Seattle’s first City Council district office set to open as Sawant considers options

The ink is almost dry on a plan to open the first district-based City Council office in Seattle. A staff member for District 5 rep Debora Juarez says the newly minted Council member intends to open an office inside North Seattle College by March.

“District days” are scheduled to happen every Friday for about six hours where Juarez and some of her staff will be available to meet with constituents. Opening a district office was a key issue for Juarez during her campaign.

While other Council members appear to be in a wait-and-see mode for holding similar office hours, Juarez may have drawn up a workable blueprint, particularly for District 3. Continue reading

Murray plans big property tax boost, Sawant calls for emergency $10M in Seattle homelessness crisis — UPDATE

As volunteers and officials prepare for this year’s One Night Count of homeless people living on the streets of Seattle and King County overnight Thursday, Seattle leaders are calling for increased funding to help create more housing and shelter in the region and calling for more to be done across the state.

Sleeping between graffiti

Tuesday night, Mayor Ed Murray said he will ask Seattle voters to approve a doubling of the housing levy last approved in 2009. “Beginning tonight at City Hall, we are holding community meetings across Seattle to share our city’s vision for how we bring affordable housing to every neighborhood,” Murray said. “And in just a few weeks, I will lay out my vision for the renewal of Seattle’s Housing Levy. I am proposing that we double the levy so that we can do much more — including permanent housing for those who are homeless.”

“Perhaps as a city, there is nothing more important that we can do this year than pass this levy,” Murray added.

The around $190 million proposal will undoubtedly face opposition from property owners who have complained about the steadily increasing number of levies stacked on Seattle land. In February, for example, Seattle voters will be faced with two school levies to replace expiring funding. According to the Seattle Times, there will be a record $228.5 million in voter-approved levy taxes collected in the city in 2016. But the paper’s analysis concludes that Seattle ranks extremely low in the nation when it comes to its effective tax rate. “Seattle property taxes are high because our homes are worth so much, not because we’re being gouged by an excessively high rate,” the Times reports.

And, landlords, it could be worse.

“The Mayor has said that the only way we can generate additional funds for the homeless is by taking resources away from other social needs,” District 3 rep Kshama Sawant said in a statement on homelessness released Thursday morning. Continue reading

Sawant: ’23rd Avenue is Open for Business!’

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

Last week, CHS reported on the long-term benefits and near-term pains for small businesses along 23rd Ave as the key artery between the Central District and Capitol Hill undergoes a massive project to make it safer, more efficient, and neighborhood friendly. Some larger media attention followed.

Friday, District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant called for the community to support the area’s merchants through the months of construction to come:

23rd Avenue is Open for Business!
For months now, much of 23rd Avenue has been blocked off, under construction.

Large construction projects like this one very often lead to much-needed street improvements, and are beneficial to the entire community in the long run.

But impacts during construction differ. Big businesses have the cash reserves to stay afloat and weather a loss of business during construction. But small, especially very small, businesses do not have that advantage, and risk going out of business.

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Seattle looks at regulation of Airbnb and short-term rental market

Hundreds of Airbnb hosts list Capitol Hill properties with an average nightly rate around $110 around the Hill's core, and $150 in North Capitol Hill

Hundreds of Airbnb hosts list Capitol Hill properties with an average nightly rate around $110 around the Hill’s core, and $150 in North Capitol Hill

Vacation and short-term rentals appear to be the next crowd economy targeted for regulation in Seattle. This week, City Council affordability committee chair Tim Burgess posted about regulating short-term rentals, a plan Burgess says “aligns” with Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations:

In the coming months, my City Council committee will explore a regulatory framework for short-term vacation rentals. This work aligns with the Council’s work plan issued in response to the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations.

On the other side of the coin, however, short-term rentals can boost incomes for those struggling with their own home payments. Airbnb, one of the major players in this arena, recently released data about their users and emphasized that the vast majority of their hosts live in the unit they rent; they either share their home or rent it while out of town themselves.

Burgess says his committee will seek to answer five key questions about the rental market for companies like Airbnb and VRBO:

  1. Unit type: Is the short-term rental for an entire unit or a shared space?
  2. Rental frequency: Is the unit rented commercially (frequently) or casually (infrequently)?
  3. Host presence: Does the owner live on-site or off-site?
  4. Building type: Is the short-term rental in a single-family or multi-family building?
  5. Location: What type of land use zone is the short-term rental in?

The initiative follows Seattle’s efforts to reform the taxi and “transportation network company” industry like Uber and Lyft. In December, the Council voted to allow Seattle’s for-hire drivers to unionize. Following the vote, Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement that he would not sign the bill, but would not veto it either, paving the way for it to become law. “I remain concerned that this ordinance, as passed by the Council, includes several flaws, especially related to the relatively unknown costs of administering the collective bargaining process and the burden of significant rulemaking the Council has placed on City staff,” Murray said.

(Image: Airbnb)

(Image: Airbnb)

In the wake of the Burgess post, Airbnb released a “Seattle economic impact report” showing “151,000 guests stayed in one of 2,900 Seattle-based Airbnb locations and generated $178 million in ‘total economic activity,’ which includes direct, indirect, and induced spending,” Geekwire reports.

The Airbnb report positions its users as casual landlords. “The average host is 45 years old, with a large percentage working in art, design, and creative services, as well as education and health services,” the report based on a combination of 2014 and 2015 data reads. “While Airbnb hosts are highly educated, roughly one in three hosts earns less than $75,000 per year in household income.” The company says its 2,900 “hosts” received around $30 million in the 12-month period covered by its report. The full document is below. Continue reading

First Hill Streetcar launch party planned — only question is when — UPDATE: SATURDAY SOFT LAUNCH

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

As of last Wednesday, Seattle Department of Transportation officials have a plan for the event to launch the First Hill Streetcar including a Pioneer Square celebration and a Jackson Street lion dance. But when that party will happen remains a mystery after SDOT representatives said “possible delays” mean the launch date still can’t be announced.

An update on the much-delayed project linking Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill is expected Friday afternoon when SDOT director Scott Kubly will bat leadoff in an unusual session of the Seattle City Council’s transportation committee which usually meets on Tuesdays. With the MLK Day holiday, the “director’s report” session and the committee meeting were pushed back to Friday.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 12:03 PM: It’s official. Service begins Saturday — and rides will be free:

First Hill Streetcar Gets Rolling!

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is excited to announce promotional service on the First Hill Streetcar Line will begin midday on Saturday, January 23.  This “soft launch” will feature free rides to introduce the new service, and will be followed in the weeks to come by a grand opening and community celebration.

Funded by Sound Transit, the First Hill Streetcar connects the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Little Saigon, Chinatown-International District, and Pioneer Square. The First Hill Streetcar line is just one part of the Seattle Streetcar system that will help provide new mobility options, support economic growth, and strengthen connections in the urban core.

Thank you to the communities, neighbors, and businesses along the line for bearing with us during construction and testing. We appreciate your patience and support. We are excited to see you on the First Hill Streetcar discovering Seattle’s neighborhoods and attractions, commuting to work, and linking to other modes of travel. Learn more about how to ride the streetcar.  Stay tuned for details on the grand opening events to follow.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 3:03 PM: Kubly said service is planned to begin at 11 AM Saturday and that rides will remain free until any issues are worked out of the system. Expect “a grand opening with a more celebratory feel to it then another week of free rides and then we’ll start charging,” Kubly said.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 8:59 AM:  An email sent to “community partners” Thursday afternoon says to get ready, the First Hill Streetcar’s “soft launch” is Saturday. To translate the rather thickly worded message, service is slated to begin and the streetcar will be open to the public Saturday, January 23rd. So, dinner in the ID this weekend?

Dear Community Partners,
I understand that in the past couple of days there might have been confusion caused by news of a soft launch of the First Hill Street Car (FHSC) this coming Saturday. This news might have been confusing because it was unclear whether this soft launch was in lieu of the grand opening celebrations that SDOT had been working with community and neighborhood partners to plan.
I want to clarify that the intent for this coming Saturday is not to replace the celebratory events we want to hold in our neighborhoods, but to ensure that a soft launch of the FHSC is successful and we can ensure that the streetcar is in fact operational. The attached letter articulates SDOT’s commitment to this process and our continued interest in working with our community partners to finally celebrate the successful opening of the FHSC line.

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What we talked about at Center for Policing Equity meeting on SPD crowd control tactics

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(Image: CHS)

There are problems with how the Seattle Police Department handles protests. At 1pm on Friday afternoon, 19 people gathered to discuss SPD’s crowd control tactics with consultants hired to report on the issues. Six were invited to the meeting with the Center for Policing Equity consultants. The rest had to ask for invitations or were invited by other attendees. As a freelance photojournalist with a focus on social justice issues, I spend a lot of time at protests and demonstrations in close proximity to both police and protesters. When I heard about Friday’s meeting, I requested an invitation so I could tell the consultants what I had experienced. Here is what we talked about Friday.

The meeting began with Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. She began by giving the history of her interest concerning “public order and demonstration management” with anecdotes from Northern Ireland and her experience with the DNC in Boston in 2004.

Chief O’Toole mentioned the importance of bringing in “…people with completely independent, objective perspectives and have them talk to cops, talk to members of the community, and listen to anybody who wants to contribute to this process, and figure out how we here in Seattle could get better at this.”

O’Toole also clarified the role the center’s consultants were playing in the study. “They’re doing this for nothing, it’s all at their costs, they are not our paid consultants. They’re doing this because they think it’s the right thing to do and I guess that’s what the center does. They look at situations and produce knowledge and I think it’s great because it underscores your independence.”

Sheley Secrest, the vice president of the NAACP Seattle chapter was in attendance. “We echo those concerns of who was invited to sit at this table, not to put the burden back on us, so that we have to be the ones to engage the community,” she said. “At this point, the police department, you all know, these are the same activists, you guys know who we are. Let’s get the right people at the table for these types of meetings. Not where we have to engage them. It would mean a lot to the community to see you make that gesture.” Continue reading

CHS Pics | Seattle, meet your new City Council

A new way of electing the city’s legislative branch brought new leaders to City Hall Monday. There will be two Latinas, a majority of women, and four people of color on the new Seattle City Council.

“Socialism is rising.” That’s how Kshama Sawant set the tone for her first term representing the new District 3. Members of the new district-based Council gathered for their first meting Monday to take a ceremonial oath of office and make their first speeches in their new positions. As expected, the Council also unanimously elected District 4’s Bruce Harrell as their new president.

During her speech, Sawant laid out an ambitious agenda for the coming year, including working towards rent control, building thousands of City-owned apartment units, rooting out police brutality, putting Black Lives Matter into practice, and fair scheduling legislation. To pay for many of those initiatives, Sawant said Seattle must pass an income tax on the rich. Continue reading

Seattle’s new district-based City Council ready to be sworn in

Sawant on election night (Image: CHS)

Sawant on election night (Image: CHS)

The nine Seattle City Council members that will represent the city’s seven new districts and two at-large seats will take their ceremonial oath of office on Monday. In their first meeting of 2016, the five returning members and four newcomers will also vote on the Council president and on their council committee assignments.

Here is the new council roster if you need a refresher:p2173538

District 1: Lisa Herbold
District 2: Bruce Harrell
District 3: Kshama Sawant
District 4: Rob Johnson
District 5: Debora Juarez
District 6: Mike O’Brien
District 7: Sally Bagshaw
Position 8: Tim Burgess
Position 9: Lorena Gonzalez

After a decisive victory in November, Sawant will be the first to lead District 3 which is anchored by Capitol Hill and the Central District. In the coming months the new Council members will need figure out how to best represent their new constituencies. Sawant will have an especially tough challenge in District 3, perhaps the most politically divided district in Seattle.

Harrell has lined up for the Council president position, a quest solidified last month when his office handed out proposed committee assignments. If the new Council approves, Sawant will again chair the Energy and Environment Committee. It wasn’t her first choice. The socialist previously said she wanted chair the council’s reshaped affordable housing committee.

Committee chairs play a key role in guiding new legislation. Current Council President Burgess will chair Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance, where he will mold the recommendations laid out by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee. The Council’s most progressive bloc, including Sawant, will make up the core of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee.

Sawant has called on her supporters to pack the chambers to demand a millionaires tax and 12 weeks paid family leave for all Seattle workers. Continue reading

Seattle City Council president hopeful Harrell wants Sawant to stick with energy committee

council cmtesCity Council member Bruce Harrell once again signaled his intention to become Council president when his office dolled out new committee assignments on December 18th. The newly seated council still needs to approve the rosters and officially vote in the new president on January 4th.

Council member Kshama Sawant, who will represent the newly created District 3 in 2016, will again chair the Energy and Environment Committee. It wasn’t her first choice. The socialist city council member previously said she wanted chair the council’s reshaped affordable housing committee.

During her first term in office, Sawant pushed hard for ambitious housing policies like rent control and using the City’s bonding authority to build new affordable apartments. She was the driving force behind the Council’s rent control resolution and a proposed rent control for small businesses. On the energy committee, Sawant worked on a proposal to fund a city-owned Internet service provider pilot project (the plan died in budget negotiations).

Committee chairs play a key role in guiding new legislation. Current Council President Tim Burgess will chair Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance, where he will mold the recommendations laid out by the  Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee.

The Council’s most progressive bloc will make up the core of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee, with a roster that includes incoming member Lisa Herbold as chair and Council members Mike O’Brien and Sawant. Bicycle and mass transit advocates will be happy to see O’Brien secured the chair for  Sustainability & Transportation.

Incoming Council member Rob Johnson will chair the important Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee while fellow newcomer Lorena Gonzalez will take over the newly created committee on Gender Equity, Safe Communities & New Americans.

January 4th will also include a ceremonial swearing in for council members. Sawant has called on her supporters to pack the chambers to demand a millionaires tax and 12 weeks paid family leave for all Seattle workers.

 

City Council votes to give Seattle for-hire drivers union rights — UPDATE

A night in the life of a Capitol Hill driver: James Jackson has been driving Uber and Lyft for about 8 months, he tells CHS. “The best time for any driver is weekends, Friday-Sunday, or at night. Anytime after 6 is a good time to drive. Myself, I get off at 3, I go pick up my kids and drop them with my wife, and I start driving after 6. After 6 the roads are more clear, it’s easier to pick up riders without the hassle of traffic jams. I usually go to 11pm, 12pm five days a week.”

A night in the life of a Capitol Hill driver: James Jackson has been driving Uber and Lyft for about 8 months, he tells CHS. “The best time for any driver is weekends, Friday-Sunday, or at night. Anytime after 6 is a good time to drive. Myself, I get off at 3, I go pick up my kids and drop them with my wife, and I start driving after 6. After 6 the roads are more clear, it’s easier to pick up riders without the hassle of traffic jams. I usually go to 11pm, 12 five days a week.”

Seattle could become the first U.S. city to allow drivers for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to collectively bargain with the app-based companies. The City Council is scheduled to take its final vote Monday afternoon on a controversial measure to allow independently contracted drivers to unionize in order to negotiate wages and working conditions with “transportation network companies.”

The vote will be closely watched nationwide and beyond as rideshare services have rapidly expanded, taking on hundreds of thousands of drivers worldwide.

UPDATE 3:45 PM: The City Council voted 8-0 Monday to allow Seattle’s for-hire drivers to unionize. The bill’s passage makes Seattle the first city in the nation to attempt to give drivers the right to collectively bargain with app-based ridesharing companies. Council members still have the difficult task of shaping the mechanism by which unions can represent drivers in Seattle, not to mention responding to all-but-certain legal challenges from TNCs and other for-hire driver companies.

Council member Mike O'Brien was the bill's primary sponsor.

Council member Mike O’Brien was the bill’s primary sponsor.

Council member Kshama Sawant said the bill was necessary as increasing numbers of workers are employed on a freelance basis. “Ever since sharecropping, the sharing economy has meant sharing in one direction. That is, workers have the privilege of sharing what they produce with their bosses,” she said.

After many committee meetings on the issue and an unusually in-depth analysis from the City’s law and finance departments, the council spent relatively little time discussing the bill. Drivers and representatives from the taxi company Eastside for Hire spoke against the measure during public comment, saying they were not given adequate time to learn about the bill. “There are ways to help drivers that are immediate and within your authority,” said Eastside’s Samatar Guled.

Following the vote, Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement that he would not sign the bill, but would not veto it either, paving the way for it to become law. “I remain concerned that this ordinance, as passed by the Council, includes several flaws, especially related to the relatively unknown costs of administering the collective bargaining process and the burden of significant rulemaking the Council has placed on City staff,” he said.

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