1. At a crowded late-afternoon city council public hearing yesterday, mayor Ed Murray staff and Seattle Department of Transportation staff officially unveiled the mayor's proposed $930 million, nine-year transportation levy for maintenance, sidewalks, bike lanes, bridge repair, pedestrian improvements, road paving, and transit lanes; the property tax would cost the owner of a $450,000 home (the median in Seattle) about $275 a year.
The crowd was largely supportive of the plan, though several speakers seconded council member Nick Licata's alternate funding proposal, which would scale the property tax down to $600 million and replace the remaining funding with a 5 percent commercial parking tax, an $18 "head tax” (a tax on employers per employee that the council discontinued in 2009), and a transportation impact fee on future development.
According to a letter Murray sent to Licata last month, Murray does not support Licata's change. Murray wants to reserve the commercial parking tax for "other major capital projects" such as replacing the Ballard Bridge or building out the streetcar. Additionally, Murray says a head tax on employers "may be a tool to consider in the future” but he doesn't want to "add a new burden on business” in the immediate aftermath of the new $15 minimum wage law. As for the impact fee on new development, Murray cites state law, which limits impact fees to mitigating new development rather than addressing "existing deficiencies.” Murray also argues that impact fees can only be used for roads and streets rather than the city's "strategic priorities” such as safety programs, alternate transit efforts, and traffic management.
Editorializing here, but I'd add that impact fees on new development are misguided: With the city's pending 2035 plan directing new development into urban hubs (and, perhaps, along transit corridors), the new growth we're experiencing will be dense and guided by policies that encourage pedestrians, bikes, and mass transit—which have a lighter impact on street infrastructure than the city's existing suburban-style footprint. Really, rather than meeting new development with a mitigation tax, new growth could be viewed as beneficial to the city's transportation goals. A TOD rebate, anyone? (And more editorializing: Impact fees are a default tax on new people—as if somehow, they, and not current property owners whose footprint we're busy fixing, have more responsibility for the bill.)
2. A specific critique of Murray's proposal that emerged at yesterday's hearing came from Seattle Greenways, a group that has been pushing the city to supplement protected bike lanes on main arterials with safer bike- and ped-friendly routes in the neighborhoods to create a citywide network for getting around without a car.
The group says Murray's $7 million earmark for the Safe Routes to Schools program falls far short. Seattle Greenways sees walk sheds around the city's 97 schools as efficient places to build out the city's bike and ped infrastructure—midblock signals, speed bumps, sharrows, rapid flashing beacons at arterial crossings. By leveraging investments in the plan's big-ticket items, such as bridge repair and paving, Seattle Greenways wants to increase Safe Routes to Schools funding to $40 million.
One specific idea is to put language in the levy that requires big ticket corridor projects to include a percentage of a project's budget, say 5 percent, to safe routes elements when the project is in a school zone. They also suggest using revenue from red light tickets—on violations within school zones—for Safe Routes to Schools projects.
Seattle Greenways leader Cathy Tuttle says increasing the funding around schools would be a win-win for Murray. "I think the biggest value of our proposal is that a robust Safe Routes to School package will get this levy passed. What I'm hearing from local blogs and voters all over the city is, 'What's in this levy for me and my neighborhood?'"
3. A followup to yesterday's Jolt where I highlighted lefty union UFCW 21's (the United Food and Commercial Workers' local) city council candidate endorsements.
I used their picks—which overlapped with some chamber picks and Murray favorites and supposed establishment consultant Christian Sinderman's clients—to further debunk the notion that there's an establishment or antiestablishment slate in this year's election.
UFCW says I missed the bigger story: That they went with a nonincumbent, former Tenants Union director Jon Grant in the at-large Position Eight race; city council president Tim Burgess is the incumbent.
It's certainly true that it's risky and bold for a union that regularly lobbies the city to bail on an incumbent.
But this only highlights my point. The "establishment" Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also bailed on an incumbent, Jean Godden in Position Four. (So did UFCW, by the way. Both groups went with transit advocate Rob Johnson.)
Perhaps there's a larger story, though. With so many of the chamber's picks overlapping with the picks of their lefty adversaries—UFCW, the Sierra Club, and the Service Employees International Union 775—it appears that this year's district elections may have discouraged bona fide chamber types from running.