4 to Explore: A Northeast Neighborhoods Newsletter

1 Issue to Engage

1 Issue to Engage

Straightening Out A Councilman’s Twisted Truth

Do you recognize this bulldozer? It’s hard to tell because there are so many rumbling in Northeast Seattle these days. (It’s the one on NE 50th and Brooklyn).

Seattle leaders should prevent demolitions and displacement. Instead, our local government officials — led by Councilmember Rob Johnson — have been spending an enormous amount of time and taxpayer resources to quickly implement polices that will benefit their for-profit developer campaign donors and intensify demolitions and displacement.

Councilmember Rob Johnson’s recent Op Ed entitled “U District leads the way in citywide rezone effort” was misleading and irresponsible. Johnson, who was elected to represent Northeast Seattle in “District 4”, was not only celebrating his efforts to enact a law massively upzoning the U District but also giving notice to the rest of the city that he plans to upzone their neighborhoods, too. Disturbingly, many of his statements lauding the upzones were false.

In this troubling era of government officials spreading alternative facts to push their agendas and confuse communities, COUNCILMEMBER ROB JOHNSON’S TWISTING OF THE TRUTH MUST BE CORRECTED.

Misleading Statement #1: Rob Johnson wrote, “for the first time in Seattle’s history we will require affordable housing as we grow.”

Reality:  The U District and other neighborhoods in Seattle already had “Incentive Zoning” that required contributions to affordable housing (and child care and parks) if for-profit developers wanted to build higher. While the new mandatory approach could have been better, Johnson blocked amendments that would have increased affordable housing from just 9% to 10%. Without showing his math, Johnson claimed it would hurt for-profit developers. “The Urbanist” organization pointed out that other, bolder cities set-aside 20% for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the upzone enacted by City Hall may actually reduce affordable housing, as noted by the Seattle Times in their recent piece entitled “Build-Baby-Build Frenzy Leaves Affordability in the Dust.”

Misleading Statement #2: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “living our values as a welcoming, sustainable and inclusive city”

Reality:  Rob Johnson gave for-profit developers a loophole:  they can write a check rather than housing low income people in their buildings. Not requiring affordable housing onsite is the opposite of inclusive.

Misleading Statement #3: Rob Johnson wrote, “We required developers to provide more open space”

Reality: Rob Johnson dismissed an ongoing, grass-roots effort to create a public square above the light rail station.

Misleading Statement #4: Rob Johnson wrote, “By investing in citywide assets like…schools…we encourage more people to live in high-amenity areas.” 

Reality:  Rob Johnson did nothing for schools. In fact, he had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to charge developer’s Impact Fees by which developers would finally to pay their fair share of growth as they do throughout the country. State law specifically allows impact fees to pay for schools, parks, and fire stations. Schools in Northeast Seattle are bursting at the seams, but Johnson ignored community requests for impact fees.  What Johnson did NOT mention in his editorial is that his election campaign was funded richly by for-profit developers. (CLICK HERE and HERE).

Misleading Statement #5: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “contributing to stable neighborhoods, businesses, and schools”

Reality:  Borrowing the term from legendary urban thinker Jane Jacobs (who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Rob Johnson’s massive and rapid upzone is “cataclysmic” and therefore the opposite of stable:  it will de-stabilize the neighborhoods and the small, local businesses we cherish.  Demolishing existing buildings to construct more expensive units that require higher rents will push people out and economically gentrify neighborhoods.

Misleading Statement #6: Rob Johnson wrote that upzones will “continue to lower our greenhouse gas emissions”

Reality:  Rob Johnson’s upzone is an environmental shell game:  by pushing people of modest means out of the U District as wealthy tech workers snatch up the expensive new buildings, the former residents will need to commute longer distances in their cars, thereby doing nothing to curb emissions

Misleading Statement #7: Rob Johnson wrote “we delayed zoning changes along a stretch of the Ave so a study on the potential impacts on small businesses could be completed.”

Reality: This “delay” was a cynical tactic to allow passage of the larger upzone everywhere else in the neighborhood. Because Rob Johnson is the Councilmember representing the Ave, it’s like having the “fox in the hen house”.  He has shown no intention of letting any “study” stop him from upzoning the rest of the Ave to benefit his developer donors. It seems he and the bureaucracy are simply waiting out the neighborhood, hoping they tire of fighting City Hall. Fortunately, there is a growing movement to Save the Ave (see end of this column).

Misleading Statement #8: Rob Johnson wrote, “This legislation includes changes made in direct response to feedback”

Reality: As shown above, Rob Johnson constantly ignored feedback from community members.  In fact, he shoved several more blocks into the upzone at the last minute, ignoring pleas to preserve the affordable housing there.

Sadly, Rob Johnson stooped to a new low by comparing concerned communities to Trump for challenging his bulldozer approach to city planning.  Reality: The people in the neighborhoods wanted more affordable housing whereas Johnson pushed for less.  Trump is a developer and developers funded Johnson’s campaign.  Trump abuses the reins of government by spreading fake news to confuse communities. We see that cynical tactic coming from City Hall, not from communities trying to have a say in their future.

We expect our government officials to listen and lead, not to spout misinformation and mislead. Thankfully, residents are not letting the U District upzone get them down and are still turning up the volume on City Hall.

What can you do?  Engage. Fight Back. City Hall is coming to develop your neighborhood whether you like it or not. Why? Because most of City Hall is representing the moneyed-interests, not the public interest. While they complain about “wealthy” homeowners (many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes), our elected officials take money and direction from local billionaires.

Save the Ave:  There is a new and growing effort to preserve the funky, small businesses on The Ave (University Way NE). Many of these have been featured as “Stores to Adore” on www.4toExplore.org, such as Scarecrow Video and Gargoyle Statuary.

  • For the small businesses devoted to preserving the Ave, CLICK HERE.
  • For the “Save the Ave” website, CLICK HERE.

Support Councilmember Lisa Herbold: Make the 1% pay more than 2% !! Make downtown developers pay their fair share for the cost of growth and congestion. Write council@seattle.gov today to reach all 9 City Councilmembers. Ask them to support Lisa Herbold’s amendments to increase the affordable housing obligations for developers in downtown and South Lake Union. Since Rob Johnson blocked neighborhood requests to increase affordability in the U District, making the Council increase affordability for downtown will set a better precedent as City Hall plots to redevelop other neighborhoods.

Need Inspiration?  For news footage of neighbors banding together recently to protest City Hall’s top-down, pro-developer policies, CLICK HERE.

1 Issue to Engage

Just Say No to Trump (HUD Appointment Hurts Seattle)

Let’s tell the Senators:  Just Say “No” To Donald Trump.

TRUMP’S IRRESPONSIBLE APPOINTMENT TO H.U.D. WILL HURT SEATTLE. Only a qualified expert in affordable housing or city management should lead this important national agency.

Many Americans are already horrified by Trump’s appointments to lead other agencies. The person Trump selected to head Health disparages women’s health concerns. The person Trump selected to head Education criticizes key principles of public education.

As residents of a major city with an affordable housing and homeless crisis, we Seattleites must also confront Trump’s reckless choice to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Would Ben Carson want an expert in affordable housing to take his place overseeing pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital? Of course not, because it’s too important.

Why is HUD so important? HUD invests $50 billion each year for affordable housing and economic development[1].  HUD builds homes, creates jobs, and cares for the homeless. Here in our city, including Northeast Seattle where my family lives, many of the ribbon-cuttings and success stories championed by local politicians are actually funded by HUD.  HUD’s 8,000 employees fulfill a nationwide mission too important to be mismanaged by an inexperienced leader.

When Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolutionaries” captured a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, they demanded the elimination of HUD[2].  Without understanding the importance of HUD, they callously clawed back funding already on its way to boost low-income communities. But those rookie congressmen eventually realized that HUD is not an agency merely subsidizing the urban poor. Its FHA lending products finance housing in every congressional district. The flexible Community Development Block Grants  – enacted under Republican President Nixon — create jobs.  Section 8 subsidies are often in the form of contracts to the owners of apartment buildings — and many of those owners vote Republican. The compelling benefits of those HUD programs ultimately saved  the agency from destruction 20 years ago and may save it again under a Trump Administration.

But what about Fair Housing programs? Fair Housing is just as vital for strong communities but does not provide financial benefits to interest groups.  Even here in progressive Seattle, there are shameful acts of housing discrimination.  As reported by the Seattle Times last year, a local study concluded that, “Property owners and their agents treated prospective tenants differently based on race, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.”[3]

Any discrimination by landlords exacerbates the affordability crisis in Seattle, where families and neighborhood businesses of color already experience displacement pressures from soaring rents and greedy upzones that incentivize demolition of existing affordable buildings.[4]  That same investigation found discrimination at “large, sleek new developments in Ballard and South Lake Union.”  The investigations uncovering the housing discrimination – and the corrective fair housing training for the owners – are funded by HUD. Combined with Trump’s dreadful  choice for Attorney General, an inexperienced HUD Secretary would embolden the Dept of Justice to switch from protector to destroyer of fair housing.

When HUD is managed by experienced leaders, it benefits people across the political spectrum: from mortgage bankers to homeless families.  Under the solid leadership of Andrew Cuomo, Shaun Donovan, and former Mayor Julian Castro, HUD has reinvented government and fostered best practices, such as Housing First – an evidence-based solution that speeds the homeless into permanent housing.

When HUD is mismanaged by inexperience – as it was during the Reagan Administration — it allows slumlords, financial scandals, and discrimination[5].

Millions of Americans rely on the expertise of the HUD Secretary to ensure they have a home at night and a job in the morning.

The U.S. Senate should exercise their constitutional prerogative and Just Say “No” to Trump, so that we can continue to say “Yes We Can” to a national agency vital for keeping America great.

While our U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are likely to vote NO, you can encourage friends and family in “red” and “purple” states to oppose him. Here’s a link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/


1 Issue to Engage

Vote, Northeast Seattle!

VOTE, NORTHEAST SEATTLE !  Your ballots are due Tues, Nov 8.  While there are many candidates and measures to sort through, here are our recommendations for two of the most important:

  • Sound Transit 3 (ST3): Vote No.

 

If you are still deciding how to vote, here is our thinking:

No on Sound Transit 3 (ST3):
We want more extensive mass transit, but Big Business should not get a free ride while the poor pay more.  Shockingly, that’s exactly what the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure would do. ST3 would shovel unfair, regressive taxes onto the people while several large corporations reap the benefits. And that’s why the corporations are funding the campaign — it’s cheaper to make campaign contributions than to fund the light rail itself. For a list of corporate campaign contributors, CLICK HERE.

The politicians deciding who pays — including Northeast Seattle’s Councilmember Rob Johnson (who sits on the Sound Transit board) — let us down. While they call themselves “progressives,” their proposal for more Sales Tax is regressive. Their proposal for more Property Tax means renters and homeowners will struggle to pay several other local levies, including the nearly $1 billion “transportation” levy enacted just months ago (109,000 votes in favor; 77,000 votes against).

The only way to make the politicians listen is to put our foot down.  REJECT AND RE-DO SOUND TRANSIT 3: MAKE CORPORATIONS PAY FAIR SHARE.

Reckless funding proposals like ST3 jeopardize sensible and fair levies like those for education and affordable housing.  Therefore, we should demand that elected officials fix ST3 and put a better version on the ballot in early 2017. The Seattle Times agrees; for their June editorial, CLICK HERE.

Here are some ideas to make it better:

  • Make Biggest Businesses Pay Biggest Share (Portland, OR and New York City are just two examples where Employers help to fund transit.) The State’s authorizing legislation SB 5987 (see Section 318) encourages other sources of “funds, including federal, state, local, and private sector assistance.” An “Employer Tax” is the first one suggested.
  • Require Microsoft to pay for light rail to Redmond.
  • Eliminate regressive tax increases so the poor do not pay more.
  • Divide Sound Transit 3 into TWO Pieces to provide time to enact a State Income Tax (e.g. on non-retirement investment income).
  • Provide More Regional Buses (faster than waiting for light rail construction).
  • Increase fares for well-to-do transit riders so that they pay more of the actual cost (lower-income riders would continue to get Orca Lift discount cards.)
  • Investigate Sound Transit’s questionable use of online surveys and slick campaign-like mailers.

For two sides of the debate from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. They both make compelling arguments and they both exaggerate. They also both miss the point: we need to expand transit, but the way it is funded needs to be re-tooled.

For more reasons to vote NO, see last season’s article “Reject and Revise ST3: Make Corporations Pay Fair Share” by CLICKING HERE.

Just as for-profit developers should pay Impact Fees to pay their fair share of growth, corporations benefiting from new infrastructure should pay their fair share so that we do not burden lower income families with more regressive taxes. Vote NO on ST3 and demand immediate revisions to the funding sources so that we have transit that is truly fair and progressive.

Yes for Nicole Macri (43rd Legislative District):

Our state government reps have a lot of work to do — from funding our public schools to reforming our tax system to providing more for affordable housing. We have endorsed Nicole Macri for our 43rd Legislative District, because Nicole has real experience creating affordable housing (results rather than rhetoric). Nicole also knows how to empower the homeless into homes (using proven best practices, rather than making up stuff).

There is another attribute that sets Nicole apart: She “speaks Truth to Power” — a refreshing and meaningful approach because “Seattle nice” and conflict-averse incumbents often let problems linger. To get a sense of Nicole, imagine Bernie Sanders’ passion for justice seasoned by Hillary Clinton’s experience fueled by the tenacity of the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.That’s what our state government in Olympia needs!

Northeast Seattle is represented by two State legislative districts: 43rd and 46th.

The 43rd includes Eastlake, Wallingford, U District, and Ravenna. The 43rd is currently represented by Rep Frank Chopp as well as State Senator Jamie Pedersen.

The 46th includes Bryant, Hawthorne Hills, Laurelhurst, and Wedgwood. The 46th is currently represented by State Reps Farrell and Pollet as well as Senator Frockt.

To confirm your State legislative district AND U.S. Congressional district, CLICK HERE.

For an official list of all of the candidates and ballot measures, CLICK HERE.

Whatever you do this Fall, VOTE. Let the halls of power hear the voice of Northeast Seattle.

1 Issue to Engage

Reject and Re-Do Sound Transit 3 (ST3): Make Corporations Pay Fair Share

We want more extensive public transit, but should Big Business get a free ride while the poor pay more? Of course not. Shockingly, that’s exactly what the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure would do. ST3 would shovel unfair, regressive taxes onto the people while several large corporations reap the benefits.

Example: Sound Transit 3 would increase Sales Taxes on the general public to build a new light rail extension that benefits Microsoft Corp headquarters in Redmond. (This is the same Microsoft that already uses off-shore accounts to avoid other taxes.) (Existing Sound Transit 2 taxes are already building a light rail TO Microsoft headquarters.)

The politicians deciding who pays — including Northeast Seattle’s Councilmember Rob Johnson (who sits on the Sound Transit board) — let us down. While they call themselves “progressives,” their proposal for more Sales Tax is regressive. Their proposal for more Property Tax means renters and homeowners will struggle to pay several other local levies, including the nearly $1 billion “transportation” levy enacted just months ago (109,000 votes in favor; 77,000 votes against).

The only way to make the politicians listen is to put our foot down.  REJECT AND RE-DO SOUND TRANSIT 3: MAKE CORPORATIONS PAY FAIR SHARE.

Reckless funding proposals like ST3 jeopardize sensible and fair levies like those for education and affordable housing.  Therefore, we should demand that elected officials fix ST3 and put a better version on the ballot in early 2017. Here are some ideas to make it better:

  • Make Biggest Businesses Pay Biggest Share (Portland, OR and New York City are just two examples where employers help to fund transit.)
  • Require Microsoft to pay for light rail to Redmond.
  • Eliminate regressive tax increases so that poor do not pay more.
  • Divide Sound Transit 3 into TWO Pieces to provide time to enact a State Income Tax (e.g. on non-retirement investment income).
  • Provide More Regional Buses (faster than waiting for light rail construction).
  • Increase fares for well-to-do transit riders so that they pay more of the actual cost (lower-income riders would continue to get Orca Lift discount cards.)
  • Investigate Sound Transit’s questionable use of online surveys and slick campaign-like mailers that advocate for ST3.

UPDATE: Three days after we distributed our 4toExplore.org newsletter, the Seattle Times also urged voters to put the brakes on Sound Transit 3. The Seattle Times articulated additional reasons to hold off. For their editorial, CLICK HERE.

Sound Transit is damaging trust by misleading the public about the costs. Their website states, “Under collection of the full authorized revenues the estimated cost to a typical adult living in the Sound Transit District would be approximately $200 more annually.”  But, the Seattle Times points out that it’s actually $400 per year: “An average household would pay $400 in yearly property, sales and car-tax increases if voters in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties say yes in November…The estimated household average of $400 more per year is close to double what residents now pay for Sound Transit measures approved by voters in 1996 and 2008.”

Here is how officials propose to pay for STC3:

  • Property Tax: an additional $125 per year for a house worth $500,000. (This is 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.)
  • Sales Tax: an additional 0.5%, on top of the 0.9% already collected for a total of 1.4%.
  • Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET): an additional 0.8% of vehicle value, on top of the 0.3% already collected for Sound Transit.

We have no problem with the MVET. But a Sales Tax is regressive (the poor pay more). For an article by the “FYI Guy” on regressive taxes, CLICK HERE. In addition, property taxes have been increasing exponentially, creating additional pressure on important future local levies for affordable housing, public education, etc.

What about the cost of the tickets? According to Sound Transit, “ticket sales will cover up to an estimated 40 percent of light rail operations costs and 20 percent of bus operations costs.” Therefore, Sound Transit should consider charging higher income riders higher fares to cover more of the actual cost of service (user fee) rather than making all low income families pay more with regressive sales taxes.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s City Council in May 2016 passed Resolution 31668 , stating that they “endorse Sound Transit’s proposed mix of revenue options” because “Sound Transit has been granted limited options for funding these needs, which will only become more expensive over time.” But the State’s authorizing legislation SB 5987 (see Section 318) actually states that they “should also seek other funds, including federal, state, local, and private sector assistance.” Criteria for the funding sources should include “equity”. And the very first option listed is an “Employer Tax” — which is ignored by ST3. Why not learn from Portland, Oregon (TriMet) which charges an Employer Tax? Moreover, the Legislature exists to legislate; therefore, they could easily enact other options for Sound Transit — certainly the State’s authorization of a $15 billion cap did not stop Sound Transit from doing something different: proposing over $50 billion.

For two sides of the debate from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. They both make compelling arguments and they both exaggerate. They also both miss the point: we need to expand transit, but the way it is funded needs to be re-tooled.

Corporations benefiting from new infrastructure should pay their fair share so that we do not burden lower income families with more regressive taxes. Vote NO on ST3 and demand immediate revisions to the funding sources so that we have transit that is truly fair and progressive.

1 Issue to Engage

Yes on the Affordable Housing Levy

When I served as a legislative aide for the City Council, I had the honor to help craft the levy for the Seattle Preschool Program. So I have seen what is required for a good levy.  That’s why I voted against the recent Parks and Transportation levies: they lacked accountability, contained unessential programs, and cost too much. But I’m voting YES for the AFFORDABLE HOUSING LEVY and here are 4 reasons why you should, too.

1. The Housing Levy can reduce homelessness.
2. The Housing Levy fills the gap.
3. The Housing Levy is NOT “HALA.”
4.The Housing Levy is Equity in Action.

1. The Affordable Housing Levy can reduce homelessness. It is heart-breaking and unacceptable that families with children are spending the night outside. But there are strategies proven to reduce homelessness in several other cities. “Housing First” is an evidence-based strategy supported by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Here’s why “Housing First” works:   when  a homeless person or family is severely distressed, only the stability of permanent affordable housing enables them to pull their lives back together, complete their education, secure a job, or kick a drug habit.  “Housing First” requires the construction of 100% affordable housing and that’s the Housing Levy. (For an earlier article by www.4toExplore.org on solving homelessness in Seattle, CLICK HERE.)

2. The Affordable Housing Levy fills the gap. The Housing Levy is the only reliable source of funds to fill the financial gap required to build affordable housing in Seattle. Without the Housing Levy, more developers (even nonprofits) would build outside of Seattle due to the relatively high cost of land here. The Housing Levy acts like the Sun, with its hefty gravity pulling several affordable projects to within our city limits. In contrast, the simplistic “density” policies pushed by some for-profit developers fail to provide sufficient affordable housing. Density alone is a supply-side, trickle-down approach that, in some cases, demolishes older, “naturally-occurring” affordable housing to build upscale apartments for the influx of high-tech professionals. If we fail to renew (and expand) our Housing Levy, we are left with only the insufficient trickle-downers.

3. The Affordable Housing Levy is NOT “HALA.”  The Housing Levy is like The Rolling Stones whereas the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) is like Brittney Spears.  Both are music, but putting them on the same stage creates discord.  Like the Rolling Stones, the Housing Levy has been around a long time (35 years) and has a glowing track record of success. Like Brittney Spears, HALA has some tunes with which you reluctantly sing along, but some fall flat or sound wrong. One of the most intriguing HALA recommendations would require developers to set aside funds for affordable housing – but less than 10%.  The Housing Levy, however, tops the charts:  it builds 100% affordable housing.  Bottom-line: direct your HALA skepticism at HALA, not at the Housing Levy. (For an earlier article on HALA from www.4toExplore.org, CLICK HERE.)

4. The Affordable Housing Levy is Equity in Action. There is a lot of tweeting about “equity” in the Seattle echo chamber, with public figures striving to sound the most “progressive.”  But the Affordable Housing Levy is the real deal. The Housing Levy is not words, but bricks. It is equity in action.

Concerns about the cumulative cost impact of levies are valid. Property taxes have been rising and landlords can pass these costs onto renters. But until State legislators grant Seattle local authority to enact more progressive policies or big businesses contribute more, the levy is one of our few reliable tools for affordable housing. While City leaders could do more to generate funds by right-sizing City Hall’s rich retirement benefits for new government employees, that may not be enough. While City leaders could join other cities across the State and nation by having for-profit developers pay Impact Fees, those funds can be used only for schools, fire stations, and sidewalks – not for affordable housing.

Bottom line: our city needs this dedicated source of funds to build enough permanent affordable housing so that children are no longer sleeping outside.  As Mayor Murray said, “Expanding the Housing Levy is the most important thing we will do this year to support affordability in Seattle.”

For detailed information about the Housing Levy, CLICK HERE. For a glossy one-page summary, CLICK HERE. The Mayor’s team held “community conversations” throughout the city in February. The Mayor asked the City Council to place it on our ballots for August of this year.  The City Council’s Select Committee on the 2016 Housing Levy is holding a public hearing at City Hall on Monday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. For their other meetings, CLICK HERE.

I encourage other neighborhood leaders to support the Affordable Housing Levy for Seattle.

Two More Tools for Affordable Housing:

1. Bonds, Baby, Bonds:  In addition to renewing/expanding the Affordable Housing Levy, the city could also issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the new construction of affordable housing. Issuing bonds would provide funding to address immediately some of the existing shortage of truly affordable housing, whereas the Housing Levy would build more slowly over several years. The bonds could be backed by the City and/or by the revenues to be generated by the new housing, depending on how affordable the housing is (The more affordable the housing to the renters, the less revenue will be generated from rental income to pay down the bonds).

2. Don’t Demolish What We Already Have:  When renewing/expanding the Housing Levy, it would be ideal if the City enacted an ordinance to require the one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units demolished by developers (whether or not the units are funded by the levy).  The City should be able to waive this policy in special circumstances.

1 Issue to Engage

10 Good Things Our New City Council Should Do, But Probably Won’t

The few Seattle residents who exercised their hard-fought right to vote last November elected another City Council. There is a balance of first-timers (Gonzalez, Herbold, Johnson, Juarez) and veterans (Bagshaw, Burgess, O’Brien, Sawant, and the new Council President Harrell). We urge the 9 Councilmembers to resist the influence of those who contributed money or endorsed their campaigns and work only on what improves the quality of life in our city.

Here are “10 GOOD THINGS OUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS COULD DO, BUT PROBABLY WON’T.”

1. Unlock Dollars for Social Services By Reforming City Hall’s Expensive Retirement Benefits.
2. Enact Impact Fees on For-Profit Developers So We Have Money to Build Schools.
3. Fund Only Best Practices That Actually Reduce Homelessness.
4. Visit Community Councils At Least Every 3 Months Just to Listen.
5. Replace the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) with the Best Programs.
6. Increase Community Policing.
7. Require Replacement of Any Affordable Housing Demolished.
8. Universalize the Seattle Preschool Program.
9. Stop Dabbling in Foreign Policy.
10. Require Grocery Stores To Retrieve Abandoned Shopping Carts (and other little things that matter).

1. Unlock Dollars for Social Services By Reforming City Hall’s Expensive Retirement Benefits.
While money is needed to provide housing for the homeless and to expand the Seattle Preschool Program — and while voters are asked to approve tax levy after tax levy — the Mayor and City Council are forgoing tens of millions of dollars each year. How? By perpetuating the outdated, “Cadillac” pension benefits available only to city government employees. In 2010, Seattle taxpayers contributed $45.3 million to City Hall’s pension fund, but that amount has doubled to over $90 million each year since 2014. (That increase of $45 million a year is equivalent to how much we spend to help the homeless.) The City Council should raise the retirement age (currently as low as 52), switch new employees to a sustainable 401(k), and/or enact other cost savings seen throughout the nation. While city officials had private negotiations about modifying the pensions, there was little to no information released to the public, even though the public is paying the bills. 2016 is the time to right-size City Hall’s retirement benefits and re-direct those dollars to greater needs. For a more in-depth article on this issue, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE: The Seattle Times recently brought to light a modified pension benefit that City Hall negotiated behind closed doors with its unions for new employees. For the newspaper’s January article, CLICK HERE. If we understand the article correctly, it appears that City Hall could have saved significantly more if they had followed some of  their consultants’ more ambitious recommendations. According to the news article, the consultants laid out several options to “reduce pension contributions [by] Seattle and its employees by $1.1 billion to $2.8 billion over 30 years” (up to $93 million per year).  But instead City Hall and its unions chose to move the retirement age from 52 to 55 (which is still very early) and keep taxpayers on the hook. When City leaders continue to raise taxes while struggling to fund programs for those most in need, City Hall should be finding and redirecting  more savings. So Item #1 above still stands as something City Hall could do more of in 2016.

2. Enact Impact Fees on For-Profit Developers So We Have Money to Build Schools.
Politicians pontificate about “progressive” values. Yet Seattle fails to charge for-profit developers the basic impact fees used throughout the country and in 75 other localities in Washington State to build schools, sidewalks, and fire stations. In November, the Mayor and City Council convinced voters to approve a nearly $1 billion tax for the Seattle Dept of Transportation (SDOT). In February 2016, voters will be asked to support 2 more measures for our public schools.  Many believe it is unfair for renters and property owners to increase their share of the burden while developers increase their profits. For-profit developers benefiting from growth should help to pay for growth. If the City Council fails to charge developer impact fees again in 2016, then the Mayor can fill that void of leadership. For a more in-depth article on this issue, CLICK HERE.

3. Fund Only Best Practices That Actually Reduce Homelessness.
The Council is expected to spend over $47 million on homelessness this year. While homeless is going down throughout the nation, it is increasing in Seattle. This is due, in large part, to the city’s inability to fund only programs proven to work (“best practices” or evidence-based programs) such as Housing First and Rapid Rehousing.  While many local news reports focus on homeless encampments, they fail to investigate what is working in other cities. Moreover, framing encampments as compassion vs. NIMBY misses the point. The federal government, which focuses its funding on outcomes and results, does not fund encampments for a reason: they do not provide housing. Seattle seems to be attracting homeless from around the nation, but does not seem to be collecting the data to determine how best to address this. Our local elected officials should invest tax dollars only in strategies that work rather than caving to interest groups better at delivering speeches than results. For an earlier article on homelessness from “4 to Explore,” CLICK HERE.

4. Visit Community Councils At Least Every 3 Months Just to Listen.
The first City Council elected under the new neighborhood-based system needs to take it seriously by getting out of downtown and into their districts. While the City Councilmembers will debate the fate of the Dept of Neighborhoods and the 13 “District Councils,” they should host weekly office hours in their district and engage the community councils. Each of the 7 City Council Districts has approx 15 community councils. “4 to Explore” and other neighborhood newsletters here in Northeast Seattle hosted a candidate debate in October 2015 and asked the candidates to commit to visit all of the Community Councils in District 4 at least quarterly. They said they will. To participate in your community council, CLICK HERE.

5. Replace the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) with the Best Programs. Seattle officials have a tendency to throw together a program du Jour without using evidence-based practices and without replicating what is already proven to work in other cities. For example, an independent report commissioned by the City Auditor’s Office found that, after 5 years and over $20 million, SYVPI was so poorly designed, it is nearly impossible to determine whether the program can reduce violence. If Councilmembers truly care about our city’s young people (not the interest groups getting the money and/or inappropriately playing the race card), they will fund only programs that keep youth safe. For evidence-based programs that prevent youth violence, CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE.

6. Increase Community Policing.
In addition to improving deployment strategies so that more police are available in the neighborhoods when needed, the city simply needs more police officers. This should include those focused on preventing crime and helping communities to solve crimes. Recent data on the slower response times in the largest police precinct (North Seattle) is recent evidence of this need.

7. Require Replacement of Any Affordable Housing Demolished.
This concept, called “one-for-one replacement,” preserves affordable housing. It is needed primarily when the economy is overheating or developers are taking advantage of pro-developer “upzones” enacted by the Mayor and City Council. The current proposal to require developers to set-aside funds for affordable housing is not enough because (a) it generates too little money to fully fund new affordable units and (b) it would allow the demolition of existing affordable housing. A for-profit developer could knock down 50 units of older, naturally occurring affordable housing to build more than 50 high-end condos. Even if the developer set-aside money to build 5 affordable units (10%), the demolition would result in a 90% LOSS of affordable housing (from 50 units to 5).

8. Universalize the Seattle Preschool Program while preserving the program’s high quality. The ambitious Seattle Preschool Program was trimmed back in 2014 for 3 reasons:  (1) The leaders of the successful programs in Boston and elsewhere cautioned Seattle to go slow in order to nurture the high quality needed to achieve positive outcomes that last a lifetime (wise). (2) Some elected officials wanted to re-direct the big spending on the massive transportation levy instead (unfortunate). (3) Some officials wanted to combine the renewal of preschool with the renewal of the city’s Families and Education Levy in 4 years (reasonable). But the new City Council could expand preschool sooner by aggressively seeking federal and state dollars and by requiring some space for preschools in newly up-zoned neighborhood commercial districts.  Regardless, the new Council must preserve the evidence-based, high-quality guardrails established by the City in 2014 — even if interest groups for adults will try to divert funds toward lower quality programs.

9. Stop Dabbling in Foreign Policy.
Put away your megaphone and your kayak. Get to work for the residents of our city. Change the City Council Rules to allow abstentions on Resolutions. Sounds arcane, but it would release the Councilmembers focused on the real work of the city from having to research international conflicts and figure out how to vote on complex foreign policy issues. Let the Councilmembers ignore the blowhards so they can focus on real work.

10. Require Grocery Stores To Retrieve Abandoned Shopping Carts (and other little things that matter)
Wait — what? Probably sounds too small. But litter in the neighborhood is just one of many examples of how “little things” matter. As a famous architect once said, “God is in the details.” Thanks to the City Charter Amendment of 2013, a Councilmember’s commitment now includes the details.

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