Seattle’s 2016 budget proposal boosted by ‘outsized’ growth — What’s in it for Capitol Hill: DPD overhaul, streetcar extension, homelessness funding, bike share expansion, cop body cams

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“More permits were issued in each of the last three years, 2012-14, than in any other year since 1990″

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Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 4.03.50 PMMayor Ed Murray has been dealt a winning hand as leader of the most prosperous city in one of the most prosperous regions in the USA.

Monday afternoon, the first-term mayor and longtime Olympia politician pointed his city forward with a new budget plan for how Seattle should spend its newfound wealth powered by a nearly unprecedented construction boom while doing more to address inequity and strengthening its reserves for the inevitable slowdown:

Seattle has received an outsized share of the region’s growth during the recovery. At the same time that the Puget Sound region’s recovery has been stronger than the nation’s, Seattle’s recovery has outpaced the recovery of the rest of the region. This can be seen by looking at taxable retail sales data (the tax base for the retail sales tax), one of the few relatively current measures of economic activity available at both the county and city levels. Over the four year period 2010-14, taxable retail sales increased by 35% in Seattle, compared to gains of 23% in the rest of the metro area and 22% in the rest of the state; i.e., outside of the Seattle metro area (see Figure 4). Most of Seattle’s relative strength is due to a 77% increase in construction activity. The rest of Seattle’s tax base has grown only modestly faster than that of the other areas.

Seattle’s dependence on the construction boom revenue is a concern — limits on property tax increases and other state taxing throttles mean the city needs to prepare for days when the boom slows. Murray said we’re missing out on $33 million in property taxes alone if the rate were allowed to track inflation instead of being capped at 1% by Olympia.

The entire 761-page, 15.1 MB budget document is embedded at the end of this post.

Included in Murray’s $5.1 billion proposal released Monday:

  • $1.8 million to fund body cameras for every patrol officer and budget to hire 30 new police officers in 2016, keeping the city on pace for 100 additional officers by 2018
  • The death of the DPD as the Department of Planning and Development is proposed to be split into a more efficient Department of Construction and Inspections, and a more people-friendly Office of Planning and Community Development and “a new Mobile City Service Center that will travel to neighborhoods throughout the city.”
  • A “streamline” of services and “shift” of funding to homelessness programs “that provide the best outcomes” with an “emphasis on preventing the loss of housing.” The mayor also proposes Seattle provide $200,000 to fund “three permitted encampments on public lands.” Continue reading

What’s holding up the First Hill Streetcar

"Test train." (Image: SDOT)

“Test train.” (Image: SDOT)

Testing. Specifically, a longer-than-expected fine tuning and integration of the various First Hill Streetcar systems in order to have all six cars pass the final tests needed to start taking passengers. The most recent setbacks were highlighted last week by Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly.

Adjusting and testing the streetcar software to ensure an optimal blending of the two braking systems is one of the latest issues getting attention, according to SDOT’s Ethan Melone. The problem is jerking decelerations and stops that occur as a result of the dynamic brakes, which generate electricity back into the system, and friction brakes not working in harmony.

Unlike the streetcar’s propulsion system (which also caused delays), the dual braking system is not new. Melone said the longer-than-expected testing has been a surprise to both SDOT and to Inekon.

“It’s not really a new hold up. It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.”

Several component manufacturers are now in Seattle working with Inekon, the lead manufacturer, and Pacifica Marine to iron out the kinks, Melone tells CHS.

SDOT is also waiting for two streetcars to complete the “acceptance testing” phase. That requires up to two weeks of preparation and one to two days of track testing, Melone said. Once that’s finished, the cars will still have to go through another round of testing that will require running the 2.5-mile Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square route multiple times (around 300 miles) during normal operating hours.

“It’s not really a new hold up,” Melone said. “It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.” Continue reading

‘Open items’ — First Hill Streetcar hits more delays

IMG_7702-600x400The cynics in the CHS audience may have nailed it. The long-delayed First Hill Streetcar may not begin service until 2016.

KING 5, reporting on Tuesday’s City Council transportation committee meeting, says Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly acknowledged that the system faces further delays:

Kubly says a problem with the propulsion system caused the first delays, and testing revealed “water damage in the inverters” for all seven cars. He says they’ve undergone 250 miles of testing, and six of the seven cars are currently in the area. However, one of the cars’ inverters had to be sent back to Switzerland for maintenance. There has also been a problem with a software glitch.

In a briefing provided to the committee, SDOT said testing is not complete and various “open items” remain to be solved before service begins on the ten-stop, 2.5-mile streetcar line from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way:

  • The manufacturer has completed dynamic acceptance testing on cars 1, 3 and 5 and plans to complete this for cars 2 and 4 by the end of next week. SDOT/Metro also completed traction power integrated tests last week.
  • Completion/acceptance of Car 6 is uncertain due to need for repair of water-damaged inverters
  • Various “open items” remain even on cars that have completed dynamic testing, ranging from installation of informational graphics and loading route information to the passenger information system, to correcting important features that are not functioning as required by Metro

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.27.54 PMIn August after SDOT still had not identified a start date for the line originally planned to begin service in 2014, CHS polled readers on their predictions for when the streetcar would begin carrying passengers on Broadway. The overwhelming top pick? “2016” — UPDATE: Details on the changing timelines over the years — a range from 2012 to 2016, then 2013, then 2014 —  are below in comments.

Construction on the rails and the line’s accompanying bikeway have been complete since late 2014 and the streets impacted by the construction have seen all of the work and changes but few of the intended benefits of the new transit option.

Issues around the trolleys manufactured by Inekon have lead to delays and contractual financial penalties that have reached $750,000 for the Czech firm. The unique power system being deployed in the First Hill line has been a big issue. Heading from Pioneer Square to Broadway, the First Hill Streetcar will operate on electrical power provided by a single overhead wire “which receives electricity provided by four traction power substations strategically located along the 2.5 mile route.” On the return trip downhill, new hybrid batteries will provide the streetcars power “generated through its regenerative braking along the inbound route, much of it downhill.”

When service begins, the new streetcars will arrive at the 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. The trains will share traffic lanes with motor vehicles. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from future light rail service at Capitol Hill Station. Planning to extend the streetcar and its accompanying bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is also underway.

A race, of sorts is shaping up, Capitol Hill Station and the 3.1-mile light rail extension connecting downtown to Husky Stadium via Broadway is set to open in early 2016. Will the Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million First Hill Streetcar to meet it?

UPDATE: A statement on the delay from Mayor Ed Murray has been posted to the Seattle Transit Blog:

I share the public’s frustration that the First Hill streetcar has yet to enter service. We continue to focus on fixing the problems this administration inherited. SDOT renegotiated the penalties for late delivery to make the delays more painful for the manufacturer, which now owes the City nearly $800,000 for failure to meet deadlines. This delay is unacceptable. If these higher penalties are not successful in motivating the contractor to complete its work, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.

As Seattle booms, permit backlogs cause headaches for Capitol Hill small business owners

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Permit applicants have to wait weeks to get an initial appointment with the City (Image: DPD)

Notice that your favorite “coming soon” Capitol Hill restaurant or retail project has missed its planned opening by weeks this summer?

Casey Nickole had to wait three months for an appointment to submit her application for building permits to open a new place in South Lake Union. That appointment with the Department of Planning and Development has come and gone, but the owner of the two Bang Salon locations on Capitol Hill says she’s still unsure when she’ll open.

“I cannot get a permit. It’s the most infuriating situation I’ve ever encountered,” she said. “I’m basically paying $2,000 a month on a loan for a business that doesn’t exist.”

While she waits, Nickole said she has $100,000 in outstanding deposits with contractors ready to start work, along with thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting in storage. Nickole says the new venture will be a different concept than Bang Salon.

Deep permit backlogs have been a fixture at DPD in recent years due to an unprecedented amount of development in the city, a DPD spokesperson told CHS.

Currently, applicants must wait an average of two months to have a meeting just to apply for building permits. After that, it can take up to five months for permits to get processed. Many small businesses on Capitol Hill have delayed openings while waiting.

According to DPD, there are currently around 650 scheduled appointments booked through mid-November 2015. Of those 650, around 70 applications have all their paperwork included.

DPD has increased its staffing in recent year to the pre-recession levels of 2007 — some 80 DPD workers are currently assigned to review various types of construction permits. According to DPD, the agency is on pace to meet its goals for processing simple projects (i.e. small home renovations) and complex projects (i.e. new construction). Due to high demand, DPD is 3-5 days behind in processing permits medium projects (i.e. small tenant improvements).

Business owners can seek the guidance and support of the City’s Office of Economic Development, which has plenty of materials on moving through the permitting process. But eventually, business owners just have to get in line.

Just as many projects, bigger budgets: 2014’s food and drink activity on the Hill kept pace and then some — at least when measured by major construction permits. You’ll see many of the fruits of this labor in 2015 — according to the city, the average Seattle restaurant takes 261 days to open. (Source: CHS)

Just as many projects, bigger budgets: 2014’s food and drink activity on the Hill kept pace and then some — at least when measured by major construction permits. You’ll see many of the fruits of this labor in 2015 — according to the city, the average Seattle restaurant takes 261 days to open. (Source: CHS)

Last year, a multi-agency collective launched an initiative called Restaurant Success partially in response to the long backlogs that can cripple independent owners. The project, intended to guide businesses through the multilayered permitting process, is a private-public partnership between the state, county, city, and Washington Restaurant Association.

Seattle also resolves to end youth detention

The passage of a surprise resolution on rent control may have stole the headlines following Monday’s City Council meeting, but the passage of another resolution concerning juvenile detention was no less deserving.

City Council members unanimously endorsed a call to cease the practice of youth detention in Seattle — eventually. Sponsored by Council member Mike O’Brien, the resolution was introduced as a result of the debate over replacing the crumbling Youth Detention Center at 12th and Alder.

The resolution also directs the City’s Criminal Justice Equity Team to develop a plan by next September to identify steps the City can take towards ending youth detention.

Resolutions are not binding law, they only state the intent or opinion of the Council. O’Brien acknowledged Monday that the passing it would be meaningless without actually working to reduce youth detention rates, particularly for children of color. Continue reading

Seattle City Council takes another spin at resolution calling for end to rent control ban — UPDATE: Passed

In a surprising turn of events at City Council, president Tim Burgess introduced a resolution calling on Olympia to lift the state ban on rent control Monday afternoon. Burgess, considered to be among the most conservative council members, previously said he opposed asking the Legislature to lift the rent control ban. Burgess missed last week’s 3-3 vote on a similar resolution being carried forward by Kshama Sawant.

UPDATE 4:10 PM: The City Council passed Burgess’s resolution in an 8-1 vote with Council member John Okamoto giving the sole “no” vote. Burgess said he introduced the resolution after deciding the Council “needed a fresh start.”

“Dogmatic rhetoric blocked pragmatic steps forward,” Burgess said. “As Council President, I drafted an alternative resolution that better captures the intent expressed by most councilmembers: to request local control for local solutions.”

A stripped down statement compared to Sawant’s, Burgess’s resolution essentially asks the state to do same thing. The resolution argues municipalities should have the power to pass laws that “increase the supply of rent-restricted units and that protect tenants from sudden and dramatic rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply.” Burgess ended discussion of the resolution by reiterating that it does not take a position on the actual merits of rent control.

In contrast to last week’s long and heated discussion of Sawant’s resolution, Burgess’s resolution passed with relatively little discussion.

“I don’t particularly care who carries the pen as long as the point gets across,” said Council member Nick Licata, who cosponsored the previous resolution with Sawant.

Sawant praised activists for putting pressure on elected officials and said that the city could not build its way out of its housing affordability crisis. “Why is this happening now? It is happening now because we, our movement, has brought pressure to bear,” she said.

Council member Tom Rasmussen said he didn’t support Sawant’s resolution because it made assertions about the experiences of other cities that he didn’t endorse. He also pointed out that it would likely take years for the Legislature to actually repeal the ban on rent control.

Resolutions are not binding law, they state the intent or opinion of the Council.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the end of youth detention. Council member Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the resolution, thanked teen activists with Ending the Prison Industrial Complex for putting pressure on the City and County to address youth detention.

Original report: Burgess notified colleagues about his resolution just hours before Monday’s meeting, when rumors began circulating that he intended to put the measure to vote. Read Burgess’s proposed resolution, below:

Continue reading

Want $1,200 to create an installation in Cal Anderson? Seattle tests new grant program

IMG_7164Last weekend’s Sparkle in the Park wasn’t paid for with funding from the new Put the Arts in Parks pilot program — but it could have been:

This pilot program supports neighborhood arts councils and community-based groups that are seeking to activate Seattle Parks with new and established festivals or events that promote arts and cultural participation, celebrate our diversity and build community connections through arts and culture while connecting with underserved communities. The funds for this program are contingent on the passing of the Parks District budget.

The new grant program has been designed to help fund events and art installations that take place in a Seattle park in 2016 and, if it’s a success, beyond. The proposals can be art events, or community events with an arts element like music or performances.

The city plans to select 40 projects for the 2016 pilot. The program’s budget is around $340,000. The new program is part of the $47 million Seattle Park District funding plan for the coming year.

Another new grant program called the Major Projects Challenge Fund is also being created to allow community groups to create projects for parks that will draw from a $1.6 million pool. “Merely being expensive doesn’t necessarily make it a major project,” the city notes. “It should significantly expand the life and usability of the subject facility such that it provides more opportunities for people to make use of the facility.”

Put the Arts in Parks projects must be free to attend, “have a significant arts and culture component,” and “provide a platform for under-represented artists and communities” — sorry Shitbarf, you’re over-represented. Same goes for your, Chihuly.

Priority will be given to projects taking place in “preferred parks” — here’s the list for our area:

CENTRAL • Cal Anderson Park • Denny Park • Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park • First Hill Park • Judkins Park • Flo Ware Park • Pratt Park • Powell Barnett Park

Grants are available at levels from $1,200 to $7,200. Individual artists or community groups may apply but only groups with “demonstrated ability to produce the event” are eligible to receive $2,400 or more.

The deadline to apply for the new citywide program from The Office of Arts and Culture and Seattle Parks is October 30th. You can learn more and apply on

Council committee splits on Seattle rent control resolution

The Seattle City Council’s housing affordability committee couldn’t come to a consensus Thursday, splitting its vote 3-3 on a resolution calling on the state legislature to lift its ban on rent control.

Council member and D3 candidate Kshama Sawant and outgoing Council member Nick Licata sponsored the resolution. The Council’s Mike O’Brien joined the sponsors in voting for the resolution. They were opposed by committee chair John Okamoto and outgoing Council members Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen.

The vote followed a rambunctious public comments session with many rent control proponents and Sawant supporters booing and hissing property owners and developers who spoke against the resolution.

The resolution is being planned for a vote by the full Council on October 4th. UPDATE: In a call for supporters to “pack” City Council chambers, Sawant said a vote is “likely” during the September 21st full session.

UPDATE x2: The plot thickens…

In the meantime, the first legislation based on the mayor’s affordability goal of creating 20,000 new affordable units in the next decade is moving forward. Sawant has said that the mayor’s plan does not do enough to address the city’s growing demand for affordable housing.

Banks, Sawant take different paths to create Seattle’s richest City Council race


In the most money saturated Seattle City Council race this year, the two candidates vying to represent District 3 are taking different paths to raising and spending their contributions.

As of Sunday, City Council member Kshama Sawant was leading the fundraising race with $295,571 with challenger Pamela Banks close behind at $260,473.

So far, Banks has received just under half the number of contributions Sawant has. However, Banks’ donations are on average about double the size of Sawant’s. Meanwhile, Sawant has raised nearly three times as much as Banks has from outside the city.

According to data from the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission, Sawant’s campaign has been buoyed by $100,000 in contributions from outside Seattle while Banks has raised $36,300 in the same category. Meanwhile, Sawant’s 2,228 contributions average $117, while Banks’ 930 contributions average $261.

A look at the top ten expenditures in each campaign shows the candidates are also spending those funds in different ways. Continue reading

Inspired by Capitol Hill’s rainbows, Seattle rolling out colorful ‘Community Crosswalks’ program

Don't get excited. The rainbow street sign was just a prop (Image: CHS)

Don’t get excited. The rainbow street sign was just a prop (Image: CHS)

Inspired by the rainbow crosswalks of Capitol Hill — and a DIY act of pavement activism in the Central District — the City of Seattle Monday announced a new program that will allow neighborhoods to add their own colors to their streets.

The new Community Crosswalks program “will allow unique crosswalks to be approved and installed through an established process, ensuring that they are safe, reflective of community values and can be maintained,” the announcement of the shared Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Department of Transportation programs reads.

“This is about celebrating and enhancing community identities,” Mayor Ed Murray is quoted as saying in the announcement. “The iconic rainbow crosswalks on Capitol Hill started a broader conversation on how we can incorporate neighborhood character in the built environment across Seattle. I’m excited to see more history, culture, and community on display for residents and visitors to enjoy.”

In June, the mayor, city officials, and community members were on hand as Seattle unveiled the colors of Gay Pride on six Pike/Pine intersections. While some criticized the $73,000 project for ignoring larger issues affecting the LGBTQ community on Capitol Hill, the crosswalks have become a sort of landmark feature in the neighborhood and a visible symbol of the neighborhood’s gay culture.

With the new program in place, SDOT say it will review any "crosswalks installed or modified outside of this process" like the crosswalk work that showed up in the Central District this summer

With the new program in place, SDOT say it will review any “crosswalks installed or modified outside of this process” like the crosswalk work that showed up in the Central District this summer

Following the Capitol Hill rainbow project, the red, black, and green colors of the Pan-African flag appeared on crosswalks in the Central District. Social activists including The United Hood Movement took credit for the unofficial paint jobs. “Painted crosswalks in other neighborhoods is an idea we are exploring,” an SDOT spokesperson told CHS in August. “We haven’t yet developed a plan or a process for this.”

The new program announced Monday will work in conjunction with the Neighborhood Matching Fund process and lays out a set of requirements including a design and color scheme “reflective of community values” in your neighborhood: Continue reading