Rebuttal: The Seattle City Council's relevance is not in question

The president of the council responds to an earlier article by Crosscut Publisher David Brewster.
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Seattle City Council President Nick Licata. (City of Seattle)

The president of the council responds to an earlier article by Crosscut Publisher David Brewster.

Even if I weren't the Seattle City Council's president, I would feel obligated to respond to my old friend David Brewster's inaccurate portrayal of the state of the current legislative branch of city government. When Brewster writes, "It is not widely known by the public, but the Seattle City Council has been effectively shunted to the periphery in recent years. Mayor [Greg] Nickels moved strongly to reassert executive authority from the council and independent department heads, reducing the council to near-impotence (and a lot of reflexive resistance to most mayoral proposals)," I have to say that he has not been doing his homework. Let's review just the past six months. Council member Jan Drago recognized last fall that the mayor's proposed transportation package, "Bridging the Gap," was too big. She right-sized it and found success with the voters so that the city is now embarking on a much needed, nine-year, $365 million investment in our transportation infrastructure. During last fall's budget process, Budget Chair Richard McIver, council member Peter Steinbrueck, and I put together a $5.8 million package for increased public-safety spending – both for more police officers and more human services programs aimed at preventing crime. Also during the budget process, council member Tom Rasmussen continued to develop his initiative to help Seattle's senior centers, a key part of our city's safety net. The city's nine senior centers are financially distressed. Rasmussen steered money to them in the budget and funded a study to figure out how the city can partner with these institutions to promote their long-term health. After the budget, council member Jean Godden took on the mayor and City Light on behalf of ratepayers and reduced electricity rates by more than 8 percent. Godden and the council's staff showed that the City Light would remain in fine fiscal health, despite the cries to the contrary. Next, Steinbrueck led an initiative to develop a fairer, more rational approach to zoning adult cabarets than the "red-light" district in SoDo offered by the mayor. We will be voting on the "dispersion" approach to strip clubs early next month, and the public has been nonplussed about our legislation compared to the outcry about the mayor's approach. Over the same time period, council member Richard Conlin has been leading a concerted effort to adopt a "zero-waste" strategy to our trash and recycling quandaries. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remodel current transfer stations and build a new dump in the Georgetown neighborhood, as the mayor has proposed, Conlin has pushed to increase our anemic 44 percent recycling rate to upwards of 70 percent by doing simple things like allowing weekly pickup of all residential food waste for composting and facilitating the reuse of much construction and demolition waste. Council member David Della has responded to the numerous conflicts between neighborhoods and the mayor's Parks and Recreation department by increasing council authority over the parks board. He then nominated John Barber as the first council appointee to the board, and Barber was met with praise from both neighborhood activists, including Crosscut's Paul Andrews, and the parks department itself. Meanwhile, council member Sally Clark has undertaken a careful review of the mayor's proposal to regulate the city's nightlife. Next month, she will be offering her own package that attempts to balance neighborhood concerns about noise and the city's need to have a vibrant nightlife. Then, of course, there is the huge debate over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and council initiatives have succeeded in bringing together the divided stakeholders. First, Conlin crafted a resolution that stated the state and city should start on a series of projects to fix the north and south ends of the Viaduct before trying to solve "the riddle in the middle." Lo and behold, Gov. Christine Gregoire and Mayor Nickels announced a $915 million package to do just that – one day after an advisory election that saw both of their preferred alternatives go down to defeat. Work starts this summer. Now council members Drago and Steinbrueck have developed a proposal for the city to develop an "urban mobility" plan to see what role transit and the existing street grid can play in absorbing the 110,000 vehicles that use the Viaduct daily. The council plans to vote on the measure on Tuesday, May 29. Maybe Brewster should stop by and see the vote. Then perhaps he would recognize that the council is not on the "periphery" but exactly where the legislative branch should be – providing oversight over the city's executive branch and initiating and passing the laws that govern Seattle.


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Nick Licata

Nick Licata was a five-term Seattle City Council member and is author of “Becoming A Citizen Activist."