Seattle Ramming Through Measure for Business over Livability

November 11, 2008

While we’re still experiencing the buzz of the election, let’s chanel that into some attention to local politics.  There is a local issue coming to attention of the Council this week that influences everyone living here.

At issue are rather classic competing concerns about the City.  On one side are the people who live here who would like to  enhance its livability and on the other side are people interested beautifying the Westlake area where it intersects the Mercer Corridor.  The issue is whether $30 million is best spent construction a 6 block boulevard or whether it can be put to better use.

The City Council is trying to rush the boulevard approval through without considering a variety of relevant issues including alternative uses of the money.

The City Council’s Budget Committee this week l will consider whether to authorize spending $30 million for the Mercer Corridor Project in 2009 without first receiving the financial and environmental information it requested in Ordinance 122686 (passed in May 2008) as a necessary condition for the Mayor to proceed with the Mercer Project.

Nick Licata is leading the “livability” concerns and is joined by the following groups:

Magnolia Community Club
Rainier Beach Community Club Executive Board
Queen Anne Community Council
Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council
Othello Neighborhood Association
Columbia City Community Council
North Seattle Industrial Association
Aurora Avenue Merchants Association
Fremont Chamber of Commerce
Ballard District Council
Seattle Community Council Federation
Northeast District Council
Metropolitan Democratic Club
Seattle Marine Business Coalition
36th District Democrats
46th District Democrats
43rd District Democrats
BINMIC
Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth
University District Community Council

Expressing Concerns

Feet First (supports dedicating surplus commercial
parking tax revenues to fully funding healthy transportation choices equitably across Seattle rather than going to the Mercer Project)

The money is on the “boulevard” side, as you might guess, with Paul Allen’s people seeing this as a nice enhancement for their South Lake Union project, businesses in the Mercer area favor it as an enhancement that is likely to help business.  Many people in the Queen Anne area also favor the project as it enhances their neighborhood, while others there are eager to see the money used for other more broadly beneficial. (There is a discussion of the alternative uses here on September 30).  Generally speaking the moneyed interests favor investing the money to make Seattle a better place to drive to.  It is important to understand though that this measure is not to relieve traffic but to add aesthetic value to the drive.

To find out more you can contact any of the groups listed above or read the previous entries here or contact the City.  Please register your thoughts with the Council members who operate without the benefit of a great deal of public input.

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov
Sally.Clark@seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov
Jan.Drago@seattle.gov
Jean.Godden@seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov
Nick.Licata@seattle.gov
Richard.McIver@seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office.
http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

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Affordable Housing in Seattle.

June 13, 2008

In 2006 King County issued a report on housing, called the <a href=”http://www.metrokc.gov/budget/benchmrk/bench06/AffHsg/aff_housing.htm”>King County Housing Benchmarks report.</a>  The report says exactly what you would expect but the details are interesting.  For example median income families accounted for only 10 per cent of home purchases in 2005 with a shift to condominium sales that is driving that market.

There are about 100,000 families for whom there is no affordable housing.  Between 2000 and 2004 homelessness increased at the rate of about 500 people per year.  With all the foreclosures I presume that this number has recently increased significantly.  (Nationally the homeownership percentages dramatically increased between 1998 and 2005, and have steadily declined in subsequent years as the foreclosure crisis blossomed.)

These numbers would be worse if the city and county did not have programs to ameliorate the problem.  In recent years the county in conjunction with partnership programs with cities have been adding about 700 affordable housing units per year.

Seattle has attacked this problem rather aggressively with results exceeding  expectations.  The cornerstone of Seattle’s approach is the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE), as revised in 2004.  The Seattle Office of Housing reports that over 1200 units have been created for people at or below 60% of the median income.  This is over three times the number of units required to be built by developers.  The reason for the high number of low income units is that non-profit institutions undertaken this type of construction.  Nonprofits determined that costs could be dramatically reduced when the MFTE indirect tax subsidy was combined with other direct subsidies such as city Housing Levy funds that require them to build only low and moderate income housing. Thus, the nonprofit organization has proven to be a highly efficient means of providing low income housing.

Mayor Nichels, long the developers’ friend, has proposed some revisions to the well-functioning program for low income families.  These revisions will increase the amount of rent to be charged for low income housing, expand the target areas to include areas developers have targeted for multi-family housing, and enhance subsidies to for profit developers, thereby reducing the role of non-profit organizations in providing affordable housing for lower income families.  All this at increased cost to the taxpayer on a per-unit basis.

Contact the council members and show Nick Licata your support as he takes on the mayor and the big developers.

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov
Sally.Clark@seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov
Jan.Drago@seattle.gov
Jean.Godden@seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov
Nick.Licata@seattle.gov
Richard.McIver@seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to
send an email to the Mayor’s Office.
http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm


Government Transparency

March 19, 2008

Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata wrote and cosponsored a bill that amazingly enough required lobbyists for the first time to have to register before undertaking to lobby City government. This is his description of that process:

 

LOBBYIST REGISTRATION ORDINANCE

This Monday, March 17, 2008, the Council unanimously passed Council Bill 116154, the lobbyist registration ordinance. I developed this ordinance, and sponsored it, along with co-sponsors Tim Burgess, Richard Conlin, Jean Godden, and Tom Rasmussen.

 

PURPOSE/BACKGROUND

The purpose of the ordinance is to provide greater transparency in government, protect public confidence in government, preserve the integrity of the legislative process, and enable the public to see who is being paid to lobby elected officials. Seattle does not have a lobbyist registration ordinance, unlike every other major city on the West Coast: Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego all have lobbyist registration ordinances.

For a number of years I believed this needed to be rectified. I started working on such legislation in 2002 and testified before the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) at that time on a prior version. Years before that another version had been brought before them but it was abandoned because a provision to track grassroots lobbying campaigns might discourage citizen groups in communicating with elected officials. I ran into the same problem in 2002 and in 2007 as well, when some citizen activists thought the legislation was too broad and should be narrowed.

In 2007 I began with a new draft and held a briefing in August in my Public Safety Committee. The following month I hosted a brown bag discussion at City Hall with over 2,000 invitations sent out. Representatives from Washington State, King County and Portland talked about their programs. That fall I met and had discussions with individual citizen activists, and communicated with members of the League of Women Voters and other groups, and gave presentations before Municipal League and other community groups.

As a result over a dozen versions of the ordinance were produced to meet most of the concerns that were raised. Although I felt at times that as each one was addressed the most serious shortcoming of the legislation, a new one would be identified as a must change. Because of the budget period beginning in the fall, I had to put off the ordinance to this year.

But in late 2007, during my term as Council President, I began having the sign-in sheets to the Council offices posted on the Council*s website. Many meetings between Councilmembers and City departments take place in the Council offices, so this allowed the public to see when city departments were meeting with Councilmembers.

I began January with a version that incorporated most of the recommendations, including dropping the grassroots lobbying section, and met again with SEEC. The much amended ordinance was passed by the Culture, Civil Rights, Health and Personnel Committee on February 27, 2008, and I believe now reflects the best practices for lobbyist registration ordinances. Laws in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Sacramento, Austin, Madison, New York, and Columbus were reviewed in developing this proposal.

SUMMARY OF ORDINANCE

The ordinance requires lobbyists to register if they meet two conditions: 1) they are paid, and 2) they lobby at least four days during a quarter. This is the standard used by Washington State.Lobbying constitutes communication with Councilmembers, the Mayor, and their staff in an attempt to influence them to develop, propose, adopt or reject legislation. The ordinance requires disclosure of who is lobbying, who is paying them to lobby, and the subject and specific legislation they are lobbying on.

The Seattle Ethics and ElectionsCommission will be responsible for administration and enforcement. The reporting requirements are designed to be reasonable, and to use forms similar to those used by the State Public Disclosure Commission. The ordinance will go into effect in 180 days, or 30 days after SEEC adopts rules, whichever comes first. This is to allow sufficient time for implementation.

The ordinance requires the registration of public employees who are specifically employed to lobby, or lobbyists who are retained by an agency of government. Other public employees are exempted. This standard was based on the King County ordinance. Persons who limit lobbying to public sessions are also exempt, as are collective bargaining activities by labor organizations.

IN PURSUIT OF THE PERFECT

I thought writing this legislation should be fairly straight forward since both King County and Washington State have similar laws on the books and we adopted most of their features, recognizing that there were differences between them. In fact in reviewing other municipal lobbying legislation, there is considerable variation in exemptions, definitions, applications, and enforcement. It is difficult to say which is best.

Some reviewers of my legislation, like the Chamber of Commerce, suggested the ordinance be narrowed so as to not include lobbying *on behalf of others*; this could exempt, for example, developers who lobby for themselves (e.g. Industrial Lands, Downtown rezone, would have exempted many of the people lobbying.) I did not include this proposed change.

Others, like the SEEC, wanted employees of other government agencies to register as lobbyists rather than just their designated lobbyists, and some citizen activists wanted city employees to register as well. There was no support for either recommendation on the Council, I think for practical reasons. Elected representatives are paid to communicate with all types of government employees including those from other government bodies. Each communication, including emails, could conceivably have to be listed if someone felt it was influencing legislation. The amount of paper work generated could be staggering. I think that is the reason we have not found other municipal lobbying laws including those provisions.

It*s also noteworthy that among the 48 criteria the Center for Public Integrity used in determining that Washington State had the best state lobbyist registration law in the USA, they made no mention of requiring other governments or employees of a government to register.

My goal has been to get an ordinance passed so that at least Seattle would be on a par with other major west coast cities. This ordinance will accomplish that goal. Once it is up and running and we see how it works in practice, we can examine improvements. Ethics and Elections is required to issue an annual report to the City Council on the effectiveness of the ordinance. This will give us the tool we need to see how it works, and what to look at in the future.

 

 


Police Accountability

January 28, 2008

There have been more studies and reports on the issue of police accountability than you can shake a stick at. Every publication recommends some sort of citizen review board for the sake of inhibiting objectionable police practices and just as importantly to bridge the cleft that can exist between the citizens of a city and its police force. The central significance of a citizen review board to a well functioning community is highlighted in studies ranging from the Department of Justice, to the University of California and from human rights groups world wide to the City of Milwaukee. Most other democracies in the world have greater, and better functioning, citizen review of police activity than those in the United States and Seattle certainly is not among the leading cities in this country on this issue.

Seattle, viewed by many in Eastern Washington as the burning torch of liberal thought, seems to have a great deal of difficulty implementing meaningful citizen oversight of its police force. Ironically, the police union — which owes its strength to the view that the City owes accountability to the police officers it employs and that the City ought not to wield unchecked authority over these individuals, no matter how well intentioned we view City government — is fighting hammer and tong to minimize the accountability of its members to the citizens it serves.

City council member Nick Lacata has championed ordinances to enhance police accountability to the citizenry; the union generally takes the view that this is an illicit impingement on the union’s right to collective bargaining and is not within the power of the City to implement, other times it, and the Chief of Police, takes the position that citizen oversight reduces the efficiency of the police force. (This of course begs the question as the issue is not what is most efficient but what maximizes the good to the community.) Recently the union filed a complaint with the state administrative agency that oversees such things for state employees about an ordinance permitting a very limited right on the part of Seattle’s citizen review board to see the names of officers who were the subject of previous complaints. (A generally recognized key to meaningful citizen review is the ability to track the few officers who seem to collect complaints.) The ordinance was overturned by the administrative agency and the council is considering whether it should appeal.

The big picture, I believe, is this. The Chief of Police and the union recognize that police accountability is a strong national trend as the United States moves to get up to speed with other industrial nations in this regard. They want to hold the citizens’ right to police accountability hostage for wage demands. If they can thwart accountability ordinances and wrap as much as possible into collective bargaining, then, as pressure mounts for accountability, they can parlay that into higher wages. This of course is hard ball unionism, where a recognized community need is used as a bargaining chip. On the other hand apparently police salaries here are appreciably lower than those of other countries.