Notes from today’s Council meetings

The Council violates the City Charter, and more.

This afternoon the Council unanimously passed an ordinance creating a new Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts, reporting to a new Forecast Committee composed of the Mayor, Finance Director, Council President, and Council Finance Chair. This matches closely the model used by the King County Council and is similar to the state government’s approach. The only problem, as SCC Insight has previously written: under the City Charter, all new departments must report to the Mayor unless otherwise authorized in the City Charter. It’s a reasonable proposal, but it requires a voter-approved charter amendment to enact it. The limits enshrined in the City Charter prevent the legislative branch from amassing power (and taking it away from the Mayor) by creating and empowering new departments that report to it (in part or in whole). Council President Gonzalez has claimed that the City Attorney’s legal advice supports the notion that they can do this by ordinance, but she has not published that legal analysis.  The bill is now headed to the Mayor’s desk for signature or veto.

The Council also passed unanimously:

  • A bill giving civil service protections to the five public records officers who handle public document requests on behalf of the eleven elected officials in Seattle city government. The civil service protections will hopefully insulate them from political interference in the conduct of their jobs.
  • A bill temporarily extending some deadlines in the Multifamily Tax Exemption program, to help a handful of projects that were delayed by the COVID pandemic.
  • A bill creating a new city fund that revenues from the “Jump Start” payroll tax will be deposited into, which will hopefully provide greater transparency and accountability (and enforced restrictions) on how the funds will be used. There was a last-minute amendment adopted that did two things: it added a recital expressing the Council’s intent to add more funding to the Office of Housing to support its annual affordable housing project “Notice of Funding Availability” (it currently has $20 million, but apparently there is over $100 million of shovel-ready affordable housing projects that could be funded); and it clarified that the 2021 payroll tax revenues, which have already been spoken for, will be deposited into the General Fund and not the newly-created fund.
  • A bill delaying the effective date of the new tax on heating oil. According to the city’s analysis, the majority of households that still have heating-oil furnaces are low-income who cannot afford to upgrade to a new system (which can cost tens of thousands of dollars). The state is spinning up a loan/grant program to support upgrades from heating oil furnaces, but according to Councilmember Morales the program is still in flux. The six-month extension approved today will provide time for the state funding program to come together and for households with oil furnaces to avail themselves of it.

Councilmember Pedersen announced this morning the agenda for his Transportation and Utilities Committee meeting this Wednesday:

  • ten appointments to review committees;
  • a street vacation petition;
  • a briefing on the Seattle City Light financial audit (spoiler: clean audit);
  • three ordinances enacting the updated rate paths for water, drainage and wastewater included in their recently-approved strategic plan update.

Councilmember Sawant said that her next Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee meeting will be on July 27. They will continue discussing three of her bills related to rent increases, including possible votes on a bill requiring landlords to provide six months’ notice for any rent increase, and another (yet to be officially introduced) requiring landlords to provide relocation assistance for “economic evictions.”

Councilmember Strauss announced that his next Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee meeting will be on July 28th. He expects the agenda to include:

  • the 2022 Comprehensive Plan docketing resolution;
  • a public hearing on a Comprehensive Plan proposed amendment to change the name of “single family” zones to “neighborhood residential.”
  • a briefing on a bill updating interim regulations for street-level spaces to try to aid the city’s economic recovery;
  • an amendment to the Yesler Terrace tree protection plan.

This afternoon Councilmember Herbold introduced a bill that would categorize facial-recognition technology as “surveillance technology” for the purposes of regulating it under the city’s surveillance technology ordinance. That ordinance requires city departments that wish to use technologies that could be used for surveillance purposes to gain the approval of the City Council for such uses. In a recent decision, the OPA found that an officer’s use of the Clearview AI facial-recognition technology (which he apparently did on his own without the knowledge or consent of SPD) did not violate the surveillance ordinance because Clearview AI’s product did not meet the definition of “surveillance technology.” However, the ordinance gives the Council the ability to proactively designate any technology to be surveillance technology so that there is no confusion as to whether it falls under the ordinance’s regulation.

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