Notes from today’s Council meetings

After a two-week recess, the Council members had a lot to say today. Here’s what went down.

This afternoon the City Council passed by an 8-1 vote a set of two bills authorizing changes in the city’s traffic code and establishing a permit fee schedule to allow for a scooter-share pilot to move forward. Since the Council went on recess, a group of riders sued Lime and Segway in San Francisco accusing the companies of negligence related to their scooters; this morning Council member Herbold asked if the two bills could be held for a week in order to allow her to understand how the issues in the lawsuit reflect on the permit requirements and indemnification clause that SDOT has negotiated, but she was rebuffed by her colleagues who wanted to press forward, most notably Council members Strauss and Mosqueda the two biggest cheerleaders on the Council for scooter share.

Council member Strauss, the sponsors of the bills, said that it was time that the city ended its “academic conversation” about a scooter-share program and moved forward with a pilot, particularly since the days are getting shorter (and soon wetter). The “academic conversation” argument is a bit strange, representing some notion of “Seattle exceptionalism” where the experiences of other cities aren’t predictive over whether scooter-share will be successful and safe here. Though on that note, last week Dallas announced that it is halting its scooter-share program in order to make “substantial changes” to the program.

This morning, Council member Mosqueda cherry-picked a study of Austin’s scooter-share program to argue that scooters are much safer than automobiles. As I wrote in an article last year, that’s not what the study says. Following on that, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year looking more broadly at the safety data and studies on scooters and comparing them to automobiles (spoiler: scooters aren’t safer).

The bills passed by an 8-1 vote, with Council member Pedersen being the sole “no” vote.

The Council also confirmed the re-appointment of Dwane Chappelle as Director of the Department of Education and Early Learning.

This afternoon the Council also passed a land-use omnibus bill, usually a long, boring affair with dozens of pages of small technical corrections to the city’s land-use code. However, Council member Pedersen re-introduced an amendment that was defeated in committee, which would undo one of the changes that SDCI had jammed into the bill.  The change in question would make it explicit that SDCI to can approve conditional-use permits for not just the structure at a designated landmark, but the entire site, rather than having the approval go through the landmarks board. Pedersen saw this as a policy question that ought not to be bundled in a technical bill but instead deliberated and voted upon separately, so his amendment stripped out the addition of “site.”  Mosqueda and Strauss most vocally objected to this amendment, arguing that while it is potentially a policy issue worthy of debate, at the moment the land use code doesn’t explicitly give control over sites to the landmarks board; it’s a gray area (thus explaining why SDCI put a clarification in the omnibus bill). In the end, Pedersen’s amendment failed by a 4-5 vote, and the the omnibus bill was passed.

This morning several Council members previewed what their committees will be up to over the next two weeks:

  • Council member Herbold said that her public safety and human services committee meeting this Friday will include a discussion with the OPA, OIG and CPC on their recent reports on SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons. The meeting may also include a presentation from SFD and the Seattle IT department on an inter-local agreement to set up and run a Puget Sound emergency radio network.
  • Council President Gonzalez announced that her Governance and Education committee meeting, also on Friday will include a discussion of a resolution sponsored by Council member Pedersen that would require the Council’s “summary and fiscal note” on a bill to include information on the environmental impact of the legislation; and a report on work the city has been doing on childcare during the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Council member Morales said that her Community Economic Development committee will meet next Tuesday, and will take up several commission appointments as well as legislation to create a permanent EDI advisory board.
  • Council member Mosqueda said that her Finance and Housing committee, which also meets next Tuesday, will hear a briefing/update on the minimum wage legislation for TNC drivers.
  • Council member Pedersen announced that his Transportation and Utilities Committee will meet next Wednesday; it will hear a report from SDOT on bridge conditions across the city, and a report from the Seattle IT department on “Internet for All,” with an initial gap analysis and action plan.

Council President Gonzalez announced this morning that she doesn’t anticipate the City Council taking action on the Mayor’s veto of the 2020 budget rebalancing package until September 21, just a few days before the Council’s 30-day period to respond expires. Gonzalez said that she and her office had “frequent conversations” with the Mayor’s Office over the two-week Council recess; she said that the conversations continue, though they don’t yet have an agreement.

Many other Council members sounded off on the Mayor’s veto this morning, some clearly on the defensive, looking for air cover, and willing to strike back at Mayor Durkan while also trying to leave open the opportunity for a compromise. Morales expressed concern about what she saw as the Mayor using her veto power “so liberally,” though as the Seattle Times’ Dan Beekman pointed out this morning, “liberally” apparently means five times.

Mosqueda, the budget chair, built on Morales’ comments and tried to refute arguments that the Council has not acted collaboratively with the Mayor’s office or SPD by referring to herself as “aggressively collaborative,” and asserting that the legislative branch is “already collaborative by nature” because it is required to pass budget ordinances by a super-majority of its members and because it is the only branch of government that deliberates in public. Mosqueda also tried to turn around the widely-voiced criticism that the Council passed cuts to SPD without a plan for either policing or replacement programs, by accusing the Mayor of discarding the Council’s budget without a plan of her own. Then to finish off the political speech hat-trick, Mosqueda took a thinly-veiled shot at the Mayor by saying that she is not interested in dealing with “people who want to take their ball and go home,” and immediately followed that up with “I don’t have time for finger-pointing and these games.”

Sawant had her own political speech head-scratcher: she, you may recall, voted against the Council’s budget package, as she always does, labeling it an “austerity budget.” Nevertheless, today she said, “I absolutely oppose Durkan’s veto of the budget,” arguing that the Mayor vetoed it for not being enough of an austerity budget — and proving once again that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

Council member Herbold, who chairs the Council’s public-safety committee, said that she has been in communication with both the city auditor and SPD interim Chief Adrian Diaz in response to a recent Seattle Times article on SPD overtime use. One long-standing issue has been the implementation of a new payroll, schedule and hours tracking system for SPD, which would finally move the department away from using paper forms to track hours worked. The system has been delayed for years, and according to Herbold, Diaz now claims that is has been delayed out to the first quarter of 2021. Another system, intended to manage off-duty work for SPD officers, has also been delayed.


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One comment

  1. I’m rather disappointed in SDOT’s approach to public feedback on micromobility, which was to ask a bunch of industry to speak at their October 2019 event and then craft a framework that was submitted as part of a SEPA a few months later without the broader public even being told about the outline of permit requirements that had been settled on. Maybe the engagement was more focused on various committees. While it’s more understandable in these COVID times, the permit program was kind of secretive even prior.
    I noticed that the Class A permits are tuned towards Lime, with language about having 2000 bikes deployed in October 31, 2020 but I’m also not reading that permit as requiring those bikes to stay in operation. Some sort of “carrot” for both was one thing that the council had suggested way back when Obrien was talking about scooters but not allowing bikes to be phased out
    Between how SDOT wants to work with council on permit tweaks without holding up legislation they could well have passed parts of a year ago when the SEPA outlined sidewalk riding, I’m getting the feeling this is being pushed through because of an ultimatum that the scooters need to launch before winter or the bikes could be pulled entirely during winter.
    Afaik the 2019 bikeshare permits were extended through 2020 rather than competitively rebid or even revised (it’s a Nov 2018 permit 2.1 rulebook) but no news story ever mentioned fees for those extensions and how the operating costs to SDOT were being paid with only one or two bikeshare companies involved.

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