Thursday, March 26, 2009

Livable Seattle has now migrated from a conventional website to Google Sites.

The high cost of information is something citizens can do something about--that was the premise of the seasoned citizens who came together in late 2007 in deciding upon the mantle of Livable Seattle. Circumstances changed (to say the least).

No frills at present, just a growing collection of information and a better opportunity to participate.

It's also listed in USEFUL LINKS (below, right)

Check it out.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Regular Meeting
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency), Pacific Marine Center on Lake Union
1801 Fairview Avenue East

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Seattle’s Stormwater Code Revision Project
featuring Robert Chandler, Seattle Public Utilities

The State Department of Ecology has mandated that Seattle adopt additional stormwater control regulations as a condition of the City's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for its stormwater system. These regulations protect people, property and the environment from damage that could be caused by rain water running off of urban land surfaces. The stormwater runoff can cause flooding, landslides, erosion and other potential hazards. It can also carry pollutants into our creeks, lakes, bays and other receiving waters. Learn about the code revisions and changes to the Director’s rules from expert Robert Chandler of Seattle Public Utilities.

The March meeting will also include our monthly Round Robin of issues and projects in your neighborhood. It is your opportunity to brief our citywide membership about what you are working on and to share perceptions on what is going right and what isn’t with our city government. Don’t forget, it is time to renew your Federation dues!

If you have informational materials you would like distributed at the meeting, please email electronic copies or links to Jeannie Hale at

7:00 Call to Order and Introductions

1. Changes to the agenda
2. Treasurer’s report
3. President’s report

7:15 Seattle’s Stormwater Code Revision Project: Robert Chandler, SPU

8:00 Round Robin

1. Legalizing detached accessory dwelling citywide
2. Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy—update
3. Lower Woodlawn field issues—update
4. HB 1490—density legislation update
5. Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee—status report
6. Other issues/projects

9:00 Adjourn

NOAA is a federal facility on high security alert, so attendees must enter by the security gate and may need to present photo ID. If you haven't attended a recent Federation meeting, please send your name, contact information, and address to to be added to the entry list. No e-mail? Call 206-365-1267. The building is ADA compliant, with ample parking in front.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Will Seattle close the door on open government?

With fewer newspaper watchdogs, the last thing we need is law that limits access to government doings.

President Barack Obama was elected promising more transparency in government; fewer secrets and backroom deals. Locally though, it looks like the blinds are being drawn. While newspapers that report on government are closing down and watchdogs disappearing, the government itself is proposing changes that would make it harder to get at public information.

Some Northwest leaders, unlike Obama, appear to be regressing in the area of open government. The Washington State Legislature is considering legislation so broad that, in defiance of Washington’s Public Disclosure Act, it would ask those who request information to prove why they need it, and what they will do with it. While the legislation is proposed to solve a serious problem, it would provide the excuse to tell the public that our government is none of our business.

It isn't just a state-level issue. The Seattle City Council has created the Open Government Committee, which sounds like an exercise in transparency, but is not. It has, in fact, proposed changes that would hamper access to public information.

Interesting in itself, the city's legislation was created in secret with no draft available for public review before release. While the announcements of the new committee gave the impression they were to enhance transparency their first proposed legislation (Council Bill 116476) does just the opposite. Paraphrased it says, if it takes us too much time to find the information, we don’t have to supply it.

Finding information quickly requires an index and Seattle’s bill takes advantage of a small provision in Washington’s landmark public-disclosure law. The law, RCW 42.56.070, provides that if maintaining such an index is unduly burdensome or would interfere with city operations, a city is not required to maintain one.

The Council committee is hearing from some city staffers that the work of providing information to the public is just too much trouble, and it takes too much time to keep an index. These things keep them from, they say, doing more important work. Regardless of the accuracy of that claim, it's important to remember that the exemption to the Public Disclosure Act was intended to address some unusual and infrequent cases where cities failed to keep records in such a way that information from them could be recovered easily.

To address that very problem, Washington’s State Archivist Jerry Handfield travels the state with a watchdog group called the Washington Coalition of Open Government (WCOG) to teach cities how to comply with Washington’s disclosure law. (WCOG's members are judges, media types and government officials, along with ordinary citizens.) Handfield teaches the reasonable theory that government can much more easily and inexpensively respond to public information requests by making certain a good index of the information exists.

Council Bill 116476 includes language that does the opposite of what the state archivist suggests. It says the city is "not required to maintain a current index of public records due to findings of the City Council that the requirement is unduly burdensome and would interfere with City operations and such a list is nearly impossible to create and/or maintain."

Now, it has to be asked: What does it take to create an index? In some city departments, they already exist. In the Council’s own legislative department, former employee Ernie Dornfeld and staff created a searchable index for all of the city's legislation past and present. Any legislation can be searched by any citizen, any time, online. While not all city departments have stepped up to the obvious need to create such an online resource, they clearly could start now keeping indexes of all new records. Except that this bill would prevent even that.

The traditional advocates of public access — newspapers — are losing their ability to fight this battle, which takes time, money and column inches. These changes also put a greater burden on the remaining providers of news which have fewer resources, such as smaller media outlets, blogs and citizen-supported publications.

Seattle’s proposed legislation is nothing more than an excuse to deny a legitimate request because it's too much work to reveal the truth.

Kent Kammerer is the unoffical leader and official scribe of the informal, non-partisan Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, which meets over breakfast once a month to discuss Seattle policy and politics.

Now that you’ve read the Crosscut article, go to - end-of-comments , read the comments and then post your own comments, which as of Sunday morning, March 22, have been dominated by a government functionary who defends withholding public information for a variety of reasons.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The movement to keep SR-520 from being overbuilt will miss the coverage provided by the Seattle-P-I. An article in that grand newspaper's last issue today offers a chance to comment on the need for WSDOT and Sound Transit, in their joint supplemental EIS, to include the transit-optimized four-lane alternative, which so far has been excluded. Here is a link for you to file your own comment, and below is mine.

The SR-520 Green Alternative Coalition is calling for the transit-optimized four-lane alternative to be in the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. WSDOT and Sound Transit (joint leads on the EIS) are excluding the transit-optimized four-lane alternative from the supplemental EIS, and Governor Gregoire (who WSDOT works for) and Mayor Nickels (who chairs Sound Transit) are going along with suppression of this alternative, which is the most climate-friendly, and likely the only one the state can afford.

Because the transit-optimized four-lane alternative has wider lanes and shoulders and better lane and ramp geometry than the current bridge, it would accommodate more traffic, but not so much as causes the six-lane alternatives to seriously worsen our region's contribution to global warming. And WSDOT estimates that the six-lane alternatives all have costs that are beyond any reasonable financing package.

This alternative is the only one that will not reduce transit share. SR-520 has one of the best transit shares of any highway in the country, but all six-lane alternatives would greatly worsen it, reducing the proportion of those crossing the bridge who are in buses or van pools.

The mediation process has incorporated into the six-lane alternatives many environmental and neighborhood enhancements that should be in the transit-optimized four-lane alternative, making it far more effective than the barebones, caricatured four-lane alternative that WSDOT posed and rejected in the draft EIS.

Climate issues have been raised about the proposed tunnel for the Alaska Way Viaduct project, even though it actually reduces the number of highway lanes from six to four. Climate issues are far more significant for SR-520, where the only alternatives now in the supplemental EIS would increase the number of highway lanes from four to six, and add shoulders that could be converted for a total of eight lanes of traffic.

EPA's estimate is that 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide come from the transportation sector. The percentage contribution of the transportation sector is higher in the Northwest and especially the Puget Sound region because the contribution of the electric power industry to greenhouse gas emissions is so much less here. The proportion of this region's greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the transportation sector is growing faster than for any other sector. Single occupancy driving is easily the largest part of this huge and growing contribution of our region to global warming.

The Friends of the Earth web site at has links to the following studies showing how highway expansion increases greenhouse gas: Jan./Feb. 2003 article in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management; Feb. 2007 study by SPEC; 2005 study by Environmental Defense; and Oct. 2007 study by Seattle's own Sightline Institute, also available at The Sightline study estimates an addition of 100,000 tons of CO2 over a period of fifty years from each mile of new highway lane.

One cannot take the governor's or the mayor's commitment on climate change issues seriously when the agencies they lead are doing a supplemental EIS that examines only the SR-520 alternatives that would add two lanes to the currently four-lane SR-520 bridge, while suppressing the most climate-friendly alternative, and likely the only one that the state can afford. The transit-optimized four-lane alternative must be fully and fairly considered in the supplemental EIS.

Chris Leman,
SR-520 Green Alternative Coalition
(206) 322-5463

Sunday, March 15, 2009

February Meeting Highlights - February 26, 2009
(Based on the editor's notes --- these are not official minutes)

Street vacations - a discussion with Beverly Barnett, Seattle Department of Transportation ("SDOT") , Street Vacation Coordinator.

A "street vacation" ends the public's right of way and changes an area to private property. The City Council makes every decision on a petition to vacate a street. It is a discretionary decision under state law, RCW Chapter 35.79. An abutter may petition for a street or alley vacation or the City Council may start the process on its own. The City Council or a Committee of its members must then hold a public hearing. If the City Council agrees, it passes an ordinance making the vacation. The street area then reverts to the abutters, usually one-half to each. The City may reserve easements or vacate only part of the area requested. The City cannot sell street right-of-way.

The City Council has passed Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 15.62 and Resolution 30702 setting out its criteria. Resolution 30702 runs about twenty pages. The vacation must be "in the public interest." In considering a street vacation; the City looks to these factors;
(1) Public functions, especially traffic circulation, utilities, light, air, open space and views protected by the street.
(2) Land Use impacts: bigger tracts often allow larger buildings. The development aided by the proposed development should be consistent with City land use policies. The City turns down applications for vacations in single family areas that seek to privatize street parking or build garages on dead ends, to just exclude the public for security reasons, to store material, or to control a hillside in order to protect views. A Street Use permit covers temporary uses, such as landscaping or gardening.
(3) Public benefit: In diminishing the public right-of-way, a street vacation causes a potential loss to the public at large. A "benefit" should compensate for the loss. The fees received go to the City. The benefit with major projects often take the form of a plaza, wider sidewalks, or some like tangible improvement; the benefit may be off site It must be a long term and for the general public. The petition must describe the benefit. Developers usually cite their project, itself; and point to the jobs or housing created in their development.

Street vacations are readily granted in industrial areas, but not in residential areas.
To start the process, an abutter meets with SDOT's Street Vacation Section and gets an initial evaluation. The abutter then prepares a petition, which needs the signatures of owners of more than two-thirds of the abutting property. The City charges a $450 processing fee, checks the signatures, and, if sufficient, files the petition with the City Clerk for referral to the City Council. SDOT supplies a form asking for site maps, environmental analysis, and detailed information outlined in Resolution 39702. The form asks for a precise description and a map of the right-of-way, the reasons, a description of the project, the public benefit, transportation/utility impacts, land use impacts, information about the applicant, zoning, circulation patterns, conformity with neighborhood plans, environmental impacts, etc. SDOT then solicits comments from community groups, business associations, City departments, utilities, and others who may be affected. After reviewing the information and comments, SDOT prepares an analysis for the City Council and a recommendation. The recommendation may propose conditions, mitigation measures, and reservations for utilities. The SDOT analysis sets out its process, a summary of comments (pro and con), and its evaluation of concerns and objections received. All SDOT analyses are available for inspection, and it posts an index on its website. Resolution 30297 sets out view corridors in downtown Seattle and makes an impact on them a very significant factor.
Alleys are not used for general circulation as streets are, and therefore alley vacations are more readily granted. Developers respond favorably to SDOT recommendations when they anticipate that the City Council will back up SDOT; they contest them when think otherwise.
The City Council's Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing; SDOT posts notice on site; and it sends notice to owners and residents within a 300-foot radius. The Committee sends its recommendation to the full Council for action. If conditions are included, the City gives a conditional approval, and passes the vacation ordinance when all conditions are met and fees paid. In addition to the $450 filing fee the City charges $300 for posting notice ($150 in single family residential zones), an appraisal fee measured by its cost ($600 for SF zones; $2,500-5000 in others); and a vacation fee measured by its fair market value (Ordinance 120607). When an abutter conveys property in exchange, the value of the exchange is set off against the vacation fee. Most developers petition for a vacation and file for a master use permit at the same time. Both processes run concurrently. If a street vacation is needed, DPD will not issue a master use permit until the City Council shows its intention, a process which takes 8 to 10 months --- traffic analysis often takes much of the time. The petitioner has the burden of persuasion. Most petitions are granted. With departmental concerns, the City Council would rather fix things than say "No" to a project. The City used to grant about 25 petitions per year; now, it's down to 4 to 8.
SDOT has no funds for maintaining street right-of-way that is in its natural condition. When a street vacation is ancillary to a major development, the City Council commonly makes its evaluation based on the overall project and, if the area is "under-utilized," the project carries the vacation. This was true with respect to the University of Washington's campus plan and the Harbor Island railroad yard sought by the Port of Seattle.

Citizen comments:
C-1: Indirect economic benefit is not in the criteria --- yet the City Council's determination on whether it approves of the proposed development seems to drive its decision on the vacations.
C-2: Developer plans may mark "public plaza" on their plans as submitted, but when built, those areas are set off as private. There is no effective enforcement.
C-3: The list of factors in SDOT's handout asks for detailed project information and in the "public benefit matrix" for "contribution of the vacated area to the development potential of the site" but not for tangible public returns, such as sidewalks and plazas.
C-4: Encroachments in unimproved right-of-way are obstructing a proposed walking trail that could be developed to Lake Washington in the Mount Baker Neighborhood.
Response: If the walking path is funded, SDOT will force out the encroachments.
C-5: The Design Commission review is upon aesthetics only, yet developers proclaim that its approval decides the public good.
C-6: DPD says that traffic analysis is up to SDOT and it sends the developer's (usually one-sided) material to SDOT. SDOT reviews the materials against its own files, without on-site visits at peak hours or talking to the neighborhood people, and projects go forward on inadequate information.
Response: The Mayor sometimes directs DPD to make the project happen. City acceptance of an EIS says that it considers the document to describe the impact of the project, and it is difficult thereafter for City staff to question the data.
C-7: Developers double count. They cite the same project amenity as mitigation for environmental impact statement purposes and as a public benefit for a street vacation.
C-8: The project on the Goodwill site at Dearborn St. gives the developer five years after the street vacation to start the project. That's a long time. The funding is not in place yet. Experience shows that developers put their priority on the moneymaking space for rentals and, when funds seem short, cut back on the public benefits. The public needs protections (now lacking) so that it will get the promised benefits.
C-9: There's an alternate development plan for the site that should be considered. Goodwill has a contract with the current developer. If the street vacation is denied, it would be able to consider that alternative.

Matters raised during the Round Robin:

Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement:
Senate Bill 5768 has passed the Senate Transportation Committee with a "Do Pass" recommendation. It would set the design of the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as a deep bore stack tunnel and surface improvements as recommended by Governor Christine Gregoire, County Executive Ron Sims, and Mayor Greg Nickels, and authorize a tolling study. Citizens opposed to that plan are rallying opposition. Gene Hoglund, a member of the Stakeholders Committee, made a brief presentation and asked that the Federation circulate the opposition statement to our membership. The plan envisions four lanes (two lanes in each direction) of through traffic between about Harrison St. on the north and about Royal Brougham Way on the south with no exits to downtown. About 100,000 vehicles now use the viaduct every weekday; 34,000 of them use the Elliott and Western Avenue ramps. The tunnel would bar trucks with flammable cargos, explosives, nuclear materials, and oversized loads, moving them to I-5 or surface streets. The Sierra Club, the Magnolia Community Club, the North Seattle Industrial Association, and other organizations oppose the design. Parsons, Brinkerhoff et al. is doing the engineering in offices adjoining those of WSDOT. Estimates show the tunnel design to be much more expensive than an above-grade design.
[Ed's note: The Federation has not taken a position on the design of the Alaskan Way Replacement. Our next newsletter will contain a one-page statement from proponents if one is supplied in time.]

The Parks Department is planning to put artificial turf on lower Woodland Park athletic fields using ProParks Levy funds, which is not an authorized use in the ProParks levy. A survey of the citizenry showed that the public opposes the high-energy lighting and astroturfing there. The survey showed that artificial turf for sports fields is low on the priority list. Artificial turf sterilizes the soil by cutting water flow; the turf heats up when people play and it gets hotter at ground level on a warm day. The heat collects in the "plastic grass" and just below the surface and radiates up. The rubber mulch filler, manufactured from used tires, sometimes with used athletic shoe crumbs, is toxic to birds, flows off the fields into storm sewers and into our lakes, streams, and Puget Sound. Body fluids and spilled liquids soak in. The agricultural colleges and consumer grounds have raised serious concerns. Parks prefers to rely on statements made by the manufacturers. Motion passed to authorize a letter to appropriate governmental officials and to have Kris Fuller speak at the March 9th hearing on behalf of the Federation opposing the artificial turf on the basis of health and safety, neighborhood and environmental concerns, and non-compliance with the parks levy.

Nickerson Street:
Nickerson St. is the main arterial along the south side of Lake Washington Ship Canal from Fremont Ave N and its Bridge to Elliott Ave W. It skirts Seattle Pacific University. This arterial serves the university, waterfront businesses, and through traffic between Magnolia and Lake Union and areas to the northeast. The City is proposing to narrow the traffic lanes in order to create bicycle only lanes. This is of concern to the businesses that rely on this arterial. The City made this part of its Bicycle Master Plan, but did not give the affected businesses any notice that narrowing traffic lanes was involved.

Tolling SR 520:
House Bill 2211 provides for electronic toll collection on State Route 520 effective January 1, 2010. It will include a photo monitoring system. There will be no tollbooths. Section 6 (3) states: "... Payment must be made prior to or within seventy-two hours of toll facility use. ... If payment is not received by the state toll agency within the seventy-two hour period, the state toll agency has sixty days to issue a "toll bill" or a "toll bill and notice of infraction." "Toll bill" is defined to mean "the toll, a photo toll and an administrative fee." Section 10(6)(b) authorizes the state to issue a toll bill and notice of infraction within seventy-two hours of incurring a toll. The notice of infraction carries a forty-dollar ($40) penalty. In effect, motorists need to buy transponders. Those without them need to e-mail the payment or get it to Olympia within seventy-two hours. If late, the State will tack on an "administrative fee" and, seven days later, an additional $40 penalty. The 72-hour period is too short. It takes two days for cross-town mail now. Long weekends may put a holiday next to a Sunday for a two-day span. Those relying on U.S. mail then need at least four days. Moreover, some tourists and others who cross the bridge for several days in succession may wish to accumulate several days of tolls and mail in one check for the total. Seventy hours makes them subject to the "administrative fee."
Motion passed to authorize a letter to legislators and appropriate government officials requesting that at least seven business days be allowed before the "administrative fee" is charged and to publicize the addresses where payment may be mailed or made.

Dearborn St. Coalition:
Forty community organizations have formed an Alliance for Responsible Development to develop an alternate proposal to take to Goodwill. The plan would have 165 housing units --- twice the housing (including family housing) that the current developer offers, and 300,000 square feet of retail, and would be developed around a central plaza. The objective would be to show the City Council what could be done with the site. It has also been suggested that the City conduct a charette on the potentials for the site.
Motion passed for the Federation to join the Alliance for Responsible Development.

Neighborhood Plan Review:
The City Council has set a compressed schedule. The process will involve six meetings, three of which have already been held. The next is March 17th.

Open Government:
Motion passed authorizing a letter for presentation to the City Council, Special Committee on Open Government at its meeting of February 27th. It asked the Special Committee to publicize its meetings and drafts, consider suggestions from the public and comments on committee drafts, and hold some meetings in the evening or weekends for people who cannot attend during working hours; it pointed out that its work program was narrowing the scope of its charge. The recommendations include for the City Council publicizing meetings more than the minimum required by state law; including citizen stakeholders at the table at committee meetings to supplement City staff; unless emergent, postponing action after a hearing in order to allow time for written or e-mailed comment; giving clear explanations of the impact of legislation; and releasing legal opinions on a majority vote (rather than requiring all to concur) and legal advice on pending legislation unless a lawsuit is pending; recording executive sessions. For the advisory boards and commissions, it urged that meetings be publicized and held in rooms large enough for the public to observe, that the Open Public Meetings Act be applied, that meetings on controversial matters be broadcast and webcast, that ethical standards be applied, that all operate by Robert's Rules of Order, that draft agendas be available before the meeting, that minutes and decision documents be made public on the website; that public comment be invited; that upon request, interpretation translation services be provided for those who need them. It calls for restoring hours that were lost for broadcasting meetings of the City Council and City boards and commissions and rebroadcast such meetings;; and that meetings of City's boards and commissions be webcast. It urges that City website(s) be updated and user-friendly and include drafts of proposed amendments to Council Bills. As for public documents, it urges that the City adopt as a policy the Washington Attorney General's suggested model rules for handling of public documents; that it archive electronic documents for at least a year; that decisions on retention/deletion of records be made independently by an official without a potential conflict of interest; that disclosure be the presumption rather than being made only when compelled, and it be made even in cases when the law would permit withholding; that documents be supplied in electronic form if so requested; and that with small requests that the documents be provided without charge.
See for the letter and the forty-two specific suggestions.

Children's Hospital Master Plan:
The Citizens Advisory Committee recommended that Children's Hospital be allowed to add 1.5 million more square feet and up to 408 more beds. Laurelhurst's alternative plan would limit the expansion to 705,000 more square feet and 1100 parking spaces. The approved plan lowers the profile by putting most of the new buildings on the Laurelon Terrace property to be purchased. A minority report agreed with Laurelhurst and the letters from the Federation. The plan is before the Hearing Examiner this week for a hearing and review and she will make a recommendation to the City Council. The Stranger has an article about the dispute; it is full of errors and leaves out many facts favorable to the Laurelhurst Community Club.

House Bill 1490
: Transit Oriented Development AKA Sound Transit Area Development
This was the subject of February's newsletter. The House Local Government Committee amended the bill to drop the requirement that cities had to upzone areas within a half-mile of a Sound Transit Station for an allowable density of at least fifty units of housing per acre. However, it added more provisions to give non-profit developers a first option to acquire surplus government properties within the zone and more assistance to them. The Senate Bill still contains the fifty dwelling units per acre minimum. Rumors fly that the Senate Government Operations Committee will amend the bill. The Mayor and various cities are opposing the prescriptive requirements in both the Senate and House Bills. Citizens are urged to call their legislators to oppose the density requirement and it’s ghettoizing.
Ed’s note: HB 1490 appears to be dead and unlikely to be resurrected this legislative session.

Neighborhood Appreciation Day Cards are still available and will be circulated at our March meeting.

The Mayor has sent to the City Council two bills to raise water rates:
(1) C.B. 116441 raises the tax on the City's water service from 15.54% to 24.75% of the gross revenue from May 1 thru December 31, 2009.
(2) Council Bill 116442 increases the tax by 143% from March 16 to May 15th to 148.54% of the gross revenue.
Both taxes would be in addition to the State Utility Tax at 4.7% of gross revenues. (RCW 82.16.020).

The combined state/city taxes under C.B. 116441 would be 29.45% and of 116442 would be 163.24%. The taxes would compel water rates to rise by a greater amount. Seattle water rates have gone up 38% in the last three years.

Last October, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in Lane v. City of Seattle, 164 Wn.2d 875 (2008), that
(1) providing fire hydrants is a governmental responsibility for which the general government of the area must pay;
(2) charging every SPU ratepayer a flat hydrant "fee" in the base fee amounted to an improper tax;
(3) the ratepayers may recover unlawful hydrant fees paid from March 2002 through December 2004 together with interest at the judgment rate; and
(4) Seattle's increase in the utility tax to pay for the earlier practice of providing free water is legal.

The City had been giving water free to its Fire and Transportation Departments for fire fighting and street cleaning. Ratepayers challenged that practice as illegal because state law (RCW 43.09.210) requires that the City pay for utility services at true and full value; and the ratepayers won. The City then started charging ratepayers a "hydrant fee" hidden in the water rate. Ratepayers challenged that subterfuge and again won in the Superior Court. The City appealed. The Supreme Court order requires the City General Fund to pay for water service, to refund the unlawful hydrant fees to ratepayers together with interest, and to pay the ratepayers in the lawsuit their attorney’s fees and costs.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29th, estimated the costs of making the refund at $ 22.7 million. The Mayor proposes to tax the utility, forcing it to raise rates, in order to pay the City a tax that will go to the General Fund so that the General Fund can pay for the refunds. Whenever the utility raises rates to pay City taxes, it increases moneys going to the State Utility tax too.
The City General Fund would come out whole, but the ratepayers wind up paying the extra expenses of defending a lawsuit, of paying the attorneys fees and costs of the successful ratepayers, of paying interest at 12% per year (total 38%), of paying for the processing costs of making the refund, of paying a state tax on the higher rates, and now paying a new city tax to make the refund.
It's the latest in a series of lawsuits by vigilant ratepayers in the last fifteen years to stop misappropriation of utility property and services for the benefit of the General Fund.

One suggested remedy may be a state law setting a limit on taxes on water service, such as RCW 35.21.870, which forbids municipal taxes over 6 % on light, gas and telephone services. Another may be to re-establish the independent elected office of City Comptroller to question improper practices before payment. Tacoma has an independent Utility Board to manage its utilities.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Audio (4.5 minutes) of an interview that Chris Leman gave to the Feb. 26 KBCS-FM 91.3 show, One World Report, regarding the Seattle City Council's efforts to develop an Open and Participatory Government Plan, and suggestions for it that the Seattle Community Council Federation made in the Feb. 24 letter pasted below.


February 24, 2009

City Councilmembers
City Hall, 600 4th Avenue, 2nd floor
PO Box 94749
Seattle, WA 98124-4749


Dear City Councilmembers:

The Seattle Community Council Federation offers here its suggestions for the City Council’s Special Committee on Open Government regarding the Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy that, under Res. 31049, the Committee is responsible for developing for City Council action. We also provide suggestions on how the Committee might approach its task. Founded in 1946, SCCF has worked for many years toward a more open and participatory Seattle government.

Background. Res. 31049 (adopted April 14, 2008) includes the following:

Section 3 Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy.
The Council will develop a coordinated plan and policy on open and
participatory government outside of the Comprehensive Plan. The open
and participatory government plan will consolidate current policies
into a cohesive document. Development of the plan and policy will
include reviewing existing policies and considering additional
policies where gaps exist or there are opportunities to extend and
increase the City's commitments. The Council's review will include
consideration of possible Comprehensive Plan policies for the 2009
Comprehensive Plan amendment cycle. The Council President will
consult with Councilmembers to either identify an existing Committee
in which this work plan item could be located, or to determine
whether a special Committee should be developed.

Although SCCF regrets that the first meeting of the Special Committee will occur more than ten months after passage of Res. 31049, we look forward to working with the committee as it develops for full Council action an Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy that we all can be proud of.

2009 City Council Work Program. We are concerned that the City Council’s 2009 Work Program (p. 36) describes the work of the Special Committee for Open Government only as being to “Enhance transparency of Council actions and improve opportunities for public input to Council decisions.” On the contrary, the Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy that Res. 31049 calls for is clearly not limited to City Council activities, but is to cover all parts of the City government. We request that the Work Program be amended to reflect this broad work product and mission of the Committee.

We regretfully note that adoption of the Seattle City Council 2009 Work Program exemplified barriers to open and participatory government that the Open and Participatory Government Plan and Policy needs to correct. As Res. 31113, the 2009 Work Program was both “walked on” (introduced) and passed at the Feb. 2, 2009 City Council meeting. It was not an agenda item in any City Council committee, nor, prior to its introduction and adoption, was it available on the City web site or even mentioned on that day’s City Council agenda. There was no realistic opportunity for the public to know about what was being proposed nor for the public to provide comments that could have been considered prior to passage.

The description of Council work items and the resources that will be devoted to them is an important statement of Council priorities, one that should be discussed in draft at the committee level, with the public given timely notice and the opportunity to comment. We note that, even after it was adopted, the version that is on the web site is almost unreadable, making it difficult for the public to understand exactly what the Council decided that day.

The Council’s adoption of the 2009 Work Program was not in accordance with Legislative Department Procedure PRO-D-617 (effective Jan. 22, 2008), which states that

All newly-proposed legislation, regardless of whether from the Executive or another agency, or generated by the City Council or staff, must be delivered to the Legislative Department Receptionist or the Deputy Clerk no later than noon on Tuesdays. Exceptions to this procedure, which include the actions commonly known as “walk-ons,” are strongly discouraged and are subject to review by the City Clerk and approval by the Council President prior to the meeting at which they would be introduced. [emphasis in the original]

One wonders what was the rush, as Res. 31113 was adopted on Feb. 2, 2009, more than three weeks earlier in February than was Res. 31045, which adopted the 2008 Work Program on Feb. 25, 2008).

Committee practices. The Special Committee for Open Government should set a good example in providing openness and participation. The agenda for the Committee’s first meeting on Feb. 27 schedules public comment as only the last item on the agenda, preventing public comment from informing the Councilmembers’ discussions during the meeting. While SCCF can see the value of allowing the public to comment at the end of the meeting, we urge that the Committee always provide a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

We also find that on the Council web site, the Committee agenda does not have any links to documents that the Committee will be discussing, among them the committee’s draft work plan and the proposed Council Bill to amend the Seattle Municipal Code regarding compliance with the Public Records Act. Such documents should routinely be included as links in the agenda well in advance of Committee meetings, so the public has a meaningful opportunity to comment.

To demonstrate and practice openness and participation, we urge the Special Committee to engage in outreach and publicity about its meetings and drafts; to consider suggestions from the public and comments on committee drafts; and to hold some meetings in the evening or on weekends to reach members of the public who cannot attend committee meetings during the business day.

Conclusion. Thank you for your efforts to improve openness and participation in City government. We look forward to working with you to ensure that these efforts are lasting and successful.


Jeannie Hale, President
3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE
Seattle, Washington 98105
206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631

Below is a listing of specific steps that governments can take to make it easier for citizens to find out what they are doing. Open government depends of course on obedience to laws on open public meetings and the disclosure of public records. But governments should not simply wait for a citizen to ask for information or to attend public meetings; they should proactively maximize the quantity and quality of public access to documents, meetings, and other activities.
City Council
• Publicize meetings of the Council and its committees widely, beyond what is minimally required by state law
• Include citizen stakeholders around the table regularly at Council committee meetings.
• Well in advance of meetings of the Council and its committees, provide on the web site, as links to the agenda, those documents that will be discussed, including amendments likely to be offered
• Provide paper copies (at least for inspection purposes) at meetings of the Council and its committees so that members of the public have the full text of what is being discussed
• Without a declaration by the City Council that the matter justifies a departure from this practice, do not take action on the same day as a hearing, soon after a committee recommendation or on a measure that has not been referred to a committee for its consideration.
• Accompany all legislation with a clear explanation of what is being proposed; in the case of land use legislation, explain how it would affect various types of landowners and renters
• For each quarterly budget adjustment, do public outreach and hold at least one public meeting outside of business hours.
• Do not allow the Growth Management Act’s requirement for prior public notice of “development regulations” to expand to curtail Council and public debate on proposals that are not “development regulations”
• For each quarterly budget adjustment, do public outreach and hold at least one public meeting outside of business hours
• Adopt a City Council rule requiring that Council staff shall not lobby for City legislation (similar rules applying to state House and Senate legislative staff have been in effect for many years).
• Assign Council central staff in a way that ensures that responsibilities for review of proposals • from an agency are not given exclusively to staff who formerly were employees of that agency
• For appointments and renewals that are exclusively the Council’s decision and are made by Council vote (City Clerk, City Auditor, and Hearing Examiner), adopt legislation requiring as much public notice and comment as the Council requires for its confirmation or renewal of Mayoral appointees
• Restore to a majority vote the Council’s decision on whether to release legal advice it has received (a Council rule change adopted in 1998 allows even one Councilmember to veto such release)
• Routinely release for public discussion any legal advice the Council has received unless there is an impending legal proceeding
• Legislative retreats that are public meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act shall be held in City buildings within the City of Seattle and shall be audio recorded
• Executive sessions shall be audio recorded (the City Council in 2008 supported state legislation requiring audio recording of executive sessions, but does not audio record its own)
• Upon request, provide interpretation services at City Council meetings so that people for whom English is not their first language, or who are deaf or deaf-blind, can observe or comment
Mayor and executive branch
• Avoid unilateral budget actions; bring budget adjustments to the City Council for action
• Ensure that public-private partnerships do not become a substitute for public planning and outreach
• In any implementation of a 311 call center, do not close off the public's access to the existing phone numbers of City agencies and officials.
• The Mayor's title shall not be put in the name of City agencies that are not a part of the Office of the Mayor
• Executive branch lobbying of the City Council shall not be exempted from lobby disclosure regulation (at the state level, state and local executive branch lobbying of the legislature has been subject to disclosure for many years)
City Attorney
• Issue opinions on legal matters for public review, including on questions posted by the public (as is done by the state Attorney General)
• Advise the executive branch and City Council on proactive ways to achieve open and participatory government that go beyond the minimal legal requirements of state law
Advisory boards and commissions
• Meetings of City boards and commissions shall be widely publicized, and held in rooms large enough for all
• Board and commission meetings shall be regarded as public meetings, whether or not this is required under the Open Public Meetings Act (which applies only to advisory committees created by ordinance)
• Equip for TV broadcast and web cast the meeting rooms used by the City's boards and commissions
• Adopt an ethical standard for City agencies and officials against trying to influence a decision by an advisory board or commission
• Each board or commission shall choose its own leadership, by-laws, procedures and agenda , but shall operate by Robert's Rules of Order, and strive for consensus
• Draft agenda will be distributed prior to each meeting and adopted at the beginning of the meeting
• Draft minutes shall be distributed prior to the meeting at which they will be approved, with sufficient time for board or commission members, and members of the public to suggest revisions
• Those present who are not board or commission committee members should be provided a reasonable opportunity to comment at meetings. This opportunity should normally be at the outset of the meeting or agenda item, not after the committee has acted or at the end of the meeting. Alternatively, a board or commission may provide members of the public the informal opportunity to participate in discussion throughout the meeting.
• Include on the web site the board or commission's draft agendas, draft and final minutes, and documents to be discussed, or that have already been approved
• Decision documents being referred to during a meeting by board and commission members shall also be available, at least for inspection purposes, to members of the public who are in attendance
• Wherever possible, materials relating to agenda items will be distributed some days prior to the meeting in order to allow board and commission members, and the public, to read and consider them beforehand
• Upon request, provide interpretation translation services so that people for whom English is not their first language, or are deaf or deaf-blind, can observe
Seattle Channel
• Create a separate TV cable channel for arts programming, to restore hours that were lost in recent years from the previous rebroadcast coverage of meetings of the City Council and of City boards and commissions. Ensure that these rebroadcasts again include substantial programming during weekday prime time and weekend daytime hours
• Greatly increase the broadcast and rebroadcast of meetings of City boards and commissions
• Provide closed captioning on Seattle Channel broadcasts
• Webcast the meetings of all the City's boards and commissions.
City web site(s)
• Include with mayoral proposals and proposed and adopted legislation, and in a timely way, all attachments that are referred to
• Post all drafts and proposed amendments that are expected to be brought up during the consideration of a Council Bill
• Keep web sites updated and user-friendly
• Include on public web sites many documents that the public is likely to want, thereby reducing the need for public records requests
• Do not deny access by the public to Seattle's "in web" (internal web site). Withhold internet access to the "in web" only for documents that are legally exempt under the Public Records Act.
Official Newspaper
• As the City Charter requires that official notices be published in a “daily newspaper of general circulation,” do more to facilitate alternatives to the current use of the Daily Journal of Commerce.
Public documents
• Adopt as the City's policy the Washington Attorney General's suggested model rules for the handling of public records
• Archive all electronic documents for at least a year, and do not deliberately record over backup tapes or other media
• Do not allow those who created a document to have the sole decision on deleting it; have that decision made by someone without a potential conflict of interest
• Proactively provide paper copies (e.g. newsletters, posters) for those people who have limited or no access to a computer
Responding to document requests
• Provide documents freely and quickly; do not invoke the Public Records Act as a way to slow down or reduce the provision of documents.
• Do not withhold documents just because legally they can be; decide this on a case by case basis
• With small requests, provide the documents at no charge--the Public Records Act allows but does not require a charge
• Provide the requested documents in electronic form if that is what the requester wants

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nick Likata re legislation creating a major project noise variance

Thank you for writing me about legislation creating a major project noise variance. The legislation would allow major public projects that last over 6 months to receive a variance to allow nighttime construction during the period the project is being constructed. Current law allows for a 2-week variance, which must be renewed.

I proposed two amendments to this legislation. The first amendment would allow for an appeal of a permit to the Hearing Examiner after the first year the permit is in place. This would allow for easier citizen access than having to appeal to Superior Court. This amendment passed by a 6-3 vote.

My second amendment would institute an annual review of any variance, in line with the Quiet Alliance proposal. The proposed legislation provides only for review after the first year. My amendment was defeated by a 5-4 vote. The legislation was then passed at the full council.

While it is unfortunate this amendment did not pass, the amendment that passed will allow for greater citizen accessibility.

Proponents say it will allow for stronger conditions to be put in place from the beginning, because the public agencies will have a greater incentive to agree to conditions and spend more money with a longer duration for the permit. I hope that works; if it doesn’t, the opportunity to appeal to the Hearing Examiner after one year should help.


Nick Licata

Thursday, March 5, 2009

- please circulate - please circulate -

Outside City Hall - reprinted from the March 4th edition of the South Seattle Beacon

Carolee Colter and John Fox respond to their critics in the debate over density:

"Only modest transit development needed and more buses serving the majority in the region not served by rail"

We sure stirred up a hornet’s nest! Our last two columns--critiquing the Futurewise bill mandating minimum densities of 50 units per acre around transit hubs, and questioning whether transit-oriented development (TOD) will help climate change—generated more controversy than any time in the four years we’ve been writing “Outside City Hall.”

A segment of the environmental community is enraged with us because we’ve challenged a key assumption of theirs--that the only way to prevent sprawl, make housing more affordable, and prevent climate change is to cram more housing into Seattle’s neighborhoods. However, there are many residents of southeast Seattle already contending with increased density and gentrification, who agree with us.

"People need yards and open space to be mentally healthy,” said Pat Murakami, president of Southeast Seattle Neighborhood District Council, in the Seattle Times. “Are we supposed to live like sardines crammed into a can?"

Yes, say the proponents of greater density. You must sacrifice your open space, your trees, the very scale of your neighborhood that allows you to know your neighbors. And furthermore, you must make that sacrifice on faith, without guarantees that any particular land anywhere is saved as a result.

Since 2004 Seattle has reached 50% of its 20-year growth targets and we have three times the zoning capacity to meet them. In contrast, many smaller cities around the region aren't meeting their targets. Meanwhile, 30 to 40% of growth in Pierce and Snohomish Counties occurred outside the growth boundaries, (compared to only 2% in King County.) Obviously county and city governments out there on the margins are not effectively holding the line on strip developments and subdivisions.

While Seattle has been absorbing much more than its share of growth in recent years, it’s made no dent in reducing sprawl. Although we have grave concerns about Transfer of Development Rights as a concept, at least it would protect an actual parcel of rural land from suburban sprawl in exchange for urban dwellers “living like sardines.”

But looming over us is an even larger threat than sprawl—global warming. And without a doubt, automobile use is a major cause of that . No one involved in this density debate, us included, questions this science.

What we’re missing, however, is the hard data proving that a minimum of 50 units per acre will reduce automobile use enough to offset the environmental destruction caused by tearing down neighborhoods of smaller, older buildings, wasting the energy embodied in these buildings from their original construction, producing massive amounts of greenhouse gas-emitting concrete and destroying the mature trees.

Proponents point to studies showing a theoretical tipping point with “vehicle miles traveled” falling at 50 units per acre – when most people switch to transit. There is debate even among transit gurus, however, over this tipping point and many say one size does not fit all.

More to the point, those studies extolling 50 units per acre ignore the costs and environmental impacts of removing what's in these communities already. And they don’t even consider the question of whether there is adequate transit capacity in place to absorb those densities.

Take a look at this quote from a recent L.A. Times story on four TOD projects:

“New Urbanist planners have long hoped that building high-density, mixed-use, multiple-unit developments on or near public transit lines would encourage AngeleƱos to leave their cars and start taking buses and trains. Instead, the properties that Times reporters studied have substantially increased vehicular traffic.”

What the reporters found is that while many people were attracted to the mix of housing and shopping, they were not foregoing their cars.

When Portland built its first MAX light rail line, several transit-oriented housing projects sprang up near stations. However, according to a study by the Cascade Policy Institute, very few living in those buildings used the rail station. Most in fact got in their cars to drive away in the morning. Because parking requirements for these TOD projects had been waived, residents created “guerilla parking spaces” and blocked neighbors’ driveways. Meanwhile commuters from outside the neighborhood drove to the rail station, exacerbating the parking crunch.

Unless car ownership can actually be prohibited (something we doubt), TOD residents will probably still have cars and will still use them, and transit riders from outside the area will drive to transit stations.

If some current residents of neighborhoods near transit stops are displaced from their homes by demolition and higher prices, and others lose their trees and open space, their sacrifice should at least have achieved the desired result of significantly reduced auto trips. We shouldn’t be messing with people’s lives based on wishful thinking.

It’s a disservice to the Growth Management Act and the cause of combating global warming to blindly assume that solutions rest with massive increases in density clustered around a handful of rail stations serving only a small fraction of the region’s commuters.

We advocate for many smaller-scale TOD’s distributed around the Puget Sound region and centered on bus transit and vanpooling. These modest projects could meet the needs of the 95% of commuters who won’t be served by light rail, including those in the hinterlands who currently have no alternative to the auto. In fact there are centers now in existence with unused capacity – with infrastructure already in place that can support more employment and more residents.

Building more office towers in Seattle and a six-lane 520 bridge is going in the wrong direction. Instead of badmouthing suburbia, and expecting all those suburbanites to move to the city, it makes more sense to promote moderate-density TOD suburban centers so that people living there can work closer to home and ride public transit.

The fight against climate change begins with managed and more modest levels of growth here in Seattle done without any more loss of trees, open space and urban streams. The burden of proof rests with those who tell us we must sacrifice our environment on faith in order to preserve it somewhere else. Urgent action is needed that will actually make a difference, not just destroy people’s homes and make developers rich.

- John V. Fox and Carolee Colter (for more information contact 206-632-0668)


Thanks to a torrent of calls and e-mails from citizens and businesses, we got four votes at the City Council March 2 against the new loophole in the noise ordinance; but we need a fifth vote to pass a brief new ordinance reversing that devastating result. [Too busy to read further? Please leave messages as suggested below.]

There's hope of reversing Monday's decision against allowing annual revisions in the new variance, which now can last the life of a public construction project. Thanks go to Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, Bruce Harrell, and Richard McIver for voting to allow yearly revisions. They stressed that a variance lasting many years cannot foresee all difficulties in regulating noise, and that the Department of Planning and Development and the City Council itself mustn't be denied the ability to revise it yearly to correct mistakes or omissions. Now they can help us get that fifth vote for the brief new ordinance that is required.

Most importantly, urge Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, and Jan Drago to help pass a brief new ordinance reversing their March 2 vote against allowing annual revisions in the their public construction variance. As Transportation Committee Chair and Vice Chair respectively, Drago and Clark bear heaviest responsibility for this historic weakening of the ordinance (which until March 2 limited most variances to two weeks!). They passed the changes out of their committee without correcting DPD's failure to reach out to the public, develop alternatives, or identify the businesses, neighborhoods, and the disadvantaged who will be most hurt.

Rasmussen, Godden, Burgess, Clark, and Drago didn't acknowledge--hopefully didn't know--that their "forever" variance could allow all-night construction not just by WSDOT and Sound Transit, but also local road, bridge, sewer and water agencies, any local improvement district, City Light, the new jail, the Port, the Seattle Housing Authority, the Convention Center, public schools and colleges--in fact, any federal, state, local, or special-purpose agency that exists or might be invented.

Noise is harmful--some countries (even our own) have used it for torture. Seattle's noise ordinance (adopted in 1978) explicitly commits the City Council to protect the public's 'sleep and repose.' To be honest, the Council on Monday should also have repealed that uniquely strong commitment--but to honor it, the Council must not allow this new loophole to stand. In barring nighttime noise, the ordinance has for thirty years also protected against nighttime light, dust, vibration, and traffic--all will increase with the new variance that, for the life of the project, could allow construction 24-7.

Without a yearly opportunity to revise the variance, citizens and businesses from now on will have no recourse once they discover how grossly public construction is evading the noise ordinance's protections. Because of how the five Councilmembers voted on Monday, now if the City tries to tighten a variance's hours or noise levels, the construction agency will get a court to block the improvements, as the applicable law is what existed when the variance was issued. The March 2 repeal of checks and balances also makes it easier for regulators to be captured by the regulated. The Council simply must pass a brief new ordinance reversing this reckless, lasting blow to livability and democratic rights--and won't unless you call and write NOW. The decks are stacked against us, but we must try--for ourselves, and for future generations.

The Council must also reconsider its March 2 action because--after the public comment period ended--it suspended its rules to allow Sound Transit to strongly oppose Licata's amendment allowing annual revision of the variance. Revealingly, Sound Transit also acknowledged that it's been working quietly on the proposals since March 2006 with the City regulators (not for another two years did the public and the Council receive the proposals, in April 2008!). On March 2 the Council compounded this incestuous relationship by giving Sound Transit the last word, denying the public any chance to rebut its special pleading before giving Sound Transit what it wanted. Where's the Council's sense of fair play?

Please sound off (quietly) to all! Individually addressed messages are always more heeded than if sent to all Councilmembers in common. The fax number is (206) 684-8587; the address is City Council, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025. Send e-mail and leave a voice mail. Here are the names and message (or just say you support the Quiet Alliance's effort at reconsideration):



The above alert was prepared by Chris Leman (Ph.D., political science) for the Quiet Alliance.
He can be reached at (206) 322-5463,