Seattle receives Bloomberg Climate Challenge funding

City using $2.5 million to advance green initiatives through two-year acceleration program

Seattle receives Bloomberg Climate Challenge funding

Seattle receives Bloomberg Climate Challenge funding

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Seattle as a first-round winner of a $2.5 million award through his Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge during a visit to the city on Friday.

Bloomberg served as mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013, and made billions through his financial, software, data and media company. He is now also the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action.

His Bloomberg’s American Cities Initiative ran a Climate Challenge, with more than $200 million in investments available “to strengthen city halls and advance critical policies,” according to a city news release.

Bloomberg and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan celebrated the city’s award and acceptance into a two-year acceleration program by busing a mile from Macrina Bakery to Kerry Park to make the announcement, with reporters greeting them at a stop two blocks east.

Bloomberg said all cities are facing issues surrounding climate change, noting Hurricane Florence was currently battering the East Coast; it was downgraded to a tropical storm later that day. He promoted public-private partnerships and efficient government spending as crucial to garnering public support for climate action.

“If you do that, I find the taxpayers are always willing to pay up,” he said.

Durkan said Seattle and other U.S. cities are already doubling down on their commitment to the Paris Agreement, a global effort to reduce the impacts of climate change, which the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

“It used to be that there were a hundred ways to describe rain,” Durkan said. “…This summer the forecast for weeks was smoke,” the mayor referring to last month’s unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires in the Cascades and British Columbia.

The $2.5 million support package awarded to Seattle, as well as the City of Atlanta, will be used to improve energy efficiency in buildings and reduce emissions in the transit sector.

“Seattle will receive a philanthropy-funded team member to facilitate the development and passage of high impact policies, new training for senior leadership to assist with implementation of their proposed climate plans, and citizen engagement support to maximize community buy-in,” according to the release. “These tools will help ensure that Seattle has the staff and resources necessary to turn climate action plans into reality.”

With little being done at the federal level to address the effects of climate change and push through comprehensive policies, Bloomberg said mayors in cities across the country are left leading the way.

Durkan announced in April plans to implement congestion pricing — tolls on busy arterial streets in the city’s core — by the end of her first term.

The Bloomberg award will allow the city to study how congestion pricing could be implemented, Durkan said, and also address equity concerns.

“We are coming upon a period of massive constraint,” the mayor said.

Durkan said the city is already working with major employers to see how they can contribute to reducing emissions, adding there are some in Seattle that specifically focus on mobility. This was in response to a question regarding whether developers of major projects in the city, which are expected to increase congestion downtown, should have to pay a fee for the congestion they cause.

“In the long term, density helps our climate,” Durkan said, because people are living closer to stores, dining, entertainment and other services.

The mayor said Seattle is lucky in that it is already tapped into green energy, and she wants more buildings to be constructed like the Bullitt Center in Capitol Hill, which puts energy back into the grid.

Durkan said she looks forward to the city moving more of its fleet to electric vehicles while encouraging private vehicle owners to do the same.

The mayor said getting people out of cars and other single-occupancy vehicles is another major focus.

In March, Durkan stopped work on the Center City Connector, which would create a downtown streetcar line that links the First Hill and South Lake Union lines, when it appeared costs would be far higher than originally predicted.

An independent review was commissioned, and consultant KPMG provided a summary in August that found the cost could be $50 million higher than early estimates — up to $252 million. But it also found that streetcar ridership could triple. With external contributions, net annual operating expenses could be between a $2.6 million deficit and a $1.9 million surplus, according to KPMG’s findings. The city has already spent $31 million on the project as of May, and would end up spending about another $24 million to close the project.

Durkan said asking hard questions doesn’t mean opposing a project, and she’s currently waiting on engineering assessments to determine if there will be any more additional costs that come to light.

The city will also work with Bloomberg Philanthropies to create a green jobs pilot program with Seattle Colleges through the public-private partnership.

Bloomberg brushed off a question about a potential 2020 presidential bid, saying he didn’t feel Donald Trump was the right person for the job, but that he is currently focused on flipping the House.

“And after that, we’ll see,” he said.

Durkan confirmed for Bloomberg she’s not considering a run for Washington governor.

“No way,” she said.