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Seattle City Council action

The Seattle City Council is the lawmaking body of the city of Seattle. Its nine members are elected to four-year terms in citywide nonpartisan elections. It has the sole responsibility of approving the city’s budget, and also develops laws and policies intended to promote the health and safety of Seattle’s residents. The Council passes all legislation related to the City’s police, fire, parks, libraries, and electric, water, solid waste, and drainage utilities.

Election of City Council members occur on odd-numbered years, with either four or five council members up for election based on position number. All council members’ terms begin Jan. 1. The council positions are officially nonpartisan, and the ballot gives no party designations.

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moneySEATTLE — The Seattle City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to ask voters to increase property taxes in order to publicly finance City Council campaigns, the Seattle Times reported Sunday.

The proposal, sponsored by City Council members Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Jean Gooden, would place on the November ballot a property-tax levy that would raise about $1.5 million a year, and cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $6 more a year, the Times said.

The goal is to reduce financial barriers for candidates to enter a race and to strengthen the role of small contributors, but critics contend public financing in other cities hasn’t lessened the power of incumbency, the Times noted.

SEATTLE — At a heated hearing at City Hall, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would prevent businesses from rejecting job applicants just because they have a history of criminal behavior.

cityhallA business would only be able to deny a job to someone convicted of a crime if there is a “legitimate reason.”

Supporters say it will give people who have done their time a second chance.

“When employment rates increase, crime reduces,” said City Councilman Bruce Harrell, sponsor of the legislation. “This is a means to reduce recidivism and make our street safer.”

Harrell wants to give people a chance to “re-enter society.”

But there is opposition to the new bill from the business community.

“There’s no empirical evidence that shows that this kind of project works,” said Bill Hinkle, of the Rental Housing Association. “The city has been doing it for a long time (in public employment). Have we seen recidivism go down at all through their program? No.”

Here’s an often-cited example of what would and what wouldn’t be allowed under this new bill (e.g. “legitimate reason”).  An employer could deny someone with a DUI record employment if that person was being considered for a driving job – delivering pizzas, for instance.  But they couldn’t be denied for, say, a desk job.

Wednesday’s meeting was filled almost exclusively with supporters of the new law.

If the full City Council approves the bill, the penalty would be a warning for the first violation, up to $750 for a second violation, and up to $1,000 for violations after that.

SEATTLE — Micro-housing is a new, controversial concept that is spouting up in the region, especially Seattle. These are apartment-like buildings, except the units aren’t much more than 100 square feet with shared kitchens.

apodments4“There’s a lot of people that want to live in these units,” said Roger Valdez, a density proponent who writes for the website Smart Growth Seattle. “Many people are saying, hey, I don’t need all that extra room. I want to pay a lower price for less square footage, and keep the other money for something else.”

About a dozen of these projects have been built in Seattle, over the objections of many nearby residents, and several more are planned as the demand for them continues.

A typical “apodment” rents on a month-to-month lease for between $500-$600, utilities and Wi-Fi included.

“It’s not for everyone,” said Valdez. “But for the segment of the population out there that is moving to Seattle (and) looking for a place to live that’s affordable, that will be flexible for them, those people are choosing micro-housing in great numbers.”

But opponents worry that just because there is demand for them doesn’t mean they are a good idea.

“If people are hungry, OK, they’ll eat dog food, OK. That’s not the question,” said community activist Bill Bradburd.  He argues that neighborhoods are getting overwhelmed by these projects, which can house up to 60 people on a relatively small lot.

One big worry is that they will simply become short-term housing.

“I think that’s really the concern of people in the neighborhood. Are the people going to be here, are they going to be part of my community, or are they just somebody passing through?” Bradburd asked.

Apodment resident Scott Lyman, who’s a student with a part-time jobs, says making the choice to live small made sense.

“It was affordable,” he said. “Rather than have to move in with a lot of people that I’ve never met before and have no clue who they are, I can actually afford to live on my own, over here.”

Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen says developers are exploiting a loophole in the zone code that needs to be fixed.

“The city was caught napping when the developers started to create these, and now the city’s trying to catch up,” he said.  “There’s very little design review, there’s no environmental review and all of those things that normally apply to an apartment building that would house 50 or 60 people don’t apply to the micro-apartments.”

Rasmussen is working on legislation now that would bring micro-housing permitting in line with other multifamily buildings.

SEATTLE — Several frustrated taxi drivers showed up Thursday at Seattle City Hall to complain that the city is ignoring the emerging unregulated rideshare programs that are threatening their business.

taxiThese are popular mobile-based services that allow customers to find and prepay a driver right from their smartphones.

These are apps that allows you to find a car close to where you are, that’s driven by someone who’s willing to take you where you need to go — all for a flat rate. It’s non-regulated, non-inspected, and non-commercially licensed, unlike cabs. These rideshare programs are extremely popular because they are easy and cheap.

Uber is one company that has a rideshare program; it’s called “Uberx”.   Uberx is offered alongside Uber’s regulated “Black Car” service that does meet typical “for-hire” standards.

“We have a huge focus on quality,” said Brooke Steger, head of Uber Seattle. “We partner with some of the best drivers in the city, so I think that’s really what makes Uber special.”

Uber is a San Francisco-based ridesharing program.

“Your credit card is automatically charged so there is no money exchanged in the car at all, and there’s no need to tip,” Steger said. “It makes things very, very simple.”

So simple, in fact, that its popularity is cutting into the regular taxi cab business.

“They’re not licensed in any way, shape or form, and the city is saying, ‘Oh gee, this is real nice,’” said Chris Van Dyk, a spokesman for the taxi cab industry. “It’s unfair because they are taking money out of these guys’ pockets, and they are passing it off to a startup Internet entrepreneur that has no bother whatsoever with the rules and regulations that are set up to protect the public.”

Van Dyk believes that these new entrants into the market should have to go through the same licensing, inspection and insurance requirements that taxis and other for-hire services have to follow.

Steger, however, argues that Uber does background checks on drivers and encourages customers to provide feedback about their service.

“Regulating an app seems to be a little bit crazy” she said. “It’s a great service that people are using and that they love, and I don’t think they should be removed or taken away.”

Another related question before city leader is whether to allow for-hire cars, those that look like cabs, to act more like cabs. Currently, these flat-rate services are licensed and regulated, but they aren’t allowed to be flagged down by customers on the street, nor are they allowed to pick up at taxi stands.

“Unfortunately, there has been a really bad experience with the public with the taxi cabs,” said Samatar Goled, manager of the region’s two biggest for-hire companies.  “Not being able to get them, them refusing to take credit cards, dirty cabs, all kind of problems.” Most people, Goled said, are “really fed up and they need alternatives.”

Goled argues for-hire cars have the significant advantage over regular taxis of charging posted, predictable fares.

“Let the public decide if they like the flat rate vs. the meter, rather than protecting an industry from competition,” Goled said.  “I mean, that’s not the American way.”

The Seattle City Council has commissioned a study that is due to be released in July.  It’s meant to generate clear data about how large the demand is for taxis, for-hires vehicles and ridesharing.  They will hold off on any decision about changes to the industry until then.

Local News

Seattle city zoning goes to pot — literally

Legal pot zones could soon be coming to Seattle.

marijuana-plants-imageThe city is poised to be the first in the state to create zoning for marijuana growers, producers, and retailers.

City Councilman Nick Licata, who helped draft the zones proposal, said, “This is all, quite honestly, a little bit of a trial and error situation.”

Licata admitted Seattle is entering a strange new world now that pot is legal.

“This is a very fluid situation. I don’t pretend and I don’t think anyone on the council pretends to have all the answers.”

Council members are trying to make things more solid by creating new zones for marijuana businesses. But it may add another barrier to those who want to grow and sell pot in city limits.

The state law already limits where retailers and growers can open shop. They can’t be within 1,000 feet of where kids gather, like schools, day cares and parks.

The new zoning rules would also limit them from several other areas, including tourist spots like Pike Place Market.

That could create a marijuana district, with the largest being in the city’s Sodo industrial district.

City Council members ultimately amended the new rules to limit the size of grow operations in the busiest industrial areas, but they also increased how large grow areas could be in most places, up to 50,000 square feet.

The full City Council still needs to vote on the zoning rules.

Licata said there could still be more changes as the city tries to navigate a business and product that is still illegal under federal law.

“I think it illustrates the potential for a great deal of problems to try and regulate an industry that quite honestly is in a legal gray area,” he said.

Local News

Seattle decides on pot zones

SEATTLE — Members of the Seattle City Council will discuss new legislation that would limit where marijuana can be grown, processed and sold when state rules go into effect next year.

Washington state voters made marijuana legal when they passed I-502, and the state liquor control board will oversee how the drug is grown and sold.

Seattle is coming up with new zoning for a businesses that are the first of there kind in the country. marijuana-plants-image

Council members will discuss the issue Wednesday, and the Council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee will likely vote in favor of the new zoning rules, which will only allow pot businesses in a few pockets around the city.

SEATTLE — City leaders want Seattle to be the first carbon-neutral city in the country.  That means dramatically reducing emissions from cars, construction, energy use and many other things.

hightide“We’re seeing climate disruption happening today,” City Councilman Mike O’Brien said. “Right here in Seattle, we had the highest tide ever recorded” on Dec. 19, 2012, when it hit 14.5 feet. “It’s (global warming) real and it’s here, and we need to start taking action.”

Seattle has been on a path of reducing carbon emissions for several years, but it’s poised to adopt an ambitious plan to not just further reduce them, but to eliminate them altogether (when weighed against offsets) by the year 2050.  That will mean some big changes in the way Seattleites live.

The city’s soon-to-be-adopted Climate Action Plan targets industry, energy use, and, the biggest source of emissions, transportation.

“We’re talking about modest changes each day — 2 or 3 percent change in the amount you drive in one year, which is, you know, a trip every third week you’d have to give up,” O’Brien said.

Opponents of the plan argue it doesn’t include proven strategies.

“While they say that they care about the environment, their number-one priority is looking good,” said Todd Myers, who studies environmental policy at the Washington Policy Center, a think tank that favors free-market, limited-government policies.  “They have lots of ideas to build light rail and all these other things, but nowhere do they say, ‘Here’s how effective these will actually be for every dollar that we spend.’”

Myers agrees with the goal of reducing emissions, but believes the change needs to come from individuals and businesses, including electric cars, better home insulation, natural gas furnaces, among other things.

Supporters, though, say that the public sector needs to set an example and lead the way.

“The symbol Seattle needs to send is that you can do this,” said O’Brien. “We can demonstrate how do to that so we can hand off that to someone else. And we need other cities doing the same thing.”

The final touches are being put on Seattle’s Climate Action Plan; it is expected to be adopted in early June.

Local News

Keeping Seattle clean(er)

SEATTLE — People in the Belltown neighborhood can expect cleaner, safer streets after the city council voted to expand services of the Metropolitan Improvement District.

MID teams remove grafitti, clean sidewalks, conduct off-duty police patrols and daily foot and bike patrols in certain downtown areas.

In a new renewal agreement approved by the city council on Monday, MID services will now expand to Belltown and additional blocks in Pioneer Square, starting July 1. MID will also put additional police teams on the streets to deal with drug activity and illegal behavior, begin new outreach services for homeless and mentally ill people and increase advocacy for transit and safe biking options downtown.

MID is a non-profit organization founded by the Downtown Seattle Association. You can learn more about the organization’s work here.

Local News

Big meeting about tiny housing sparks debate

SEATTLE — More than 100 Seattle residents crammed into a small meeting room Monday evening to vent about small living spaces known by many as ‘apodments.’

apodmentsIt’s a cost effective trend popping up throughout the city. Several tiny living spaces similar to dorm rooms, each outfitted with a bed, bathroom and sink, but all individuals share one common kitchen and laundry room creating one large unit under building code.

Each room rents for $600-700 a month. They cater to a crowd of students and low income workers who can’t afford housing in the heart of the city.

Robert Pantley who represents micro-housing developers, said, “63% of people coming to work in the city are coming from outside the city. Jammed freeways taking up parking in our neighborhoods because we’re taking away the affordability component for them to live here.”

The overwhelming majority of people attending Monday night’s meeting were against the idea, like long time Seattle resident, Paul Haury. His single family home is on a street with two micro-housing developments. He worries about parking and increased traffic they might bring.

“The truth of the matter is if it gets to the point where there are 700 more cars vying for places to park on my block which is what we’re looking at, that’s kind of problematic and it’s going to reduce the quality of life,” Haury said.

Haury’s concern and many others are being heard and city council members are here listening

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was one of three Seattle councilmembers attending.

Rasmussen said, “We want to hear from the community what they’re concerns are. What theyh would like the city to do. But we also want to hear from developers. What are they building. What are they seeing in terms of the market.”

Based on this discussion city leaders might change the future of development in Seattle.

“A lot of people want to live here,” Rasmussen said.  “It’s very difficult to afford to be able to live here if you have a moderate or love income. We want to make sure we have a good range of housing for everyone but we want to also make sure that it’s safe and healthy and it fits in with all our overall goals and plans for the city.”