Center City Streetcar: Pressing the “Pause” Button
I thank Mayor Durkan for pressing the ‘pause’ button on the Center City Streetcar through her executive order to stop work.
This step is necessary to ensure that the independent review earlier ordered by the Mayor is meaningful. Had work proceeded as scheduled—especially in awarding a construction contract—it would be more difficult to integrate the results of the independent review, or delay or stop the project. I had begun working on legislation to cease spending until after the review was complete; with the Mayor’s executive order, it appears that won’t be necessary.
I remain concerned about potential unsustainable operations shortfalls, which could be millions annually, even under the most optimistic ridership and farebox recovery scenarios.
Here’s a brief rundown of how we got to this point.
In July of last year, I introduced an amendment requiring SDOT to present a report to the Council on operations costs and the financial operating plan, including ridership and fare box recovery, and to provide contingency funding sources if operations or construction funding was inadequate. I asked for the report to be due on September 30, so that the information in it could help the Council in our consideration of the 2018 budget.
The report estimated operations costs at $16 million, and stated, regarding any construction funding gap, that “SDOT will identify alternative funding sources to complete the project on schedule,” without noting any specifics. In addition to a likely construction funding gap, this report made it very apparent that there would also be an annual operations funding gap.
As a skeptic of this project, I considered a proposal to shift funding to other purposes, but after Councilmembers received a memo from the Office of Intergovernmental Relations (OIR) about the potential risks regarding federal transportation funding, it didn’t appear there was any support for reprogramming 2018 budget funds away from the streetcar project.
Last month the Seattle Times broke a story noting an internal Metro memo that said annual operations costs could be $8 million higher, at $24 million, and that while this had been communicated to SDOT, the Council hadn’t received this information. On March 19, the Mayor ordered an independent review of the project, due by June 19, three months later.
At a Council committee meeting the next day, I noted that SDOT planned to take significant actions before June, including ordering steel later in March, and awarding a construction contract in April or May. I then suggested a “pause” on the project, in order for the independent review ordered by the Mayor to be able to inform whether, or how, the project proceeds.
On March 30th, the Mayor issued a stop work order, and Senior Deputy Mayor Fong sent a letter to Councilmembers explaining her decision. The letter notes a preliminary analysis showed a construction budget shortfall of $23 million, which would raise the construction cost to around $200 million. Here’s a link to the documents shared at a Council Briefing meeting on Monday, from City Budget Office Director Noble, and Interim SDOT Director Sparrman, regarding the scope of work for the independent review, and the $23 million construction shortfall. It’s worth noting that the Council not yet authorized $45 million in bond funding listed in the project budget.
An alignment for the Center City Streetcar was approved by a previous Council in 2014. That legislation stated, “As Center City Connector funding options are considered, the Seattle City Council and SDOT will prioritize local funding opportunities that do not reduce transit service or funding from other city neighborhoods and that are specifically enacted to pay for streetcar costs.”
Making up for annual streetcar operating shortfalls would inevitably reduce funding for other transportation needs, including existing transit services. This is the primary reason I don’t believe a Center City Streetcar is the best use of our limited tax dollars. That said, it’s important that the Council receive accurate information in its consideration of projects, in fulfilling its duty to authorize City spending. I look forward to reviewing the results of the independent review.
Council Considers an Employee Hours Tax: Update and Next Steps
Last month I wrote about the Progressive Revenue Task Force Final Recommendations. To review, in November of 2017 the Seattle City Council passed Resolution 31782. The Progressive Revenue Task Force was formed in late 2017 and held their first meeting on January 4. You can watch video of the task force meeting at the Progressive Revenue Task Force webpage. On March 9, the Progressive Revenue Task Force released their final recommendations.
On Wednesday March 14th, the City Council had its first briefing from the task force members. This was an opportunity for Councilmembers to ask questions of task force members.
On Wednesday March 28th the Finance and Neighborhood Committee began the council’s deliberative process on this issue. During this committee meeting the council reviewed the Central Staff memo on the Progressive Revenue Task Force Recommendations, heard a presentation from Central Staff on a summary of potential business tax revenues and had a high level review of business tax comparisons between cities in our region.
On Monday April 2nd the Finance and Neighborhood Committee held a special committee meeting. At this meeting Council Central Staff presented on Homeless Service Needs and discussed options for the “services” portion of the proposed spending. This presentation included information about the number of people currently homeless in King County, outlined the City’s current homelessness investments and discussed the broad scope of services this new revenue source could fund.
The Central Staff memo on Tax Structure Issue Identification of a Potential New Business Tax was also discussed at the April 2nd meeting. This memo addresses a number of areas of consideration for the Council. Issues identified include:
- Targeted annual revenue amount,
- Considerations between an employee hours tax, payroll tax or some combination thereof,
- Per FTE tax rate if the council decides to move forward with an employee hours tax,
- Exemptions for smaller businesses, or type of business, and considerations related to an alternative annual flat fee for exempted businesses.
The City Council will now take the next couple of weeks to review these decision points and work on draft legislation. Before we draft legislation Councilmember Gonzalez and I will be organizing a business roundtable discussion as well as meeting with several neighborhood chambers.
The City Council will be having a public hearing on the proposed tax legislation and companion spending resolution at a Finance and Neighborhood Committee meeting on Monday April 23rd at 5:30pm. The Council anticipates having draft legislation available by April 23rd ahead of public comment.
After the public hearing, the Finance and Neighborhood Committee will again meet on April 25th at 2pm. This committee meeting will discuss the draft legislation and the “Spectrum of Potential Investments in Housing.” You can sign-up for the Finance and Neighborhoods Committee meeting agendas here. You can find the full EHT deliberation calendar here.
New Green Electric Trucks Coming to Seattle
In my committee meeting on April 10, we will be hearing the Solid Waste Collections Contracts. These contracts cover the garbage, recycling, and compost collections from all residents.
The Council approved the current contract back in March 2008. Waste Management and CleanScapes (merged with and is now known as Recology) are the authorized contractors under that contract.
When Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) notified me that they would be issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for these contracts, I worked with the members on my committee to send this letter to SPU to specifically explain that we felt strongly that Seattle should pursue a pilot program for electric garbage trucks.
I am happy to report that both Waste Management and Recology have included in their proposals the addition of two full size (class 8) electric trucks for feasibility testing, four midsized (class 6) electric trucks for small routes and container delivery, and ten electric supervisor pick-up trucks and support vehicles. As Seattle prides itself on its green values, this important step of introducing electric garbage trucks, puts Seattle at the forefront of developing technologies in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
If adopted the new contracts would result in savings of $5 million per year starting in 2019, for a total of $50 million in savings over the course of the 10-year contract. Additionally, the new contract will add routine clean-up crews to proactively address debris, graffiti, and other community impacts.
Domestic Workers Listening Session
This Saturday Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda will be hosting a listening session on the proposed Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that the people who take care of our kids as nannies, care for our elders as long-term care provides, and clean our homes as housekeepers are extended the same common-sense labor protections that most other workers in Seattle have and that employers can have their needs met as well.
When: 10:00am – 11:30am
Where: Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW
Please RSVP here
March Constituent Emails
Constituent correspondence is a really important task in my office. My staff and I spend time every day helping you improve your community, whether that’s through getting you help from a city department with our constituent case management services or giving you information about legislation that the Council is considering. The unshaded categories and numbers are problem-solving emails answered in March, what I refer to above as “case management services.” The shaded categories and numbers are emails answered in March related to policy or legislation the Council is considering.