City Hall

City Gets First Look at Ambitious, But Challenging Climate Action Plan

By Erica C. Barnett April 23, 2012

The city council just heard a briefing from the city's Office of Sustainability and the Environment about the next steps for implementing the city's climate action plan. The short version? Lots of good ideas; lots of talk about "pushing the envelope"; and very little money or "political capital" with the state legislature, which would have to change state laws to make many of the proposals possible.

Among the proposals, many would require changes to state law, including:

Expanded transit service. Adding transit service will require the legislature to give Metro the authority to charge a countywide motor-vehicle excise tax---something they declined to do this session despite heavy lobbying by transit advocates. Without a new funding source, Metro will have to make cuts starting in 2014, when its temporary vehicle license fee expires.

Regional congestion pricing---tolls on local highways and arterials. It's also an idea that's bound to be unpopular with the public---when Mike O'Brien proposed regional tolls during his first election campaign back in 2009, his opponent, Robert Rosencrantz, pilloried him in a mailer that claimed O'Brien wanted to toll every city street.

New fees and taxes, including impact fees, new vehicle license fees, higher license fees for second and third cars, a fee on new development as an alternative to environmental review, a tax on off-street parking, and pollution taxes.

Tax-increment financing, a scheme in which property owners in an area take out loans for improvements in that area and agree to pay back the loans with the higher property taxes that result from those improvements in the future. The legislature has repeatedly refused to give cities in Washington State TIF authority, and TIFs are controversial among some progressives because they're a giveaway to developers.

Other proposals would require a major political push by the mayor and the council. Among them: Expanding paid on-street parking (remember how popular that was last time?) developing physically separated cycle tracks on major bike routes; expanding bike parking in urban centers; eliminate parking minimums and establish parking maximums in areas with frequent transit service; and add bike signals, bike boxes, and signal timing for bikes throughout the city.

Finally, there's the category of ideas that are likely to be popular but would cost money, either in the form of new city revenues or what city staffers refer to as "reprioritization." Those include: Developing a freight master plan along the lines of the existing transit, bike, and pedestrian master plans; expanding sidewalks in urban centers; improving street crossings on arterials; improving bus shelters and stops; allowing community groups to do bulk purchases of ORCA cards at a discount; and promoting alternative fuels and electric cars.

The council plans to hash out the details of the Climate Action Plan over the summer and adopt a final plan this coming winter. Check out the details yourself here.
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