Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Archive for December, 2010

Dec 27 2010

Examining the John T. Williams Shooting

Published by under Public Safety

By now, most of you are aware of the fatal shooting of Native American carver, John T. Williams. Politicians are usually adept at avoiding the unpleasant conversation regarding what the implications of this shooting are or how they actually “feel” about these tragedies. In contrast, on September 15, 2010 I convened a 4-hour hearing in Council chambers to openly discuss the full event and all of its ramifications. The Seattle channel video of the discussion is below and the Seattle Human Rights Commission discussion starts at 17:28.

Seattle Channel Video can be played in Flash Player 9 and up

The purpose of the discussion was to make sure a fair and full investigation of this matter was conducted and to discuss what we can learn from this unfortunate event.

Our discussion included officials from the City of Seattle Native Employees association or CANOES, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, Washington Indian Civil Rights Commission, Washington Human Rights Commission, City of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission, Chief Seattle Club, United Indians of All Tribes, National Indian Urban Coalition, Suquamish Tribal Council, and the Puyallup Tribal Council. Seattle Police department officials were invited, but did not attend. To read the specific recommendations resulting from the discussion, please click the links below.

As you may know, the Firearms Review Board has preliminarily indicated that the shooting was not consistent with its rules and procedures for use of deadly force. At the time of this writing, the King County Inquest proceeding is underway to determine whether any criminal charges should be filed as a result of the shooting. In that proceeding, an actual jury is convened to hear arguments advanced by the Prosecuting Attorney and opposing arguments made by attorneys for the Police Officer.

I have been very vocal about this shooting for the simple reason that I believe Seattle has to find a better way, a more humane way, if you will, to address this kind of situation. My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Williams and to Officer Ian Birk and his family. I think it as tragic to take a life while on duty, and certainly tragic to die unnecessarily. That fateful day cannot be rewound.

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Dec 05 2010

Answering the Call for low City Light rates

Published by under Seattle City Light

Seattle residents and businesses demand low, competitive rates. A 2010 Seattle Times Op Ed piece demanded that Seattle City Light not increase rates and drive its costs down by operational efficiencies and live within its means. My committee, the Energy, Technology and Civil Rights Committee, heard those concerns and based on those demands, here are some facts: Our current rates are 15% lower than they were in 2004, when adjusted for inflation. In 1990, the rate was 5.88 cents per kilowatt hour. The current rate is 6.88 cents per kilowatt hour. The national average rate is 9.89. Denver is 7.93; San Francisco is 13.47 and New York is 21.46. Of the 25 largest cities, we are the lowest. How?

The City Council cut City Light’s Operations & Maintenance (O&M) and Capital spending by $94 million in 2009 and $64 million in 2010. We eliminated 49 positions in 2010. You have asked that City Light live within its means. Fact: The number of authorized Full Time Employees (FTE’s) in 2010 is merely 2% higher than in 2000 (41 employees more) and the largest group of new positions are in the Conservation areas where we are required under state law to comply with the conservation targets set forth in I-937.

As part of last year’s budget, we directed City Light to limit their distribution services overtime expenditure to $3,000,000. Authorization to exceed this limit would not be granted until the Utility provided the Council with a written explanation of future overtime management. City Light responded by limiting mandatory safety meetings to 1 hour, eliminating non-essential group meetings and decreasing setup and breakdown time on the loading dock. The results: 18% reduction in overtime compared with 2008 and a 21% reduction from 2007. In terms of dollars, overtime expenditures decreased from nearly $25 million in 2006 to just over $10 million in 2009. We will continue to monitor and improve these numbers.

For the first time in City Light’s history, we have achieved a $100 million dollar rainy day fund to protect rate payers from the volatility of the wholesale market where we trade energy. We accomplished this by refinancing approximately $580 million in bonds and saved $57 million and rather than merge the projected savings with O&M and capital, we required the utility to fund the Rate Stabilization Account. Moreover, the 4.5% surcharge which was partially used to build the Rate Stabilization Account (RSA) will be retired in January 2011 and was in place less than a year.

It is important however, to understand the challenges we face. Fact: there are 80,000 utility poles in the distribution system, with an average life of 50 years. Nearly 50% of the poles are near the end of their useful life. We approved $4 million in the 2011 budget to help ensure the poles are replaced before they fail.

Substation transformers face a similar scenario. The average life of a transformer is 40 years. The average age of City Light’s transformers are 34 years, with some being far older. We approved $1.3 million for maintenance and replacement. City Light’s distribution system has about 500 miles of underground cable with an average life of about 35 years. Most of the system is already 35 years old. We are using new technology to inject the cables with a gel substance that extends their life which is less than digging them up and replacing them. We approved $5.6 million to keep the cable injection program on track. City Light has approximately 400,000 electricity meters. 40% are at least 30 years old. These units run slower as they age and do not record electricity use accurately. These are examples of its aging infrastructure.

It should be clear that City Light is on the right track and that we are always looking for methods to improve efficiencies. We have put in place tremendous volunteer talent in our City Light Review Panel to help drive a new Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is a fluid six-year document that will provide investment choices and strategies to help guide our decisions as we consider funding for large infrastructure items like a Smart Grid. One goal of the Strategic Plan is to completely align the rate setting process with the budget process. This will make the rate impact of these projects clear and give us the ability to prioritize them based on need and impact.

Bottom line: We hear you and will do everything possible to maintain a competitive edge in the rates on our electricity.

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