Urban Politics #24: Council Committee Assignments

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Council Committee Assignments
  • Electric Utility Deregulation
  • Downtown Library Site
  • Harbor House Condo Conversion

Council Committee Assignments

Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs are listed below. Note that some of the committee names have changed to allow each Committee Chair to be involved in concerns of interest to that Chair. In my particular case, I’ve titled my Committee “Culture, Arts and Parks” to broaden the involvement of the committee from parks to cultural and arts activities throughout the city, including libraries. The library bond issue itself will be handled by a City Council Committee of the Whole, chaired by City Council President Sue Donaldson. I’m also the Vice-Chair for the Neighborhoods Committee, a member of the Utilities Committee and the Alternate on the Transportation Committee.

Committee Chair, Vice Chair

Business, Economic, and Community Development: Jan Drago, Sue Donaldson

Finance and Budget: Martha Choe, Tina Podlodowski

Housing, Human Services, and Civil Rights: Peter Steinbrueck Dick McIver

Neighborhoods, Growth Planning, and Civic Engagement: Richard Conlin, Nick Licata

Culture, Arts and Parks: Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck

Public Safety, Health, and Technology: Tina Podlodowski, Martha Choe

Government, Education and Labor: Sue Donaldson, Jan Drago

Transportation: Dick McIver, Margaret Pageler

Utilities and Environmental Management: Margaret Pageler, Richard Conlin

For a complete list of members and times of committee meetings go to web site: http://www.seattle.gov/leg/committees.htm

In addition, there will be separate ad hoc committees to deal with special issues as they arise. One of the first is to explore the future of the City’s Municipal Channel 28. Tina Podlodowski and I will be coordinating that effort.

Electric Utility Deregulation

Sounds boring, right? Councilmember Margaret Pageler (Margaret.Pageler@seattle.gov) has been doing her best to stir up some interest by holding Neighborhood Workshops on the topic. But how many people even know that City Light is owned by the City of Seattle? How many understand what this deregulation is all about. And finally, how many even care? Consider the following. In 1992 the wholesale electric utility market was deregulated by the Fed’s. It spurred competition and cost cutting measures by utilities. Out went utility expenditures that did not have a short run financial gain to the company. So what happened? For one thing, Puget Power cut its spending on conservation measures in a 3 year period from $150 million a year to 1/10 of that amount. That means less money for saving salmon streams and for preventing environmental damages. The Federal Government, spurred on by Sen. Slade Gordon, may deregulate the retail electric utility market as well. This means even more competition among utilities for large consumers of electricity since they provide a wider margin of profit than the residential market. Meanwhile, the State legislature has similar legislation pending. Because the Northwest already has the nation’s lowest electric rates there is no where to go but up for residential electric utility bills with deregulation. State researchers say that Washington consumers could be paying as much as $ 2 billion more a year, assuming deregulation goes into affect across the board. This means that over the next 10 years the average electrical bill would increase by over $200 a year. According to Rep. Frank Chopp, House Minority Leader, out-of-state corporations are pouring millions into Washington to convince the State Legislature and the public to support deregulation. Big electric consumers, primarily industrial users, stand to receive significant savings while out- of-state electric power brokers are looking for big profits. If you’re interested in expressing your opinions about this situation call 684-3508 for the dates and times of the City Light public workshops.

Downtown Library Site

Tomorrow, Tuesday 1/20/98, Seattle Public Library Board, and the City Council will hold a Joint Work Session from 4 to 6 PM in the Council Chambers. The new City Librarian, Deborah Jacobs, brief the Council and public, on the library’s Capital Projects and the ballot bond measure. There will also be a presentation involving the proposed site for the Downtown branch being co- located in the Newmark building and on First Avenue between Pike and Pine.

To quickly recap the past:

Nov.’94, a $155 million library bond issue went down, missing the required 60% vote by 3%.

June ’96, Seattle Times Editorial said the library should pursue aggressive private funding to obtain $45 million for a new central library.

Feb. ’97 a 30 member citizens advisory council to the library concluded a series of 10 meetings at branch libraries to listen and comment on the library’s capital plans.

March ’97, in response to citizens concerns, the library adopted a new capital plan which increased money for neighborhood branch libraries from $25.2 million to $45.5 million.

April ’97 Friends of the Library have Evans/McDonough conduct a survey of likely ’97 primary voters to test the waters for a fall library bond. They find that between 64% and 60% of those surveyed support a library bond

August ’97, City Council passed Resolution 29616 saying that a bond issue should go on the ’98 fall ballot provided that outstanding issues be addressed by March 13 in the library’s Capital Plan.

January ’98, Mayor Paul Schell suggested looking at the 1st Ave site in conjunction with moving part of the library’s functions into the nearby Newmark building’s three-story vacant retail complex.

Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, (Peter.Steinbrueck@seattle.gov), has written a well thought out memo listing his concerns regarding siting the Central Library. Contact him for copies.

My concern, also shared by some of the other Councilmembers, is with the practicality of sufficiently evaluating the new siting proposal as well as the library’s Capital Plan in time for placing a library bond on the fall ballot.

The Council Resolution listed the following critical issues, beyond obtaining a new City Librarian, that the library had to address by March 13, ’98.

Ensuring that the neighborhood branch libraries received proper investment for expansion and improvements long into the future.

Having significant efforts to solicit citizen and neighborhood involvement, including neighborhood planning committees in determining these investments.

Providing further documentation for the need for additional book capacity, study and classroom space, and computer workstations in the central library to make it first rate.

Selecting a site for the new central library.

Providing a detailed plan for the role of technology in the library system.

The library board should update the Council on these issues tomorrow.

Harbor House Condo Conversion

Harbor House is an apartment in lower Queen Anne that is mostly occupied by seniors and middle income renters. They received a notice that the building was being converted into Condos and they would have to move when each of their leases expired. Many of the tenants were alarmed at losing their homes and with the prospect of trying to find new rental housing in a market with very low apartment vacancy rates. This was particularly true for the elderly.

Councilmembers Richard Conlin and Peter Steinbrueck and I attended an informal meeting of the tenants to discuss their situation. Unfortunately, there are practically no laws governing this situation. Owners can raise rents at will once a lease expires and there are almost no restrictions on conversions. Those with limited incomes may receive $500 for assistance in helping them move, but that’s about it. This amount is half of what was originally provided when the city first passed the condo conversion ordinance a number of years ago. It was later reduced by the City. The tenants would like to be able to break their lease when they find a new apartment rather than having to either pay a fine or be forced to move in a short period of time in a tight market. This situation points out the need for the city to begin aggressively looking at other tools to meet the needs of apartment dwellers. One such tool could be a “right-of-first-refusal” ordinance along with a financing mechanism to allow tenants of apartment buildings undergoing conversions, an opportunity to purchase the building. Future issues of Urban Politics will explore this mechanism in greater detail.

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