Notes from today’s Council meetings

Here’s what went down in the Council Briefing and full City Council meetings today.

The Council got a long briefing from SDOT this morning on the closing of the West Seattle Bridge, including a public flogging for SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe for not reaching out to Council members in the months and weeks leading up to the day that a decision urgently needed to be made on whether to close the bridge.  I will write up that conversation, and some new information share by SDOT, separately.

This afternoon the Council approved a budget ordinance redirecting a portion of the Sweetened Beverage Tax proceeds to a food voucher program intended to provide relief to those impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. It was noted that the Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board was consulted and eventually supported the reallocation, which generally speaking still aligns with one of the goals of the tax: to address food insecurity in the community. But no one is happy about taking SBT funds away from other programs, and Council members emphasized that it was not a permanent reallocation. Reading into the back-and-forth correspondence in advance of the passage of the bill, one can see that there is a looming concern about the sweetened beverage tax revenues in general this year as a large portion of it came from soda sales in restaurants.

The Council also unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state and federal governments to pass an immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments. Council members Pedersen and Juarez expressed some concerns about what they were asking for — in particular rent forgiveness rather than deferral — though they relaxed a bit after Council member Morales, the sponsor of the bill, confirmed that they wanted both to be passed together so that landlords who would stop receiving rent could also get mortgage relief. Morales pointed out that the federal relief package passed last Friday contained funding for banks, and that she hoped that the inevitable next relief package could provide funding for landlords if rent payments were indeed suspended.

On related notes, Council member Herbold introduced a bill today that would impose commercial rent control in Seattle, and Council member Mosqueda circulated a letter for her colleagues to sign that asks Governor Inslee to impose a temporary moratorium on foreclosures across the state.

This morning, Council President Gonzalez announced that the Council will continue to telecommute through at least April 24. She also noted the Governor’s emergency order suspending some parts of the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act, including the requirement for in-person public comment — but that also prohibits agencies such as the City Council from taking “actions” that are not either “necessary and routine” or in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. “Obviously it will make it very difficult” to do a lot of the Council’s regular business, Gonzalez said. She is working with the City Attorney’s Office to clarify the practical limits imposed upon them by the Governor’s order. In the meantime, she asked her colleagues not to submit new legislation to their staff at the last minute on Friday afternoon, since in addition to all the regular quality-control that bills go through, they now need to determine whether it meets the criteria for allowable “actions.”

Council member Sawant reiterated her request for Council staff to find a solution to allow for live public comment in their video conference meetings. Gonzalez acknowledged that request but also noted that even if public comment is allowed, that doesn’t lift the Governor’s prohibitions on allowed “actions” by the Council.

Gonzalez also brought up the executive order issued by the Mayor late last week related to emergency childcare facilities for first responders. She said that she is reviewing the order, to ensure that the funding redirected from the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy to cover the new childcare program is allowed under the terms of the levy as passed by the voters. She hopes to resolve the matter this week, potentially with a Council resolution for next Monday’s agenda if changes need to be made.

Council member Sawant communicated her desire to move forward with the latest “Tax Amazon” bill that she and Council member Morales introduced that would impose a $500 million payroll tax on large businesses, going toward the COVID-19 response the firth year and towards affordable housing and the Green New Deal thereafter. She is pressuring Council President Gonzalez to have the bill go through her committee so that her “movement” can have a voice.