City of Seattle brings Utility Discount to 10,000 more households

Today Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Director Andrew Lofton announced proposed changes to the Utility Discount Program (UDP) to auto-enroll more than 10,000 low-income Seattle Housing Authority households. Today’s announcement puts the City on track to surpass the Mayor’s goal to double program enrollment two years ahead of schedule.

“As Seattle’s economy continues to grow, we know that economic gains have not reached all our neighbors. Too many families are still struggling to meet basic needs,” said Murray.  “This partnership with the Seattle Housing Authority will cut utility bills in half for financially strapped residents so they can manage their utility costs on tight budgets.”

“The majority of people we serve at the Seattle Housing Authority are in the very lowest income segment,” said Lofton. “The extension of the City’s Utility Discount Program to our residents and voucher tenants will make a tremendous difference in their ability to pay for basic utilities and still afford food, medications and other necessities.”

Once auto-enrollment is complete, the UDP will provide more than $10 million in utility assistance each year to SHA tenants. This will cut in half their Seattle electric, water, garbage/recycling, sewage and drainage bills. The average household benefit will be $1,030 per year.

This move is a part of Murray’s commitment to address Seattle’s growing income inequality and remove institutional barriers between services and those in need. In 2014, Mayor Murray challenged City Departments to double the number of households enrolled in the UDP from 14,000 to 28,000 by the end of 2018.

“I would like to thank SHA for providing a place to stay and the Mayor for giving those of us living in subsidized housing the opportunity to participate in the Utility Discount Program,” said Ed Frezier, a resident at Rainier Vista in South Seattle. “I am on disability and have a limited income. After I pay my bills, the lights, phone, water, there’s nothing left.  This will leave me with a few dollars to buy groceries and whatever else is needed. It’s a blessing.”

After legislation to enact today’s proposal is approved by the Seattle City Council, all income-eligible households of Seattle Housing Authority will be notified that they have been auto-enrolled in the Utility Discount Program, beginning August 1, 2016. All households will have the opportunity to opt out of the Utility Discount Program if they prefer. The Council will take up this proposal this spring. Current City ordinances prevent SHA tenants from participating in the program.

The Utility Discount Program offers a credit of 60 percent on Seattle City Light bills and 50 percent on Seattle Public Utilities bills. This program is available for residential City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers only and does not apply to residences used for business purposes. Eligible households must have income of less than 70 percent of state median household income, about $60,000 for a family of four.

Today’s expansion of the UDP to SHA tenants is paid for by all utility customers. The average Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities bill will increase between 0.5 percent and 0.65 percent in coming years.

“This auto-enrollment program change supports people in need and minimizes bureaucracy.  This is truly government at its best,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents the West Seattle and South Park communities.  “Thousands of low-income Seattleites will no longer need to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.  I’m fully committed to expanding access to the UDP program even further.”

“Having light, heat, and water are basic needs that every resident should have,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “As a compassionate City, we have demonstrated our commitment to helping our residents by continually improving one of the strongest utility discount programs in the nation.”

“I have strenuously advocated for auto-enrollment into the Utility Discount Program. Studies show auto-enrollment results in systematically greater access,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee. “I am grateful to Kelly Enright at Seattle City Light for tirelessly working on this. Even after this step, there will still be thousands of others who will need to be enrolled, and I look forward to continue working with City Light and the Mayor’s office.”

This program expansion builds upon a partnership with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to auto-enroll eligible households of other affordable housing projects, reducing administrative barriers to utility discount services.

Ray Hoffman, Seattle Public Utilities Director, Larry Weis, Seattle City Light General Manager and CEO, and Catherine Lester, Human Services Department Director, were also in attendance at today’s event.

The UDP program is funded by both Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities and is administered by the Seattle Human Services Department. Utility Discount Program eligibility information and application materials can be found here.

City Light to Replace Aging Utility Poles in Parts of Seattle and Burien

Seattle City Light is planning to replace aging utility poles in parts of Seattle and Burien to help improve and upgrade the electrical reliability in parts of the service territory. The installation of new poles, wire and equipment relocation is an important investment in infrastructure.

Starting in early to mid-May, Seattle City Light’s contractor, Magnum Power LLC, will be installing new utility poles, relocating wires to the new pole and replacing aging equipment in various Seattle and Burien neighborhoods. Work hours are scheduled from Mondays to Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Maps of the construction work areas can be found here: 2016 Pole Replacement – South Location Maps

The new poles will be placed alongside pre-existing poles. They will meet standard heights and widths required for overhead power line construction. This may mean that poles in the area will be slightly taller and approximately two inches wider than existing poles.

Maintenance power outages are required for this work. Crews will place a door hanger or make personal contact within 48 to 72 hours of the outage date. The notification will specify the date, time and duration of the outage.

Once the electrical equipment is relocated, it may take several months before the other companies with utilities on the existing poles make their transfer(s). We will continue to monitor/coordinate these efforts as needed to facilitate the removal of old poles.

For more information, customers can contact:

Visit our construction website for the latest updates on this project: http://www.seattle.gov/light/atwork/release.asp?RN=356

Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery Invites all to Artist Reception

On October 15th, the Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery will be holding a reception for artist, Susan Ringstad Emery at Noon on the 3rd floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower (directions here).

Emery’s latest work is heavily influenced by the generations of Iñupiat Scandinavian hunters, fishermen, and ship builders she descends from. She is said to bring a unique perspective to contemporary Native artwork with her cave-art-inspired mixed media works on panel. Emery’s work has also been exhibited at Grand Central Terminal NYC, Peabody Essex Museum, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alaska Native Arts Foundation, and is in corporate and private collections around the world.

The gallery was founded in 2009 by a coalition of four City of Seattle ethnic affinity groups: City Light Black Employees Association (CLBEA), Filipino American Civic Employees (FACES), Latino City Employees (LCE), and City of Seattle Native American Employees (CANOES). They began with a mission to strengthen relationships between the City’s affinity groups and ethnic communities, to showcase local artists of color, to nurture the appreciation for cultural diversity in art, and to foster pride among the diverse cultures within our workplaces and communities at large. Now, the gallery continues that legacy today by engaging in other collaborative efforts that aim to enrich lives, build equality, and justice; all of which support the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) to eliminate racial disparities in Seattle.

FAQ for New Office of Planning and Community Development

The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is a new office that will support the Mayor’s vision of building thriving communities with a mix of amenities, open space, transportation, utilities, affordable housing, and economic opportunity. This new office will work across our City departments to assess community needs, prioritize resources, develop a vision for how our neighborhoods grow and develop, and ensure that we are coordinating and implementing our plans with a cohesive vision. We are excited about the work ahead. This FAQ provides further details about how the new office will improve planning coordination across the City.

FAQ for New Office of Planning and Community Development

  1. Why are we creating a new executive Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD)?

The City of Seattle is growing rapidly. By 2035, Seattle is expected to have 120,000 new residents and 115,000 new jobs. While these factors support our robust economy, some residents are concerned with how growth has affected their neighborhood character; others are concerned about displacement or traffic congestion. As a result, the Mayor recognizes that to build thriving communities with a mix of affordable housing, open space, transportation, utilities, and economic opportunity, the City must have one office that will help truly integrate planning and community development.

While the current Department of Planning and Development (DPD)—to be renamed the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI)—manages site-specific land-use planning and permits new development, current ownership of the City’s vision for comprehensive planning and implementation at the neighborhood and city level often is unclear and distributed across multiple departments. By restructuring how the City plans and then implements those plans, the intent is that City departments will be more strategically aligned to deploy resources to meet current and future needs. Our goal is to accommodate growth while maintaining a high quality of life for all and improving equity in the City.

  1. What are the key divisions of OPCD and what are examples of their work?

OPCD will be comprised of three divisions and two commissions:

  • Director’s Office
  • Research and Analysis Division
  • Planning and Implementation Division
  • Seattle Planning Commission
  • Seattle Design Commission

The Director’s Office will manage OPCD and provide leadership and support in the areas of finance, community engagement, administrative assistance, and communications with Councilmembers, staff, and constituents. The Director will be a member of the Mayor’s Cabinet.

The Research and Analysis Division will inform long-range planning activities. This division will assess best practices research, and assemble and present data on growth, equity and other issues to help guide decision-making and support the planning and investment priorities. This Division will directly inform the work of the Planning and Implementation division. Examples of their work may include:

  • Working closely with capital department liaisons to align long-range capital planning investments;
  • Coordinating with the City’s revenue team, economists, the fiscal and capital manager within CBO, Citywide GIS, and staff liaisons from capital departments to support work on equitable growth analysis and community investment strategies;
  • Establishing criteria for neighborhood priorities;
  • Developing GIS resources to monitor and track citywide capital investments; and
  • Monitoring and updating the Comprehensive Plan and tracking citywide growth and development.

The Planning and Implementation Division will develop, update and implement plans and citywide initiatives, as informed by the Research and Analysis Division. Given its focus on planning and implementation, this division will develop and implement plans, and align City investments to enhance community benefits. Examples of their work may include:

  • Leading cross-departmental efforts supported by staff liaisons from other City departments to develop community plans and citywide initiatives for implementation;
  • Coordinating with the Department of Neighborhoods on outreach and engagement;
  • Implementing key planning recommendations including the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA); and
  • Managing a capital subcabinet to align capital investments.

The Seattle Planning Commission will remain an independent body that continues to advise the Mayor, City Council and City departments on broad planning goals, policies and plans for the physical development of the City.

The Seattle Design Commission will remain an independent body that promotes civic design excellence in capital improvement projects that are located on City land, in the City right-of-way, or constructed with City funds, and will continue to advise the Mayor, City Council, and City departments on the design of capital improvements and other projects and policies that shape Seattle’s public realm.

  1. What are the biggest challenges that this new office will address for the City? How will this new office accomplish this task?

OPCD will support the Mayor’s vision of building thriving communities with a mix of amenities, open space, transportation, utilities, affordable housing, and economic opportunity. To help achieve the Mayor’s vision, there are three core challenges that this new department must address:

  1. Current ownership of the City’s vision for comprehensive planning and implementation at the neighborhood, regional, and city levels is distributed across multiple departments;
  2. Departments have identified that the lack of comprehensive information about where projects are being planned often results in project plans, implementation, and capital investments of departments being misaligned; and
  3. Departments prioritize budgets and resources differently, which can result in competing priorities and less focused use of resources.

The new department will address these core challenges by:

  • Assessing neighborhood needs, and identifying opportunity areas and priorities for neighborhood development and implementation;
  • Ensuring that department priorities are aligned with the Mayor’s priorities and the goals of the comprehensive plan;
  • Ensuring that Council priorities are also in alignment and reflected in policies, regulations and budget resources; and
  • Establishing, vetting and executing implementation plans.
  1. How is this new office different? How will it operate with other departments to ensure that Seattle will plan holistically and meet future needs?

We recognize that in the past, the City of Seattle has reorganized various departments and established new offices to coordinate and strengthen City planning services. While some past efforts helped, they were not sufficient. The current era of unprecedented growth and development only underscores the need for a truly coordinated planning office that will strategically address current and future challenges.

OPCD is a priority for the Mayor; and the team working in OPCD will have the significant task of planning comprehensively to support both current and future residents. The new office must work closely with all City departments to establish strong communication, align work plan priorities, leverage resources, and develop tangible implementation plans that address neighborhood needs. OPCD will work with other City departments to accomplish tasks that include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Assessing neighborhood assets and needs, the impacts of growth, and strategies to support more equitable development;
  • Identifying opportunities and establishing priorities for community development;
  • Focusing on implementation by identifying capital investments, strategic partnerships, assets, and equity issues that are consistent with City objectives;
  • Staffing a Capital Subcabinet to ensure that short- and long-range department plans drive capital investments and leverage city resources effectively to address community needs;
  • Collaborating with the Mayor, City Budget Office (CBO), and Council to ensure that City goals are aligned with proposed priorities and resources; and
  • Ensuring significant planning activities and development projects are reviewed to ensure alignment with community development priorities.

In addition, some examples of interdepartmental coordination work led by OPCD may include:

  • Aggregating data that defines where capital investments are planned by Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), Seattle City Light (SCL), Seattle Parks and Recreation, and other capital departments to align and leverage strategic priorities;
  • Aligning area plans, Urban Design Frameworks, transportation plans, and community development strategies; and
  • Coordinating with SPU and SCL to plan for adequate infrastructure in water, sewer, drainage and power when new development occurs to ensure sufficient capacity.
  1. What parts of DPD (to be renamed to SDCI) will change? How will different components of DPD work together?

The planning functions that oversee comprehensive planning, area planning, and community development, as well as the Seattle Planning and Design Commissions, will be moved to OPCD and restructured to develop and promote integrated planning and community development. The other core regulatory functions of DPD will remain in DPD, which will be renamed to SDCI.

We also recognize the importance of the close relationship between the divisions currently in DPD. OPCD will continue to work closely with the regulatory component, as it would with all other departments to facilitate and implement comprehensive planning. For example, because the regulatory function manages the permitting process, OPCD will work closely with the regulatory side to help monitor current, future, and potential development to identify and assess capital investment needs in neighborhoods, regulatory changes that may be warranted, etc.

  1. Who are liaisons and what will be their role?

To strengthen interdepartmental coordination, staff from City departments will work with OPCD as subject matter expert “liaisons” to facilitate cross-department coordination. Such staff will remain in their home departments and will work within OPCD to ensure that OPCD has sufficient department expertise and remain coordinated with department priorities. As a result, liaisons may take on the following roles:

  • Work with OPCD planners by providing guidance and recommendations on department priorities, planning efforts, and capital projects to ensure cross-department alignment and project implementation;
  • Serve on a Capital Subcabinet led by OPCD to guide long-range planning and capital investment decisions;
  • Communicate emerging issues and priorities of their home department; and
  • Identify additional subject matter experts within their home departments when necessary.
  1. Who was involved in the creation of OPCD?

As a new office with the primary objective of strengthening coordination across all departments, it was critical to Mayor Murray that multiple departments help to shape and frame the scope and mission of OPCD. In June, Mayor Murray announced an Executive Order directing all City departments to work with the Mayor’s Office, DPD, CBO, and the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR) to develop OPCD.

  1. How will this change be implemented? What is the timeline? What will be the impact on the City budget?

The legislation and budget changes to implement OPCD will be sent to City Council with the 2016 Proposed Budget at the end of September. The total proposed budget for OPCD in 2016 is nearly $8 million, all supported by the General Fund. This includes $6.5 million that currently supports existing functions within DPD and $1.5 million in new resources. City Council will review and hold hearings on the proposed budget and legislation as part of their budget deliberations in October and November. The final vote on the 2016 Budget legislation package is expected in late November. All adopted changes will be effective January 1, 2016.

 

City Light Submits Advanced Metering Report to Seattle City Council: Outlining Benefits, Research and Addressing Concerns

In an effort to improve customer’s experience and rate predictability and enhance organizational performance as outlined in our Strategic Plan, City Light plans to replace approximately 430,000 old electric meters with new advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). The advanced meters will provide two-way wireless communication between the meter and the utility, which will offer several benefits including future rate stability, reducing carbon emissions from vehicles and conserving natural resources.

At the request of City Council, as part of Council Resolution Number 31529, City Light provided a White Paper report outlining the benefits, cost, research, and customer outreach plan relating to the advanced metering initiative as well as addressing some questions and concerns brought forth by council and the public.

This report was submitted to council on Sept. 30, 2014. To honor our commitment to transparency and accountability, the White Paper report is made available for viewing by the public and the media on City Light’s AMI webpage and can be translated on request.

To view a copy of the report or to learn more about advanced meters, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/light/ami/

About Seattle City Light

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.