Urban Politics #63: Announcing UP Index On The Web


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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:

  • Announcing UP Index On The Web
  • Results Of UP Poll On Fall Levy
  • Amending Land Use & Housing Codes
  • Parks Enhanced Code Enforcement Ordinance

Announcing Up Index On The Web

For those of you who want to track issues that I have been writing about in Urban Politics, we now have a UP subject index posted on the web. There’s a link to it here.

All of the past issues of UP are listed with the exception of UP #1, which probably less than 200 people received. This was my first attempt (in September 1996) at communicating with citizens through the internet and it may not even labeled as UP Issue #1. It dealt the City’s transfer of the Freeway Park Garage to the Washington State Convention Center. If anyone has a copy of it, please let me know. I’d like to add it to our index. Thank you.

Results Of Up Poll On Fall Levy

In the last Urban Politics, I asked readers if they favored having two separate votes instead of one vote for the fall 1999 levy ballot. The levy issue consists of two halves. One half would fund the Seattle Center’s renovation of the Opera House and the Flag Pavilion and the other half would fund a number of Neighborhood Community Center improvements and expansions. For great details please refer to UP#62

I very carefully presented UP readers only arguments favoring the need to renovate the Seattle Center’s Opera House. I did not present arguments against it because I wanted to see what might be the “best case” situation for combining the Seattle Center and Neighborhood Centers, if there was existing bias against funding the Opera House.

The question presented was: Would you support having the fall levy appear as two separate votes, one for the Seattle Center and another for funding neighborhood centers? NO (they should not be separated), YES (they should be separated) The results of the poll were: 57% YES, 39% NO; 14% UNDECIDED

This result was no where as dramatic as the one I received from the Olympics Poll that I conducted (see UP # 46). In that instance 80% voted not favoring the Olympics to 12% favoring them. I also received 952 responses while this poll received 362. As I have stated before, these UP opinion polls are not scientific polls in any sense, but they do represent a good size sampling of interested citizens.

From reading comments sent in and talking to people, two arguments for combining the Seattle Center and Neighborhood Centers on one ballot vote seem to be made most often. The first is that the Seattle Center is more likely to pass if they are combined. This assumes that people would vote for Center largely because they want the neighborhood centers funded.

There is also a campaign strategy aspect to this first argument. Since the Opera House has an organized constancy (20,000 season ticket holders in Seattle alone) and they have paid staff, they could mount an effective campaign. While more Seattle residents probably attend the various neighborhood centers than attend performances in the Opera House, they are not as organized nor funded under a single organization like the Opera House’s membership. Thereby combining the two issues forces these two constituencies to work together for their common good.

The retort to this first argument goes like this. There is no certainty that more folks do want neighborhood centers than want the Seattle Center refurbished. My poll did not ask that question. What we do know from past polls is that there is a significant amount of support for maintaining the Seattle Center and that the Opera House was identified as one of the Center’s most popular elements. However, polls have shown that voters see funding neighborhood parks and centers as one of their highest priorities.

As far as campaign strategies go, there is no reason why Opera supporters and neighborhood center user groups could not work together to support both ballot issues. This type of cooperation was successfully done in 1986 when low-income housing advocates worked with supporters of the Seattle Art Museum to get both levy measures passed.

The second argument against separating the Seattle Center and Neighborhood Centers is that doing so might send a message to the voters that the City Council encourages the Balkanization of our city’s cultural facilities. In other words, would we be encouraging an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” first, rather than setting a tone that we all live in one city and share responsibility for maintaining all of our publicly owned facilities.

I think that the City does have a responsibility to maintain all of our facilities, particularly those that may be unsafe in an earthquake. But there are many facilities in the city that need to be made safer in case of an earthquake, including fire stations, schools, the viaduct and even buildings on the Seattle Center campus. And perhaps the Opera House may be the most in need of all of these facilities, given the large number of people that use it throughout the year.

However that condition does not logically lead to linking it to funding neighborhood community centers. They represent two different types of venues for our citizens. For instance, at the time of the library bond issue, some citizens had suggested voting separately for the downtown library from the neighborhood branches. I opposed that division because the central library and the neighborhood libraries form a single network of library services. Building one without the other would have crippled the entire library system.

That is not the case with the relationship between the Seattle Center and Neighborhood Community Centers. They operate independently of each other and to an extent serve different audiences as well. The Opera House attracts people from the entire region and by the Center’s own estimates probably over half are from outside the city. On the other hand the community centers by their very nature and design serve Seattle residents almost exclusively.

Finally what most leads me to lean toward having two separate ballots issues is the recognition that many Seattle residents are property tax weary. I sense that many citizens want to choose which projects they wish to fund given this condition.

Funding the both the Seattle Center and Neighborhood Community Centers should result in the same average tax rate of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over the term of the levy as the expiring levy. But the tax bite is front loaded in the early years. so that if both issues pass ($72 million) the homeowner of a $200,000 valued home will see a $40 increase in their 2000 property tax bill. The current levy’s tax bite is $25 for that same homeowner. The annual tax will decrease over life of the 8-year levy until the last few years when it totals less than $7.

Finally and most importantly, an increase in property taxes in 2000 may make voters less inclined to support a neighborhood improvement package, to fund many of the community projects identified through the neighborhood planning process, that I hope to see on the fall 2000 ballot.

Amending Land Use & Housing Codes

This is a reprint of an article that I wrote along with Council Members Peter Steinbrueck, Tina Podlodowski on the upcoming proposed amendments to Seattle’s Land Use Code.

The efforts of the Roosevelt and Westwood neighborhoods to rid their community of eyesores highlight the importance of the proposed amendments to Seattle’s Land Use Code to improve enforcement of our nuisance laws.

Those residents who litter their yards with piles of junk and garbage, or park abandoned cars in their yards will now be receiving a citation similar to a speeding ticket. Violators will have a fixed number of days to clean up their mess and receive a reduced penalty. If violations continue, the fines will increase. These amendments are backed up with increases in the 1999-2000 budget to provide more inspection and compliance staff for the City’s Department of Design, Construction and Land Use (DCLU).

As we make these amendments to the Land Use Code to protect the health, welfare, and public safety of our neighborhoods we should also take this opportunity to protect the welfare of the majority of Seattle residents (52%) who are renters. We can do this by extending this citation process to the Housing Code.

This extension sends the message that City Hall supports the public safety of both homeowners and renters, by trying to rid neighborhoods of eyesores and unsafe or substandard housing.

Seattle once had a Rental Housing Inspection Program (RHIP) that inspected Seattle’s worst rental housing, much of it plagued with health and safety violations. Supporters argued that restaurants, the places we pay to eat are inspected; the places we pay to live should be inspected as well. In opposition to RHIP, some property owners refused to give city inspectors access to their buildings.

Without access, the city couldn’t use the fee that was collected to administer the RHIP program. Landlords who felt that the program was an intrusion in their business sued the City for collecting the fee. The City settled the lawsuit and agreed not to have another proactive inspection program until 2002 and instead continued its complaint-based program. The complaint-based housing code enforcement program has been as ineffective in treating housing violations as the Land Use Code has been in getting rid of eyesores.

Much of Seattle’s most dangerous rental housing actually generates no complaints. You may ask why a renter would agree to pay for and live in dangerous housing and not demand that conditions be improved.

Many renters living in dangerous conditions don’t complain. They either don’t believe that the “system” will force their landlord to correct the problem, or they don’t complain because they are afraid their landlord will raise their rent or evict them.

Even though retaliation is illegal under State law and City ordinance, it is difficult to enforce. There is no one a renter can call to stop a landlord from retaliating. Retaliation is a defense in eviction court, a defense that tenants would most likely use only if they can afford an attorney or are lucky enough to qualify for legal services.

Consequently many tenants would rather not complain rather than risk retaliation or eviction. These are often people who can not “shop with their feet” because of low-income, poor credit history, or the dearth of affordable apartments on the market. Homelessness in families with children grows daily in Seattle, indeed it is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in our city. When faced with the choice between risking the roof over their children’s head or putting up with substandard housing many parents chose the latter.

Despite obstacles of retaliation and slow housing code enforcement some tenants still call DCLU for help. These renters who have the courage to complain about their living conditions and the tenacity to suffer the bureaucracy of code enforcement deserve Seattle’s support every bit as much as homeowners who are tired of neighborhood eyesores.

The most serious Housing Code violations have been classified by DCLU as “hazardous,” these pose an imminent and major threat to a tenant’s health or safety. Other violations, while they still important, are considered “significant” or “minor”.

Just as citations would be used to enforce only the most serious Land Use Code violations, likewise we recommend the use of citations for the enforcement of serious violations of the Housing Code. Serious Housing Code violations include “hazardous” violations, as well as instances where a renter has been unlawfully locked out of his or her home or had his or her utilities unlawfully shut off.

Substandard living conditions present health and safety risks. For children those risks are greater. Children are more likely than adults to hurt themselves when surrounded by hazards in the home. Health Board statistics report increased illness in children living in substandard housing.

Since more than half of all housing in the city are rentals, the City’s ability to increase both housing code and land use code enforcement will provide more effective code enforcement and ultimately result in safer, cleaner residential neighborhoods. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

There will be a Public Hearing on Monday May 17th 5:00 PM in the Seattle City Council Chambers, Municipal Building 11th Floor, 600 4th Avenue

Parks Enhanced Code Enforcement Ordinance

There will be a Public Hearing Regarding proposed amendments to the Parks Enhanced Code Enforcement Ordinance (known as Parks Exclusion) before the Culture, Arts, and Parks Committee of the Seattle City Council on May 20, 6:30 PM in the Seattle City Council Chambers, Municipal Building 11th Floor, 600 4th Avenue.

Ordinance 112320 permits the Seattle Police Department, the
Department of Parks and Recreation, and Animal Control to administratively
banish anyone from a park who is suspected of engaging in activity prohibited by the Parks Code, the Seattle Municipal Code, and other laws in parks. This authority is in addition to the existing laws that permit ticketing or arrest of people suspected of engaging in this type of illegal activity.

A 6/16/98 Seattle Police Department report gives this data about why people are banished: drinking 53%; trespass or camping 22%; drug activity 9%; indecent exposure 4%; assault 1%; weapons 1%; other (ranging from skateboarding to dogs off leash) 10%. Note: even without exclusion the police can ticket or arrest people for these activities

This same report gives this data on the demographics of who is banished: Caucasian 60%; African-American 26%; Asian or Native American 14%; Note: Seattle’s racial minority population is approximately 20%

This report gives the following data on where exclusions are happening: South Precinct: 50 exclusions (3%); North Precinct: 273 exclusions (17%); East Precinct: 239 exclusions (15%); West Precinct: (mostly downtown parks) 1024 exclusions (65%)

An ACLU report gives the following data on impact on homeless people: Banishments of homeless people 42%. Note: We have ~2300 shelter beds for 5500 homeless people in Seattle.

Here’s a summary of the proposed amendments

Limit the reasons for exclusions to those that pose a public safety threat including felony drug activity, weapons or assault charges. Other violations of the Parks Code or Municipal Law would be dealt with using traditional law enforcement (tickets, arrests, etc).

Current law allows people excluded to request a review before the Superintendent’s Hearings Officer. People excluded for 1-7 days, 88% of all exclusions, are denied due process because reviews don’t occur until after the conclusion of the banishment.

The amendments propose to eliminate the 1-7 day exclusions. Currently the person excluded must “serve their time” even if a review has been requested. The amendments propose to hold the exclusion in abeyance if a review has been requested until after the Hearing Officer makes a decision.

The amendments propose adding a warning to the law. Currently the SPD uses the AT&T Language Line in enforcing laws like DWI and the reading of Miranda rights. A person unable to read a Parks Exclusion order is denied their right to due process without the interpretation, necessary to understand the accusation or the punishment. The AT&T Language Line has a very extensive range of languages and SPD already pays for its use. The SPD should use this line when it is apparent that an individual receiving an exclusion order can not read and/or speak English.

For copies of the proposed amendments to the ordinance, please call (684-5331) or e-mail Lisa Herbold.

Keep in touch…

 

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