Q&A With Shoreline City Manager Julie Underwood: Part 1

Underwood addresses SPU acquisition, light rail, crime prevention and future development

Editor's note: This is the first of two parts of questions and answers with Shoreline City Manager Julie Underwood.

1. What is the biggest single issue facing the City of Shoreline right now?

Right now the biggest single issue facing the City is Proposition 1, which asks Shoreline citizens to approve the City’s proposed acquisition of the Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) water system in Shoreline. For more than 10 years the City has been looking for ways to improve water service for residents on the west-side of the City. We are now in a unique position to acquire and operate the utility at the same rates as, or better than, SPU’s projected rates while at the same time making significant improvements to the system. The voters will decide if we continue to move forward on November 6.

Looking forward to 2013, the two biggest issues facing Shoreline are light rail station area planning and crime prevention efforts. Light rail will bring significant impacts to the City. In 2008, Central Puget Sound voters overwhelmingly approved Sound Transit 2 making extension of light rail north from the University of Washington to Lynnwood possible. We know there will be a stop at I-5 and N 185th Street and anticipate another one being built at either I-5 and N 145th or N 155th Streets. What will that mean for Shoreline commuters? It means they will be able to travel to the University of Washington, downtown Seattle, SeaTac Airport and the eastside avoiding traffic congestion and helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

What it also means is that in the long-term the areas around the stations will see a shift from single family neighborhoods to transit oriented communities. While the stations are not planned to open until 2023, the City Council believes that now is the time to plan for this change.

I want to emphasize that whatever decisions are made around the station areas, the Council is fully committed to ensuring that the community is actively involved. The only way we will be successful in developing these areas is with the community’s active participation and support.

The second emphasis the City will be concentrating on in 2013 will be an increased emphasis on crime prevention and education. As you know, there were a number of high-profile crimes in Shoreline this spring that have shaken the community. The 2012 citizen survey found that perceptions of safety in Shoreline have decreased since 2004, particularly around public spaces and in the City’s parks and along its trails. We will be working closely with the community to try and figure out what the issues are and why perceptions of safety have decreased. I have asked our police and parks staff to take an environmental and safety scan of our parks to better understand the issues unique to each park and to provide a proposal for making these spaces safer.

One of our primary missions as a city is to ensure our residents feel safe in their homes and community.  We are also evaluating if our police storefronts continue to be an effective part of our crime prevention program. One proposal that we’re considering is consolidating the two storefronts into one central location at City Hall. We could use the lease savings to purchase and operate a mobile “storefront” that will travel throughout the City visiting each neighborhood. In our recent citizen survey, we’re starting to see a trend of resident dissatisfaction with the City’s crime prevention efforts. With that in mind, we must examine the effectiveness of our current strategies and be willing to make changes. I would welcome hearing ideas from our residents.

2. The Seattle Public Utilities water system acquisition, Proposition 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot, had early support according to city surveys, but opposition is coming from other local utilities such as the Shoreline Water District, and likely the Ronald Wastewater District, as well as some residents. How does this acquisition fit into the city's future plans, such as working with developers and attracting economic development?

Almost since incorporation, the City has been looking at ways of improving water service on the west-side of the City. This has included extensive discussions with SPU about improving infrastructure investment and maintenance. In 2004, the City and SWD reached an agreement to study acquiring and operating the SPU system. SWD began negotiating with SPU about the possible acquisition of the system. After months of negotiations, the parties were unable to agree on a reasonable purchase price. Continued discussions seemed fruitless and the City and SWD ended their attempt to acquire the utility.  Although this is the case, the City’s concerns about the system continued.

In 2009, the City Council once again decided to make improving water service on the west-side a top priority and made acquisition of the SPU water system in Shoreline a Council Goal. When City staff approached SPU about acquiring the system, SPU agreed to negotiate, but with the condition that it would only negotiate with the City of Shoreline.

It is disappointing that SWD and Ronald Wastewater District are opposing the acquisition of SPU. After almost ten years of discussions and negotiations, the community will finally have an opportunity to have a say in how their water utility rates are set and how they would like to fund infrastructure investments here in Shoreline, not Seattle.

As you know, the City has some concerns about pockets of low fire flow in the City. City ownership will allow the City to provide the desired level of maintenance and system improvements over time to address such issues as fire protection and utility upgrades to help foster economic development in our commercial areas. The investment of multi-family housing and commercial development that includes restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, and retail shops is very competitive especially in this slow recovering economy. Planning for growth, which means coordinating utility upgrades, will better position the City for economic development opportunities.

3. Is the city asking for a blank check as critics charge or is this truly a cost savings for residents?

No, the City is not asking for a blank check. The City has negotiated a price of $26.6 million with SPU using a valuation method agreed to by SPU. If the purchase and sale agreement is out of line with the negotiated price then the Shoreline City Council will not move forward with the purchase. The Council’s stated goal is to keep rates at or below SPU’s projected rates. Again, the reason for acquiring the system is to provide residents on the west side of the City with local control over their water utility that will allow them to have a say in how rates are set and how money is invested in the system to meet Shoreline’s desired levels of service. 

4. The police budget is about a third of the city's general fund and the budget increased this past year. Violent crime is on the rise this year and there have been several high profile incidents recently, rapes, murder, robberies at gunpoint. What is the need for police services and how will the city pay for it?

There is no doubt that we have had some high-profile crimes in Shoreline this year that have impacted perceptions of safety in Shoreline. However, overall both Part 1 violent crimes against people and Part II non-violent crimes against people are at about the same level as last year at this time (Part I: 2012 = 1,339 and 2011 = 1,327; Part II: 2012 = 1,492 and 2011 = 1,481). Regardless, we still plan on placing significant emphasis on crime prevention and education in 2013. This includes examining current approaches and seeing how we can improve.  Ideally, I would like to keep program improvements or enhancements budget neutral since there are no additional resources to increase budgets.  


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