The budget season is in full swing. The Seattle City Council met on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss different proposals by councilmembers to add and subtract from the budget as well as request reports and condition how money is spent. The city council considered a variety of possible changes to the budget related to transportation, sustainability, tenants rights, homeless services, cultural amenities, and land use. In the lead up to the budget discussions this week, transportation advocates were scrambling to ward off the specter of a budget proviso to defund the Center City Connector project. That proviso never made it across the dais. However, a mix of other proposal did and could find themselves in the budget. Here’s some of them:
- Commuter education. $200,000 could be dedicated to one-time funding for outreach and education for pre-tax transit commuter programs, which is sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Brien.
- Pedestrian-priority street. A budget proviso for 2018 could be added that would prohibit funding for NE 43rd St improvements in the University District. That is unless the project includes full closure of the street to general vehicular traffic from Brooklyn Ave NE to 15th Ave NE. Councilmember Rob Johnson is proposing the proviso to improve pedestrian priority on the street. The future light rail station will be located at the corner of NE 43rd St and Brooklyn Ave NE and is expected to generate a substantial amount of foot traffic between the station and University of Washington campus. The proviso, however, is not intended to fully prohibit vehicles. “The restriction on general purpose vehicular traffic is not intended to restrict necessary service, fire, or life safety vehicles; or to preclude optimal bus and paratransit connections to the Sound Transit light rail station.”
- Congestion charging. Councilmember Mike O’Brien is proposing $200,000 in the budget to fund evaluation of diversion and congestion impacts on city streets that could result from tolling on SR-99. The SR-99 tunnel will have no exits in Downtown Seattle and is planned to be tolled in both directions. Traffic models suggest that a substantial number of trips on the highway will be diverted earlier to city streets and could impact overall mobility. City officials are especially concerned about the impacts this could have on transit. The budget proposal states that “the study would focus on the broader equity implications of congestion pricing in Seattle (particularly who is driving at what times) and explore options, such as the idea of pricing downtown Seattle exits, to ensure that transit service continues to operate reliably.”
- Streetcar speed and reliability. Another budget proposal by Councilmember Mike O’Brien would require the Seattle Department of Transportation to deliver a report on recommendations to improve speed and reliability for the South Lake Union and First Hill Streetcars. The report would need to be delivered by January 31, 2018. This could help inform future council actions to improve the overall operations of the streetcar network.
- Downtown alley congestion. Downtown Seattle alleys have increasingly been experiencing congestion due to building circulation and access as well as general vehicular use. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw wants a variety of departments to put together a report specifying strategies to address the issue through education, enforcement, and design. The report would be due to the Transportation and Sustainability Committee on July 1, 2018.
Tenants and Human Services
- Addressing homelessness. An ambitious proposal would levy an employee hours tax on businesses making over $5 million in gross receipts annually. Employers would be obliged to pay $100 per full-time employee to the city for their business license each year. Councilmember Mike O’Brien estimates that this would raise $25 million annually with the bulk of the funding going toward housing and homelessness services.
- Tenant outreach. Councilmember Mike O’Brien is backing an effort to fund door-to-door education and outreach to tenants on rights and resources. The program would be administered through the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections with contracting to a community organization experienced in this type of outreach, particularly with communities of color and low-income renters. $200,000 is proposed to the fund the initiative.
- Homeless youth opportunity center and housing. $1.5 million could be allocated toward a homeless youth opportunity center and housing project on Capitol Hill. The funding would be contingent upon other sources, such as the state to fund the bulk of the project. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw hopes that the project will provide for general wellness, housing, and education of homeless youth in the neighborhood.
- Tenant education and assistance. Councilmember Kshama Sawant is sponsoring a similar effort, however, the focus is more on tenant assistance, including legal support. A community organization would be responsible for operating a phone service and in-person assistance to tenants who need support in understanding tenant laws. $430,000 is proposed to fund the initiative.
- Safe consumption siting. The issue of safe consumption siting has been ongoing in the Puget Sound since the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force recommended locating several pilots facilities in the county. Councilmember Rob Johnson is sponsoring a study that would evaluate possible sites and capital costs, initial startup costs, and operational and financial responsibilities of the county and city. The study would be required by February 28, 2018.
- Emergency shelter and vehicle living. A new program to address car and RV camping is proposed by providing emergency shelter services and safe parking facilities. $1.7 million would be focused on reserving safe parking facilities for people living in vehicles and proving on-site services such as showers, garbage, water, and bathrooms. Another $3.3 million would be allocated toward capital costs for low-barrier shelters, emergency shelters, tiny house villages, and sanctioned encampments. Councilmember Mike O’Brien is sponsoring the $5 million program.
- Domestic violence survivor shelter. Councilmember Lorena González is sponsoring funding for 13 emergency shelter units at the Downtown Seattle YMCA for survivors of domestic violence. Funding for the emergency shelter units was cut by the state.
Land Use and Sustainability
- Accessory dwelling unit website. Councilmember Mike O’Brien is proposing that funding be used to develop a special website to promote accessory dwelling units. The website would serve as a resource to property owners interested in developing accessory dwelling units. Information on eligibility, pre-approved plans, financing, and other tools would be provided to assist in decision-making similar to Austin’s Alley Flats Initiative. $100,000 is proposed to be set aside for the project.
- Unreinforced masonry education. Council President Bruce Harrell is sponsoring funding for outreach and education on unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings. Community organizations like the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority would contract with the city to provide direct community outreach and technical assistance on URMs. This is especially important since the city is poised to pass new retrofitting requirements.
- Electric leaf blowers. Councilmember Rob Johnson wants to replace gas-powered leaf blowers with electric leaf blowers. Gas-powered leaf blowers are known for incredibly high emissions and particulate matter. 200 leaf blowers would be replaced at a cost of $400 per blower. The total expenditure is proposed to be $80,000.
Cultural and Innovation
- Municipal broadband. Councilmember Rob Johnson is sponsoring a new position to develop a municipal broadband business and implementation plan. $170,000 would be set aside in the budget with the expectation that the expert would deliver a comprehensive plan that outlines investment costs, estimated customer charges, a discount program for low-income households, phased rollout of services, financing and revenue, and a ballot measure. We wrote about the benefits of municipal broadband here.
- Arts grants. Councilmember Rob Johnson is proposing an extra $500,000 in grant funding for the arts. The proposed budget would set grants in 2018 at $1.4 million, a $100,000 increase over 2017. However, Councilmember Johnson’s proposal would raise this to $1.9 million for 2018.
The Seattle City Council will meet on Wednesday, November 1st to hold three concurrent public hearings on the city budget. The meeting starts at 5.30pm at city hall and is expected to go late, but it is an important opportunity to voice support, concern, or opposition with the proposed budget and various proposals to modify it. Sign-up for public hearing starts at 4.30pm. Written comments on the budget can be sent generally to the city council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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