Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Archive for November, 2009

Nov 30 2009

Moving Seattle Beyond Race to Inclusiveness

Council Passes Resolution Directing
Race and Social Justice Work to Continue

City Employees and Department Heads Commit to Heighten Efforts

Below the press release (11/30/09) is an editorial I wrote about the Race and Social Justice Resolution.

Seattle – Today the City Council passed a Race and Social Justice Resolution intended to heighten the City of Seattle’s awareness of institutional racism and social disparities. The Resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, seeks to carry forward and strengthen the initiative begun by Mayor Nickels. Councilmember Harrell believes that “Mayor Nickels had the vision and courage to drive this important work which demonstrated his recognition that race and social disparities continue to exist throughout our city. The initiative can result in a healthier and more efficient work environment and better city services to all communities.

Department heads, change teams, city employees and community leaders were all on hand to support the legislation. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, on behalf of the Mayor and the City’s executive team, expressed their gratefulness that this important work will continue.

The Resolution states the strategies and tools to address racial and social disparities and describes the goals of improving workforce equity, contracting equity and best practices to achieve equal access to city services.

“This work must continue because all people in Seattle benefit when we demonstrate inclusiveness in how we make decisions, how we provide basic city services and how we manage change. This is the first piece of legislation on this issue and Seattle’s commitment in this area has already been nationally recognized.” says Mayor Nickels.

A key component of the work going forward was the 2009 establishment of a Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable. This group consists of individuals from community organizations, business, philanthropy, education and others with the mission of extending this work beyond city government and into the community. Councilmember Harrell “looks forward to working with the Roundtable and moving this effort beyond City government.”

Seattle Times Editorial (Saturday, 11/28/09)
Looking beyond race, not by being colorblind, but inclusive

In the Pacific Northwest, history was made in 1997 when Gary Locke was elected Governor, Norm Rice was Mayor, Ron Sims was King County Executive, John Stanford was the Superintendent of Public Schools and Richard McIver, Martha Choe, Cheryl Chow and Charlie Chong served on the Seattle City Council – all people of color.

In 2009, Seattle elected a new King County Executive, Mayor and Seattle City Council. While three people of color ran for Mayor and one for City Council, none advanced beyond the primary.

When our country elected President Obama, the Republican National Committee elected as its head, Michael Steele, the first African American to hold this position. Since every door seems to be open to racial minorities, do race-based policies still make sense or are they passé? Can I claim that my African American children are disadvantaged and should be treated differently because of their race? We have tried to give them every opportunity possible –education, exposure to the other cultures, music, sports, you name it. In contrast, I have met white children who were dealt nearly every card against them: poverty, absentee parents or a parent on drugs, abuse and violence in their home. I therefore pose the question about the role race now plays in our country and, in particular, Seattle.

The diverse political landscape of 1997 was a result of our voters looking beyond race to elect its leaders. Indeed, that was the profound realization of President Obama’s victory. But I contend that looking beyond race is not the same as being colorblind. In fact, pretending race does not exist is not the same as creating equality. Looking beyond race means recognizing that our government and social institutions continue to perpetuate advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power and resources to certain privileged groups and that race continues to play a role in such disproportion. In order to address these inequities, we must acknowledge that race is still a factor. The solution is not being colorblind; it is being inclusive of those who have not enjoyed a history of privilege.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.4% of Whites in Seattle live in poverty. The rates for people of color are alarmingly and disproportionately higher: 30.9% for Native Americans or Alaska Natives; 30.2% for Black or African Americans; 18.8% for people with Hispanic ethnicity; and 15.3% for Asians. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six (5.6) times the rate of whites. Hispanics are incarcerated at nearly double (1.8) the rate of whites. In fact, in 2005, Hispanics comprised 20% of the state and federal prison population; a rise of 42% since 1990. I contend that these statistics are not simply a result of poor choices by racial groups, but direct results of history and institutionalized behavior.

The English word “race” is traced to a 1508 poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings. Race has no genetic basis. There is no one quality, characteristic, or gene that distinguishes all the members of one “race”. Two random Chinese may be as genetically different as a Chinese and an African. Yet, race is such a powerful social idea that it continues to shape our thinking and our institutional development. Communities of color continue to talk about race because of their history of exclusion and lack of privilege. Even today, an isolated experience may cause them to ponder whether their skin color had anything to do with it. As noted African American author James Baldwin wrote, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

On November 30, 2009, I introduced legislation to the Seattle City Council that will heighten and strengthen our city’s awareness of institutional racism and social disparity – a system where people benefit or are disadvantaged without necessarily doing anything themselves. This is an initiative that Mayor Greg Nickels began, I believe, out of his heart because there was no huge political advantage in doing so. This City Council remains committed to that cause. Yes, we should continue to look beyond race as we elect our leaders but this is not the same as ignoring race. At the core of how we address societal change, should be a commitment to also observe who is excluded from the road to success because of their skin color, socioeconomic status or other differences such as gender, age, sexual preference or physical ability. Once we see through this lens, what we call the “Race and Social Justice lens”, we will see how similar the dreams of all boys and girls are, regardless of race and how important it is to value the inclusiveness of those who are underprivileged. Yes, race does matter if it reminds us every day why we must remain fully committed to inclusiveness.

Bruce A. Harrell serves on the
Seattle City Council and will Chair the Energy,
Technology and Civil Rights Committee for 2010

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Nov 25 2009

City Council 2010 Budget Re-cap

Published by under Budget

The Council finished working through the 2010 budget process and approved an annual operating budget of $907 million. A prominent feature of this budget process was the restoration of $860,000 to Seattle Public Libraries that reestablished operating hours that would have been lost. Following are a few budget highlights.

In the area of Technology, the Council added a total of $110,000 which will include $20,000 to launch an “Apps for Seattle” contest that will tap into local web developers and citizens to develop applications, websites and tools using the City’s open data sets. This $20,000 can result in millions in dollar value relative to creating useful applications for the city. We also added $50,000 to the Technology Matching Fund grant program which increases access to electronic information and technology for citizens who may not otherwise have the means of access.

Continue Reading »

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Nov 15 2009

Teaching our Youth by first, Listening

Unprecedented Youth Violence Forum. I was proud to take part in a Seattle Channel, CityClub and Town Hall sponsored Youth Violence Forum on Tuesday, November 10. C.R. Douglas, Seattle Channel’s public affairs host, moderated the lively panel discussion which included youth who have been impacted by violence first-hand. A short video was shown where I interviewed youth in the community who were very close to the issue of violence on the streets. “I was joined by Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) Director Mariko Lockhart, Police Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, Urban League SYVPI Program Coordinator Jamila Taylor, Royal Alley-Barnes, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Cleveland High School students Maraunjanique “Mook” Smallwood and Janisha “Boug” Sparks, a member of the Seattle Police Department gang unit, and Tony McCane, a former boxer, gang member and now community activist.”

Our City’s 2009-2010 budget allocated $8 million of the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative to end the killings and assaults among juveniles, ages 12 to 17. Last year about this time, 5 youth were killed in Seattle. This year, that number is reduced to 0, aside from the tragic killing of 18 year-old Aaron Sullivan.

You can view the Youth Violence Forum at http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=3380902.

Continue Reading »

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Nov 12 2009

Smaller Rate Increase Would Have Protected People and Businesses

You may be aware that the City Council voted to implement a 13.8% rate increase for City Light. Below is my statement regarding Council’s decision. Also, we just learned that City Light was awarded $800,000 from a settlement with Enron. The money will go toward low income rate assistance.

“In a move to keep City Light’s borrowing costs low and maintain its commitment to conservation, the Seattle City Council passed a 13.8 percent rate increase which will begin in January 2010.

While I fully support the Council’s commitment to conservation and protection of the Utility’s borrowing status, I believe the needs of the people and businesses should always come first. I preferred a lower increase of 7.9 percent that could have given the utility the necessary funds to operate efficiently, improve its debt service coverage ratio to 1.6 and restored $1 million that was cut by the Mayor for conservation.

We must continue to drive the costs of its operations down in order to protect the people from unreasonable rates. However, even with a 13.8 percent increase, Seattle City Light offers power at 6.42 cents per kwh which is one of the lowest rates in the region. The average monthly bill of $44 will increase $6 per month. By comparison the US average is 9.7 cents per kwh. Los Angeles has a rate of 10.20 cents per kwh and San Francisco has a rate of 12.94 cents per kwh.

It is not that either proposal is right or wrong. We brought several choices to the Council. These are merely policy preferences with different points of view. The Rate Advisory Committee (“RAC”), a nine member committee appointed by the Mayor and City Council, recommended a 7-8 percent rate increase. The RAC represents small and large businesses, neighborhoods and lower income residents.

The Energy Committee will continue to identify where City Light can create efficiencies, and improve its development and implementation of the strategic plan it submitted last year under the Committee’s request.

The 13.8 percent increase will create greater certainty that the utility maintains its AA- bond rating which will allow it to borrow at a lesser interest rate when it issues bonds in April of 2010 and help to fund its capital improvement plan. The utility was rated A since 2001 and increased its rating to AA- in 2008. Less than 5 percent of Electric and Gas utilities in the United States fall into the AA rating. The higher rating was achieved because of the utility’s revised financial policies and because of its reduced reliance on purchased power.

Now that this current rate review has concluded, I look forward to an open and transparent process of making sure City Light’s strategic plan is complete and the people can maintain safe, reliable power at affordable rates.”

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Nov 11 2009

City Light Rate Options

As Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, part of my job is to make sure my colleagues on the council understand the complexities and policy implications of rate decisions. You may find the internal document I prepared for my colleagues interesting:

From: Energy and Technology Committee Chair, Bruce A. Harrell

RE: Options to address City Light’s financial distress

Date: November 9, 2009

The Budget Committee is reviewing two different proposals/strategies for your consideration. Both proposals are in response to the Mayor’s rate proposal, which was intended to address City Light’s poor financial performance ahead of a needed $200 million bond sale in early 2010. While these different proposals may contain different rates, each approach is intended to achieve the same core purpose of providing the necessary resources to the utility such that it can remain one of the most reliable and environmentally sustainable power systems in the country. Continue Reading »

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Nov 10 2009

Youth Violence Forum features teens directly impacted by violence

[Update, 11/12/09]

Seattle Speaks: Youth Violence

Seattle Channel Video link: http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=3380902

Media Advisory: Councilmember Harrell to participate in critical youth crime prevention discussion

SEATTLE – On Tuesday, Nov. 10 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall, Seattle Channel, CityClub and Town Hall will hold a forum on youth violence. Seattle Channel’s public affairs host C.R. Douglas, will lead a lively panel discussion that includes youth who know violence first-hand on the streets, Councilmember and longtime youth mentor Bruce Harrell, Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) Director Mariko Lockhart, Police Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, Urban League SYVPI Program Coordinator Jamila Taylor, a member of the Seattle Police Department gang unit and a former gang member.

In Sept. 2008 Mayor Greg Nickels pledged $9 million toward a Youth Violence Prevention Initiative aimed at ending the killings and assaults among juveniles.

The panel will be asked questions and discuss the city’s initiative aimed at youth violence, including whether the approach is working, how people can get involved and what community organizations and private businesses can do to help.

The forum will include an Interactive Polling System to directly receive feedback from the audience. Additionally, viewers tuning into Seattle Channel 21 can participate in the forum online during the broadcast.

What: Seattle Speaks – Youth Violence
Where: Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave. Seattle
When: Registration 6 p.m., audience instructions 6:30 p.m., program runs from 7 – 8:30 p.m.

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