Notes from today’s Council meetings

Here are the highlights from today’s Council Briefing and City Council meetings.

The Council unanimously approved an update to the city’s ethics code that has been in the works for two years. It provides for an exemption from recusal requirements for votes on taxes, assessments, and utility rates that apply broadly, though it strengthens the disclosure requirements for those cases and others. It also applies the disclosure and recusal rules to all eleven city elected officials, not just the City Council. This policy change is particularly relevant to Council member Bagshaw, who wishes to participate in the deliberations over the proposed Waterfront LID, but under the old rules is forced to recuse herself.  Council member Herbold took the opportunity to push through an amendment requesting the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to develop a rule as to what qualifies as a “substantial segment of the public” for the purposes of determining whether a financial interest is broadly held; she asked that the SEEC specifically look at whether that definition should differ for district-based and city-wide Council members.

The Council also passed a resolution officially declaring its intent to create a Waterfront Local Improvement District (LID) that would raise $200 million from a property tax assessment (out of a total $688 million for the project). Once again, there was substantial public comment on the issue, nearly all from people potentially subject to the LID and in strong opposition to the proposal. The resolution passed with an 8-0 vote, while Council member Bagshaw recused herself (the ethics code change doesn’t go into effect until 30 days after the Mayor signs it). The resolution passes the issue on to the Hearing Examiner starting on July 13th for a series of public hearings, after which the Hearing Examiner will deliver a report on his findings by September 4th. Once the Council receives that report, it can begin its deliberations on an ordinance establishing the LID; the Council is expected to complete that process in early 2019.

The Council passed a modification to the city’s building code that allows wood-frame buildings to be build one story taller than is currently allowed. According to the bill’s sponsor, Council member Rob Johnson, there a re many portions of the city where wood-frame buildings cannot be built up to the full height allowed by the land use code, thus diminishing the city’s ability to fully build out its limited land. Johnson also noted that while the latest trend in wood materials, cross-laminated timber (CLT), would allow for even taller buildings, that requires changes in state building code that are still under discussion.

The Council also passed a series of bills to update the city’s policy for evaluating and approving street and alley vacations, clarifying which review boards must weigh in, and emphasizing the value of Equitable Development Agreements to the public benefit of such petitions. The new policy adds three new public trust functions to be weighed in evaluating vacations petitions, particularly when the package of public benefits includes “privately owned public space”:

  • free speech;
  • the right to assembly;
  • land use and urban form.

The new policy also requires an early public outreach process, and specifies different processes for simple vs. complex street vacations.

Council member Sawant introduced, and the Council subsequently passed, a resolution stating the Council’s support for student employees at University of Washington , who are in in the midst of contract negotiations with the university. Last week the student workers staged a one-day strike to call attention to the issues they have with how the university treats and compensates them. According to Sawant, 82% of UW student employees are rent-burdened.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renters Rights Committee meets. It will receive a briefing from the Seattle Disability Commission on the high rate of homelessness among people with disabilities. Also, Interim HSD Director Jason Johnson will give a Director’s Report to the committee.

Wednesday afternoon, the Finance and Neighborhoods Committee meets. On its agenda:

  • an ordinance related to historic landmark and preservation status for the Mount Zion Baptist Church;
  • a lease extension for the St. Martin de Porres Shelter for homeless men over 50;
  • an update from City Finance Director Glen Lee on the city’s implementation of a new accounting system.