Today was the last Council Briefing and full City Council meeting for the year — and also the last ones for Council President Gonzalez to chair. This afternoon’s meeting had forty agenda items, and went nearly four hours as the Council wrapped up its work for the year.
This afternoon, among the forty agenda items the Council approved:
- A trio of bills extending a 4% pay increase to most city employees for 2022.
- A bill establishing Juneteenth as a legal holiday for city employees, and a legal parking holiday.
- A resolution approving the city’s 2022 state legislative agenda.
- A bill setting an end-date for the city’s mandate for grocery employers to pay “hazard pay” to frontline workers, approximately mid-February (one month after the effective date of the ordinance, which depends on when the Mayor signs it).
- A bill exempting publicly-funded affordable housing projects from street and alley vacation fees. The point of the bill is that as long as the city is providing dollars to a project, there is little point in the project turning around and handing the money right back to the city.
- A resolution adopting revised Council Rules and Procedures, following up on another four-hour meeting last week in which the Councilmembers debated the merits of various changes. Today the Council approved three additional last-minute amendments before approving the new rules: one allowing Councilmembers to abstain from voting on a resolution at a full Council meeting if the Council President decides that it does not materially pertain to city business; a second allowing Councilmembers to participate electronically in meetings but requiring forty eight hours advance notice in most cases; and a third explicitly codifying that Councilmembers have a maximum of ten minutes to speak when a motion is pending (a rule already in Roberts Rules of Order that is largely ignored).
- A bill amending the city’s energy code to require heat pump water heaters in more commercial buildings.
- An “overlay district” zone for the city’s remaining two mobile home parks. See this story for more background.
- A bill renaming “single family residential” zones to “neighborhood residential,” in accordance with a change to the city’s Comprehensive Plan that the Council made earlier this year.
- A twenty-year renewal to the management and operations agreement for the Woodland Park Zoo.
- A bill creating a new Indigenous Advisory Council for the city.
- A bill establishing new data reporting and notice requirements for the City Attorney’s Office. Before passing it, the Council amended it to address a legal issue that SCC Insight raised last week: that the requirement that the City Attorney must provide 90 days advance notice to any material change to diversion programs likely ran afoul of the City Charter’s explicit grant of sole supervision of litigation to the City Attorney (by making it impossible for the City Attorney to enact a policy change faster than ninety days). The Council amended that to instead require the City Attorney to notify the Council of any material change within ninety days of implementation — i.e. after the face.
- A resolution expressing the City Council’s intent to work with the Mayor to “consider” strategies to ensure that buildings with unreinforced masonry are seismically retrofitted. The city estimates that there are about 1,100 unreinforced masonry buildings, and that retrofitting all of them would cost more than $1 million. Fortunately the State of Washington has approved a new financing program related to unreinforced masonry renovations, and Seattle building owners should be able to apply in early 2022.
This morning the Council heard an update from its federal lobbyist on the recently-passed federal infrastructure bill, and the pending Build Back Better bill. It’s unlikely that money will go directly to the City of Seattle; instead it will need to apply for funding through competitive RFP processes. Federal agencies are currently scrambling to stand up the new funding programs authorized in the infrastructure bill.
This morning Council President Gonzalez noted that the city is interviewing finalists for the position of Director of the new Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasting; she said that they are on track to select a candidate and extend an offer before the end of the year.
Gonzalez also reminded her colleagues that the governing committee of the Regional Homeless Authority will be holding a special meeting on January 13th to approve the agency’s 2022 budget. Gonzalez has been one of the city’s representatives on the governing committee, but since she is leaving office at the end of the year it will be up to the Councilmembers to fill her seat — hopefully in time for the meeting.
Finally, both this morning and this afternoon Gonzalez’s colleagues took time to thank her for her six years of service to the city, and her leadership for two years as Council President. In this afternoon’s meeting they extended a proclamation to Gonzalez thanking her and “Team Lorena.”
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Herbold raised an objection to the abstention option, that having the council president declare a resolution immaterial would be problematic – but didn’t offer any clues as to why. Anyone have an idea what that was about?
They seemed kind of uneasy about the whole thing, with Gonzalez repeating the gist of it a few more times than you’d think would be necessary.
So Council is ending grocery worker hazard pay, but the council itself still can’t meet in person because of the hazard of COVID? Does that make sense?
They are choosing not to meet in person. In fact, they just passed an update to their rules to allow them to participate electronically in meetings at their own discretion, effectively giving them much more flexibility to work from home even after COVID restrictions are lifted.
That said, COVID is still very serious and Omicron is threatening to have significant impacts on pretty much everything. So yes, it does seem like a very strange time to remove the hazard pay mandate. I will say, though, that $4 per hour was high, it put a lot of pressure on grocers, and that cost almost certainly got passed through to consumers. And now that inflation is rising, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see grocery prices drop a bit.
I wrote this article back in January looking at the math behind the hazard pay mandate: https://sccinsight.com/2021/01/25/council-fast-tracking-hazard-pay-for-grocery-workers-in-seattle/
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