Select Committee on Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Move $637.8 Million Education Levy to Full Council

The Select Committee on Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy unanimously voted to advance to Full Council a proposed ordinance to continue the City of Seattle’s investments across the education spectrum. If approved, the levy will expand quality preschool classrooms, continue investments in K-12, and establish tuition subsidies and support for college or post-secondary job training. In addition, it sets aside funds for wraparound education and health services, such as four new student health centers, dedicated resources for students experiencing homelessness, and funding to grow teacher diversity in our classrooms.

The proposed ordinance will go before the full City Council on Monday, June 18 at 2:00 p.m.

At a GlanceThe proposed Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy would:

  • Expand access to preschool by nearly 1,000 children per year by the 2025-26 school year to serve a total of 15,000 three and four year olds;
  • Continue K-12 and community-based investments, including funding four new student health centers, students experiencing homelessness and increasing teacher diversity in our classrooms; and,
  • Create the Seattle Promise to allow public high school graduates to attend Seattle Colleges to obtain a college or postsecondary degree.

The proposed levy, totaling $637.8 million over seven years, dedicates 54 percent of the dollars toward preschool and early learning. Expanding access to high quality early learning is a research-proven strategy to help close the school-readiness gap. Over the span of the 7-year levy, Seattle will have served 15,000 children in preschool classrooms.

“The renewal and expansion of the education levy is an unrelenting commitment to ensure all of our children receive a quality education, have the resources to succeed, and graduate from high school with opportunities for college and career,” said Council President Bruce Harrell (District 2, South Seattle). “I want to thank our residents for their support in closing the opportunity gap in Seattle schools and creating more equitable communities. When our students succeed, our communities thrive, and our economy prospers.”

“Supporting the educational achievement of all children is one of the single most important investments the City of Seattle can make. This renewed and enhanced levy represents critical and strategic investments that will transform the lives of Seattle’s children beginning with quality preschool and ending with college access and support. This levy also recognizes the impacts of our affordability challenges by providing resources to support the estimated 4,280 students in Seattle Public Schools experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide), and co-chair of the FEPP Committee. “Our past levy investments have made a measurable difference in reducing the readiness and opportunity gap. This proposed levy continues many of those evidence-based investments, which means more of our kids will graduate and be prepared for post-secondary education with the skills necessary to take advantage of the jobs of tomorrow.”

Nearly 29 percent of the levy would go toward K-12 investments, improving graduation rates, especially for students who are impacted by the opportunity gap.

“As a father of three school-aged children, I know first-hand the importance of investments in early education and grade school classrooms” said Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) and co-chair of the FEPP Committee. “I feel proud that this levy represents a strong continuum for our students, from preschool through their 14th year, that it reflects feedback we heard from community members, and that it continues this levy’s history of investing in research and evidence based strategies to help our students succeed.”

“Investing in our earliest of learners — and the workforce that cares for them and teaches them — ensures we have a resilient economy, encourages equity through closing opportunity gaps and promotes healthy communities,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide). “Families across this City are experiencing long waitlists, long commute times and increasingly expensive childcare.  Through this levy, we increase the number of better trained educators for our children ages 0-3, investing in the long-term health and stability of our community.”

Health programs would account for 11 percent. The final six percent would go to the Seattle Promise, which proposes tuition assistance to graduating Seattle students attending local community colleges for the first two years.

Seattle first passed a seven-year education levy in 1990. It was renewed again in 1997, 2004 and 2011. In 2014, voters also approved a four-year preschool program levy. History of education levies in Seattle. The Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy combines the traditional education levy with the preschool levy, and expands it.

Seattle residents living in a median-priced home pay $136 per year for the two existing levies. With this new levy, those same residents will pay $248 per year.  Low-income seniors, people with disabilities and veterans will be eligible for exemptions.

The passage of this levy follows robust community engagement. The levy was first considered in the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education Committee in February. Following, the Select Committee on FEPP held six committee meetings, beginning on March 26, and two public hearings.

To download a full resolution PDF of the infographic, click here.

 

Seattle Council Passes Tax on Business to Help Address Homelessness

Following more than five months of deliberation, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance related to taxation, intended to help address homelessness.  The amended proposal establishes an annual tax of $275 per full time employee on the City’s largest businesses, those with revenues of more than $20 million  (about 3% of all businesses). The measure would generate an estimated $47 million annually and end on December 31, 2023.

The ordinance passed by a unanimous vote, with all nine councilmembers supporting it.

Selected highlights of the amended ordinance include:

Exempt Seattle’s small and medium-sized businesses, only applying to those with at least $20 million or more annually in taxable gross receipts as measured under the City’s existing Business & Occupation tax;

  • Apply only to the City’s approximately 585 largest businesses, or approximately 3% of all Seattle businesses;
  • Require large businesses to pay $275 per full-time equivalent employee working 1,920 hours per year (or about $0.14 per hour);
  • Include an evaluation of the economic impacts, and an independent oversight committee; and,
  • Exempt healthcare providers that provide at least 25% of their services to patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid as well as all hospitals.

Council President Bruce Harrell (District 2 – South Seattle), said, “In every policy or fiscal decision we make, we have to look at the impact on jobs. Our goal is to have a successful and vibrant business community–one of the best in the country–and at the same time, assist our most vulnerable and strategically invest in affordable housing. One does not exclude the other. Our investment strategy must balance these objectives without demonizing advocates or businesses. Today, we have reached a compromise that accomplishes this goal.”

Harrell continued:  “I did not support the spending plan, because our strategy must leverage the expertise and resources in real estate, software applications and other areas to make sure we gain the trust of the public in how we invest funds from this new revenue stream. This legislation is currently designed for a finite period to address the affordability and homelessness crisis. How we spend the money becomes critically important–residents, members of our business community and advocates should be afforded the opportunity to weigh in.”

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia), a co-sponsor of the legislation and Chair of the Finance and Neighborhoods Committee said, “Since Seattle declared a state of emergency around the homelessness crisis, people have told us they want to see action, action that means people out of tents and in safer, healthier spaces, and cleanup of the public spaces in our neighborhoods. They also want more state and local funds for mental health and behavioral health improvements. This tax contributes toward the long-term solution of affordable housing, while giving immediate attention and resources to fund shelter services, so those living on the streets tonight can find a dry, warm and safe place to stay. I’m pleased my council colleagues also agreed to exempt hospitals and non-profits from this tax, recognizing the vital work they do in our community serving those on Medicare, Medicaid, and other vulnerable populations.”

Councilmeber Rob Johnson (District 4 – North Seattle), and a co-sponsor of the legislation said, “Any solution to help address our homelessness crisis must produce immediate results and protect the long term economic health of the city. Today’s action creates more affordable housing, addresses immediate needs of those living unsheltered and has a five-year sunset so we can effectively measure our efforts. I want to thank my council colleagues for this collaborative effort and for the engagement of non-profit organizations, faith and civic leaders, businesses, labor, affordable housing developers and community members.”

Councilmember Debora Juarez (District 5 – North Seattle), and a co-sponsor of the legislation said, “I want to see results from this tax, which means fewer people living on the streets and more people in shelters and permanent housing. Now it is time for regional partners and the federal government to join Seattle in taking bold actions to address homelessness.”    

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Pos. 8 – Citywide), said, “Today, we took an initial step forward to reduce homelessness, build safer communities and toward a City that allows people who work in Seattle to afford to live in Seattle.  We have a homelessness and housing affordability crisis in Seattle, our shelters are at capacity and there is not enough affordable housing for folks to move into. Today’s progressive tax proposal and corresponding spending plan provides a significant down payment toward the housing our community needs. Our City is growing rapidly, and we must respond with urgency, compassion and leadership.  I look forward to continued collaboration with the community and my council colleagues to ensure we build more affordable, sustainable, and equitable housing for our city.”

With no state income tax, Washington is routinely ranked as having the most regressive tax structure in the nation.  Earlier this year, property taxes were dedicated by state lawmakers to fund education shortfalls; a B&O tax would require voter approval and spread the burden across all industries, including small business.  Other taxation options such as a tax on utilities would adversely affect rate payers, many who are on fixed incomes.

The legislation will take effect in January 2019.

 

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.

Johnson Releases Draft Framework to Update to the City’s Tree Ordinance

Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) released a draft framework for updates to the City’s Tree Ordinance today, the first update in a decade, to proactively manage and steward Seattle’s urban forest.

The framework will encourage more tree preservation and planting through incentives and fees. The framework would also gather better data by requiring permits to remove trees and increase the resources to plant new trees.

“It’s vital to recognize the value of Seattle’s urban forest on Arbor Day and every day.  Our city’s trees are essential infrastructure that provide habitat, prepare for more extreme weather events due to climate change, and improve public health through cleaner air, water, and privacy,” said Councilmember Johnson.  “Our trees are governed by nine different city departments. As a city, we need to update how we manage our urban forest by streamlining the process and adding transparency.”

In 2007, Seattle established a 30 percent canopy cover goal by 2037. Seattle is currently at 28 percent canopy cover by latest estimates and analysis conducted in 2016.

“The Emerald City shouldn’t lose sight of the 30 percent canopy cover goal, and should even exceed it, because we are a city rooted in environmental leadership,” continued Johnson. “It is paramount that this goal be advanced under the lens of environmental equity. If the City reaches this goal but wealthier and whiter neighborhoods continue to disproportionately experience the benefits of trees when compared to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, then we have not done our job. We need to ensure all communities are clean, healthy and resilient.”

Johnson’s framework proposes to alter the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and includes these key components:

  • Increase the number of trees that require a permit for removal. The framework recognizes the value mature trees and certain species bring to our urban forests.
  • Require trees to be replaced when cut down, or pay a fee in lieu of planting. Fees collected will be used toward tree planting programs.
  • Create more incentives to encourage preservation of existing trees.
  • Establish a one-stop portal for residents to get permits, report on, and receive updates about all tree-related issues, including removing hazardous trees, rules about trees on private property, and contact information for stewardship activities and answers to frequently asked questions.

Councilmember Johnson encourages the community to comment on the draft framework over the coming months. The first discussion on the draft framework will take place May 16 during a Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting.

On Arbor Day, Saturday (April 28), the city encourages all residents to nurture existing trees and ensure younger trees reach maturity. We rely on the actions of private residents to care for trees on their property and within their community.

If you want to help Seattle reach and exceed its tree canopy goal, learn more about Trees for Neighborhoods, which provides free trees for Seattle residents to plant in their yards, and learn more about becoming a Tree Ambassador, a program that empowers Seattle residents to be local leaders in urban forest stewardship.

For more ways to get involved, visit http://www.seattle.gov/trees/getInvolved.htm

View an infographic of proposed tree canopy framework

 

 

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].