Monday, April 30, 2007
Charlie spent a large measure of his life in battle. Most often it was for honesty and openness in public debate, but on Thursday afternoon, April 26, Charlie Chong, at 80, trying his very best, didn't win his last and biggest battle against failing health.
Charlie was many years past his prime when he ran for Seattle City Council, but you couldn't tell it. He set the tone for his tour in public office by immediately hiring two young men as aides: one a political activist, the other a musician with long hair. He wanted their energy, their intelligence, their young ideas, but mostly their ability to see with fresh eyes. Maybe, Charlie speculated, he could guess what old folks were thinking, but what he wanted to know was what the new generation was thinking. Besides, he trusted them. The old guard was frosty about his choices as aides and speculated that neither owned a suit, the uniform for City Council offices. But worse, just to embarrass Charlie, they proposed his new aids take a drug test. Charlie responded that if that was the plan, the whole council should pee in a cup.
I suspect that when Charlie was a kid he just couldn't walk by a hornets nest without poking it with a stick, just to get the little critters awake in the morning. He also poked some council meetings and hearings, just to get their attention. Instead of looking wise and offering knowing nods and platitudes, Charlie would ask deliciously difficult questions. Like, "Why?"
Some of his questions had never been asked. One that made the press was his asking why it wouldn't be smarter to buy used snowplows for Seattle when they were only used every three of four years. It would save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Charlie, a civil servant much of his career, knew that unless the hard questions were asked, sensible, affordable, and practical decisions wouldn't be made.
Charlie cared deeply about Seattle neighborhoods and was our knight, our champion, our Sir Lancelot on some days and Don Quixote on others. Charlie was a warrior in what was often a battle between the establishment and the public. Because Charlie said what others were afraid to say, he was often the single voice of reason in a bureaucratic web.
But candor in politically correct Seattle would upset the establishment. Charlie had a knack for creating one-line responses to the press. Sometimes he was outright sassy and yanked their chain, a no-no for a politician. The press frequently retaliated and twisted his dry humor of offhand statements into newspaper-selling but unfair quotes.
Charlie didn't walk on water and could be cantankerous if cornered. He had strong opinions and made enemies, but his style was always truthful and open. He never told people their ideas were great then voted against them. Pure honesty in politics is so rare that few knew how to deal with a guy who was so candid he would tell them up front that he thought their idea stinks.
One of his greatest gifts to this community was his challenge of group think, a contagious disease among Seattle elected officials. Charlie just plain didn't believe he should vote along with everyone if he wasn't sure their idea was best. Even though he voted with others countless times, he is known best for the rare and courageous ability to stand alone.
Charlie didn't leave it to others. At an age when some went fishing, Charlie rolled up his sleeves and became involved in countless struggles after leaving the City Council, where his dedication to public service counted for so much. Even those who never heard of Charlie Chong might someday discover that we all owe Charlie Chong, big time.
Damn it Charlie, we still need you.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
In search of a new Seattle parks superintendent, City Hall is promising transparency and openness
By Paul AndrewsShaping, opening up, and daylighting foliage are specialties of Seattle Parks and Recreation, especially this time of year. The department seems less welcoming of the same approach applied to decision-making.
Plenty of landscape awaits work this season, including finding a new superintendent, replacing three Board of Park Commissioners members, and figuring out what to do when the Pro Parks Levy expires next year. All the while trying to accommodate increasingly insistent neighborhood and parks advocates who feel burned by controversies involving Magnuson, Woodland, Gas Works, Loyal Heights, Occidental, and other parks.
It all spells big culture change for a traditionally benign agency used to operating away from the public eye. But with the City Council strengthening oversight of the superintendent (through last November's city charter amendment) and deciding to appoint three commissioners, change seems inevitable.So far, the reconfigurations are proving a bit rocky.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Invitation (pdf file)
Monday, April 23, 2007
Friday, April 6, 2007
Seattle parks board nominees signal a new direction
Two neighborhood activists are expected to emphasize public process on a board that got caught in a political crossfire in recent years
By Paul Andrews
Editor's note: As a Phinney Ridge resident, the writer has been active in and written about the fight against the proposed parking garage at Woodland Park Zoo. Readers are encouraged to factor that in and comment below.
Seattle City Council member David Della will nominate two community activists to the parks commission, signaling a new direction for a board caught in a public-process crossfire among the mayor's office, the City Council, and neighborhood groups.
Well-known in Seattle civic circles, John Barber, head of Parks and Open Space Advocates (POSA), and Vera Ing, former president of the Mount Baker Community Council, are expected to bring a new mindset to the embattled board.
Their nomination was immediately hailed by neighborhood activists, including Jim Anderson, president of the Loyal Heights Community Council, and Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council.
"Is this great or what? Here's to the future!" Anderson wrote in an email posted to the POSA Yahoo! forum. Wall seconded: "This is great news indeed."
Barber and Ing also got high marks from Dewey Potter, public information manager for the Parks Department. "John's been a tremendous volunteer for parks over the years," said Potter, who also has known Ing for 30 years. "She's dedicated to the community and is a fun person as well."
Although it receives little media coverage, the board traditionally has played a strategic role in shaping Seattle grassroots issues. In recent years, however, it came under increasing fire as parks decision-making under Mayor Greg Nickels and recently retired Superintendent Ken Bounds raised the hackles of neighborhood groups. On several issues, including Magnuson Park field lighting, Loyal Heights lighting, and Gas Works Park's cancelled summer concert series, the board was seen as dismissive of public input.
Matters reached a head when Della, chair of the council's parks committee, moved late last year to alter the board's makeup. The result: Instead of Nickels appointing all seven board members, the council and mayor each will appoint three, with the final member selected by the other six.
Following Della's maneuver, four board members resigned, including chair Kate Pflaumer. Ing's and Barber's appointments leave Nickels with one slot to fill, after which the seventh member will be selected by the board. Potter said she did not have a sense of when Nickels would act.
Ing, a Seattle native who in January ended seven years on the State Liquor Control Board, said she will emphasize public input.
"The Gas Works process was a fiasco," she said. "There was not enough public input and involvement. In Seattle, public process is absolutely vital to green spaces and maintaining the urban fabric." Ing also has served on the boards of United Way, the Asian American Management Association, and the University of Washington Women's Center.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
City Neighborhood Council
c/o 700 Fifth Ave, Suite 1700, PO Box 94649, Seattle WA 98124-4649
Telephone: (206) 684-0719 Fax: (206) 233-5142 TDD: (206) 684-0446
March 27, 2007
Mayor Greg Nickels
P.O. Box 94749
Seattle. WA 98124-4749
Seattle City Councilmembers
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
To the Mayor and City Councilmembers:
The City Neighborhood Council urges that the $1.5 million/year appropriated to the Neighborhood Street Fund (NSF) by November’s nine-year transportation levy operate through a district council-based process, as the voters understood it would be. We oppose a Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) proposal to move the $1.5 million/year in NSF levy funds away from this time-tested model and cut the district council-based process to $1.2 million and fund it from the Cumulative Reserve Fund, which is less secure, and has other worthy uses.
The City Neighborhood Council is the organized voice of the thirteen district councils, which are celebrating their 20th anniversary, having been created, along with CNC, by City Council Res. 27709 (as amended by Res. 28115) to represent community members, including neighborhood businesses. The district councils use the Neighborhood Street Fund to improve pedestrian mobility and safety, and in doing so, the district councils are strengthened as instruments of grassroots democracy. Please consider the following concerns.
(1) The Neighborhood Street Fund was designed in 1997 by a partnership of the City Neighborhood Council with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), and it has been fostered over the years by a continuation of this partnership. With the help of SDOT and the Department of Neighborhoods, the district councils solicit and consider project nominations from the public—a process that encourages members of the public who favor (or oppose) a particular project to testify before the district council, and to provide comments in writing, by e-mail, or by phone—and then for the district councils to identify among these projects their area’s top priorities, with SDOT making the final decisions. The Neighborhood Street Fund has been an important rallying point for civic engagement, and for building each district council’s trust in SDOT decisions for those occasions when SDOT finds that it cannot accept all of a district’s priority projects.
(2) CNC has designed the Neighborhood Street Fund to give CNC itself no role in the nominating and rating of projects, but rather ensure that any member of the public may nominate a project, that the district councils hear from the public about the different projects, and that the district councils rate (that is, set priorities among) the projects, with the final project decisions made by SDOT.
(3) For the last several years as a part of the budget process, the City Neighborhood Council has written regularly to the Mayor and the City Council, urging an increase in the Neighborhood Street Fund. While the Neighborhood Street Fund is potentially an excellent way to attract public interest and involvement in the district councils, the continued low level of funding for the Neighborhood Street Fund has reduced the incentive to participate.
(4) SDOT is proposing that the district councils no longer be the focus for project nominations and ratings in the $1.5 million/year in transportation levy funds that ordinance 122232 (which put the levy before the voters) designates as the “Neighborhood Street Fund." Rather, SDOT is proposing that the district council process be cut to $1.2 million/year and be funded by the Cumulative Reserve Fund (CRF). The CRF should not be substituted for levy funds for the following reasons:
(a) The Cumulative Reserve Fund is funded largely through real estate excise taxes, which fluctuate from year to year due to economic cycles. Also, real estate excise taxes are not required by state law or City ordinance to be spent on transportation, and could be taken away from the Neighborhood Street Fund at any time. In contrast, it is enforceable through the courts that section 6 of ordinance 122232 allows no other spending of the transportation levy each year until at least $1.5 million has been appropriated for the Neighborhood Street Fund, and exclusively for “pedestrian mobility and safety.”
(b) The levy's Neighborhood Street Fund can support projects whether or not they are in a neighborhood plan, but the City requires that CRF fund only projects that are in a neighborhood plan. About 40 percent of the City's area, including neighborhoods with many children, seniors, and the disabled, is not within the boundaries of a neighborhood plan.
(c) The levy's Neighborhood Street Fund can support projects whether they are new, or are major maintenance of existing projects--but the City requires that CRF fund only major maintenance projects, not new projects.
(d) The levy's Neighborhood Street Fund may be spent on arterial or non-arterial streets, but we are concerned that CRF and state gas tax funding of NSF projects could be restricted to arterials. Because arterials represent only 30 percent of the City's "center-line" mileage, non-arterials (many of which are in neighborhood business districts, have arterial-level traffic volumes, or have serious pedestrian or school-safety issues) should not be ineligible. Non-arterials are already neglected in the Street Maintenance portion of the Bridging the Gap transportation levy, which, despite years of CNC's letters to the Mayor and City Council, has no funds budgeted for non-arterial pavement maintenance and replacement. Pavement maintenance and replacement are often an opportunity for inexpensive mobility or public safety improvements, so non-arterials are already unfairly disadvantaged, and SDOT's proposals could compound this neglect of 70 percent of the City’s streets.
(e) The Cumulative Reserve Fund should, as in recent years, continue to be available not only for pedestrian mobility and safety purposes, but also for other transportation purposes, and for parks and other capital needs. SDOT’s proposals appear not to leave CRF funds for such important purposes as the rebuilding of non-arterial streets [see (d) above], or construction in parks, community centers, and other City facilities. Last year's district council-based process allocated one-fifth of CRF to parks and other non-transportation needs. Pedestrian mobility and safety are already well-funded by the transportation levy, which sets aside not only the Neighborhood Street Fund’s $13.5 million ($1.5 million/year for nine years) solely for “pedestrian mobility and safety,” but also, after that is appropriated, another 18 percent of the levy--$63.3 million--for “bicycle, pedestrian and safety programs," for a grand total of $76.8 million.
(5) SDOT proposes that the transportation levy’s $1.5 million/year “Neighborhood Street Fund” go largely (if not entirely) to projects of between $300,000 and $500,000. Doing so would perversely reward big spending, discouraging projects that cost less but deliver the same or better benefits. Under state law, projects over about $100,000 cannot be built by City crews. Smaller projects can be built by either outside contractors or City crews, which on a per-unit basis have costs as low as half those of outside contractors. Projects of $300,000 or more should not get a free pass, but rather should compete against other, smaller projects, so that the public, the district councils, and SDOT can compare their relative benefits and costs.
There is nothing in the Neighborhood Street Fund as it has operated for many years that prevents the district councils from considering and rating projects of $300,000 or more. Instead, SDOT has proposed that the City Neighborhood Council play the same role in rating projects of $300,000 to $500,000 that CNC already does with Neighborhood Matching Fund “large project” applications. We note that following this model would still leave the district councils with half the potential rating points for each project, as with the Neighborhood Matching Fund. However, CNC believes that it is best to keep at the district council level the full responsibility for recommending to SDOT a rating for each project that has applied for the $1.5 million in levy funds.
(6) The fact that some past multi-block projects have received Neighborhood Street Funds in several different years does not mean that single grants of $300,000 to $500,000 would have been better. Proceeding block-by-block increases the opportunities for grass roots citizen involvement on each block, and provides “early wins” that help in further organizing. Greater community involvement improves the design and makes it more likely that the community and SDOT see eye-to-eye on the project. It also encourages and facilitates the community effort to bring in non-SDOT funds. These are key benefits of a ground-up approach versus a top-down approach.
The design, responsiveness, and cost-effectiveness of large projects can suffer. A single large project of sidewalks on N. 97th St. that SDOT designed and contracted-out cost more than $300,000, about the same as the multi-year Greenwood Ave. North walkway that used a combination of NSF, NMF, and private funds. For a similar amount of money, Greenwood produced more than twice the lineal feet of walkway. The block-by-block schedule on Greenwood allowed the neighborhood residents and businesses to bring in non-SDOT funds from private donors and the Neighborhood Matching Fund. Also in contrast, the community was unhappy with the N. 97th St. project, regarding its design as incompatible with the street’s Green Street designation. The block-by-block incremental approach on Greenwood ensured understanding between SDOT and the community, producing a better design that made the SDOT funds go further. It encouraged citizen initiative, which was discouraged or missed by the centralized approach.
(7) CNC re-iterates from our January 24 letter that district councils should not be limited in the number of projects they may submit for SDOT consideration. Past limits in the number of projects that could be rated discouraged districts and members of the public from recommending small projects, even those with an excellent benefit/cost ratio. Also, if one or more of the district-rated projects received funds from a source other than NSF, or was ruled as ineligible for NSF, the district did not have adequate fall-back options of other projects for SDOT to consider. Another consequence of limiting the number of rated projects was that SDOT did not see as many valuable new project proposals. Nominations by the public and ratings by the district councils are a free source of proposals and perspectives that SDOT needs at this early stage of the nine-year levy spending.
SDOT of course has limited staff, cannot fully evaluate all project proposals, and will have to leave some nominated projects with little or no analysis. However, this resource constraint is understood by the district councils, and can be reinforced by the following policy from our January 24 letter: "The district councils will not be limited in the number of projects that they may nominate for SDOT consideration in the Neighborhood Street Fund, so long as they identify priorities among the projects, and are informed that SDOT may not be able to fully evaluate the lower priority projects."
Conclusion. Please fully maintain the Neighborhood Street Fund's district council focus, which will ensure that the transportation levy is spent well, and that the public is fully involved in the process. A revision of an earlier e-mail circulated on March 8, the above letter was circulated in draft to the district councils on March 20. After hearing presentations by SDOT and Department of Neighborhoods officials at its March 26 meeting, the City Neighborhood Council approved this letter, which has been slightly revised based on the information that they provided.
Christopher K. Leman, Chair
firstname.lastname@example.org (206) 322-5463
cc: District Councils
Sunday, April 1, 2007
The Federation is a coalition of neighborhood groups and community councils throughout Seattle, and welcomes guests and representatives from community-based organizations in the Seattle area. We meet most months on the third Thursday at 7 p.m. at the NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency) Pacific Marine Center on Lake Union, 1801 Fairview Avenue East.
As a federal facility, NOAA is on high security alert, so attendees must enter by the security gate and may be asked to present photo ID. If you haven't attended a recent Federation meeting, please e-mail your name, contact information, and address to email@example.com to be added to the Guard's entry list. (No e-mail? Call 206 365-1267.) The building is ADA compliant and there's ample parking in front.
Here are the notes from our February meeting, the March meeting notes will be posted in a couple of weeks.
Meeting Highlights - February 22, 2007
(These papers are based on the editor's notes --- they are not official minutes)
(1) The Seattle Community Council Federation joined with three other organizations in a brief Amicus Curia to the Washington Supreme Court in Bellevue John Does v. Bellevue School District in favor of disclosing names of teachers accused of sexual misconduct with children. The Seattle Times made disclosure requests of the Bellevue and the Federal Way School Districts; various anonymous teachers filed suit to block disclosure. The Superior Court ordered release of those teachers' names where allegations were substantiated, but kept secret the names wherever the school district found the allegations unwarranted. The Amicus brief argues that the public has a right to know in order to protect their children, to evaluate the performance of educators, and to keep the disciplinary system honest. (2) Chris Leman was nominated to represent the Federation on the "Bridging-the-Gap" Transportation Levy Oversight Committee.
Proposed new sidewalk standards: Cheryl Sizov, Manager of Urban Planning, Department of Planning and Development ("DPD") explained the DPD draft proposal for requiring developers to put in sidewalks with new multi-family or business construction where none exist now. It would come in two phases: Phase I would be interim until 2008; Phase II would then take effect and be permanent. Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 23.53 now requires the traditional concrete sidewalks with curbs be built with new multi-family construction of ten units or more; business buildings of 4,000 square feet or more; and parking lots with 20 spaces or more. Seattle Municipal Code 23.53.015. The Transportation Department Right-of-Way Improvement Manual tells the contractor the standards for construction: width, curb height, gutters, grading, trees and landscaping etc. That too is under review.
The proposal would authorize two types of sidewalks: (1) the General or Standard sidewalk as now; and (2) An Alternative Design(s) for use in creek watersheds and other suitable areas, e.g.brick and sand surfaces and "SEA streets" which have "wavy" sidewalks.
Phase I would work like this ---
Location: Requirement: Threshold and exceptions:
In Urban Centers and Villages; General or standard All new construction
all P-zones; and along arterials sidewalk, curb, gutter commercial, except remodeling
(all zones and streets) additions to existing buildings
All other areas/zones Existing ordinances Lower threshold to 3 units;
No change existing exemptionsremain
Creek Watershed areas No change; code No change
Phase II would make these changes to the Phase I requirements (above) ---
In Urban Centers and Villages; Alternate sidewalk design
all P-zones; and along arterials No changes would be required in creek
All other areas/zones Applicant's choice Areas within creek
standard or alternate must do alternate
Creek watershed areas Alternate only None; exceptions gone
DPD's objective is a "safe, contiguous and geographically appropriate pedestrian network throughout Seattle." The changes increase flexibility. During most of 2007, DPD will be looking at design alternatives and preparing standards for them. The requirements will not be retroactive. Comments of community representatives: The guidelines need to prevent encroachment by developers into sidewalk right-of-way, especially along arterials and streets used by school children. Higher standards for locations within Urban Villages than those outside will encourage developing outside Urban Villages. "Arterial" should include "neighborhood collectors," traffic engineering jargon for four lane arterials with lower traffic volumes. Some Urban Villages end at an alley; a development on a block end may be partly within an Urban Village and partly outside; it should comply with the Urban Village requirements; the same development should not be allowed to develop half a sidewalk one way and half another. The higher standard should apply whenever a developer puts in a cumulative total of 4 or more units continguously within a span of three to five years; otherwise developers will apply for a permit to put in three units, and then another three, and then another three to avoid building sidewalks. There needs to be a no degradation rule so that developers fix up to standards any existing sidewalk that they damage with their heavy equipment during construction; currently bulldozers and loading trucks crack the sidewalk and leave it. In Broadview, the City wants to take a sidewalk away on 1st Avenue Northwest; it's heavily used by school children, the elderly, bus riders, etc. The sidewalk was shown in the plat and the City needs to keep it there --- besides the City promised to pave streets and put in sidewalks during the annexation election in 1954 and residents need them. The word, "remodeling," is too broad; DPD interprets "remodeling" as anything within an earlier footprint or built with the framing of half a wall still standing. The "remodeling" exception needs to be limited by requiring that the structure add no more than 400 square feet to the existing square footage. Uniformity assists enforcement and makes preparing plans easier; developers always seek the most favorable treatment given anyone in the vicinity and thus flexibility erodes standards over time; a hard and fast rule gives good guidance and holds them accountable. Proposed Revisions to the Right of Way Improvement Manual should be put on line so that the public may comment. Our March meeting will review a draft comment letter.
Pat Murakami will report which dates, if any, that the Mount Baker Community Clubhouse will be available. A committee (Jeannie Hale/Pat Murakami Co-Chairs, Chris Leman and Jorgen Bader) will set to preparing the agenda and publicity. Send in suggestions on an agenda that would attract citizens to come, e.g. the Fire Department with a CPA training follow-up; the City Attorney and DPD on code enforcement with rundown housing; code regulation of major institutions; traffic and highways with SDOT and Sound Transit.
SB 6099 would require the Washington State Department of Transportation to hire a mediator and urban planners to assist with a plan for mitigating the impacts of the proposed new Evergreen-Montlake Bridge on Seattle neighborhoods, the Arboretum, and the U of W Campus. The plan should be ready by September. Motion passed to support with amendments.
HB 1139 allows cities a tax credit against the state tax to offset municipal service costs in annexing areas. Motion passed to oppose, Broadview abstaining.
SB 5986 assigns a portion of the state sales taxes, hotel-motel taxes, rental car tax, and restaurants tax in King County to support an arena for the SuperSonics. Motion passed to oppose.
HB 1929/SB 6046 authorizes municipal utilities to give utility funds to other city departments and governments, associations, and private companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offset a utility's impacts on the environment. It authorizes an open ended grant of utility funds. Motion passed to oppose the bill as far too broad among other reasons.
HB 5278 amends Initiative 134, passed by the voters in 1992, to allow municipalities to provide public funds for financing campaigns for local office. Motion passed with three abstentions.
HB 1444/SB 5435 create a Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee to review the mushrooming number of exemptions to the public disclosure laws and report back by year end. Motion passed to support.
HB 1446 reduces the time to bring actions for access to public records. Motion passed to oppose shortening the time.
SB 5535 would set up a system for appointing a school board rather than electing it as currently. Motion passed to oppose the legislation.
SB 5576 and other legislation designing to prevent condemnation by government for conveying the property to private development in the name of economic development died under legislative deadlines.
Motion passed to write to appropriate governmental authorities opposing an increase in the exemptions of developments from SEPA review for the reasons given by community representatives at our January meeting.
Motion passed to write to the City's Pedestrian Master Plan Advisory Group our concerns about pedestrian safety expressed at our recent meetings.
Nominees for Board of Park Commissioners:
The Federation endorses for appointment to the Board of Park Commissioners (names in alphabetical order):
Jim Anderson, Loyal Heights Community Council, physician's assistant and trainer, author.
John Barber, Leschi Community Council, Open Space Advocates, ProParks Levy Comm.
Kristine Fuller, Woodland neighbors, voice for neighborhoods in skatepark planning.
Don Harper, Queen Anne Community Council, neighborhood spokesman on QA playfield.
Diana Kincaid, Friends of Magnuson Park, active in preserving open spaces, natural areas.