Harrell bill would let more business types set up shop Downtown

a group of people walk across a crosswalk on a business downtown seattle corridor

Pedestrians cross the street at Third Avenue and Pike Street. (Grant Hindsley for Cascade PBS)

As part of his plan for Downtown Seattle’s post-pandemic recovery, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced this week that he is sending legislation to the City Council to allow more business types to set up shop in vacant storefronts in the greater Downtown area.

The proposed legislation would apply to areas in Belltown, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne/Uptown and Downtown that currently allow retail, restaurants and bars and entertainment as well as libraries, museums, child care and religious facilities in street-level commercial spaces.

The bill would expand those allowed uses to include medical offices, research and development labs, food processing, horticultural operations, crafts manufacturing and art installations. The proposal also leaves the door open for other business types not covered by that list to apply for a permit from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

While the legislation would change the allowed permitting for three years, businesses established during that period would be allowed to stay indefinitely.

In addition to expanded uses, the proposed legislation would modify zoning regulations to allow smaller business spaces, making it easier for smaller-scaled businesses to set up shop. The bill would allow businesses to be a minimum of 8 feet deep instead of the current 15-foot minimum Downtown and 30-foot minimum in Belltown.

Finally, the bill would modify zoning rules to encourage businesses to occupy the second floor of office towers rather than filling only ground floor spaces.  

As is the case in many U.S. cities, Downtown Seattle has struggled in the wake of the pandemic, driven in large part by hybrid office work reducing daily foot traffic. Other than a dip around the winter holidays, Downtown worker foot traffic has mostly hovered around 55% of pre-pandemic levels since August 2023, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. Office vacancies in the central business district have continued to rise, hitting 24% at the end of last year and predicted to increase to 30% by the end of 2024.

Harrell has made Downtown recovery a centerpiece of his first Mayoral term. His Downtown Activation Plan is a laundry list of ideas meant to bolster economic recovery through tourism, increased numbers of Downtown residents and more.

In mid-March, Harrell transmitted legislation to the City Council to incentivize the conversion of office buildings into apartments and other uses. Last fall the Council passed legislation to rezone Third Avenue between Union and Stewart Streets to increase commercial and residential density, legislation to allow more hotel construction in Belltown and waived permit fees for food trucks and carts and small-to-medium street and sidewalk events. 

More Briefs

A dozen Washington school districts were recognized with the first-ever Purple Star Awards earlier this month for their support of active-duty military families. The state Legislature approved the program last year to recognize school districts that demonstrated a commitment to addressing the needs of students in families serving in the military. 

The school districts are 

  • Bremerton School District
  • Central Kitsap School District
  • Cheney School District
  • Clover Park School District
  • Medical Lake School District
  • North Mason School District
  • North Thurston Public Schools
  • Oak Harbor Public Schools
  • Peninsula School District
  • Steilacoom Historical School District
  • Sumner-Bonney Lake School District
  • Yelm Community Schools

To receive the award, school districts need to provide tools and support for students of active-duty military families in their school through tending to the social and emotional barriers students face when their parents are deployed or when they relocate and transfer to a different school. It is also a requirement for the district to host a military recognition event to demonstrate a military-friendly culture or to publicize the district’s support for active-duty military families. 

These school districts work with the Interstate Compact Council, which helps children of military personnel when moving from different schools. One example of this is giving their teachers training on how to better serve their students from active-duty military families. 

Washington has 39,860 children of active-duty military and 19,411 children of National Guard members and reservists, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Association of School Administrators jointly administer the designation, which will be in place for the districts for two years.  

Help Washington State University name its new apple

sliced apples sit next to a ruler

Washington State University recently launched a contest to name WA 64, an apple variety that is a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink. The variety, developed by WSU’s apple breeding program, is expected in grocery stores in 2029. (Photo courtesy of WSU)

Washington State University plans to launch its new apple variety in a few years, but is asking the public now for possible names. The university launched an online survey and contest seeking suggestions on what to name the apple currently known as WA 64. The deadline to enter is May 5.

It will be WSU’s second new apple launch in a decade, after the 2019 debut of Cosmic Crisp

WA 64, in the works for more than 20 years, is a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink, a variety better known by its trademark name, Pink Lady. WSU is in the process of selecting a commercial partner who will manage the rollout of the apple to Washington growers and nurseries. Trees are expected to be widely available to growers by 2026, and the apple is expected to appear in grocery shows by 2029, according to a WSU news release

Cosmic Crisp was also developed through WSU’s apple breeding program. Cosmic Crisp, a crossbreed of Enterprise and Honeycrisp grown exclusively in Washington, is among the top 10 best-selling apple varieties in the U.S. by sales and volume, according to WSU, citing Nielsen data. 

WSU pursued further development of WA 64 because it showed good eating and storage quality. Developers describe WA 64 as crisper and juicier than Cripps Pink and slightly less crisp and juicy than Honeycrisp, providing sweetness and acidity that falls between the two varieties.

The contest is open to U.S. residents 18 and older. Besides suggesting a name for WA 64, participants will also answer several questions, including how they came up with their suggested name and about their fresh apple purchasing habits. The winner chosen will receive a prize package that includes a variety of WSU items, including a gift box of WA64s and Cougar Gold, the university’s famed canned cheese.

Seattle Public Library announces temporary closures into June

a golden brown building in the late afternoon sun

The Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library, on Southwest 35th Avenue in West Seattle, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

In the face of staffing shortages, Seattle Public Library (SPL) announced plans to reduce hours at branches throughout the city from April 14 until June 4.

As with many city departments, SPL saw a wave of staff departures during the pandemic. According to its announcement of the temporary closures, the library system has hired 160 employees in the years since, and either met or exceeded pre-pandemic open hours in 2023.

But SPL also recently increased the minimum number of staff required to operate each library, spurred in part by a growing concern over safety for library staff and patrons. If a branch does not have enough staff on a given day, it leads to closures on short notice.

Librarians’ roles have expanded in recent years as the public institutions have become increasingly significant pieces of the American social safety net. In addition to being a resource and respite for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, libraries are also becoming important refuges from the extreme weather impacts of climate change, including heat, cold and wildfire smoke.

SPL’s staffing challenges come as Seattle grapples with a projected budget deficit of at least $240 million beginning in 2025. In January, Mayor Bruce Harrell instituted a hiring freeze for all city departments, with an exemption for public safety departments.

The library is not considered an executive department and was therefore not subject to Harrell’s hiring freeze. But Chief Librarian Tom Fay nonetheless instituted a hiring freeze to address the library’s own budget shortfall, with exemptions for hiring on a case-by-case basis.

The rolling closures will take place mostly on weekends and do not affect hours at the Central Library or Ballard, Delridge, Greenwood or University branches.

Here is the full list of closures:

  • Beacon Hill Branch: Closed Sunday, April 14, April 28, May 12 and May 26
  • Broadview Branch: Closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Capitol Hill Branch: Opening at noon on Thursdays and closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Columbia Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Douglass-Truth Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Fremont Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Green Lake Branch: Currently closed for seismic retrofit construction
  • High Point Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • International District/Chinatown Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Lake City Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Madrona Sally-Goldmark Branch: Closed Wednesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • Magnolia Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Montlake Branch: Closed Tuesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • New Holly Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Northeast Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Northgate Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Queen Anne Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Rainier Beach Branch: Closed Sunday, April 21, May 5, May 19 and June 2
  • South Park Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Southwest Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Wallingford Branch: Closed Fridays and Saturdays through June 4
  • West Seattle Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Seattle Public Libraries. The correct name is Seattle Public Library.

Washington to adopt new U.S. PFAS limits, but may take two years

A Washington Department of Ecology test well

A Washington Department of Ecology test well in the Lazy Acres neighborhood in Tumwater. Statewide, more than 300 water sources contain some amount of PFAS. (Andy Engelson for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Department of Health plans to lower the limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new lower limits on Wednesday.

The EPA released new nationwide maximum contaminant levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS – after a year-long review. The DOH responded to that announcement with an explanation of what those new limits will mean for Washington. The new EPA maximum levels are mostly lower than the limits adopted in 2021 by the Washington State Board of Health.

Those state limits will stay in place until the Board of Health adopts the new federal levels, which can take up to two years, according to a news release from the DOH.

PFAS are a class of water-resistant human-made chemicals used in a wide variety of products from rain jackets to Teflon pans to firefighting foam. These so-called “forever chemicals” do not break down easily in the environment. They have been found to have negative health impacts that include higher cholesterol, decreased immune response, thyroid disease and increased risks of kidney and testicular cancer.

The DOH offers a page filled with information about PFAS, and so do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent reporting at Cascade PBS revealed how much of a problem these substances have been in Washington.

Cascade PBS gets seven nominations for regional Emmy awards

A person sits on a horse in a field surrounded by trees and a mountain

A still image from Cascade PBS’ Emmy-nominated episode of Human Elements “The Range Rider.” (Bryce Yukio Adolphson/Cascade PBS)

Cascade PBS has received seven 2023 Northwest Regional Emmy Awards nominations from the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Here are the nominated titles and categories:

Environment/Science - Short Form

Human Elements: The Range Rider, produced by Sarah Hoffman, Bryce Yukio Adolphson, David Quantic and Sarah Menzies. 

Nick on the Rocks: Moses Coulee, produced by Sarah Menzies, Shannen Ortale, Brady Lawrence, Nick Zentner and Kalina Torino.

Arts/Entertainment - Short Form Content

Black Arts Legacies: Reginald André Jackson, produced by Sarah Menzies, Brangien Davis, Tifa Tomb, Avery Johnson and Kalina Torino.

Historical/Cultural - Short Form Content

Mossback’s Northwest: The First Around the World Flight, produced by Michael McClinton, Knute Berger, Resti Bagcal, David Quantic, Sarah Menzies and Madeleine Pisaneschi.

Mossback’s Northwest: The Day Germany Bombed Seattle, produced by Michael McClinton, Knute Berger, Resti Bagcal, Madeleine Pisaneschi, Sarah Menzies, Alegra Figeroid, David Quantic and Matthew Jorgensen.

Photographer - Short Form or Long Form Content

Sarah Hoffman and Bryce Yukio Adolphson 

Editor - Short Form Content

David Quantic

The recipients will be announced at the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Emmy Awards Gala Event on June 1. 


Sarah Clark and Joe Mizrahi are the new directors on the Seattle Public Schools Board, replacing two who resigned earlier this year.

Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark (Seattle Public Schools)

Clark, director of policy for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, will represent District 2, which includes the area from Magnolia Interbay to Loyal Heights to Green Lake. A graduate of Garfield High School and the University of Washington, Clark lives in Crown Hill and mentors students at Ballard High School. Board members said Clark would be the only graduate of the Seattle Public Schools system on the Board, and also cited her lived experience as a student of color and her work experience with policy as factors in her selection. Clark was selected from a field of 11 candidates.

Mizrahi, secretary/treasurer of UFCW 3000, will represent District 4, which includes the area from

Joe Mizrahi
Joe Mizrahi (Seattle Public Schools)

Downtown up through Queen Anne to Fremont. Mizrahi has three children in Seattle Public Schools and his wife is principal of an elementary school in Bellevue. He said his parents taught special education in San Diego and created programs around student inclusion and access. Board members cited his understanding of the Board’s role and his involvement in his neighborhood schools as factors in his selection. Mizrahi was selected from a field of four candidates.

Clark and Mizrahi both will be up for election in November 2025. 

Former school directors Vivian Song and Lisa Rivera, who moved out of their districts, vacated their positions in January. The resignations came after The Seattle Times raised questions about Song living outside her school board district. 

A new Washington state legislative district map will be in effect during elections this year after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a motion by conservative Latino voters to block the map’s adoption. 

This is not the end of the debate over Washington’s political map, but the Supreme Court has stopped it for now. The 2024 election will be governed by the map adopted last month by a U.S. District Court judge

The new map aims to create a Latino voter-majority district that aligns with voting rights laws. Under the new map, Legislative District 14 unites Latino communities in Central Washington from the east part of Yakima to Pasco in neighboring Franklin County, including Latino communities along the Lower Yakima Valley. The map also switched the Latino-majority district from the 15th to the 14th to ensure that state Senate elections fall on a presidential election year when the turnout of Latino voters is higher. 

The court led the process of creating the map after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik sided with Latino voters who sued the state in January 2022. He said the district, as drawn by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2021, diluted Latino voter power. The court led the process after Democrats in the Legislature declined to reconvene the redistricting commission

A group of conservative Latino voters, which included State Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy), intervened in the case, known as Palmer v. Hobbs, and opposed the map, stating that it was an attempt by Democrats to gain power in conservative Central Washington districts. That argument did not get much traction in the original court case or the remedial map process.

Intervenors, however, will have another opportunity to present their arguments for the appeals process, which was allowed to continue after the court declined to block the map for the 2024 election. According to a court document, conservative voters must file opening briefs by June 7, with responses due in early July.

The Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors is scheduled to appoint new members on Wednesday to replace two who resigned earlier this year after moving out of the districts that they represented.

The school district held a forum with the finalists from director districts 2 and 4 last week. The forum was posted to the district’s YouTube channel for board meetings. District 2 includes the area from Magnolia Interbay to Loyal Heights to Green Lake. District 4 includes the area from Downtown up through Queen Anne to Fremont.

Both seats will be up for election in November 2025. 

Former school directors Vivian Song and Lisa Rivera vacated their positions in January after The Seattle Times raised questions about Song’s residency in her school board district. Song and Rivera said they were in compliance with state law, but both resigned to avoid “unnecessary distraction,” according to their joint statement.

The Seattle Public Schools Board is scheduled to evaluate the finalists in an executive session scheduled before the regular public board meeting on Wednesday. The regular board meeting starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, 2445 Third Avenue South in Seattle. The newly appointed directors are expected to take the oath of office at 5 p.m, Thursday. 

Correction: This article originally had an incorrect date for the oath of office. The article was corrected on April 4, 2024.

A school district admnistration building
Seattle Public Schools’ SoDo headquarters, in an undated file photo. (Matt M. McKnight/Cascade PBS File)

Crown Prince of Norway to visit Seattle this month

Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon smiles into the camera for a portrait

His Royal Highness Haakon, the Crown Prince, in a 2022 photo from the Royal Court of Norway. (Jørgen Gomnæs/The Royal Court of Norway)

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway will be in Seattle on April 17 and 18 to discuss environmental efforts like the green transition and advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

With Seattle’s maritime industries in mind, the Crown Prince will discuss new technology and sustainability with representatives from the state. There will be a conference at the National Nordic Museum in Ballard. 

In 2019, Norway and Washington signed a memorandum of understanding to boost trade relations and create sustainable technology to enhance their maritime economies. 

Other Norwegian officials will attend: the minister for digitization, Norwegian State Secretary Kristina Sigurdsdottir Hansen and representatives of Norwegian businesses and the ministry of energy. Members of the delegation also have plans to visit Amazon and Microsoft.

Seattle has a strong Nordic heritage; Many immigrants came to the city and worked as fishermen, loggers, farmers, miners and boat builders. Prince Haakon’s father, King Harald V, visited Ballard in 2015, since the neighborhood is where many Scandinavian immigrants settled. He said the landscape of Seattle was similar to parts of Norway.  

It’s not the first time that royalty has visited Seattle. In 1976, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden came to Seattle. Prior to his visit, the City Council created the Ballard Avenue Landmark District and the king issued a special proclamation at the ceremony.

Shortly after, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip paid the city a visit in March 1983. It was the last stop on their West Coast tour. 

Washington is set to create a state-run automatic retirement savings system for workers who don’t already have access to an employer-based retirement system.

Washington Saves will require businesses without retirement plans for employees to allow their workers an opportunity to contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA) via an automatic payroll deduction through the Washington Small Business Retirement Marketplace. Employers will be required to enroll employees who have had continuous employment of one year or more in the program at default contribution rates. Employees may opt out. Washington Saves will launch for enrollees in 2027, according to a press release from the office of State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, who requested the legislation.

According to an analysis by AARP in 2022, about 43% of Washington workers in the private sector work for a company that doesn’t offer retirement plans — about 1.2 million people. Lack of access also varies by demographics — 66% of Hispanic workers, 47% of Black workers and 43% of Asian American workers do not have access to an employer-provided plan in Washington. Overall, 42% of all men and 44% of all women do not have such a plan. The legislation that created the system, Senate Bill 6069, was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee. It passed the Legislature this year, with final votes of 55 to 41 in the House and 35 to 12 in the Senate.

Oregon established the first state-run automated individual retirement savings system in 2017, and several other states, including California, Maryland and Virginia, have followed suit, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.