new payroll tax revenue paid only by eligible large employers (with more than $7 million in total payroll) and based only on the number of highly compensated employees (only positions with payroll greater than $150,000/year). The Mayor vetoed this legislation on July 31.

The Council not only voted to override the Mayor’s veto, but we also voted on and passed, 7-1 (with only Councilmember Sawant voting in opposition) a new bill to address some of the concerns expressed by the Mayor in her July 31 veto.  It’s important to understand the Council’s Charter obligations for why we voted to override this veto, even knowing that we had a new piece of legislation to pass that would replace the vetoed bill.

Some argued we should just “mothball” the vetoed bill and introduce a new one to address the Mayor’s concerns.  We are prohibited by the City Charter from doing so.  The City Charter says that the Council “shall” vote to sustain or override the veto.  We don’t have the legal right to take no action.  This Charter requirement has as its foundation that the Council as a Legislative body must do its work in public.  We can’t make a non-public policy decision to ignore a bill that has been vetoed and start with a new bill.

Another suggestion was that, if we were going to propose a new bill to address the Mayor’s concerns with the vetoed bill, we should have just sustained the Mayor’s vetoed bill and then voted on the new “replacement bill” for the Jumpstart spending plan.  We couldn’t do that on Wednesday either, because the new “replacement bill” for the Jumpstart spending plan was drafted as an amendment to the original vetoed bill.

If we had voted to sustain the Mayor’s veto, in order to vote on the new “replacement bill” for the Jumpstart spending plan, we would have had to draft an entirely new bill and that would have to be officially introduced on the Council’s “Introduction and Referral Calendar,” which assigns a bill number to the legislation and creates a public record. The Council cannot vote on a bill the same day it is introduced. The second thing to understand is that the Council has a two week recess period every year at the end of summer (last two weeks of August), August 17th happens to be the last Full Council before recess this year, and unfortunately the Council was not able to introduce new legislation before August 17th that would allow the Council to allocate a smaller amount of money than what was vetoed in CB 119812. Therefore the Council took the action of overriding the Mayor’s veto so that we could act on a piece of legislation that was already introduced so that the City can get relief to people without additional delay.

After overriding the veto, in the same meeting, the Council amended the legislation with a new bill in order to reduce the spending from $86 million in 2020 to $57 million in 2020.  This reduced spending goal was in recognition of the need of the City to access additional emergency reserves in order to address an additional reduction in revenue.  In order to give maximum flexibility to the Mayor and Executive Departments charged with expending the COVID19 relief funding, I requested that the following language be added to the new bill:

“The Council acknowledges that the administration of this program will require new contracts and systems to distribute these critical services and direct relief to the community  may take time and could result in not expending the full $57 million in 2020. If the full amount is not expended in 2020, the Council is committed to working with the Executive to continue funding these critical COVID-19 relief programs in 2021 and to address newly identified 2020 revenue shortfalls.”

It’s important to recognize the importance of these critical relief programs, but it’s equally important to understand the City’s ability to allocate these dollars in a timely fashion. The Council is signaling – through these actions – its intent to work with the Mayor to disperse the $57 million as quickly as possible, but we recognize that it may not be possible to spend all of the money by the end of 2020.

  • $9.55 million of the funds are intended to address the COVID19 economic hardship to small business owners (including non-profits) with 25 or fewer full time equivalent employees (FTEs) and their employees due to loss of business income, grant funding reductions, layoffs and reduced work hours
  • $2.39 million of the funds are intended to address the COVID19 economic hardship to childcare providers and their employees experience due to loss of income, layoffs and reduced work hours.
  • $20.01 million of the funds are intended for existing homelessness prevention programs, rental assistance programs, rapid rehousing programs, and diversion programs, many that serve both tenants and landlords.
  • $3.2 million of the funds are intended for personal protective equipment, overtime and premium pay for staff, food service, and cleaning supplies to support COVID19 health practices as part of the work being done by shelter providers and non-profit housing providers.
  • $700,000 of the funds are intended for mortgage counseling and foreclosure prevention programs, including costs for housing counselors, legal aid, service coordination, and direct financial assistance.
  • $11.3 million of the funds are intended as direct financial assistance to Seattle’s low-income immigrant and refugee households who have experienced the economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 crisis, prioritizing those who experience structural or institutional barriers to accessing support from the government (e.g. language barriers, risk of deportation), are ineligible for other federal or state emergency assistance, or are receiving such assistance in a limited or delayed manner that does not meet their needs, or those who have had or whose families have had adverse health impacts from COVID.
  • $9.09 million of the funds are intended to expand the Emergency Grocery Voucher program to allow more people participating in existing City programs to be served by this program.
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