Seattle Rolls Up Its Sleeves

Mayor McGinn and Seattle City Council members announce a job-creation package. (Photo: Mayor's Office)

After the last round of state budget cuts, it has sunk in, finally, that no one is coming to the economic rescue. So Seattle’s leadership has been showing signs of bootstrappy life of late, rather than the usual infighting over pet projects and bêtes noires. The results are mixed, but overall beat decision paralysis handily: the City will take up its own tourism promotion, fix broken streets, and make it easier to build and do business in Seattle.

Blowing Our Own Horn
This morning the City Council’s Tim Burgess, Jean Godden and Richard Conlin are gathering with Mayor McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Tom Norwalk, President and CEO of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, for a pro-tourism announcement that the Seattle Times reports will be centered around a new $2-per-night hotel tax to fund Seattle tourism.

Surprisingly perhaps, the Seattle Hotel Association is pushing for the tax. (It would apply to “53 hotels downtown and in Belltown, South Lake Union, the Chinatown International District, Pioneer Square and part of Capitol Hill.” The Times adds: “Hotels with fewer than 60 rooms would be exempt.”) But hoteliers, especially larger ones, are desperate to compete for conventions and other major events, and this year, the state is not in the game.

Inexplicably, the Washington State Legislature defunded the state’s tourism office, which was staffed by six people and had a tiny budget of $1.8 million. That amount is “tiny” in consideration of the fact that tourism is the state’s fourth-largest industry, and that 2010 was the second-best year on record, according to the New York Times. We are now the only state in the country without a state tourism office.

Smoothing Our Own Way
Also this week, Mayor McGinn, Seattle City Council President Conlin, and the Council’s Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden announced that Seattle will dedicate $3 million from the sale of the Rubble Yard to fix city streets. That amounts to a 33 percent boost to this year’s allocated street repair funding of $8.3 million, and will mean SDOT will not have to lay off so many staff.

The best news is that the money will bring up to 20 improvement projects that constitute actual repair, rather than temporary fixes: concrete panel replacements or resurfaced asphalt segments. In the first two quarters of of 2011, SDOT has filled 19,850 potholes, and the extra money will allow for another 5,000 patches–but this is a question of necessity that it’s not possible to feel good about. As a Slog commenter mentioned, it’s disturbing to use one-time gains to pay for routine street maintenance.

Growing Our Own Jobs
Last week, Mayor McGinn and Council President Richard Conlin went public with a regulatory reform package designed to get the City out of the way of job creation. The suggestions came from a panel of developers, neighborhood activists, design professionals, labor leaders, and environmentalists convened by McGinn, and while not fully baked yet, have gotten the seeming approval of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Sightline. The mayor claims that by “expediting” construction projects, some 2,400 jobs can be created in that hard-hit sector.

In other news, the panel asked the City to:

  • Encourage Home Entrepreneurship
  • Concentrate Street-Level Commercial Uses in P-Zones
  • Reduce and Eliminate Some Parking Requirements
  • Allow Small Commercial Uses in Multifamily Zones
  • Expand Options for Accessory Dwelling Units
  • Expand Mobile Food Vending and Temporary Uses
  • Improve State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Implementation

That is, the allowable size of a home office would be increased, and advertising would be permitted. First-floor retail requirements for new buildings would be limited to busy pedestrian zones, and, conversely, corner stores would be allowed in more residential areas. New buildings in dense, transit-friendly areas wouldn’t need to provide parking to the extent currently required. And the red, washable, high-traffic carpet would be rolled out for street food on private property (and allow farmers markets to stay open longer).

The timing is good, as the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has just begun a State Environmental Policy Act review process, and there is about a month for public input before the Council reviews the package in late August.