Urban Politics #52: Status On The Monorail


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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.

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CONTENTS:

  • Status On The Monorail
  • Olympics – Going Around City Council
  • Multi-Family Tax Exemption Ordinance
  • Arboretum Plan Information

Status On The Monorail

The City Council agreed with the Mayor to fund the Elevated Transit Company (ETC), the body formed by the initiative to pursue the Monorail, for 1999 for another $50,000. This is conditioned on ETC matching it with $61,000 of outside funds. The ETC still has $85,000 of available funds left over from the City’s initial $200,000 contribution to it in 1998.

Members of the ETC board have said that they should be able to acquire the matching funds from either private corporation or foundation donations, or funds from another government body, such as Sound Transit that is responsible for building the RTA in Seattle.

Even if the ETC finds matching funds, its future financing will come into question unless it can show that it has a specific proposal that can move forward. This probably means receiving a commitment from a private partner or a regional government body to identify a specific monorail technology, service route, and cost/revenue projections for that route.

Olympics – Going Around City Council

In the last Urban Politics I mentioned how the Seattle Bid Committee (SBC) was still exploring ways for holding the Olympics here. They have until the end of the year to get a local “legislative” body to pass a resolution recognizing them as the official body to negotiate with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Unfortunately for the public, the board of SBC has not been printed in the papers nor has the City (at least the City Council) received their board directory.

Congressman Norm Dicks (6th District – Olympic Peninsula/Port Orchard/Tacoma/Shelton areas – fax 253-593-6551, phone: 1-800-947-NORM ) is leading the charge for bringing the Olympics here. He organized a letter signed by many of the Washington delegates, asking the regional planning forum the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to support the bid.

Congressman Jim McDermott withdrew his signature from the letter within 24 hours after it was released. He told the Seattle P.I. that a staffer signed it for him by mistake, but more importantly he described the effort as another example of “going around the public”.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which supports pursuing the Olympics bid, echoed his sentiment when it ran an editorial “Olympic bid ploy is flawed, foolish” to describe Dick’s effort o get the PSRC to endorse the Bid Committee’s bid.

Dicks is also trying to get Tacoma’s Mayor and City Council to endorse the Olympics bid efforts. If Tacoma does endorse the bid committee, I would hope that they change the name to the Tacoma Bid Committee from the Seattle Bid Committee.

Perhaps due to these responses, a memo issued last Thursday by the PSRC established two other criteria, besides USOC accepting PSRC as an “appropriate legislative body” to endorse the Olympics. Those two conditions are:

1. An indication is needed that PSRC’s action would be acceptable to the Seattle City Council.

It may mean that the City Council will be asked if we would support an Olympics bid if it were regional and if the State were to guarantee the liability and any operations debt. Problem is that Seattle sport facilities, streets, water supply and police would all be heavily used even with a regional focus.

State legislators have not been inclined to support financing the Olympics. State Rep. Helen Summers wrote to Martha Choe in October that she “would oppose any request that the state accept such financial responsibility (from liability or any deficit).”

2. That there is a demonstration of broad public support. (There is no mention of how that will be measured.)

Meanwhile, King County Executive Ron Sims, finally pulled the $75,000 budget item supporting the Olympics Bid from the County budget, after both Republican and Democratic County Council Members said they would dump it.

So what can a citizen do now to influence the political process? Unfortunately one cannot email Cong. Dicks because he does not have an email address listed in the ’98 League of Women Voters Elected Officials, nor does he have a web site listed.

(As an aside, only twenty-eight Congressional Representatives (out of 435) do not have web site pages listed in the Federal master website list located at: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.html.

Ironically Congressmen Jim McDermott and Norm Dicks from the central Puget Sound region ( the home of Microsoft, Adobe, and dozens of other software companies), do not list a web site nor have an email addresse printed in the LWV brochure.)

However, emails could be sent to the County’s and City’s representatives on the PSRC executive board which will be meeting on Dec. 10th. The County’s representatives are Ron.Sims@metrokc.gov, Larry.Gossett@metrokc.gov and Christopher.Vance@metrokc.gov. Both Gossett and Vance have said that they would oppose PSRC endorsing the Seattle Bid Committee’s proposed resolution.

The City’s PSRC representatives are Mayor Paul.Schell, (mayors.office@seattle.gov), Sue.Donaldon@seattle.gov, Jan.Drago@seattle.gov and Richard.McIver@seattle.gov. Both Donaldson and Drago had signed the letter opposing a Seattle hosted Olympics bid, but have been open to a regional Olympics. McIver was the only Council Member not to sign the letter, but because of a heart attack (he is recovering very well) he may not attend the PSRC meeting. In that case, Martha Choe will probably be the alternate attending.

Some citizens are also directly emailing Dick Schultz, Executive Director US Olympic (dick.schultz@usoc.org ) to let him know how Seattle residents feel about the Olympics.

Multi-Family Tax Exemption Ordinance

This is a piece of legislation that was originally crafted from the Mayor and first came to the City Council on 8/12/98 with the support of Council Member Peter Steinbrueck. Since then there have been two Public Hearings and a number of staff briefings.

In my Urban Politics # 44, I briefly described this legislation. It is an experimental 4 year program providing a ten-year property tax exemption for housing development located in specific neighborhoods that wanted and needed more affordable housing. It will be reviewed annually and a report will be issued to the City Council outlining the development activity resulting from it.

Certain neighborhoods have not seen the construction of market rate housing and would welcome this legislation to boost their local business districts, so that a fuller compliment of basic services could be provided to their residents. Since market rates in these neighborhoods would actually be below the city’s average rate, housing units would tend to be affordable for lower income people.

Despite this compelling argument I was skeptical of using public funds to build market rate housing. Given our limited public funds, providing housing for those least able to afford housing should be our highest priority. Consequently I was not going to support the initial legislation unless it was amended to focus more on helping create low-income housing and providing safeguards to prevent the displacement of low-income tenants.

Without safeguards the program could lead to the conversion of existing lower priced units to higher priced ones and therefor displace low income and fixed income renters. I’ve introduced an amendment to deal with this problem and have gotten Steinbrueck’s strong support for it.

Below is a description of this amendment and three others I’ve supported that have been made to the ordinance. They addressed my concerns and I will support the program.

1) Anti-Displacement Provisions:

Then: State law requires that a developer renovating or converting to condo can only apply for tax abatement if the building has been vacant for a year. This discourages redevelopment and the conversion of occupied buildings. There was no language in State Law or the Mayor’s proposal to discourage an owner, after asking that people move out of an occupied building, from demolishing the existing structure and building a new one to serve higher rent people. Thus the original proposal did not adequately address the dangers of displacement as it relates to the new development of previously occupied lots.

Now: The demolition of housing serving low-income households is discouraged unless the developers that do demolish housing serving low-income households replace the low-income units that they demolish.

2) Affordability Restrictions:

Then: Affordability restrictions only extended to 2 neighborhoods (Pioneer Square and the ID).

Now: Affordability restrictions, requiring developers to include 25% of units developed to be affordable to people with incomes of 80% of median income, extend to all neighborhoods (MLK, Pioneer Square, 23rd at S. Jackson, Westlake, South Park, Columbia City, Rainier, and Pike/Pine and the ID).

3) Adding New Neighborhoods:

Then: Pike/Pine not included as an eligible neighborhood.

Now: Pike/Pine IS included as an eligible neighborhood with affordability restrictions at 60% of median income for 40% of a project’s units.

4) Recapturing the Public Subsidy on Condo Sales:

Then: No provision to prevent the sale of a condo unit owned by a person meeting income eligibility requirements from selling to a person who doesn’t meet those income eligibility requirements. (e.g. a poor person sells to a rich person who then can get free property taxes).

Now: The city or its agent now has the right of 1st refusal to buy back those units so that the subsidy continues to benefit a person meeting the eligibility requirements.

We have received testimony that all of these changes are acceptable to non- profit housing developers. For-profit developers have also supported the legislation although for some developments the first provision may limit their participation.

The Full City Council is expected to vote either this coming Monday or the following one, on the ordinance.

Arboretum Plan Information

Here are two website links providing information on the Arboretum Plan.

http://www.seattle.gov/parks/Arboretum/cover.htm

This Parks Dept. website includes The Arboretum Master Plan, information on workshops mentioned in UP #50, and ongoing updates on comments from workshops, as well as an Arboretum Frequently Asked Questions guide.

http://weber.u.washington.edu/~wpa/

This is the UW Arboretum website which includes a useful history of the Arboretum.

Keep in touch…

 

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