Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents

September 23rd, 2016

Yesterday in the Human Services and Public Health Committee, Council discussed the “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents” ordinance, and I’m writing to give an update on the Council deliberations so far. Many of the comments I’ve been hearing in the last few weeks continue to be reflected in the conversation in Committee. Some of the major points of discussion include:

  • The fact that we continue to have people sleeping outdoors is not acceptable. There was widespread consensus that the legislation is not meant to be permanent, but rather reinforce the idea that homelessness should be temporary. While we are working on more stable shelter and housing solutions, we need to figure out how to respond to the population that is sleeping outdoors with nowhere else to go. That’s why I support a sunset clause to the legislation, meaning it will no longer be in effect after a certain period of time.
  • The City can do a better job of transitioning people into permanent housing. The Mayor’s office has recently come out with proposal to create systemic change in the way we respond to homelessness, called Pathways Home. As we explore this further, I look forward to continuing to work with our Human Service Department and service providers to meet the challenges of housing our unsheltered residents. But even the proposed strategies, in the best case scenario, will take 2 years to fully implement. The question remains of what to do in the meantime.
  • While sleeping outdoors is not inherently safe, there are some spaces that pose grave, immediate threats to safety, or places with hazardous conditions, that are not suitable for any period of time. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time defining a categorically “unsuitable” or unsafe location, and it seems like there is agreement that sidewalks, schools, areas near high volumes of traffic, and active spaces in parks, are not suitable. There was also agreement that we need to create the opportunity for community to weigh in on what is unsuitable or unsafe in their specific neighborhoods. And conversely, we need input on where there are suitable spaces for unsheltered residents while we work to transition people into appropriate shelters or housing.
  • Criminal law will continue to be enforced. Nothing in the ordinance prevents the Seattle Police Department from removing or arresting people who they believe are involved in criminal activity.

Thanks to all who have been engaged in trying to help address the ongoing crisis on homelessness. The next Council Committee discussion will be Wednesday, September 28th, at 2pm in City Hall. Please feel free to reach out to my office via email at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or phone at 206-684-8800 with questions or concerns.

In Community,

Mike


Addressing Effective Strategies Towards Encampments

September 6th, 2016

Since the declaration of the State of Emergency on Homelessness last November, the City has conducted 441 cleanups, or “sweeps” of unsanctioned encampments. Current City protocol provides homeless residents 72 hours’ notice before each cleanup occurs and access to outreach workers to connect to shelter and services. In reality, the notice can be as little as 24 hours, and an outreach worker, if they are able to connect with anyone at all, often does not have available shelters or services for individuals that meet their needs. Physical belongings are misplaced or trashed. An unsheltered person is then left on the sidewalk with nothing and nowhere else to go.

This reality is perhaps the reason why, out of the 441 sweeps conducted since November, 71 unsanctioned encampment sites have had to be repeatedly swept, as people kept coming back. This is perhaps why social service providers in Ballard saw about a 30% increase in foot traffic for their services after a concentrated effort at sweeping unsanctioned encampments in the U-District. In another area of the City, the Wing Luke museum directly attributes the increase in homeless population in the International District to the latest efforts at sweeping the I-5 Duwamish Greenbelt, commonly known as the “Jungle.” The City’s Department of Finance & Administrative Services (FAS) recently reported that in the vast majority of areas from which people are evicted, existing residents or others return almost immediately.

By continuing to conduct sweeps in the same manner, we are expending valuable resources and energy on a strategy that only shifts the problem around and offers a false sense of security for a few people. If our larger goal is to transition individuals and families into permanent housing, then continually displacing them, destabilizing their lives, and compromising relationships and connections to services is not producing the results we need.

About a month ago, I hosted a public forum to hear from community members grappling with public safety and public health challenges in District 6. Almost 200 people attended from all walks of life – ranging from service providers in the District, neighborhood residents, and those living without shelter – to share their thoughts on solutions to these challenges. As attendees talked about encountering needles in their local parks and about other unsanitary conditions as a result of unsheltered people sleeping in public spaces, they proposed solutions to immediately reduce this harm – sharps containers, more public restrooms, garbage pickup, etc., while also advocating for long-term approaches such as more mental health treatment and addiction services, and more housing. I support increased funding for this harm reduction approach, which addresses the immediate public health and safety concerns while allowing us to concentrate our efforts on stabilizing and sheltering as many individuals as possible.

Destabilizing and relocating people without other services or housing to offer works against our harm reduction efforts. That is why I support Council consideration of legislation backed by numerous community organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Columbia Legal Services, titled “Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents.” The legislation basically states that if there is not another specific public use for an area, and if we have nowhere else to send someone, we will not remove an unsheltered person from that location. The legislation still allows for, and in some cases requires, cleaning and garbage pickup of public areas. It also allows for the City to remove encampments from unsafe or unsuitable locations, like sidewalks and schools, or other areas with a specific public purpose. This legislation also does not limit the police from enforcing criminal law. The legislation aims to make our engagement with unhoused individuals more efficient and allows them to self-stabilize in the most appropriate spaces available unless those people can be provided a permanent housing solution.

I understand that there have been concerns about this legislation, some of which have been addressed in the most recent version of the ordinance, and have also been discussed at length in other forums. I intend for this legislation to be vetted through the public legislative process in parallel to, and informed by, the Mayor’s Unsanctioned Encampments Cleanup Protocols Task Force. I believe the Mayor and I have similar goals, and by introducing the legislation now, we can best ensure full consideration of our sweeps protocols before the winter months.

I also don’t want to assert that this legislation is a complete solution to the homelessness crisis, as we have long-term needs we must continue to tackle in the face of declining state and federal funding. We need housing that is affordable and accessible, better mental health and substance use services, and an economic system that allows everyone to thrive. But we must continue this long-term work while responding to people without shelter in an effective, humane, and organized way. The Sustainable Solutions for Unsheltered Residents legislation, in combination with short-term harm-reduction measures, allows the City to focus efforts on immediate public health and safety needs while eliminating ineffective strategies that only move unhoused people around to different areas.

 


Do No Harm and Do the Most Good

August 12th, 2016

On July 27, in what felt like one of our warmest evenings of the summer, I joined almost 200 neighbors and community members in Ballard to have a conversation about the issues I’ve been hearing most about in recent months – homelessness, property crime, and drug addiction. The Safe and Healthy Communities Public Forum (video available here) was an opportunity for community to come together to give feedback on solutions to these challenges from a public health and public safety perspective.

Before breaking up into small group table discussions, the event kicked off with Assistant Chief Steve Wilske from the Seattle Police Department, Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and Lisa Daugaard of the Public Defender Association. These speakers helped us to frame the discussion and challenged us to find solutions that would “do no harm”, as Lisa Daugaard stated, and “do the most good,” as Alison Eisinger described.

Similar to what we have heard previously through other community interactions, the concerns of residents’ safety and public health included: more people living outside, public drug consumption and accumulation of used hypodermic needles, vast garbage and human waste accumulation, increased numbers of vehicle living and the limitations of parking, needed bathroom access, disorderly conduct, mental health crises, property crimes including car break-ins, lack of transparency from the City on its investments and work, lack of storage access for people without housing, people inhabiting abandoned houses, accessibility of parks, economic issues including access to jobs, unsafe spaces for bike storage, and sexual harassment on the street.

The following is a list of solutions that were discussed by the residents and community members who attended the forum. This list is not exhaustive of all possible approaches, and many of these types of solutions must work in tandem, but some common themes have emerged. We note the number of tables at which different topics were discussed to give an indication of general interest in the subject, and so attendees can get a sense of what the conversations were like throughout the room.

Immediate Harm Reduction

  • Safe Consumption Sites: Eight of the small groups discussed these medically-supervised facilities designed to reduce public drug use and provide a hygienic and safer environment in which individuals are able to consume drugs, which has the potential to drastically reduce the amounts of drug consumption materials in parks and public spaces, and has the potential to save lives.
  • Public restrooms access: Quite frankly, everyone needs access to a bathroom. Eight of the thirteen groups found that all the neighborhoods in District did not have enough publicly accessibly bathrooms and for both unhoused and housed people, our communities need these spaces.
  • Additional garbage containers: Both housed and unhoused residents have limited access to garbage containers throughout District 6 and the addition of these could likely decrease the amount of trash accumulation in public spaces. Six out of the thirteen tables supported this idea.
  • Garbage Cleanup: Six of the thirteen groups favored the City prioritizing garbage cleanup of areas of people living without homes, without removing people from those spaces.
  • Sharp containers: In conjunction with safe consumption spaces and other public access needs, five groups said that District 6 lacked the necessary sharps disposal containers to decrease the amount of drug consumption materials in public spaces.
  • Better street lighting: Many individuals have felt unsafe navigating public spaces during nighttime hours and one group believed better lighting would increase neighborhood safety.

Access to Services and Shelter

  • Vehicle living: Due to the lack of affordable housing in our region, individuals and families have resorted to alternative methods of living spaces – including the outdoors and vehicles. There have been attempts to address the vehicle living issue through safe parking zones and lots. Unfortunately, the capacity does not meet the need and more safe areas are necessary. Four of the thirteen tables discussed these issues and solutions.
  • Treatment on demand: For individuals who have made the healthcare decision to enter treatment for drug and alcohol consumption, the majority of the tables encouraged the immediate availability for this type of service.
  • Reduce barriers: A range of barriers prevent many different types of people from being able to access shelter and permanent housing, including internal regulations excluding pets, lack of access for people with disabilities, and prohibitions of drug consumption. Two groups discussed removing these barriers.
  • Community neighborhood service center: One group made the suggestion that the City should invest in a singular resource center for the district where people can engage with both police officers, City staff, and service providers.

Role of Law Enforcement

  • Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion: LEAD is a program currently operating in the East and West Precinct, which allows police officers to refer people to community-based treatment and support services instead of making an arrest. Ten out of the thirteen tables discussed bringing LEAD to the North Precinct.
  • Stop displacement of people living without homes: Current city policy directs workers to clean up areas where people are living in outdoor spaces, which is accompanied with outreach services and often removal of people and their belongings. Six of the thirteen groups saw this as wasting resources and favored the City to cease this type of displacement.
  • Rethink parking restrictions: Four of the thirteen tables discussed how parking restrictions like the inability to park from 2am-5am actually “did harm and did not do to the most good”.
  • More micro policing capacity: Most of the groups were aware that police resources were limited because the police have directed much of their attention to homelessness issues. While many of the proposals could deter the need for that specific type of police response, increased micro policing could mean more police officers inside the communities building relationships and having the ability to address other necessary requests including property crimes. Three groups discussed this idea during their conversations.
  • Eliminate outdoor living: One table made the recommendation that the City should be making investments into preventing any outdoor living and vehicle residency.
  • Support a crisis app for SPD: The SPD recently got a federal grant to invest in Code for America, which is an app that provides health details of members of our community that deal with behavioral health issues. One group supported this issue.

Systemic and Large-Scale Solutions

  • Mental health funding: Individuals experiencing behavioral health issues was a highly mentioned topic in the group conversations. Six of the thirteen groups urged drastic increases in mental health funding. And when incidents happen, the public and the individuals engaged need an outlet that isn’t necessarily the police.
  • Affordable and accessible housing: Homelessness continues to rise and the need for affordable housing is also increasing. Three groups suggested that the City and region needs to make more investments into affordable housing that is accessible for all people.
  • Impact fees: Two groups discussed that larger-scale business should pay impact fees to help address many of the public safety and public health issues.

City Process

  • Transparency, communication, and education: The City and our departments managing public safety and public health can streamline communications and make the work transparent to the public. Three groups also believed the City needs to invest in education for both housed and unhoused people about what services are available.

 

The vast majority of comments that I heard from the tables underscores a basic truth: everyone needs support at different moments of their life – and that support happens through different methods, including family, friends, faith-based organizations, and government and community resources. Many people suggested that providing that support, and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, will actually increase the health and safety of all of our communities. It continues to be a huge challenge for us, as some of the issues we have discussed are a result of the continual decline of state and federal funding for support services. For example, Washington state ranked as 48th worst in prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care. Nevertheless, I heard a sense of urgency from this group to explore how the City could take a leadership role in providing mental health treatment and other large-scale solutions.

As for specific next steps, I will use this feedback to develop budget proposals and projects, in cooperation with my colleagues on Council, that reflect the priorities I heard that evening, and what I’ve been hearing from many of you in different forums these past few months. I hope to have a follow-up event that delves into these proposed solutions and more as we go into our budget season this Fall, and present specific budget tradeoffs for community input.  We will follow up with you shortly with a date and location for an event in late September. In the meantime, we will be in touch over email and on our blog as we solidify our ideas, hear from more experts on homelessness, and endeavor to be as transparent as possible in our approach.

Thank you for engaging in this conversation with me.

 

In Community,

Mike


District Office Hours Update

May 20th, 2016

Once again, City Hall is coming to District 6 in another series of drop-in office hours!

  • Thursday, May 26th, 3pm – 6pm
    Green Lake Public Library
  • Wednesday, June 8th, 3pm – 6pm
    Fremont Public Library
  • Thursday July 7th, 4pm – 7pm
    Greenwood Public Library

Mike-O'Brien-OfficeHouse---May-July2016v2

In the four sessions we’ve held so far, over 80 people came in to discuss a range of topics, from specific issues to more general concerns, including:

  • Increased development (both generally and specific projects)
  • The need for more affordable housing
  • Public safety
  • Expanding the LEAD program – referring those afflicted with addiction to services instead of jail
  • Recreational vehicles policy
  • Increasing services and housing for the homeless
  • Allowing electric bicycles on trails
  • Ride the Ducks safety – an update on the legislation, which ultimately passed
  • Sound Transit 3
  • Assistance for home damage from the Greenwood explosion
  • Encouraging more backyard cottages
  • Encouraging electric vehicle ownership
  • Freight Advisory Board appointments

For those who had specific requests or cases, my staff is looking into the issues and is following up with each constituent. Our responses have included engaging with departments for increased outreach and community policing in the Sandel Park area, inquiring into more parking areas for RV’s, connecting residents impacted by the Greenwood explosion to assistance from the Phinney Neighborhood Association, and working to create consistent policies between our Parks, Transportation, and City Light departments for electric bicycles on trails. In another blog post I discuss my efforts around affordable housing and preventing displacement in Seattle.

And as the City continues to grapple with addressing our homelessness crisis, I invite you to please join me on July 27th for a Public Forum on Safe and Healthy Communities, co-hosted by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ballard. More details to come soon.

Thanks again for those who have been able to stop by my office hours!


Equitable Development and Affordable Housing

May 20th, 2016

While our City continues to boom, attracting new jobs, development, and infrastructure, we know that not all members of our community benefit equally.  In fact, the increased pressures of our booming economy exacerbates our current housing affordability and homelessness crisis, and disproportionally harms low-income communities and communities of color. But I remain hopeful about our ability to grow and prosper without displacing the people, communities, and cultural anchors that make our city and neighborhoods great.

I have been reflecting on what it means for Seattle to grow and become a more equitable city as the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is being discussed across committees.  The Comprehensive Plan guides the city’s policy decisions around development and defines the vision we all have for a city where all people are able to thrive.  The plan includes goals and policies not only around urban growth, but also around transportation, community wellness, arts and culture, and how we engage community in planning.  To me, the plan is an opportunity to decide together what we want Seattle to look and feel like in the future.

Last May, council adopted Resolution 31577, which I sponsored, to ensure that we incorporate racial and social equity into our Comprehensive Plan update.  Essentially, we asked that before making decisions about how to grow, we need to be able to define and measure displacement, beyond the antidotes we hear every day.  Who is being pushed out?  Of what neighborhoods?  And why?  How does growth impact communities differently? And how can we measure the where the greatest opportunities exist? The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) has stepped up to this challenge.  OPCD has published both the Growth and Equity Analysis (GEA), which measures growth, displacement risk, and opportunity across the city, and the Equitable Development Implementation Plan (EDIP), which recommends strategies to ensure that as we grow, all communities benefit.  Staff continue to work in collaboration with communities most impacted by the threat and reality of displacement, who know best how to address their own needs as we grow.

I believe in the Growth and Equity Analysis’s Vision of an Equitable Seattle: Seattle will be a city with people of diverse cultures, races, and incomes. All people will thrive and be able to achieve their full potential regardless of race or means.  Our city’s neighborhoods will be diverse and will include community anchors, supports, goods and services and amenities so that our residents can lead healthy lives and can flourish. 

The equity analysis highlights the need for city-wide strategies as well as place-based strategies to ensure people thrive in place. This means not only considering how and where we grow, but investing in local community initiatives in places with high displacement risks and investment needs.  One example recommended in the EDIP that my office is excited to see to fruition is the Rainier Beach Innovations District (RBID).  The RBID is a community driven effort to focus transit oriented development (TOD) projects to produce decent quality jobs and create entrepreneurship opportunities for community members in Rainier Beach, bringing new economic development near the light rail station.  I believe investing in community-driven projects like the RBID are essential to our growth as a city.

In addition to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our community continues to take strides forward to achieve the goals and vision set forth in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).  We are taking essential steps toward building new, and protecting existing, affordable housing stock.

Access to quality affordable housing is key to anti-displacement.  Building new affordable housing is an essential way we are able to maintain Seattle’s racial and economic diversity and vibrancy, but it cannot be our only strategy against displacement. Keeping people in place enables communities to continue to thrive in the places they call home.  In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on housing affordability:

  • Seattle Housing Levy: Last month, the Council voted to place the Seattle Housing Levy on the August Ballot.  This Levy would create $290 million dollars to resource affordable housing.  Working with Councilmember Herbold, we added a loan program so that tenant-occupied buildings can be quickly acquired and preserved as long-term affordable rental housing or permanently affordable homeownership units.
  • Mandatory Housing Affordability: In addition to non-profit and community land trust efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, we hope to pass the Mandatory Housing Affordability- Residential legislation this summer.  This legislation would require all new multi-family and commercial development projects in the city contribute to creating 6,000 new units of affordable housing in the next ten years.  I am committed to ensuring our proposal meets this goal, and we would love to hear from you at a public hearing on June 21st.
  • Affordability in Single-Family Zones: In addition I want to see more opportunities for affordability across Seattle. Including in single family zones. I am hopeful that encouraging more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will be a big step towards this goal.
  • Tenant Protections: We are also pursuing increased tenant protections outlined in the HALA recommendations including protections that assure tenants are not discriminated against based on their source of income or background checks.  Essential to keeping people in place is assuring we protect tenants most vulnerable to being priced out of the city.

Over the coming months, my office will continue to explore creative anti-displacement strategies that create community ownership and opportunities to build on the strengths of the diverse communities that make Seattle home.  We plan to explore different models the city can pursue including:

  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs): CLTs are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land and are primarily used to create long-term affordable housing by removing land from the private market.  CLTs can also be used for commercial and retail properties.  We are looking at models locally and from around the county, such as Burlington, Vermont, which stewards 6% of the housing stock in the City. Here in Seattle, Homestead Community Land Trust has been working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families since 1992.
  • Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs offer ownership opportunities for lower-income people, and maintain affordability by limiting the resale value of the property.  We are interested in exploring how the city could support tenants interested in cooperatively owning their properties. There are many models for what these community-owned LEHCs can function and work with other models, including CLTs.

We are looking forward to working with other Councilmembers, departments, community-based organizations, tenant advocates, non-profit developers and land trusts working on creative ways to ensure development without displacement.  We hope to bring together local and national experts to learn more about how we can creatively keep people in place, and assure all of our communities benefit as Seattle grows.


Encouraging Safer Environments

April 26th, 2016

As you may have heard, last Saturday afternoon a young man, believed to be using methamphetamine, smashed a window of La Isla Restaurant in Ballard and proceeded to use a shard of glass to attack and injure two people on the sidewalk outside.

It is upsetting to see this happen in our community, and I can imagine it would have been terrifying to have experienced or witnessed it.  The question we are left with is: “how do we respond to this?” When an incident like this arises, we must ensure that our first responders are prepared to react immediately, and have the resources they need to address such situations. I want to acknowledge and thank the first responders who effectively and efficiently addressed this situation.

When thinking about safe environments generally, I am also focused on how we prevent instances like this from happening in the first place. As this work continues, I am engaging my staff in many different resources to help alleviate the public safety concerns in District 6. Much of this work comes from direct correspondence with constituents where my office has advised Multidisciplinary Outreach Teams (MDOT) to specific areas where activity is concentrated. My Office continues to engage with outreach workers and police officers to best address the community concerns.

I remain committed to implementing successful programs such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, an effort that has been proven to be more effective in moving people living in crisis to more stable situations. LEAD is a program that connects people who commit low-level drug and sex work activities to services instead of arrests. It has reduced criminal-recidivism rates by up to 60 percent and currently exists downtown and in select nearby neighborhoods. I would also like to support additional outreach workers through MDOT so that we can connect people to services instead of further isolating them. I support outreach workers on the street engaging with people who are living in crisis, sometimes because of addiction. These people are on the front line to both engage people suffering from addiction and direct them toward treatment options.

I will continue to encourage safer environments in District 6, our communities, and our city. My staff will also continue their role in engaging with constituents to meet the community needs of public safety. Supporting public safety and increasing connections for people and our communities is a collective action and I look forward to doing that work with each of you.

In Community,

Mike


Greenwood Food Bank Response

April 1st, 2016

Recently, many residents of District 6 and Seattle have contacted my Office regarding the Greenwood Food Bank, and I wanted to address your concerns. For background, in 2014, the Human Services Department (HSD) for the City of Seattle awarded 26 agencies a total of $3.1 million to provide food and meals to low income individuals and families who are food insecure from 2015-2018. These investments range from food banks, to home delivery meals, and meal site programs.

I am committed to ensuring that our City addresses the needs of people living in poverty. I took the claims of the Greenwood Food Bank very seriously and investigated the issue. I found that the media report around the Greenwood Food Bank was inaccurate. My staff, colleagues and I met with the Human Services Department (HSD) and representatives from Volunteers of America, which sponsors the food bank in question. We learned that Volunteers of America planned on relocating Greenwood Food Bank regardless city funding. The Volunteers of America has relocated their services to Bitterlake and made their consumer base aware of the move before it occurred. The majority of their consumers reside in closer proximity to the new location making travel to and from much easier. I am glad to know that the food bank has relocated to better serve its consumers and ensure access.

I want to share a bit about the process for the funding information from the City.  The Human Services Department (HSD) is responsible for awarding funds to social service agencies who provide services, including to food banks.  As directed by the Mayor, HSD began instituting funding awards through a competitive process to follow a performance-based investment practice. This means organizations and agencies needed to demonstrate their effectiveness to receive funding. Those that do not initially qualify have opportunities to work with HSD to learn about performance-based practices and to better understand the application process. Volunteers of America’s application did not reach the correct criteria for this investment cycle. But, that decision did not mean there was a loss of funding overall.  Rather, the entire amount of $3.1 million to provide meals and food remained and was allocated to fourteen other food banks.

Many of you have also asked why the funds used to acquire the bike share program could not be used towards homelessness services. I want to stress that the funds located in the transportation budget and the federal grant specific to bike share and street projects could not have been allocated for any separate projects. I do appreciate these thoughts and your participation and will continue my work in addressing homelessness.

Food access and other issues of homelessness are best addressed when we look at root causes. I was honored to have my work recently highlighted by a Food Lifeline newsletter in discussing hunger and food access. In the newsletter, I mentioned, “all of these things intersect with hunger, from climate change impacting the food supply to economic inequalities and homelessness limiting access to adequate nutrition.” I believe that by promoting policies that address income inequality, homelessness, and environmental equity, we can simultaneously impact food access.

Thank you again for contacting my office.


Investing in Bike Share – Public Ownership, Public Accountability

March 15th, 2016

In October 2014 Seattle joined many other municipalities in welcoming bike share as a component of our public transit system. One hundred and forty thousand rides later, the bike share program Pronto continues to grow, but now requires a public investment to continue operations and to expand its network.  We faced a decision to either make this investment and maintain existing service or allow the system to cease operations with the possibility of starting a new system in the future.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have received many messages from constituents both asking me to support bike share as well as to let the current program dissolve. All of your communications are extremely important to me and I use your thoughts to help guide my decision. I would like to highlight my own thoughts and explain why I am choosing to support public ownership of Pronto, with greater public oversight.

Pronto currently has 3,000 members who utilize bike share to get around. Through public testimony and constituent messages, it has become very clear to me that bike share is essential to many Seattle residents. A robust bike share system has succeeded with public investment in many cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. Some have suggested that bike share should be operated by a private company. Only one municipality has a completely private system – New York City – which is sustained through a massively larger population, high usage by tourists, and a distinctly concentrated network in the wealthier areas of the City. I have serious concerns that a completely privatized program in Seattle would be similarly focused and only serve higher income neighborhoods. In contrast, a public system that incorporates community input will result in a more sustainable and equitable system for our city, and will complement our burgeoning public transportation network of bus and light rail.

Now that the city has recommitted to our bike share system through this investment, here are some improvements I expect to see in the remainder of 2016:

  • Repositioning some of the stations to better serve the needs of existing and potential users. Ensuring that stations are both visible and accessible is a key to success and with over a year’s worth of data I expect some underperforming stations will be moved to better locations.
  • Coordinating existing service with new light rail infrastructure. This weekend new light rail stations open on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium.  While both have Pronto stations within a few blocks, there are opportunities to work with Sound Transit to reposition bike stations closer to the light rail stations.
  • Increased marketing efforts.  Now that the uncertainty about the future of bike share has been removed and warm weather is just around the corner, promotion of the existing system will increase and hopefully attract new users.
  • Better access for low income riders.  While a low income program currently exists, it can be expanded to coordinate with other low income transportation resources, such as the ORCA Lift program and discounted car-share options.

As we look to expand the system in 2017, you can expect to see more stations and more bikes, which means both better access in the areas currently served by Pronto and a reach into new neighborhoods.  A bigger network will mean many new opportunities for people to use the system.  This will also be an opportunity to streamline membership through a shared ORCA card, design the system to better work for low income communities and people whose first language isn’t English, and possibly employ newer technologies such as electric assist bikes.

I continue to appreciate the comments and agree with some of the critiques of Pronto and I have heard a call for greater public oversight. At the Full Council meeting yesterday, I sponsored an amendment that calls for more Council input in evaluating the request for proposals, so that we can better ensure the ideas above come to fruition.

Public ownership of bike share is an exciting proposition. I am choosing to build upon our current base of 3,000 Pronto members and our bike sharing infrastructure, and I sincerely believe that with our support bike share will expand, increase membership, and continue to be an integral piece of our transit system. All other modes of transportation have experienced similar growing pains. Now is the time for us to invest in this mode of sustainable transportation.

In Community,

Mike

**************************

UPDATE:

It has come to the attention of this Office that the Councilmember was originally provided incorrect information and the number of members for Pronto is currently 1,900. It is important to also note that policy decisions for this issue were actually based on the number of trips, which is not correlated with the number of memberships.


Delta 5’s Victory ‘A win for the planet’

January 15th, 2016

SEATTLE, Washington – Councilmember Mike O’Brien issued the following statement regarding today’s ruling in the Delta 5 case, in which five climate activists used civil disobedience to blockade a train transporting Bakken shale oil at the Delta rail yard in Everett. The jury in the case ruled the Delta 5 were not guilty of obstruction and will face no jail time. Earlier this week, Snohomish County Judge Anthony Howard allowed the Delta 5 to defend their civil disobedience using “necessary defense,” a justification that their actions were necessary to help stop climate change.

“Today’s victory for Delta 5 is uncommon, unprecedented, and further proof that the tide is turning. Together, they risked their lives on those tracks in an act of civil disobedience for the climate.”

“Congress has repeatedly chosen to ignore the threat of climate change, making direct action to fight climate change not only warranted but necessary. I will continue to do what I can personally and professionally to both regulate coal and oil trains here in Seattle and participate in the broader movement to fight climate change.”

“Abbey, Michael, Patrick, Jackie and Liz helped secure a win for the planet and are on the right side of history. Today I stand with the Delta 5 who, with today’s ruling, helped remind the world of the huge risks oil trains pose to our community.”

# # #


My 2016 Inauguration Speech

January 5th, 2016

(Remarks presented as prepared, see Seattle Channel for the full video and remarks as delivered.)

Mike & Courtney Inauguration 2016

Mike after being sworn in by Courtney Burnett Lauer

This is a new beginning for me, but so many of the challenges we face are not new, and Courtney’s story really embodies some of our biggest challenges in the coming years.

Courtney and her family moved to Seattle like so many of us, looking for a better opportunity for her family.

But the promise of new opportunity doesn’t come true for everyone, and Courtney, her husband and their three kids found themselves sleeping in Woodland Park, struggling to stay fed, warm and dry each day.

After spending time in the park, in motels, and in Nickelsville, Courtney and her family were able to find a home in transitional housing, where they live today.

But even that is not the stable, secure housing that she needs for peace of mind and for her children to be able to settle into their schools. Courtney needs to be out of her current apartment by the end of March.

To make matters worse, she actually has a Section 8 voucher that she could use to help house her and her family in Seattle, if only she could find a place in the city that will accommodate her family and take her voucher. That voucher expires at the end of February, and after that we don’t know what her family will do.

We hear too many stories like Courtney’s in Seattle.

Seattle is changing rapidly, and while our economy is booming today, too many people are struggling to survive in our city.

We all know the rent is too damn high, we all know we are severely short of the number of affordable housing units we need, and we all know Seattle is currently under a state of emergency around homelessness.

We must do something to address this cognitive dissonance of economic realities in our city, where some families are feeling the boom and others are feeling the bust.

In my new term as Councilmember to District 6, I will continue working on these issues that are gripping the city—housing affordability and homelessness—because I know my district is feeling them too.

We must center the experiences of families like Courtney’s, families struggling to find a place to call home. We must focus on addressing the challenges they face if we are going to be a truly equitable city.

So in the coming year, I want to focus on ensuring the next Seattle Housing Levy is as big and robust as possible, so we can create more affordable housing for more people who need it.

That means we also need to continue outreach and engagement with every neighborhood in Seattle around this Grand Bargain we reached last year, to ensure that the 20,000 new affordable units it calls for and the 6,000 new units that private development will help create can come to fruition.

This Council must also continue fighting for more shelter and safe places to be at night for people who don’t have a place of their own to call home. Families like Courtney’s aren’t well served by our current shelter system, and no child should experience homelessness, so we must do more, try more, and yes, even invest more if it means getting more people and families inside at night.

Of course, I am also excited to take on the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, and with the passage of Move Seattle last fall this Council has much work to do to ensure those projects that are fix streets, building new bike lanes and sidewalks, and creating a more reliable and accessible transit system are all coming in on time and on budget.

And we must continue Seattle’s leadership on fighting climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, especially with regards to our transportation system.

But at the end of the day, we cannot forget about Courtney and her family and their struggles to get by in this city, which many of us, myself included, consider one of the finest cities in the world.

But we must show that Seattle is great, not just say it. And showing it means finding new solutions to old problems like housing, homelessness and poverty.


© 1995-2016 City of Seattle