Following a low-profile tour of are businesses along the quieter side of Capitol Hill, Mayor Jenny Durkan met a small gathering of the public at the Miller Community Center on Saturday for a community conversation. Introduced as the city’s first female mayor in nearly 100 years, Seattle native Durkan gave a short address and fielded questions from the audience around homelessness, mental health, zoning laws, and the future of public transportation during the hour long event.
Though the Mayor announced millions in investments to reduce homelessness this year with affordable housing and addiction mitigation and City Hall under her watch is pursuing a $75 million-plus plan to create a new employee tax for big businesses, she said Saturday the city is only a cog in a wheel when it comes to its ability to fortify behavioral health services and facilities in within city limits.
“We are trying to get to a point where we can offer services on demand because we have had defunding of mental health services,” she said. “Right now most of the mental health and treatment dollars go from the state to the county, so if we don’t have a regional solution including both, we’ll never get to the point where we’ll have more mental health facilities, short term and long term in the community or state wide. “
For now, she says the focus is on strengthening our existing mental health services network. In a record breaking commitment to remove the major contributors to homelessness, Durkan announced over $100 million in investments toward affordable homes last year, along with a nearly investments for Safe Consumption Sites outlined in the City’s 2018 budget.
During the town hall, a request to halt encampment sweeps and admonishment of the practice from one member of the audience was initially met with Durkan’s tempering of reports that the sweeps are callous and harmful. “Don’t believe everything you hear in the newspapers and blogs,” she said. “It’s inhumane to let people live in mud and squalor with needles and violence and human trafficking. I think our city is better than that.”
Durkan said that while city officials will continue to move people out of illegal encampments and offer them shelter, the sweeps are not meant to be a lasting solution to the homeless crisis. More than temporary shelter, Durkan asserted that a regional tack on affordable housing, addiction recovery services, and long term mental health care will reduce illegal encampments, estimating that 20% of the homeless population receiving services in Seattle are transplants from neighboring regions looking for help.
“If we don’t do more to address the behavioral health issues in our homeless population, and that means the substance abuse and addiction problems and mental health problems, we won’t see a marked change in our city,” she said.
Thanks, @Adason15th for the on-point book suggestion. My team probably thinks I already believe that Mayors rule the world… I can’t wait to see what new ideas come from reading through your recommendations! #SEABookstoreDay pic.twitter.com/GqxJcjtU48
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) April 28, 2018
Earlier in the day, the Mayor’s visit to Capitol Hill included a tour of neighborhood businesses. Coinciding with National Independent Bookstore Day, her tour began with a visit to Elliott Bay Book Company on 10th Ave, followed by a visit to a few of 15th Ave E’s shops: Rainbow Remedy, The Red Balloon Company, and Ada’s Technical Bookstore.
According to John Gallant, owner of Red Balloon Company, Mike McGinn was the last to pay an official mayoral visit. Gallant chatted with Durkan about the street’s economic prosperity, commenting that recently he has been able to hire an additional employee. “I’m really impressed with the job she’s done so far. I appreciate the communications. It’s critical. You’ve really got to get down to the sidewalk level because if we’re gonna move forward we need someone who is able to listen and tell it like it is,” he said.
In a feel good tour of the street, Durkan briskly patronized all three shops, laughed and networked with business owners and purchased a few morale boosting toys for her office along with a collection of books. With her was leadership from the office of Economic Development Rebecca Lovell and Michael Wells, chair of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce board and 15th Ave E business owner Jeff Pelletier of Board and Vellum, mayor’s office staff members Small Business Liaison Kyla Blair and Digital Communications Officer Anthony Derrick and Durkan’s usual security detail.
Thank you to all the small businesses on Capitol Hill who let me stop by today to say hello. It’s a great way to kick off my Capitol Hill community discussion! @redballoonco, @Adason15th, @ElliottBayBooks, @Rainbowremedies, @coneandsteiner pic.twitter.com/XtAhrMfkcU
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) April 28, 2018
Durkan formed a small business advisory task force when she took office. She says the city must support small business, which employ almost five times the number of employees that Amazon does, according to Durkan.
Later at the town hall, public transportation was also a popular topic. Durkan swayed between the audience’s interest in bike lanes, carbon emissions and public safety as connected to the broader vision of municipal mobility and Seattle of the future. Durkan agreed on the city’s need for rapid bus lines on Madison, major additions to the bike lane network downtown and on the Hill, and electric transportation but admitted these developments will need to be metered as funding allows.
Earlier this year, the One Center City proposed installation of a 4th Avenue bike lane was delayed. Durkan says it’s not over but because it’s estimated to cost $14 million per mile of bike lane downtown and $850,000 a mile elsewhere, the city can’t deliver on the full menu of resources that were promised. Signal improvements are planned to be completed this year but until the city finds more affordable means of connecting bike lanes around the city, “we can’t do all the bike miles that were promised,” said Durkan. The same goes for Rapid Transit -– for now the amount budgeted will not be enough support pavement improvements needed for more rapid transit, Durkan said Saturday.
While the city seems to be struggling to make real changes to its streets to address the concerns, Durkan also said Saturday her city needs to move away from dependency on cars. Speaking to Seattle’s future, Durkan addressed an audience member’s concern over climate change and Seattle’s struggle to reduce greenhouse gasses as the city continues to grow. “We gotta get rid of the single occupancy vehicles and move to electricity, electric busses, cabs, Ubers and Lyfts,” she said. “But we don’t want electric vehicles to become another demarcation of inequity.”
Durkan may have surprised a few urbanists in the audience when she pivoted the discussion about the environment toward a focus on development. The mayor shifted her focus to public safety and pending results of the environmental impact on neighborhoods greenlit for upzoning.
Durkan said new development accounts for the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle with vehicle emissions following second.
UPDATE 5/8/2018: The mayor’s office has taken issue with our characterization of Durkan’s comments and clarified its statement that the mayor “misspoke” at the town hall. “The Mayor did not say that new development accounts for greenhouse gas emissions; rather, she said that the two largest contributors are buildings and cars, which is how she has repeatedly noted in context of climate action,” a representative tells CHS.
Here are the words CHS recorded at the event: “There’s two things that contribute most to our greenhouse gases: Number one is building efficiency, number two is cars.”
Durkan’s office maintains that the mayor isn’t blaming development but is focused, instead, on the types of buildings being created.
Original report: Apparently, new development can also be blamed for traffic and pedestrian safety issues in the city. Durkan offered a promise to keep an eye on safe pedestrian crossings and gathering spaces as developments reach the newly rezoned areas.
Even with all the projects and careful management of municipal growth, Durkan insisted “every part of the city is going to get more density, it’s just how it’s gonna be,” she said.
Owner of Fuel Coffee and @coneandsteiner, Dani Cone and Mayor Durkan at the Capitol Hill C&S! Thanks for stopping by on your way to the town hall meeting!
.#coneandsteiner #fuelcoffee #mayor #seattle #townhall pic.twitter.com/sFVdvXqCjd
— Fuel Coffee (@FuelCoffee) April 30, 2018
Durkan also addressed concern for housing for seniors in the LGBTQ+ community and closing job and education opportunity gaps. Durkan said a senior housing facility to serve the LGBTQ community is on the way and that Seattle is putting much of its energy into high quality preschools and high schools to begin closing the gap. She estimated “in the next five years 700,000 new jobs will come Seattle but of those new jobs will require post high school education and training. “Just 30% of children currently get that in Seattle to qualify them for those future jobs,” she said.
Durkan’s Capitol Hill visit ended with a declaration that Seattle’s commitment to inclusion, equity and sustainable growth will allow us to “show the President of the United States – Look how it is done.”
Thank you to everyone who came out to participate in the Capitol Hill community discussion today to share your thoughts and concerns about your neighborhood. Your input and feedback is so important to help us make Seattle the kind of city we all want it to be. pic.twitter.com/jig5OklQWJ
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) April 29, 2018
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