Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on September 13, 2008

Keynote Speaker:

Seattle City Council Member Sally Clark.  Sally Clark's career includes both non-profit social services and government work aimed at both helping people to become their own best advocates and connecting people with government in ways that improve their lives and their communities. She has served on the Seattle City Council since 2006.

At Seattle City Council Sally chairs the Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee, serves as vice chair of the Transportation Committee, and is a member of the Finance and Budget Committee. Sally is also a member of the Council's Labor Policy Committee. She serves also on the King County Board of Health, the Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Board, Enterprise Seattle, and the Regional Transit Committee.

Sally s other community involvement efforts include

  • Chicken Soup Brigade
  • Staff of former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowksi.
  • Seattle s Department of Neighborhoods
  • Northwest Association for Housing Affordability
  • Legislative aide to King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson
  • Lifelong AIDS Alliance
  • Member of the Council's Labor Policy Committee.
  • Serves also on the King County Board of Health
  • Serves on the Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Board
  • Enterprise Seattle and the Regional Transit Committee.

Even with this incredibly busy schedule, Sally agreed to come spend the evening with inSPIRe to discuss making Seattle the nation s most livable city.  Basically, Sally was asked two questions: 

1)  What is a livable city to you? and 2)  How do we make it happen?  These open-ended questions allowed us to all engage in a conversation regarding our city and provide our inputs as to what we think needs to be done as well as how to do it.

Sally loves her neighborhood, as well as Seattle in total, but admitted that our city is not perfect.  Our transportation system isn t perfect.  Most of us are not able to walk to where we want to go, etc.  There are many other issues that we have, but as a city we are working on them.  Sally was on the Livable Communities Coalition.  They created a Livable City Initiative with goals of great streets, great neighborhoods, affordable housing and sufficient open spaces. 

But many questions exist.  How do we pay for all of this?  How do we insure we have the funds to take care of our city?  How do we create the robust economy we need?  How do we insure we have a working-waterfront and a diversified economy?  How do we create amenities to attract skilled workers to Seattle?  How much density is good?  What will the market demand?

Components of a livable city include being able to find a good job, having good schools, being able to travel from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time, having nice parks close by, feeling safe (a lack of threat), having a healthy environment and having the sense that you are part of the greater community.  Sally talked about having a sense of the human scale and how we connect to the urban environment.  We need to help people develop the skills necessary to find a good job so that people can move upwards with their careers.  Seattle has some of this, but many people are stuck and get frustrated.  We, as their fellow community members, can experience the manifestations of these frustrations.  It is important that we keep investing in people capital , I.E., insure that we are doing what it takes to insure that we engage the members of our community that are now not even part of the conversation. 

It is important to connect all of the key pieces required for success:  schools, our economy, parks, etc.  But in can be very, very difficult to make changes in a community.  So, how do we go about this?  Many things are necessary.  One key ingredient is having the revenue to insure we can afford the city quality we seek.  We need a good mix of all the important key community ingredients.  And importantly, we need to continue to have robust discussions on this topic! 

One tool that we currently have includes incentive zoning.  This requires developers to put back into the community, to assist with our long-term community benefit for the ability to proceed with their development.  Urban Centers provide us with important structure.  Many people don t like this concept and don t like the changes we ve had in Seattle as we ve grown, but many changes have been necessary with the pressures of growth.

How do we affect the change we want to see?  By continuing to be activists within our community!  We need to keep checking in with our elected officials and with the other city administrators.  Be vocal talk with our friends and neighbors.  We need to be and stay engaged and work to get others connected.  (And get them to join inSPIRe! ;-)  On a national/federal level, the Bush Administration has not had a focused domestic agenda.  Obama, if elected, will change this.  We need a focused and effective federal domestic agenda.

Q Regarding affordable housing, why are the zoning rules within Seattle so strict?  They seem to really inhibit affordable housing at times.  If we did things like be less strict with the single-family-housing rules we could have much more affordable housing.

A Seattle residents are very protective of single-family-housing, and tend to be very worried about absent landlords.  It s important to find solutions from the input from all the neighbors, not just a few.  Going vertical is a possible solution.  A description of our Urban Villages sometimes used is a wedding cake , I.E., the tallest building in the middle, with the verticality reducing as you proceed further away from the center. 


(At this point, we broke out into four smaller subgroups for 20 minutes to talk amongst each other with our own opinions as to what a livable city is, and what we need to do to make it happen)

Group report-outs: 

Group #1:  our key issue is transportation.  We feel that a key problem is that the different entities involved in creating effective public transportation in Puget Sound all have their own agendas, which is totally inefficient and inhibits us getting the problem solved.  We need to advocate for a coordinated system.  One of our group s members has been successful in the past in lobbying Metro, so it can work!  Also, our group was unanimous in our belief that the viaduct should NOT be removed!

Group #2:  we discussed three main subjects.  One is our support for compact, affordable housing.  Two is public safety we need more cops.  Three is that we need better neighborhood planning. 

Group #3:  we focused on crime in Seattle, and the growth of it in recent times, in particular on Beacon Hill.  Sally Clark provided us with a contact to pursue this further.

Group #4:  we also discussed how many different organizations run our area s transportation system.  How do we merge them to make the system work better?  We also talked about the value of creating more growth vs stopping growth.  We were split on this. 


Questions to Sally

Q How do we make the transportation organizations/systems talk to each other? 

A Somehow we need to smash them together, but the state legislature hasn t done this.  We have territorial problems with the different groups trying to protect their own territory.  We have Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit, our Ferries, Kitsap County Transit, etc.  Getting everyone together to be successful has worked in other places, such as in Portland, so it can be done!  But many people are against creating an Uber-Agency .  We ve gotten some functionality, but it has taken a very long time.


Q Who do we contact to push for this?

A Contact the Puget Sound Regional Council.  They were supposed to be the overarching authority.  Also, talk to your local transportation provider and to your County Council member. 

A little history on what has happened with the development of our Metro bus system.  Over time, the system became fairly robust.  But many in our suburbs began to complain about a lack of service.  So, Metro broke the region up into (1) North/Seattle, (2) East and (3) South.  Then they implemented a 40/40/20 plan, which directed the use of new service hours.  If new service hours became available, 40% must be used in the south end, 40% on the eastside, and 20% for Seattle and north.  This really was appreciated and supported by the folks on the eastside and in South King County, but has not been appreciated by the folks in Seattle and north.  As an example, the bus from Beacon Hill to downtown is now always full.  Another problem is that with the high price of diesel fuel, Metro is falling further behind on collecting enough revenue to cover costs. 


Q What is up with those full-bus ads on the Metro buses?

A There are the regular bus ads, then also the custom ads that cover the full bus, including part of the windows.  Some perceived this as a safety issue due to an obscured view. 


Q Regarding the new Seattle trolley system, multi-model systems are good.  How do we think outside of the box to develop a better system?

A Normally, transportation issues like this are not the normal line of business for the city.  But there is an exception with the trolley.  This may become a private market solution.  In this, job goals matter also.


Q What about the revenue side of the equation?

A We need Macy s to be successful!  We need Pike Place Market to be successful!  We need Safeco Field to be successful!  We need to attract tourists and have them spend in our city.  Downtown is the only Seattle neighborhood that not only collects revenue to cover its expenses, but it also fuels the rest of the city.  We need a vibrant city with many successful establishments.  It s bad for Seattle that Neiman Marcus chose Bellevue for their new store location. 


Q Incentive Zoning is used in other communities in the state.  In other places the focus is on protecting open spaces.  In Seattle Incentive Zoning is used to help generate affordable housing.  Why did we make this policy choice instead of using it for open spaces?

A We currently have Incentive Zoning in the downtown area.  The developers pay into an affordable housing fund.  Today there are four current projects.  The question we ask is what do we want our community to look like?   Our area s medium income is $52K a year.  We have acknowledged our need for affordable housing.  But funds also go to other things such as preservation of historic places and open spaces.  The question is if we should expand this program into our neighborhoods?  We need to listen to all of our 38 neighborhoods and get their inputs on what they believe we should use these funds for. 


Q What do we need to do to get more control over development on Alki?

A There is a lot one can do.  One can get involved in the neighborhood in setting design guidelines.  What is special to Alki that you want designers to respect?


Q What is your position on the viaduct?

A I don t love it!  I support getting rid of the central mile .  However, we need to move freight and people effectively.  We don t have the money for a tunnel.  We can schedule things to keep the traffic moving.


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!

Many thanks to our hosts and our speakers!

See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!


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