The County Council unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that would provide more opportunities for affordable housing on county-owned land and alongside capital projects like libraries, fire stations and police stations.
Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) was lead sponsor of the bill, which requires the county’s Department of General Services to conduct the feasibility of “co-location” before a full program of requirements and project specifics are finished.
Friedson and other councilmembers said before the vote Tuesday that the legislation allows the council and county executive’s office to have a dialogue earlier in the capital projects process to determine whether affordable housing should be considered on county-owned land alongside those projects.
Scott Peterson, a spokesperson for County Executive Marc Elrich said that Elrich is “currently reviewing [the] legislation”. David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services, previously said he supported the legislation’s intent, with regards to how it would impact his department.
Ludeen McCartney-Green, a legislative attorney for the council, said the legislation would not preclude the Department of General Services or other county officials from looking at other potential uses alongside capital projects like childcare, in response to a concern by councilmember Gabe Albonoz (D-At-Large), who was supportive of it.
Broadly speaking, Friedson and other members said the legislation would help address the county’s affordable housing goals.
“It’s not the only tool, but it is one of the important tools in our toolkit,” Friedson said before Tuesday’s vote.
Changes to council rules
Councilmembers also unanimously green-lighted changes to their rules of procedure—including increasing the number of council members needed to introduce special appropriations for discussion, and changes to how council committees are formed at the beginning of each term.
Special appropriations are one-time spending requests, outside of the regular budget cycle, to meet immediate and urgent emergency needs across the county.
County Councilmembers Will Jawando (D-At-large), Laurie-Anne Sayles (D-At-large) and Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) all supported a rule change last week that would allow a single member to give the council president two weeks’ written notice to introduce a special appropriation for discussion.
Before a rule change last fall, only one member was required to approve a special appropriation’s introduction. Last week, Jawando, Sayles and Mink were on the losing side of an 8-3 vote on their amendment, meaning three members must vote to introduce a special appropriation before it can be discussed and debated.
Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) said during an interview last week that the special appropriations process is meant for “extraordinary” circumstances or emergencies.
“If an emergency [appropriation] cannot get three [votes], let alone every single council member to support it, then I question whether it’s an emergency,” Glass said.
But Jawando, one of the amendment co-sponsors, said that the rule change prevents individual councilmembers from being able to bring up certain spending proposals for discussion. That’s a negative, because it takes away some of the power of individual councilmembers, who might know of specific needs or concerns within their communities, Jawando said.
And even though a single member could introduce a special appropriation prior to this council term, it still needs considerable support to pass, he added.
“The financial safeguard is it requires seven votes to pass,” Jawando said, citing the new rule.
Alongside the special appropriations change, council members also made changes to how committees are formed. The proposal is part of the legislative body’s efforts to be more transparent, members have said.
It requires that the council approves, by majority vote, the structure and membership of new council committees. The council must post recommended committees and their members four days before the first meeting of a new council during its term.
Councilmembers Mink, Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4), Marilyn Balcombe (D-Dist. 2) and Albornoz supported an amendment to that rule change, stating that the committee votes could occur on the first or second meeting of when a new council is seated.
Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7) and Friedson were the two members opposed in a 9-2 vote on that amendment. Luedtke said that the amendment is redundant with other council rules, because the body could always vote to suspend the rules if a majority can’t reach a consensus on council committee structure.