My Priorities for an Employee Hours Tax

No matter your view on the proposed employee hours tax, there’s a strong consensus that there is a homelessness crisis that needs to be solved. This crisis facing our city and our region is human and visible and growing. By the last count 8,522 people were experiencing homelessness in Seattle. While I continue to hear frustration that the City is just ‘throwing money at the problem,’ I believe that we are making strategic, results-oriented investments. In 2016, King County saw 6,128 exits to permanent housing, and through Seattle’s Office of Housing, we invested $93.4 million into 1,478 new and preserved affordable housing units in 2017.

These investments are succeeding in getting people off the streets, yet the increasing rate of homelessness is outpacing our efforts. As our city experiences historic growth we must reckon with the economic disparity it creates; studies show that a 5 percent rent increase in Seattle pushes over 250 people into homelessness. And during a time when rents and the cost of housing are skyrocketing, so too are our numbers of neighbors falling into homelessness.

Any solution to help address our homelessness crisis, in my opinion, must produce immediate results and protect the long term economic health of the city. I believe we – not just this council but the mayor and other agencies in jurisdictions up and down the west coast – have a moral obligation to offer our unsheltered neighbors safer and healthier living arrangements than our sidewalks, parks, and freeway ramps.

I want to vote in support of a solution that gets more people inside, but as I contemplate the decision around the Employee Hours Tax (EHT), I have been clear with my colleagues that my support will depend on four aspects of the proposal under consideration:

  1. I believe that the bill should include a request for affirmative renewal. The state of emergency in which we are currently operating requires us to look at all the resources available to address our homelessness crisis. But I have confidence that we will reach a time when we are no longer in that state of emergency. Thus, treating this proposed revenue more like a levy, with an affirmative renewal requirement built in, affords us a degree of flexibility that is important to me.
  2. A second priority of mine is the desire to build more affordable housing, not dedicating our limited resources towards debt service. Utilizing a pay as you go model maximizes our investments and ultimately allows us to deliver more units. This model has been a hallmark of our process as a city in building affordable housing and one I strongly support.
  3. Another clear goal I have is that we land on a revenue source that falls between $25-75 million. That was the initial goal outlined in Resolution 31782 and one I feel we should remain within. I believe a proposed $250 tax finds a good middle ground with a total impact of $40 million per year.
  4. Lastly, as one of the whereas clauses in this ordinance states, “this collaborative effort requires the active engagement of interested and affected stakeholders, including non-profit organizations, affordable housing providers, faith and civic leaders, businesses, labor, and community members.” I believe it is important that we adhere to an approach that can and will get the support of these different stakeholder groups. No matter the final number we land on through an employee hours tax, we know we need our city funds to be leveraged by a massive regional investment in affordable housing, requiring the support and engagement from these parties.

With the final vote currently anticipated to take place on Monday, May 14, I wanted to share what will be impacting my decision. I want to thank my council colleagues for their hard work on this topic and all who have been engaging with us and sharing their thoughts. We all want to succeed in bringing our neighbors inside.

We Need a Safer 35th Ave NE

I have been hearing from many who live and work near 35th Avenue expressing both support for and concerns about the upcoming paving project. Ultimately, I still believe that the proposed changes will result in a safer corridor for everyone traveling through the neighborhood and will help allow more people to choose to walk or bike, which we need to meet climate change objectives and ease traffic congestion.

While there are many aspects subject to disagreement within the scope of this project, I think we can all agree that safety improvements are necessary along 35th. For the last few years we’ve seen an average speed of more than 30 miles an hour and we know that speeding kills: a pedestrian hit by a car at 40mph only has a 10% chance of survival while a pedestrian hit by a car at 20mph has a 90% chance of survival. There have been over 250 collisions on this street in the last five years and the new bus service on 35th NE is increasing the number of pedestrians trying to cross the street. Given these factors, it is imperative for me that we make this street safer for all – pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.

How we go about making 35th safer is where I hear many, many differences of opinion. What I hear most from folks is around the proposed bike lanes, changes to parking and the resulting impact on businesses along the corridor – and I want to address all three.

Out of the $5 million total cost for this project, bike lanes represent only 12% of the total, representing what I believe is significant return on investment. Separated bike lanes create a safer environment and encourage more folks to ride their bikes – two goals I view as critical for Seattle and its future. For example, according to a 2016 study out of Rutgers University[1], “in Minneapolis, the bikeway network grew 113 percent, trips climbed 203 percent and injuries and fatalities dropped 79 percent.”

Some question why the greenway on the 39th is not sufficient. While greenways are an important part of the bike network, they do not have the same benefits as dedicated, protected lanes, either in terms of safety or ridership. Furthermore, it does not protect cyclists on 35th where the majority of destinations are located.

Additionally, because of the city’s commute trip reduction goals through the Major Institution Master Plan, two of Seattle’s major employers, Children’s Hospital and University of Washington, are doing excellent work in encouraging their commuters to shift the mode of transportation they take to and from work away from driving. Because we are asking them to meet certain goals, we have an obligation to increase our protections for those who make the shift out of their vehicles and onto their bikes.

Much analysis has been done to look at the impacts to parking along this stretch and the data shows that there is sufficient parking available. For example, on weekdays between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, on every block parking utilization was less than 70%, and most blocks were under 55%. Numbers were very similar for weekends during that same timeframe, and also during weekdays during morning and evening rush hours. To put that in a different context, in one snapshot of time during a weekend between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, 591 out of 653 total parking spaces were available.

This project involves removing parking on the west side of 35th, south of 85th. Parking will be available on the east side of the street all day, and there won’t be peak-hour parking restrictions as there are today. The scope of this project also reconfigures some East/West streets to better handle parking demand. For example, we will be installing more 2 hour limited parking signs to increase parking turnover and availability for business patrons.

Many have voiced concerns around the health of our retail and service centers, like the library, that operate along 35th. Supporting business and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure is not an “either/or” for me – studies show that having bike lanes increase traffic in and out of businesses[2]. A recent study from the State Smart Transportation Initiative shows that street improvements such as bicycle lanes that replace parking spaces and lanes of traffic do not impede – and even boost – economic growth[3]. Additionally, SDOT has been working closely with businesses and service centers to be responsive and accommodate unique requests.

I’ve heard from several community members that they’d like to see some additional safety traffic improvements on corresponding North/South streets.  I’ve particularly heard from folks about additional investments like a speed island at 77th and 34th, speed bumps on 80th between 35th and 30th and on 30th between 80th and 75th, and a light (or more clearly marked pedestrian crossing) at 77th and/or 80th.

Some of these suggested improvements didn’t make it in to the final design, because they either fall outside the scope of the project, or need to be determined after implementation. I’m working with the project team to identify additional resources that may be available to make those additional investments to correspond with the corridor improvements.

I also look forward to working with you and SDOT to regularly monitor the success of our investment. If we are not meeting benchmarks and desired outcomes and if markedly slower traffic becomes the unintended impact that many believe it will, we have the opportunity to change course and make design improvements.

To achieve a greener, healthier city for all of us to live in, I unabashedly support Seattle’s goals to make it safe for people who choose to ride their bicycles or walk. I understand that many Seattleites need to drive their cars for a whole host of different reasons (health reasons, juggling family schedules etc.), I believe that we can and should balance the needs of all users to ensure our streets are accessible, efficient, and above all, safe for everyone.

[1] Pucher, John, and Ralph Buehler. “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure.” American Journal of Public Health, Dec. 2016.

[2] Jaffe, Eric. (2013, September 10). No, Bike Lanes Don’t Hurt Retail Business. Retrieved from https://citylab.com

[3] State Smart Transportation Initiative. (Producer). Bike and Pedestrian Street Improvements and Economic Activity in NYC [Video webinar].

Celebrating Victories of the 2018-2019 Budget Process

As the chair of the Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee and as the representative for District 4, I have heard a lot this year about ways that we can support livability as our city grows. Funding infrastructure improvements for mobility, parks, and public safety are critical to meet the needs of current and future residents. The following budget adds that I sponsored or co sponsored reflect the key values on which we, as a city, must remain focused.

To invest in working families and the next generation:

  • I couldn’t be more excited to partner with the county to fund the $2 million-dollar renovation of Magnuson Park Community Center, and to add $130,000 to fund adequate staffing to support engaging programming for kids and adults;
  • I’m thrilled to have found the $70,000 necessary to reopen all seven wading pools that had been closed in 2010 due to budget cuts. We need more places to encourage family friendly fun, and if we continue having summers like this past year’s, more places to cool down;
  • I added $75,000 to support families who choose to close their streets to traffic for safer play;
  • And I sponsored a study to look at strategies to implement public-sector child care.

To improve pedestrian and bike safety on public right of way:

  • I sponsored a proviso making NE 43rd a pedestrian only street to support the work of the U District Mobility Group and many other community members. This budget action lifts up the vision of community members for what they want their neighborhood to look like when the light rail station opens in the U District in 2021;
  • I restored $150,000 to our Summer Parkways program to ensure we’re supporting active, car-free transportation;
  • And I was happy to support the $600,00 addition to support the planning, public outreach and design of a walkable, bikeable path uniting the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods.

To support safer and healthier communities:

  • I sponsored the investment of $1.3 Million for the creation and operation of a safe consumption site in Seattle. I’m looking forward to working with my council colleagues and partners at the county to take this critical step toward a harm reduction approach in our opioid crisis;
  • I was happy to support the expansion of our successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion to the North End;
  • I sponsored a food access study that will result in a pilot program getting low income residents living in food deserts to and from grocery stores and farmers markets where they can use their Fresh Bucks;
  • I supported an addition of $588,000 to help ensure the Lazarus Day Center can remain open to serve the 350 elderly homeless members of our community who visit the center each day;
  • I supported the critical $2.75 million investment in new permanent supportive housing options;
  • And I was happy to support the addition of $450,000 to open and support two additional authorized encampments.

To balance the growth of our city with livability:

  • I added $130,000 to extend a code development position at SDCI to ensure council priorities around tree regulations, industrial lands, and development standards for schools are carried out;
  • I added $114,000 to support the development of community outreach plans for projects going through the Design Review Program;
  • As part of the Seattle Public Utilities Business Plan, I increased spending on Green Stormwater Infrastructure by $15 million to support the creation of green jobs and the health of our city’s tree canopy;
  • And I was very supportive of the add of $75,000 to support the Home and Hope Project’s creation of quality affordable housing and early learning opportunities.

Finally, I want to thank my colleagues who brought forward the HOMES tax proposal. Even without its passage, it focused our budget urgently and rightly on the needs of those unsheltered. It focused our collective values and found consensus on the outcomes we need to see to make a difference. While there is yet much more to be done, I am proud that our budget invests in homeless youth, support for survivors of gender-based violence, Pathways Home recommendations, and more shelter options.

Disappointing Setback in Progress Towards Police Accountability

I am deeply saddened and frustrated that SPD’s Force Review Board found that killing Charleena Lyles was within department policy; it is both devastating and unacceptable that our policies can lead to this kind of tragedy. There still remains an investigation by the Office of Police Accountability, and the King County Prosecutors Office will be reviewing and determining legality.

While the sequence of events in the case before us sadly cannot be changed, I am heartened by and hopeful of the changes that are happening in real time to the way policing looks in Seattle. On May 22nd Council passed the Police Accountability Ordinance, and we are working to implement its contents as quickly and as intentionally as possible:

  • Today we are appointing civilian lawyer Andrew Myerberg as the director of OPA. He has a 7-year track record of increasing police accountability and knows the ins and outs of our city. I believe he will bring meaningful change to the policing culture of Seattle.
  • On Monday, the Seattle Police Management Association signed a new contract with the City of Seattle, voluntarily embracing progressive, necessary changes happening to Seattle’s policing policies, including the use of body cameras and regulations around bias free policing.
  • During the current budget season negotiations, I’ve been supportive of Councilmember González’s proposals to ensure we have the funds to expand OPA and stand up the Office of the Inspector General.
  • We are actively working on getting a civilian into the role of police auditor, a new role that will independently review all of the rulings of the Force Review Board and OPA.
  • And I look forward to working with the Community Police Commission to make sure that D4 residents have a voice at the table to review policies and have an impact.

In the wake of the shooting last summer, I spent a lot of time talking with residents living in and around Magnuson Park about what changes they want to see to realize a safer and healthier community. I’ve been working during the budget season to find funding for their priorities and will continue to do my best to amplify the voices of those who know what is best for their community.

Black lives matter. And while I’m hopeful about the work we are doing, we are all frustrated with the pace of necessary change. There are many systems beyond policing and criminal justice that overwhelmingly impact communities of color. When we affirm black lives matter, we must also acknowledge the experience with other institutions that can exacerbate the types of outcomes that continue to demonstrate disparities in health, housing, access to opportunities, jobs, income inequality, and intergenerational wealth.

As we continue to prioritize investments and make updates to city policy, I commit to continue leading with race as a lens to evaluate and inform our City actions to advance equitable outcomes for all.

Responding to our Homelessness Crisis

At Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting, I brought forward an alternative to the employee hours tax. I think each of my colleagues feels heartbroken seeing our homelessness crisis continue to grow, and we agree that we must respond with increased funding. And many, if not all of us, support the package of investments that the proposed employee hours tax would fund. However, I do not support the approach that’s been proposed.

Just because an employee hours tax seems like a quick and easy solution for us as a council does not mean it’s the right and only path for us to take. Stable well-paying employment is critical for Seattle residents – it’s the engine of our economy – and it’s important that we prudently analyze the economic impact of this proposal and have a clear sense of how to effectively spend the funds it would raise.

When an hours tax was proposed and implemented as part of the 2006 city transportation levy it was thoroughly vetted during a several months long public process. It also had a clear set of ongoing projects it was intended to fund before getting repealed during the economic downturn in 2008. If we bring this approach forward again, a similar process and similar strategic set of investments should be laid out clearly for the public and service providers to engage with before any council action to impose an hours tax.

I think it is very important to have business at the table to explore options to leverage their support – there is money on the table, and creative partnerships to establish, no doubt.  And I will join my colleagues in calling on the business community and private philanthropy to increase their investments in services and housing.

With all that said, because I strongly support many of the programs and projects funded by the proposed employee hours tax, it was important to me to bring forward an alternative funding path and not just end the conversation by voting no. The proposal I shared on Tuesday details many ideas for new revenue streams, additions to our current bonding capabilities, and budget cuts to current programs across different city departments – none of them set in stone. I worked to ensure we knew the options available to us of where revenue could be redirected to fund strategies to reduce homelessness.

I want to be very clear that there are items on that list that myself and my colleagues would feel extremely uncomfortable pursuing – take funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, for example. Making streets safer for everyone has been my life’s work. But we have found ourselves at a point in our homelessness crisis where we must start having these conversations. If we aren’t pushing ourselves to ask tough questions on where we could spend less in order to redirect more funds to getting people off our streets, then we are not responding to our homelessness crisis with the urgency and priority that it requires.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the weeks to come to find more funding we can spend on supporting those in our community who need it most.