In the latest evidence that a progressive contingent is actually starting to gel at city hall, Council Member Heidi Wills teamed up with Council Member Nick Licata for a budget-season battle that combines Wills' persistent call for sidewalk and transportation money with Licata's persistent push for homeless services, pitting them against the city's glamorous $73 million municipal-building revamp.

Budget season at city hall typically comes down to the frantic week before Thanksgiving, when council members have to round up five votes for projects they want added into the city budget (like Wills' sidewalks) coupled with an equivalent cut. Council member pros and cons (a pay raise for council members, funding for neighborhood projects, cash for domestic violence programs, cutting police overtime pay, etc.) hung in the balance as The Stranger went to press.

Last week, Wills and Licata joined forces (that's two votes out of the necessary five) to push their priorities. According to Licata, the duo's plan would pilfer $4.5 million from funds aimed at tidying up the city-owned Key Tower--redistributing the dough to a hygiene/day center for the homeless ($2.25 million), building sidewalks in underserved North and South Seattle ($895,000), and making other neighborhood road fixes ($1.355 million).

Currently, the Key Tower, located at Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street, houses city departments like Seattle City Light. The building is a central component of the new $180 million civic center project, because it's slated to house many more departments (about 67 percent of all city employees) when the new "campus" is complete in 2003. The 2002 city budget earmarked $5 million to improve signage, crosswalks, and landscaping around the Key Tower.

"While the changes they're proposing are helpful," Licata says, "it's a question of priorities. I don't have any constituents calling me saying they can't find the Key Tower. I do have constituents calling about homelessness and sidewalks."

Licata wants a hygiene and day center, perhaps in Pioneer Square or as part of the new civic center, where homeless people could store personal belongings, wash up, and get referrals to social services.

On Friday, November 16, Licata and Wills--who wants the Key Tower money for long-overdue sidewalk construction--met with budget chair Jan Drago. "Changes to the Key Tower [are] just not ranking in my priorities when compared to other needs, like a downtown hygeine center, sidewalks, and transportation improvements," Wills says. Unfortunately, Drago is reportedly against the Licata/Wills package deal.

josh@thestranger.com

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