Sidewalks, car tabs, and the City Council

Monday, December 18, 2017

By Diane Hettrick

On Monday, December 11, 2017, a divided Shoreline City Council voted against imposing a $20 license fee to fund maintenance of sidewalks in Shoreline.

The vote was 4-3. Voting for the fee were Will Hall, Keith McGlashan, and Shari Winstead. Voting against were Jesse Salomon, Keith Scully, and Chris Roberts. An obviously conflicted Doris McConnell, who said she hated going against staff recommendations, broke the tie with her no vote.

People want sidewalks
Shari Winstead talked about running for office and hearing over and over from people how much they wanted sidewalks. It has been a topic of conversation for the eight years she has been on the council. McGlashan said it was a topic when he went on the council 12 years ago. He said the council even tried using asphalt walkways as a cost-savings measure.

Safety, access, and federal regulations
Besides citizen requests for sidewalks, Will Hall, Winstead, and Keith McGlashan expressed their concern about the safety of the sidewalks. McGlashan reminded the council of the incident when former councilmember Chris Eggen came to a meeting with his face bruised from taking a fall after tripping on a raised sidewalk. People in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or just those with some mobility issues find the existing sidewalks difficult and dangerous. Few of the sidewalks meet the requirements of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Beside safety issues, Winstead also expressed concern about the city's liability in case of accidents.

Old sidewalks or new and the Sidewalk Advisory Committee (SAC)
The currently operating Sidewalk Advisory Committee was consulted about the license tab fee and the majority were against it. They did not want to fund just maintenance, but wanted to request funding for new and old sidewalks on a prioritized basis when they finish their work in the late spring.

Hall and McGlashan disagreed, saying that you can't build new sidewalks if you can't maintain the existing ones.

The SAC is large, with representatives from all neighborhoods that requested participation. Their charge is to create a set of priorities, then consider all the streets in Shoreline, and using those priorities, present a prioritized list of work to be done, with recommended funding source(s).

Jesse Salomon agreed that it's the council's job to make a decision, but was concerned about the message it would send to SAC members about how their work was valued if council adopted the license fee now.

Keith Scully said that the SAC was given the task of prioritizing all sidewalks. He said the license fee now would be a regressive tax for a partial fix and would turn off citizens who would then not be supportive when the council came back to ask for more money for new sidewalks.

Chris Roberts said that the council should not short-circuit the work of the SAC, that it would be best to let them finish their work and make their recommendations.

Trees and sidewalks
The huge King County Forward Thrust bond issue of the early 1970s included money for street trees all over the county, including Shoreline. Unfortunately, they put in the wrong variety of trees. Those trees are now over 40 years old and they are big. Their roots are lifting and breaking the sidewalks, over and over, in spite of repairs and patches. Their branches are going into the power lines and getting chopped off by the power company in an effort to prevent outages when branches fall on power lines.

Access to funding
Will Hall reviewed the funding history. Eighteen years ago, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman decimated funding for cities with his first $30 car tab initiative which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). With that money gone, cities went to the legislature and asked for help funding infrastructure. The legislature granted cities the right to impose fees on license tabs. When council members have lobbied for more money, legislators ask if they have used the authority they were given to add to license fees.

There have been new sidewalks
Developers have been required for years to put in sidewalks as part of their development projects. The Aurora Corridor project created sidewalks the entire length of Aurora, on both sides. At one point all new construction required a sidewalk, even for single family homes. The single family home sidewalk requirement was dropped after it created a patchwork of short, different sized sidewalks as regulations changed.

City staff have been very resourceful at finding and obtaining grants. Sidewalks are still being installed around schools under the Safe Routes to School funding.

Sidewalk surprises
Not part of the council conversation but important to know: most people don't know where their property lines are. What you think is your front yard is probably part of the city right of way. You'll find out how much when a sidewalk goes in. People have lost landscaping, favorite trees, fences, parking spaces, and even decorative brick posts. For a start, go find the water meter box on the ground. It's on the city right of way.

What next?
There are 74 miles of existing sidewalk in Shoreline. 10.8 miles are ADA compliant. Preliminary analysis by staff estimate that repair and retrofit of sidewalks would cost between $65 - 119 million dollars and take decades.

There are two other funding sources, both of which require voter approval. Council could propose a sales tax increase of 0.2%. Council could propose a property tax, either a levy lid lift or a bond measure. Both methods would cost individuals more than the $20 license fee increase.


Jeff Dairiki December 18, 2017 at 11:15 AM  

Thank you for reporting on our city council meeting. I really miss the days when Devon Rickabaugh reported on nearly every council meeting. I realize that such reporting takes great dedication and effort, but for those of us who can't make it to the meetings, the synopsis of what was discussed, and who voted how is very valuable and important.

Also, thank you to city council for voting down a new regressive tax, when the budget and priorities for how the new revenues are to be spent have yet to even be determined.

To digress into rambling... I am not against funding our city, its infrastructure, and government, but at the same time, I would like to know what it is I'm paying for. I would like to have some feeling that the City realizes the value of our money, and makes the same effort the rest of us do to spend it judiciously and wisely. With respect to recent tax increases which have been put to the voters — I'm thinking about the levy lid lift of a couple years ago, and the recent school bond — I've gotten the impression that the amounts of the tax increases are set by city (or school) staff based on asking "how much do we think we can ask for and have it still pass?" rather than "what do we really need, and how much will it cost?". At the time these taxes were being voted on it was very difficult to find any documentation which provided a consistent reconciliation between budgeted expenses and the amount of the levy or bond. (Sure, some of the levy money is going for things we all support — police, social services — but how much? And where is the rest of it going?)

Jeff Dairiki
North City

Joanie December 18, 2017 at 4:58 PM  

It is too bad that no one thinks outside the box. How about asking Bikes to pay $20 a year for bike licenses, instead of hitting up the already unfair inflated car tabs. Just say'n....don't really care if the bike riders also pay for car tabs....I could have a trailer or boat trailer that I use once a year and I still have to pay for tabs because it is on THE ROAD

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