Council Approves 2016 City Budget

On the Monday the Council approved the 2016 City of Seattle budget. As Chair of the Council’s Budget Committee, I was responsible for assembling a balancing package for consideration by the City Council.

The budget passed by the Council focuses on urgent, immediate needs. I believe that when more people have a chance to reach their full potential and enough economic security to make investments in their future, the benefits ripple throughout communities. The budget approved by the Council invests in those basic needs such as safety, stability and health.

A summary of the changes the Council made to the Mayor’s proposed budget can be seen here. I’d like to first highlight three key areas:

Homeless funding

I sponsored an addition of $2.3 million in homeless funding, to expand shelter beds to get people off the street, fund new beds, extend day center services and outreach services to vulnerable homeless adults, support authorized encampments, and childcare for homeless children. This is in addition to the $5 million in one-time funds approved by the Council earlier this month, in conjunction with the Mayor’s declaration of a civil emergency regarding homelessness.

The Council’s action comes as federal funding has diminished significantly. From 1999, the first budget I voted on, to 2016:

  • Federal human services grants to Seattle have decreased from $46.5 million to $37.9 million, a decrease of 43%, adjusted for inflation
  • Federal grants have shrunk from 62% to 26% of the City’s Human Services budget, a 58% decrease
  • The City’s General Fund contribution to the Human Services budget has more than doubled, from 25% to 55%
  • The percent of the City’s General Fund dedicated to human services has doubled, from 3.5% to 7%.

This increasing reliance on the city’s general fund for human services is a direct result of federal neglect.

These figures place in stark relief the impact of years of the federal government’s retreat. The needs have not gone away–they have simply been shifted onto cities. Mayor Murray’s declaration of a homeless emergency, and the emergency declared in Portland, have been building for years. Cities cannot solve this emergency alone: federal assistance is needed.

Homelessness in Seattle is at a crisis level. The Council’s addition of $2.3 million in one-time funding, not only to expand shelter beds to get people off the street, but to fund new beds, extend day center services and outreach services to vulnerable homeless adults, support authorized encampments, and childcare for homeless children.

Youth Participatory Budgeting

I also want to highlight the innovative new Youth Participatory Budgeting program, which will allow young people to not only directly decide how to spend $700,000 in city funds; it will also help train young people in working with city departments to develop proposals, helping to give them the skills and knowledge they need to become effective community leaders.


The Council passed funding for a position to support the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance program, which follows from Council passage of Council Bill 118516 which I co-sponsored along with Councilmember O’Brien.

In addition, the Council passed funding for a senior housing inspector to develop and lead an auditing program for the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance program, and a separate request to find permanent funding for this position.

Other Council priorities:

The Council also added funding in other key areas:

Social Justice

  • $600,000 for Zero Detention projects, and alternatives services to youth detention; this follows from Resolution 31614, passed by the Council in September, which endorse a vision of becoming a city with zero detention for youth, and seeking to eliminate racial inequities in arrest rates, detention, sentencing and prison population.
  • $254,000 for family intervention and restorative services center.
  • $136,000 for criminal justice equity work in the Office of City Rights
  • $50,000 for employment bias testing
  • additional support for a Citywide Gender Pay Equity Initiative.

The Council also requested an equitable development strategy for Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan that includes anti-displacement strategies for areas with high-risk of displacement; this follows from Resolution 31577, adopted earlier this year.

Human Services/Health/Food

In addition to the $2.3 million, the Council dedicated additional resources toward homelessness: $255,000 for a homeless shelter and $154,000 for homeless hygiene services.

The Council also passed $250,000 for social support services at senior centers, and $75,000 for LGBTQ elders, training for professionals working with LGBTQ older adults, families, and caregivers, and peer support. In addition, the Council passed three food-related items: $40,000 for fruit gleaning services in Seattle, to provide fresh fruit for food banks; $50,000 for additional support for the Fresh Bucks food assistance program, to provide a match for food stamp purchases at Farmer’s Markets, and $40,000 to support food banks serving American Indian/Alaskan Native community.

The Council also dedicated funds toward an updated assistive listening system in the Bertha Knight Landes meeting room on the main floor of City Hall.


  • $600,000 for SDOT for West Seattle Bridge Corridor congestion management investments; $500,000 is for installation of Intelligent Transportation Systems, and $100,000 for corridor feasibility studies; a separate request is included for an update from SDOT on implementation of initiatives described in the West Seattle Bridge Corridor Whitepaper and Priority Investment List.
  • $1 million for transit passes for income-qualified youth in Seattle Public Schools.

I also proposed a change in the Municipal Code to direct 10% of red light camera revenue toward pedestrian improvements; previously, it went to the city’s General Fund. This moves City policy toward best practices recommended by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances and strictly constrain the use of a portion of red light camera revenue for improvements to pedestrian infrastructure.

Economic Opportunity

  • $1.9 million toward development of a Southeast Seattle Economic Opportunity Center; $100,000 to manage business vacancies in Chinatown-International District and Little Saigon;
  • $400,000 for Career Bridge;
  • $100,000 to provide assistance and advocacy for Women and Minority Owned businesses; and $50,000 for business and assistance services to small local manufacturers and producers


  • $300,000 for construction of a restroom in Hing Hay Park in the Chinatown-International District;
  • $348,000 for the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands project, and space for youth, $106,500 for the Rainier Beach: A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth project
  • a budget action to allow additional time for the community to purchase surplus City Light properties.


The Office of Arts & Culture (OAC) now receives 75% of admission tax revenues. The Mayor proposed 80% in 2016 and 100% in the future, but provided no timetable for reaching 100%. After gaining Council approval for next year’s 80% level, I was able to secure a stepped increase to 100% by 2018. The Council and Mayor will assess if economic conditions allow for each year’s increase.

I created a special “Capital Arts” account for OAC reserved just for capital funds the office awards. It would centralize all of the City’s arts and culture capital project awards and transfer into it the Mayor’s 2016 funding for the Seattle Opera, the Burke Museum, Seattle Town Hall, and the Nordic Heritage Museum.

Seattle’s Percent for Art program is lauded world-wide, but hasn’t seen an increase since its start in 1973. As Seattle’s built environment continues to grow exponentially, the Percent for Art Program lags behind.  I’ve asked the Executive to report next year on the feasibility of removing some of the current exemptions to the program as a way to increase the number of art projects without increasing the percentage.

In order to encourage more small-venue nightlife, I simplified music venue exemptions to the City’s Admission Tax collections. Some small music venues were unsure if they should pay admission tax and sometimes they’d pay when they were actually exempt. Other small venues reduce the number of performances in order to avoid the tax. Large music venues, with capacities over 500, would not be affected by this proposal.

I also provided amnesty for non-profits assessed penalties for withholding admission tax payments, in spite of being qualified for exemptions to such payments. These non-profits were not even aware of their need to apply for admission tax exemptions.

Letter to Ethics and Elections Commission Requesting Ethics Code Fix

Below is a press statement from earlier today regarding a request to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission re: closing a loophole

Councilmember Licata Calls for Fix to Ethics Code in Response to Developer Shakedown

SEATTLECouncilmember Nick Licata delivered a letter to the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission (SEEC) today, asking that the independent body develop legislation intended to sanction people or organizations that attempt to bargain with candidates by threatening to use independent expenditures in local elections.  The request comes in response to a recent Seattle Times report on allegations that a then-employee of Triad Development Group approached a candidate running for local office and offered to help make a $200,000 independent expenditure “go away,” in exchange for settling a lawsuit.

Licata asked the SEEC to develop a solution to ensure any future similar independent expenditure coordination is clearly illegal. While Seattle has laws governing independent expenditures, there don’t appear to be laws governing potential independent expenditures.

“Public trust is undermined by the lack of a clear, unambiguous prohibition in the Seattle Ethics and Elections Code of these activities that could be construed as unethical coercion at best, extortion at worst. Clear lines must be established,” wrote Councilmember Licata in his letter. He added, “Even an appearance of potential corruption deeply damages our civic life.”

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission is an independent committee of seven citizen volunteers. The Commission is responsible for interpreting and applying the Seattle Ethics, Elections, Election Pamphlet, and Whistleblower Protection Codes and the City’s Lobbying Regulations.

Urban Politics #383 Explaining the Mystery of the City Budget

This may sound like a boring topic with a title that is trying hard to make it exciting. However, if I were to title it “How to spend a million dollars,” you might read it. And, hopefully you are right now. So here it is in a nutshell.

The City’s 2016 Budget determines how your public dollars are spent next year. The average citizen doesn’t know the details of how the council comes up with the budget. It is critical to know because in this case, knowledge is power.

Remember, “process” rules content. I know that may sound bizarre. But it is true. Because no matter how good your idea is, how rational an argument you can present, how passionate your campaign, the truth is that unless something is in writing and has at least 3 councilmembers supporting it by a certain date, it most likely will have a short life. That’s because it will then take a majority to get it even considered by the council.

Let me break this down for you.

Mayor Murray sent his proposed budget to the Council on September 28th. To make changes, the public has until October 28th at 10 a.m. to get 3 councilmembers to propose a specific budget change for discussion during budget meetings. If something is submitted after that date, then 5 councilmembers are needed to get it on the agenda for a vote. It would take another vote with at least 5 councilmembers voting for it to be included in the budget.

So the key date to remember is OCTOBER 28th. In other words: get to Councilmembers now to add or remove items from the budget. The Councilmember you meet with needs to be one of 3 “sponsors” for a request, referred within council jargon as a “green sheet.” If you want to impress a Councilmember and give him or her the impression you understand their inside game, then ask them to sponsor or sign a green sheet to do what you want. It’s best to go with something written to make it easier for the councilmember to go forward with this task. This makes things easier for councilmembers or their staff, and increases the chances that they will not let it drop through the cracks.

So, get organized NOW, not later. Keep in mind that there’s a deadline of 10/28.

City Council 2016 Budget Schedule

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today released his proposed 2016 budget and proposed 2016-21 Capital Improvement Program.

The City Council’s Budget Committee will begin its consideration of the budget on Thursday, October 1, with an overview provided by the City Budget Office.

Public input is vital to Council review and helps Councilmembers develop a budget that best reflects the needs of the City. The Council’s Budget Committee will hold two public hearings, on October 6 at October 20. Both hearings will take place at Seattle City Hall. The hearings will begin at 5:30 p.m.; sign-in begins at 4:30 p.m.

The hearing on October 6 will also include a hearing on Council Bill 118502, to re-organize the Department of Planning and Development into two separate departments: 1) the Office of Planning and Community Development, and 2) the Department of Construction and Inspections. This legislation is being considered as part of the 2016 budget.

The schedule for Council Budget Committee meetings is as follows:

October 1                            Overview of Mayor’s Proposed Budget

October 6-9                        Department Budget Overview (see tentative schedule)

October 19-22                   Issue Identification

October 29-Nov. 2           Presentation/Discussion of Options (Round 1)

November 13-16              Final Decisions and Votes (Round 2)

November 23                    Full Council adopts 2015 budget, endorses 2016 budget

You can view agendas for Budget Committee meetings here, or sign up to receive agendas by e-mail.

The Council’s budget website has additional information, including a glossary of budget terms and links to supporting documents, as they become available.

The public is welcome to attend meetings, and can watch live on the Seattle Channel at

Comments on the budget can also be submitted online to

All meetings will take place in the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall, at 600 4th Avenue, between James and Cherry.

Urban Politics #381: Council passes resolution in support of lifting state ban on limiting rent increases

The City Council did the right thing by passing a resolution (8-1, Okamoto) in support of local control of rent regulation, and asking the state legislature to lift the ban on cities limiting rent increases. The Council also requested that the Office of Intergovernmental Relations incorporate this position into the City’s forthcoming 2016 State Legislative agenda.

This resolution closely mirrors Resolution 31590, sponsored by Councilmember Sawant and myself, previously discussed in the Housing, Human Services and Economic Development last week. Both resolutions call for repealing or modifying RCW 35.321.830.

In a highly unusual move, the resolution was introduced for a vote at the same meeting, when exiting legislation on the same subject was being considered in committee. I can’t recall another instance in my time on the Council where this has happened. My resolution, co-sponsored by Councilmember Sawant, received a split vote with three in support and three opposed in the Housing Committee.

The pressure from citizens being pushed out not only their apartments, but often out of Seattle in search of affordable housing, filled the council chambers to capacity on more than one occasion. They changed the attitude of councilmembers.

The new resolution clearly adopts the core request of the original legislation, asking the state legislature modify or repeal RCW 35.21.830, which would allow cities to propose and pass legislation to protect tenants from sudden and dramatic rent increases. The repeated turnout of citizens asking the council to do something about our housing crises brought about this victory.

I’d like to thank Lisa Herbold from my office for her collaborative work on this, which set the stage for passage. I’d also like to thank Eric Dunn of the Northwest Justice Project, and Jon Grant, former director of the Tenant’s Union, for bringing this issue to the Council.

(Note: Last week UP #380 was incorrectly listed as #379; that’s now been corrected on my blog)