Commentary: Sidewalks in Shoreline

Friday, October 19, 2018

Priority list for new sidewalks


By Diane Hettrick


On the ballot: Sidewalks - Shoreline only

Earlier this year, the Shoreline City Council added a $20 fee to vehicle licenses to create additional funds for repair of sidewalks. What's driving this in particular is the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Our sidewalks lack curb cuts and the street trees (wrong variety thanks to well-meaning King county action 50 years ago) are cracking and pushing up sections of the sidewalk. In many areas it's safer to walk in the street.

But what about new sidewalks where none currently exist?
  • Yes, the city budgets a modest amount each year for new sidewalks.
  • Yes, developers pay for sidewalks at their developments.
  • Yes, the city gets grant money, particularly through the Safe Routes to School funds.

Candidates for city council have said for years that the one issue they hear when talking to citizens is "sidewalks." Everybody wants them, but nobody wants to pay for them. And a lot of people who think they want them aren't so excited when they find out they will lose 2 - 12 feet of what they thought was their front yard.

City councils have talked about sidewalks since Shoreline was incorporated, so kudos to this council for actually trying to do something about it.

They tried to get a broad cross-section of opinion on how to proceed by forming a citizen's committee, with staff guidance. The large committee met a couple of times a month for an entire year. They took numerous field trips to look at places recommended for immediate action and they debated how to pay for increasing the number of new sidewalks built every year.

In setting priorities for where sidewalks should be built they considered things like access to business areas, and filling gaps in areas with existing sidewalks. They recommended sidewalks leading to trails, bus stops, and parks. The 12 sites on the priority list are designed to serve the largest number of people.

They built in criteria so that less affluent areas, and areas with minority populations would get as much consideration as more politically active areas.

The funding would come from an increase in the sales tax which would bring Shoreline's tax to mid-point for surrounding communities. Remember there is no sales tax on food, by state law.

And now that it's on the ballot, all the knee jerk "No New Taxes" people are screaming. Many people are complaining because they assumed that new sidewalks meant their block.

Other people have qualms. Last year's property tax hike was pretty shocking financially and there's the prospect of funding the Community / Aquatics Center for next year. Tax fatigue is a very real thing.

Some civically involved people are campaigning against the proposition. A spokesperson from the sidewalk committee is now oppositing the proposition. People who campaigned for previous tax measures are opposing this one. Not because they are against sidewalks, but because of the way the finances are structured in the proposition.

City council members are basically shrugging their shoulders. Their attitude is - people said they wanted sidewalks - we figured out how to get sidewalks - now they have to decide.

Flawed or not, I doubt there is much political will to go back to the drawing board if this proposition fails.


3 comments:

Megan Kogut October 20, 2018 at 8:37 PM  

There are two people on the No on Prop 1 campaign. Neither are the Knee Jerk No New Taxes folk. One (me) was the campaign manager for the Prop 1 for the levy lid lift in 2016. I put 60 volunteer hours into that. One (Dustin) was on the Sidewalk Advisory Committee. He just wants good policy. Both of us feared being called No New Taxes folk. Regardless, we teamed up because we believed in each other and wanted to educate voters. So this commentary realizes our worst fear before we started.

We met those "Knee Jerk No New Taxes" folk at the beginning of the campaign. They know they are labeled. They are really nice people. They are just really cranky about taxes. We all get cranky about various things. They deliberately disengaged from this campaign because they know that their reputation precedes them.

I have no knowledge of anyone from the No on Prop 1 campaign submitting a letter to the editor or op-ed to Shoreline Area News saying in a knee jerk manner "No New Taxes!" The No on Prop 1 campaign has taken on the unenviable task of trying to distill the details of the Sidewalk Prioritization Plan so that people can make an educated decision. There's no harm in that. In fact, there is real value.

We are not anti-tax. We just want value for our taxes. $60M is a lot to waste, and it's a huge missed opportunity.

For our analysis of Prop 1, see shorelinesidewalksplan.org. Decide for yourself if we are kneejerk or knowledgeable.

If you don't want to dive into the details, then you are forced to follow your gut on this. For those of you in this camp, I get it, and I offer this food for thought:

1. The best that the Yes on Prop 1 campaign has to offer is to tell you hey,
50% of you said wanted sidewalks, so hey, here are some sidewalks. They're not awesome/in your neighborhood/in popular commercial areas. No one is on the Yes on Prop 1 campaign because they love the sidewalks chosen and think they will transform the city. They just think 4.2 extra miles of sidewalks anywhere is better than 0 extra miles. Is that what you will settle for?

2. Do you believe that there is no political will to go back to the drawing board? If you don't, please join us. We love sidewalks and we want the City to do better. If you do believe this was their best effort (we don't!), if you accept that city council members "shrug their shoulders" and don't have the "political will to go back to the drawing board", then, well, either we need more will of the people, new council members, or both.

Also know that the Sidewalk Advisory Committee's recommendations were repeatedly set aside by City staff and Council. This has been an extraordinarily difficult message for us to carry on our campaign. Please see our website at shorelinesidewalksplan.com if you are at all curious.

Sidewalk planning should not have been this hard.

DKH October 21, 2018 at 3:19 PM  

It was my intention to identify the different voices in the debate. The Knee Jerk people are the trolls who post anonymous comments on social media about any tax - accusing elected officials of being corrupt and on the take (no matter who is in office). Megan and Dustin are the "civically involved" people.

Keith Scully,  October 24, 2018 at 10:59 AM  

Right or wrong, a public vote is essentially the only way to raise taxes. I'm not sure councilmembers shrugged their shoulders--although appreciate the visual impact of that statement--rather than recognized that there was no way to raise funds for new construction without going to the ballot. Other options (like a VLF, or cutting funds from other areas of the budget) are either already being used for sidewalk repairs, or are simply unrealistic. No one is willing to cut police protection for sidewalks.

As for the nitpicking on details of the plan from the No campaign and the claim that only they are smart enough to come up with a "smart plan for sidewalks?" This was a group effort from a large group of citizens, staff, and council. Each had good ideas, and the result is a compromise reflecting a broad range of views. It is easy to throw stones at any compromise, but in truth this is a reasonable plan based on a very, very low rate increase.

Thank you for the balanced tone of this article, and I encourage everyone to vote for this reasonable measure that actually gets sidewalks built. And yes, it is very unlikely there will be a follow-up initiative any time in the near future if this fails.

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