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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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SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council has given the go-ahead for high rises in South Lake Union.

Today it unanimously approved 16-story residential towers along the lake and 400-foot towers near Denny Way.

That’s much taller than what’s allowed now, which is between six and eight stories.

Opponents are concerned the taller limits will ruin some valuable views, and that the neighborhood will cater to the rich.

But council members say part of the bill will make five percent of the new units affordable enough that people making less than $45,000 a year will be able to live there.

Council Bill 117603 is a package of land use changes designed to increase development capacity in South Lake Union and make way for future job growth and housing demands.

The city expects that by 2031, South Lake Union will have to absorb some 12,000 households and 22,000 jobs to continue to meet its share of future growth.

In addition to allowing greater building heights, the new zoning also imposes development standards and incentives to encourage a more open space and an improved streetscape.

The new zoning allows only one tower per block on lakefront blocks.   Other blocks can have two towers but they must be more widely spaced than anywhere else in the city.

There are also requirements for strong street-level design standards and retail businesses at ground level.  The zoning is also designed to maintain the character of specific communities through by preserving landmark properties and existing open spaces.


kittitasSEATTLE — The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance Monday to allow an organic waste-disposal contract with the company PacifiClean Environmental, which plans to transport it over the Cascades and process the waste into compost in Kittitas County.

PacifiClean came under criticism recently from residents of Kittitas County near Cle Elum, where the company planned to process the waste on a 80-plus acre lot. The residents contended it would be a fire risk in an area that was devastated by wildfires last summer and fall.

After the criticism, PacificClean said it would find an alternate site in Kittitas County, with the advice of county officials.

It noted that the Seattle City Council ordinance approved Monday said the following:

“The Seattle City Council has heard the concerns of residents of Kittitas County and expects that in developing its new facility, PacifiClean will work with Kittitas County, the Washington Department of Ecology and other regulatory agencies to mitigate environmental impacts of organics processing services.

“PacifiClean has agreed to select a site that 1) is outside of the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway, 2) is without a significant amount of timber, 3) is outside areas designated as high or extreme fire hazard, 4) is surrounded by compatible industrial uses with a minimum of residential housing, 5) has little or no downwind development, 6) is not proximate to waterways, 7) has adequate infrastructure to accommodate truck trips, and 8) has limited to no view impacts”

The ordinance noted that operational changes authorized by the new proposed processing services contracts will allow the city to reduce costs and save ratepayers’ money by having contractors haul the city’s organic waste. Additionally, the Seattle City Council noted their desire to preserve employment opportunities for Seattle Public Utilities employees that would be displaced from implementing its new contracts.

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council approved rules Monday for the use of surveillance cameras along the waterfront. The vote paved the way for cameras along Alki Beach and Elliott Bay to be turned on.

Under the measure approved by the City Council, city departments would have to describe how they would use the cameras (or drones) and the council then would have to hold a public hearing on the proposal before giving its approval. The measure, however, included language that exempts the Seattle Police Department if the device is part of a criminal investigation or approved under a search warrant.

The surveillance cameras have generated a public backlash ever since they were installed along part of Seattle`s waterfront a couple of months ago.  Will they be able to look into homes? Who will they be tracking and who will have access to the tapes?

camerasMcGinn, who originally signed off on the cameras to help with Port of Seattle security, backed off after the mini-revolt by West Seattle residents and said the waterfront cameras would not be turned on until after the public had a chance to voice concerns.

On Monday, members of the City Council unanimously adopted what they argue are clear and strict guidelines about how cameras, drones or any other type or surveillance equipment will be used.

“Before this city buys any surveillance equipment or drones, they (city departments) cannot do so without the approval of the council and they cannot put them into operation until we sign off on the protocols,” Councilman Nick Licata said.

Lawmakers argued that requiring clear protocols of any city department that wants to use surveillance equipment will prevent any privacy problems in the future.

“We do not want these cameras to go into the homes of any residences or any of the businesses – their windows, for example,” Councilman Bruce Harrell said. “So we will make sure that we have the right protections in place to prevent that.”

But a few members of the public in the audience chanted, “Vote you out! Vote you out!” as they walked out of the City Council chambers.

One woman outside the chambers said, “Frankly, there has been so much (public) outcry over this that, I mean, the public doesn’t want this. So why are we still going down this path?”

Andrew Shaw of the ACLU-Washington said, “We are under constant surveillance, and that is frightening.”

The ACLU questions whether surveillance cameras even serve their stated purpose.

“There`s no evidence that I`ve seen from any reports or research that`s been done that show that cameras prevent crimes,” Shaw said.

The ACLU opposed Monday’s vote, arguing the new rules don’t include an annual review to determine whether the rules are being followed.

City officials haven’t said when the cameras along the waterfront might be turned on.

vendingSEATTLE — The Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously adopted a bill requiring all vending machines operated on city property to stock at least 50 percent “healthier” and “healthiest” food and beverage selections as defined by Public Health Seattle & King County.

The “healthiest” category include fresh or dehydrated vegetables, fresh or dehydrated fruit, whole grain cereals, low-fat popcorn, unsalted nuts or seeds, fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt and other items.

The “healthier” items include such things as baked potato chips, frozen fruit juice bars, whole grain crackers, pretzels, corn chips, etc.

To see a list of the guidelines, click here.

“We are working to do our part to support healthier choices for those who want them,” Mayor Mike McGinn said. “I thank Councilmember (Richard) Conlin for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work with him to improve access to healthier food choices for our employees and all Seattle residents.”

Conlin, sponsor of the healthy vending machine legislation, issued the following statement after the vote, “Healthy vending helps to make the healthy choice the easy choice. This is one way that we can support healthy and productive city employees. City employees will now have more opportunities to consume more nutritious food and beverages while at work.”

Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation has led the way by successfully implementing the King County Healthy Vending Guidelines of “Healthier” and “Healthiest” choices in all vending machines in city park facilities in 2010.

gunSEATTLE — On Wednesday, Seattle leaders expressed frustration not just at the shootings in Connecticut, but at the fact that their hands are pretty much tied from enacting gun control measures.

That’s because Washington state law prohibits cities from passing their own rules when it comes to firearms. They’re stuck with whatever comes out of Olympia. And right now, those laws are pretty permissive.

For instance, Washington doesn’t have an assault weapons ban like some states do.

“We have to take it to the people,” said Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “I don’t want to wait on Olympia. I think that’s been a proven ineffective technique.”

Harrell wants a statewide citizen initiative that would allow cities to enact guns control laws of their own. Such an effort would require about 250,000 signatures.

“We want to get this on the ballot,” he said.

Harrell argues that if local jurisdictions were allowed to chart their own course when it came to gun laws than Seattle would be a safer place.

“We just want our ability, for example, to prohibit guns in parks, to prohibit people who are intoxicated from having a handgun, to require background checks when someone applies for a concealed weapons permit,” he said.

Seattle’s Police Chief, John Diaz, expressed support for the idea of going to the people.

“If we can’t do it as a country, if we can’t do it as an individual state, then we have to look at what we can do as a city,” he said.

A statewide initiative on gun control is no sure thing.  A measure that would have required trigger locks back in the 90s failed by a big margin.

A lot of people say they are fed up with crime, violence and drugs in downtown Seattle. Dozens of businesses are taking the issue straight to city leaders.

Just about everyone was shocked last month when police released a surveillance video of a brutal mugging in a Belltown alley. A man was hit from behind, knocked unconscious and robbed. The suspect was never caught.

A second, similar attack has people upset.

“Oh, a lot of frustration cause we’ve been talking about this for so long,” said Kate Joncas of the Downtown Seattle Association.

The association joined more than 150 business owners and residents to send a letter to the City Council.

It reads, in part: “Downtown`s urban experience and its public and private spaces are threatened and impacted by rampant drug dealing, aggressive and illegal behavior and individuals living on the streets with mental illness and addictions who aren`t getting the services they need to improve their lives … We fear the situation in downtown neighborhoods is getting worse, not better.”

The group wants to see more police, more parks and more outreach in downtown.

“We`re such a great city, such great opportunities, but when you go in downtown Chicago and New York, you don`t get that kind of negative feeling you get sometimes.  Other cities can do it, we can too,” Joncas said.

Mayor Mike McGinn said, “We have a serious issue in this city, in this country, with people who are destitute, people who have mental health issues and cities across the country like ours are challenged with dealing with that.”

In his new budget, McGinn  has allocated millions of dollars for new police officers and new crime-fighting technology along with crime prevention programs. But the mayor said arrest is not always the best solution.

“If we can get people into treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues, we`re going to do that, too.  But, this is a serious issue, not just for Seattle but all cities across America,” McGinn said.

McGinn said he believes the health of downtown is better than the letter suggests.

He admits these are difficult issues and long-term solutions will take more time and more money.

Paper or plastic? Some shoppers in Seattle grocery stores have the choice once again.

That’s in spite of a citywide ban on plastic bags that went into effect July 1.

Some shoppers may have already seen them in their neighborhood grocery store, right next to the reusable cloth bags — a new kind of plastic bag.

A new option some shoppers don’t quite understand.

“This is the first that I’ve seen these, so I’m kind of a little shocked, but, yeah, if they’re not (going to) want us to have plastic bags, then I think they should be banned completely,” shopper Abigail Gilson said.

The new, heavier-gauge plastic bags are now offered when a lot of shoppers have grown accustomed to bringing their own reusable bag or just carrying groceries in their arms.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think they should be selling plastic bags if they banned them. I think they are bad for the environment and I think they should not offer them at all,” said shopper Ryan Frondozo.

“On average, every Seattleite was going through 500 plastic bags a year in Seattle,” said City Councilman Mike O’Brien.

That was one of the problems. Negative impact on the environment was another.

The plastic bag ban was the solution, but O’Brien, who sponsored the bag ban, says the new heavier-gauge plastic bags were always part of the ordinance, along with any other bag that could be reused.

He doesn’t think the new plastic bags will become a problem.

“Because people are charging for these and they’re 17 cents each, people have a big incentive to either reuse them time and time again or bring a different reusable bag or figure out another solution to keep going in and buying reusable bags and then throwing them out,” O’Brien said.

Still shoppers like Kate Sugaski believe the new bag defeats the purpose of the ban.

“I think it’s good not to have them at all, and people should bring their own,” Sugaski said.

O’Brien said if the city were to begin to see a problem with the new bags, such as customers constantly buying new ones instead of reusing them, or see them turning up, in a significant way, in landfills or in the Puget Sound, the council will create a new ordinance to address that problem.