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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

City Sustainability Office Deemed Unsustainable

posted by on October 28 at 14:39 PM

UPDATE: Council president Richard Conlin, who was rumored to be the source of the proposal, says that although “it’s perfectly valid to put [OSE] on the table,” he doesn’t “think it’s going to happen.”

The city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment could be eliminated or drastically downsized by the city council, as part of an effort to restore some of the direct service cuts proposed in Mayor Greg Nickels’s budget. The city, like the county, is facing a shortfall in sales-tax revenues that is only expected to worsen over the next few years; in addition, real estate excise taxes, which apply to real-estate sales and fund capital projects, have more or less evaporated.

OSE is widely regarded as one of the city’s biggest recent success stories. Currently, the office is working to implement the Seattle Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce Seattle’s greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050. OSE is also in charge of the Urban Forest Management Plan, which maintains, preserves and protects in-city forests; the Restore Our Waters strategy, which promotes stream, creek, and shoreline restoration; and the Green Building Task Force, which is pushing to increase energy efficiency in all new buildings by 20 percent.

The council is considering three proposals, which could be adopted separately or together. The first would cut OSE’s budget for professional services by $75,000, which would mean cuts to the office’s climate-change and urban forestry programs. The second would require OSE to come up with a tool to help the city quantify the climate impact of various legislative proposals—a new, unfunded responsibility. The third and most significant would eliminate OSE and consolidate some of its functions into the mayor’s Office of Policy and Management, saving $250,000 and eliminating at least two jobs (including OSE director Mike Mann’s; Mann did not return a call for comment.)

A report created by city council staff acknowledges that getting rid of OSE would “arguably ‘lower the profile’ of the Climate Change and Green Seattle initiatives. That’s an understatement, according to environmental advocates (and, naturally, the mayor’s office). “I don’t get it,” says Michael McGinn, head of the Seattle Great City Initiative. “The OSE has been a source of really positive change. … Considering the leadership that’s come out of that office, I don’t know what the rationale for cutting it would be.” As an internal memo issued by the mayor’s office put it, “The issues around environmental protection and addressing global warming are becoming more relevant for municipalities, not less.”

On the other hand, OSE is hardly the only city department being targeted for budget cuts. For example, the council is also proposing to eliminate the Office of Economic Development and shift its duties to the Office of Housing—eliminating 12 positions and saving an estimated $1.1 million a year. Other OED programs, including the Office of Film and Music and programs that provide job training for low-income people, would move to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Human Services Department.

For more on potential changes to the mayor’s budget proposal, check out the council’s budget page.

RSS icon Comments


Rationale? The rationale is that the city budget is caving in on all sides. Property tax and sales tax are both in the dumper. This is just the beginning.

Posted by Fnarf | October 28, 2008 3:03 PM

The Council's priorities crack me up. Eliminate Office of Economic Development. Elminate Office of Sustainability. Retain Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.

Cuz, you know... projects like this are an essential public service - "Working in an experimental and collaborative style, the artist will create a comical and poignant feature-length film exploring interpersonal male dynamics and the round-about machinations men sometimes go through."

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 28, 2008 3:11 PM

Wanna balance the City budget? Zero out every South Lake Union/Hallivulcan line item.

Problem solved.

Posted by Mr. X | October 28, 2008 3:17 PM

Isn't South Lake Union going to zero itself out when the last biotech firm turns its lights out?

Posted by Fnarf | October 28, 2008 3:27 PM

Mike Mann is doing a great job. I can't believe Council would cut this department. Seriously. OSE very responsive to the community - more so than some Council members.

Posted by what? | October 28, 2008 3:30 PM

#1 gets it ...

And this is the first year of a severe and real recession/depression. Over the next three cycles city spending must decrease by 40 per cent, my estimate, and King county will go into bankrupcy.


Food banks and shelters are the highest priority... the rest can be re invented later.

The building boom at all levels fueled the boom, all down by half and almost no small projects. Each of the downtown real estate sales in the millions generated gushing millions, real cash, excise tax.

Much maligned developers are not much in the game anymore.

Cities and towns and counties beyond Seattle will go into bankrupcy, King county may be there sooner than some.

Sultan has no money to pay its small police force.


Posted by Jack | October 28, 2008 3:51 PM

This has to be the biggest bunch of whining I have ever seen. I think history has shown that environmental causes get pushed to the back burner when money is tight and this time it is going to be much worse. I should know, I work in the environmental field and it is often tied to building

Posted by someguy | October 28, 2008 4:08 PM

@3 for the insightful totally correct win.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 28, 2008 4:26 PM

And "OSE" is what, now? Office of Sustainable Everything?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | October 28, 2008 6:06 PM

$192.9 million for the Mercer Street non-fix? NIX IT!

Posted by Hey Wait | October 28, 2008 6:40 PM


the arts lobby is the strongest in the city

people starve in the cold - but art projects reign supreme - many millions and millions

Posted by Larry | October 29, 2008 6:20 AM

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