In her second annual State of the City address Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan touted Seattle’s response to the recent downtown Highway 99 closure and to this month’s record snowstorms.
The Durkan administration plowed busy streets, opened more than 500 emergency homeless-shelter beds and pumped out updates on social media, though critics said the city should have done more to deal with slippery sidewalks, which were particularly problematic for people with disabilities.
“From the Seattle Squeeze to the Big Freeze, it was challenging. But Seattle rose to the occasion,” the mayor told an audience at North Seattle College. “I can say today that the state of our city is strong and resilient.”
“Transit must be reliable and affordable — because we need transit to meet our climate goals and because it makes people’s lives better,” she said.
Building on a program launched last year that provides free ORCA transit passes to all public high-school students, the city this summer will partner with the Seattle Housing Authority and King County Metro to give passes to more than 1,500 low-income residents.
Riders with low incomes, those older than 65 and those with a disability already are eligible for discounted transit fares.
The new pilot program, which will cost about $1 million and which could grow later on, will save eligible residents up to an additional $648 per year, according to the Durkan administration. To pay for the passes, the city will use car-tab and sales-tax money dedicated for extra bus service and other transit purposes.
The mayor said certain Seattle Promise students soon will also receive $1,000 grants for expenses such as books and child care.
North Seattle College is in a Northgate neighborhood where major changes are coming, Durkan noted. A light-rail station is scheduled to open in 2021, and Northgate Mall is slated for redevelopment with housing and a practice arena for the city’s new National Hockey League team.
Also Tuesday, the mayor said she would this week send the council legislation that would require all new buildings with parking in Seattle to be equipped with infrastructure to support electric-vehicle charging stations. The city must become “more aggressive” in encouraging motorists to go electric, she said.
After her first State of the City address, delivered last February at Rainier Beach High School, Durkan and Seattle encountered political storms.
The mayor appointed Carmen Best as police chief after community outrage over Best’s exclusion from a list of finalists and pushed to repeal Seattle’s head tax after a failed attempt to compromise with Amazon.
Durkan built some momentum in November, as the council passed her police-union contract and her first budget and as voters approved her $600 million-plus education levy. The police contract is now under review, however, with U.S. District Judge James Robart trying to decide whether it conflicts with Seattle’s court-ordered police reforms.
In the past year, Seattle has adopted new rights for domestic workers, committed large sums of money to affordable housing and moved toward a regional approach on homelessness, the mayor said.
She said her administration has been laying the groundwork for a more vibrant city by striking deals to build a new park on the downtown waterfront and to have the Seattle Center’s arena renovated for hockey and concerts.
Durkan encouraged the crowd to imagine a North Seattle College student in five years riding light rail to the waterfront park and then taking in a show at the arena.
She didn’t mention the head tax, which would have raised nearly $50 million per year for housing and homeless services.
The mayor did indirectly address those who say City Hall should be doing more to counter gentrification in neighborhoods such as the Central District, Rainier Beach and the Chinatown International District.Durkan said she would sign an executive order Wednesday “to refocus our work on strategies to prevent displacement and gentrification,” sharing no details.
The recent snowstorms underscored the depth of Seattle’s homeless crisis, as at least one person died from exposure as the city’s street-encampment outreach team transported more than 150 people into shelters. Last Friday, city and county officials seized the opportunity to connect with people who hadn’t been served before.