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$11 Million Federal Grant and Notice to Proceed for West Seattle Bridge Repair; 4th of July and Fire Danger; Safe Reopening King County; Catalytic Converters, SPD Blotter; Building Affordable Housing on Religious Organization Property

$11 Million Federal Grant and Notice to Proceed for West Seattle Bridge Repair

The City of Seattle has received a $11.2 million federal grant from the US Department of Transportation to help pay for repairs for the West Seattle Bridge. The grant is from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.

Thanks to Representative Jayapal, who advocated strongly for federal funding, and met regularly with US DOT Secretary Buttigieg and other officials. Thanks as well to Senators Murray and Cantwell.

This increases total federal funding for the project to $25 million.

In other updates, on June 24, SDOT issued the Notice to Proceed to Kraemer North America for work to repair the bridge. This is another important and significant benchmark.  They expect to reach 60% design later this month.

King County Metro announced that on Saturday, July 3 normal passenger capacity resumes on all bus routes and the water taxi. KC Metro notes, “Passengers still must wear masks on transit and at indoor transit facilities in compliance with the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandate. Passengers also must continue to maintain a six-foot distance from bus drivers, except when paying fare.”

4th of July and Fire Danger

Earlier this week, Seattle twice set an all time record for high temperature. The forecast calls for high temperatures around 80 degrees throughout the weekend.

This combination of heat and dry weather significantly increases the risk of fires. Last Sunday, the Seattle Fire Department responded to six brush and bark fires. The use of fireworks in these conditions is extremely dangerous, and can be deadly. Two years ago a fire in White Center, just south of West Seattle, resulted in a fire burning down a house, a death from smoke inhalation, and the displacement of 12 residents from a neighboring home. Last year, a four-story apartment building in West Seattle quickly caught on fire from a brush fire that started from fireworks. It’s fortunate in that case that no one was injured.

The Seattle Fire Department has released the following statement about fireworks:

The recent hot, dry weather significantly increases the risk for dry grass, bark, and brush fires. A firework can easily start a fire in these conditions.

Every year, the personal use of fireworks cause fires and injure people in the Seattle area. Last year, the Seattle Fire Department responded to 16 fireworks-related fires including two structure fires. One significant fire happened on July 4, 2020 in West Seattle where fireworks ignited dry brush in front of a four-story apartment building which then quickly extended to the top floor balcony. Fortunately, no one was injured, but several residents were displaced and the total estimated loss was $100,000.

The recent hot, dry weather significantly increases the risk for dry grass, bark, and brush fires. A firework can easily start a fire in these conditions.

Here are ways to reduce fires caused by fireworks near your home:

  • Remove branches, dry grass and anything that can burn from around your home.
  • Make sure tree branches are not touching your home.
  • Clear roof and gutters of pine needles and leaves.
  • Don’t leave cardboard or loose paper recyclables outside – make sure they are in a closed bin.
  • Keep a garden hose with nozzle hooked up and ready to use.

Also, make sure smoke alarms are working by pushing the test button.

If you experience a fire, please call 9-1-1 immediately after you are in a safe location away from the fire.

Remember, fireworks are illegal in the City of Seattle. If you want to report the illegal discharge of fireworks, please do not call 9-1-1, but instead use the non-emergency line for the Community Safety and Coordination Center (206-625-5011). On a historically busy weekend in the City, the use of 9-1-1 should be reserved for life-threatening emergencies only.

I have talked to Fire Chief Scoggins about fireworks.  SFD Units will drive their district and provide public education leading up to and on the 4th.  SFD will respond to Fireworks calls dispatched by the Fire Alarm Center.  Fire Investigation Units will respond to investigate fire caused by fireworks. I have shared the location of problem areas in recent years in District 1.  Chief Scoggins in turn communicated these locations to the stations and confirmed that they will work to visit hotspot locations leading up to and on the 4th .

I’ve also spoken to SPD SW Precinct Captain Grossman; I appreciate his proactive outreach to Parks, SDOT and Seattle Public Schools to recommend preventative actions such as:

  • To SPS, Parks, and SDOT: Requested public messaging and signage that fireworks usage on school, parks, and SDOT property is strictly prohibited,
  • To SPS, Parks, and SDOT: Requested closing/locking any parking lot managed by SPS, Parks, or SDOT, or school field access gates.
  • To SPS, Parks, and SDOT: Requested keeping open fields and lots as lit up as possible (SPD has found that unlit open areas are particularly attractive to illegal fireworks users).
  • Requesting SPS to temporarily add cyclone fencing to parking lots and fields that have been used to launch fireworks in the past (e.g., Pathfinder K-8).
  • Requesting Parks to temporarily add cyclone fencing or other barriers to limit access to parking lots and fields that have been used to launch fireworks in the past (e.g., Riverview Playfield, Alki Beach Park, Alki Playground, Lincoln Park, Westcrest Park, and Roxhill Park).
  • Requesting SDOT to strategically close streets to limit vehicle access to problematic open public areas (e.g., the area around Riverview Park was particularly problematic last year).

The Department of Parks and Recreation has put up several hundred NO FIREWORKS signs in parks; Parks has also indicated they will to employ lighting and contracted security staff, mostly at our athletic fields with synthetic turf, where the damage from fireworks would be the most costly.

Lights will be turned off at 11 p.m. at fields including, in District 1:

  • Delridge Playfield, 4458 Delridge Way SW
  • Hiawatha Playfield, 2700 California Ave. SW
  • Walt Hundley Playfield, 6920 34th Avenue SW
  • West Seattle Stadium, 4432 35th Ave. SW

Please do not use fireworks and please discourage the use of fireworks by others. I previously wrote about fireworks efforts here.

Safe Reopening King County

On June 30th, Governor Inslee announced reopening in Washington State,  which removed most COVID-19 restrictions, and provided guidance on indoor and outdoor operations and events.

King County Public Health has a Safe Reopening page with a useful chart for mask wearing and physical distancing. While COVID cases are lower than before, it is still present.

The Safe Reopening page  also includes an FAQ with guidance, including for businesses.

If you still need to get vaccinated, try these:

King County Public Health vaccination data page notes 73.5% of King County residents age 16 and over have completed vaccination.

Catalytic Converters, SPD Blotter

Catalytic converter thefts have increased in the region, and across the country, over the last 18 months. Catalytic converters contain precious metals which can be sold for quick cash.

I worked early this year with SPD on language regarding policy related to catalytic converters theft to include in the 2021 workplan for the Public Safety and Human Services Committee:

“Create a local, regional, and possible state regulatory response to the national dramatic increase in catalytic converter theft. Develop enhancements to documentation of those attempting to sell the devices and/or restrict the ability to buy the devices to licensed retailers.”

One challenge with catalytic converters is that the market is national, as they can easily be mailed. This is different than, for example, the market for stolen copper wire, which is local. A coordinated response is needed across jurisdictions.  I have also asked SPD to, through Neighborhood Watch Groups, Crime Prevention Councils and SPD’s Crime Prevention Coordinators provide information about CatShields or similar products.   These products are relatively low cost, easily installed, and effective deterrents to catalytic converter thefts.

In following up with SPD on our shared interest in developing local legislation, we discovered that this appears to be an area pre-empted by state law.   RCW 19.290.200 states that “the state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of regulation of scrap metal processors, recyclers, or suppliers.”  This suggests that in order to, per my workplan above, pass legislation to “develop enhancements to documentation of those attempting to sell the devices and/or restrict the ability to buy the devices to licensed retailers,” we’d need to make some changes in State Law.

SPD provided information about this on the SPD blotter in October of last year. The blotter offers this preventative advice:

To prevent such thefts, detectives would like to remind vehicle owners to try and park their vehicle inside a garage or a well-lit, highly visible area.  Auto part manufacturers also sell after-market devices to further secure catalytic converters.

SPD reiterated this advice earlier this week.

Building Affordable Housing on Religious Organization Property

On Monday, the Council unanimously passed CB 120081 which establishes eligibility requirements and density bonus provisions for properties owned or controlled by religious organizations that are to be redeveloped for affordable housing.

The origins of this bill come from the State which passed Substitute House Bill 1377 in 2019. The bill states that local jurisdictions: “must allow an increased density bonus consistent with local needs for any affordable housing development of any single-family or multifamily residence located on property owned or controlled by a religious organization…”

As introduced, CB 120081 required a minimum affordability level for housing to be built on these lots at 80% area median income (AMI). 80% AMI rent for a studio is about $1,620 a month, and for a 1 bedroom is $1,851 a month. The density bonus can increase the development potential by double.  A non-profit developer who was worried about the bill as introduced explained to me that, by rule of thumb, sellers set land value at about $50,000 per unit.  A piece of property that has capacity for 50 units can be sold for approximately $2.5 million.  If we are, with these density bonuses, increasing in some cases the value of the property by double, then I believe that we should expect that units that are built have deeper affordability restrictions and offered at a lower rent.  Private developers do not need to be incentivized to build units at these rates as they are practically market rate rents already. If we did incentivize these higher cost rental developments, I was concerned that religious institutions would chose to partner more often with for-profit developers and there would be fewer partnerships with mission based non-profit developers who build housing affordable to renters at 60% AMI.

In order to address this concern, I put forward Amendment 1b to reduce the rent restriction to an average of 60% AMI, instead of a flat 80%.  Amendment 1b passed.  At 60% of AMI, a qualifying one-person and four-person household would have an income no greater than $46,500 annually and $66,400 annually, respectively. Affordable rents for a studio and 3- bedroom at 60% of AMI is $1,162 monthly and $1,726 monthly, respectively.

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