Please describe how your administration will address the following issue areas (to be addressed in 15 minutes):
- Stabilizing the City Budget
- Seattle Growth
- Neighborhoods vs. Downtown
The City has arguably done an inadequate job of transportation planning and operation. Bridging the Gap will need to be renewed in 2015 to address the rapidly growing backlog of road, bridge and sidewalk maintenance (now well over $2B) that is necessary for an effective and safe transportation network. This growing backlog, due to years of insufficient maintenance, past failures to holistically address all modes of transit, and ever increasing traffic congestion in our growing city make City travel the bane of our current citizens and businesses. Bleak funding prognoses from Metro, with its capacity already insufficient on many key corridors and its incomplete citywide reach, and the stratospheric costs for grade-separated Light Rail (with system extensions still years away) do not suggest that public transit offers a timely solution to these problems. The City hopes to develop in “Transit Communities” served by this inadequate and underfunded public transit network, yet developers continue to build multifamily residences with parking capacity suitable to an earlier automobile-centric era — often in direct proximity to Light Rail.
All over the City, established communities are suffering from gentrification. Affordable housing – especially for renters – continues to move out of reach for a large segment of our population. Landlords are raising rents to capture the demand from a rapidly growing jobs base, thereby displacing long term city residents who helped to make the City what it is. Affordable housing providers such as Capitol Hill Housing are not only raising rents annually, but are now often producing housing stock beyond the reach of the struggling communities that are most in need. Thirty acres of land at Yesler Terrace, currently dedicated to low income housing, is being swept away to produce a higher density community with dwelling units that will be predominantly market rate and above.
In spite of the slow national recovery from the Great Recession and our own local relative strength during that period, many feel that that we are far from any truly stable economic environment. The City’s revenue stream is largely tied to economic growth and consumption, two undependable and fluctuating sources in an economy susceptible to sudden changes and in which the finances of consumers are severely constrained. The City has just cut funding for homeless services, and in order to tend its public open spaces will likely need to issue bonds (as with the library levy) or create a metropolitan parks district. City employee pensions have unfunded liabilities, and the Arena proposal diverts hundreds of millions in tax revenues to pay off construction bonds and interest.
Seattle does not appear to be growing according to plan or in a balanced manner. The Comprehensive Plan identifies ‘areas of change’ (the Urban Villages) and ‘areas of stability’ (the Single Family zones). Seattle is already at 60% of its 20 year Comprehensive Plan household growth target for 2024 of 51,000 units. In 2012 alone, Seattle added 10,179 housing units (while 1,100 were demolished) and Seattle ranks in the top cities in the country for value of construction underway. Despite all of this growth, there are continued calls to open up the single family neighborhoods for development. The proposed ‘Transit Communities’ strategy (if implemented into the Comp Plan) appears to be a formalization of that desire. In the meanwhile, the south end Light Rail station areas are undeveloped and many town centers in identified urban villages remain blighted or underdeveloped compared to their zoning envelope and potential. The increase in land values due to proximity to Light Rail aggravates the affordability of housing and makes the City’s desire to create inclusive, mixed income TOD quite difficult.
While downtown is the economic engine and main tax revenue source for the city, it often appears the vast majority of capital improvements in the city are not going to the neighborhoods outside of downtown. The many investments in South Lake Union, the proposed Arena, the AWV replacement and waterfront park, the sea wall, the First/Capitol Hill Street Car, Bell Street park, and other infrastructure improvements in downtown neighborhoods far outweigh investments in other parts of the city. Investments to build complete neighborhoods and improve quality of life within any of the outlying urban villages have largely diminished in the last decade. The stepping back from neighborhood planning for these areas – some last completed almost 2 decades ago – demonstrates a lack of engagement and interest in these distinct and important Seattle communities which are the home to nearly half of our population.