By Jack Mayne

Once upon a time it was easy to approve bans on some types of plastics for environmental reasons, but the issue has grown complex with new products and more demands for environmental control, the Burien City Council heard at the Monday (March 25) study session.

The Council public meeting was followed by over an hour in closed executive session to review the annual evaluation required by law of the performance of City Manager Brian Wilson. No comment was publicly made of any Council decision.

Council also heard staff review of both criticisms and complaints of the city’s new website and were told that some changes and many fixes were in the offing.

Ban or not to ban
Public Works Director Maiya Andrews updated the Council on the status of plastics legislation at the State level and its outreach to date, along with changes that will be proposed for the city’s ordinance banning plastic bottles.

The more the city investigates the ban proposal, the more it realizes how complex the tissue is because of the number of businesses involved and because of the types of growing number of plasticized materials involved which affect some uses differently than others.

Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, said the issue is growing more complex. There is a plastic bag bill in the current Washington Legislature that would impose an eight-cent charge that retailers would keep to provide a paper bag or thicker plastic bag, She said grocers wanted 10 cents because paper bags have “gone way up in price” and over 10 cents each for retailers.

Andrews said the current bill in the Legislature would preempt the current bill before the Council which would become “null and void” if the state law change is approved.

Limit plastic straws
Another bill current before the Legislature would permit plastic straws for drinks on demand of the purchaser in public establishments. Straws are “super important for some disabilities and certain medical needs,” she said, and should not be banned in the Burien legislation.

Chris Craig, Burien business development specialist, said a survey of businesses supported an ordinance requiring city business to replace disposable single-use plastics with compostable alternatives by 39 percent, with lesser or no support by smaller percentages. The city survey said replacing plastic utensils, hot liquid containers, meat trays and straws are sometimes or virtually impossible to find.

The Highline School District is part of a buying cooperative for over 200 districts across the state and might have to end that relationship and more than double their costs and, because they rely on federal reimbursement “they cannot pass the increased cost on t the customer.”

Craig said the businesses asked for grace periods before adopting a plastic ban, making compostable vendor and product lists available, explore bulk purchasing agreements and finance assistance grants.

Krakowiak has concerns
Councilmember Lucy Krakowiak said the Highline School District “already faces a real challenge keeping children housed and fed, and the business community’s financial impact.”

She lives downtown and near large buildings with recycle bins full of garbage.

“I think it is going go be challenging so my guess is that the compostables are going into our landfill. I think we have more homework to do.”

Andrea Reay, CEO/Executive Director of the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, told the Council that a one year implementation of the plastic bag ban was feasible, but that same implementation would not be feasible for single use plastics.

Officer Mark Silverstein and Police Chief Ted Boe.

Explorer Capt. Ashleigh Bell and Police Chief Ted Boe.

Officer Ricardo Cueva and Police Chief Ted Boe.

Police officers awarded
The city manager asked Police Chief Ted Boe to recognize three Burien city police officers for annual awards. The city employee of the year is detective Ricardo Cueva, explorer of the year is Explorer Ashleigh Bell and meritorious service goes to officer Mark Silverstein.

Silverstein had 283 drunk driver arrests in 2018, said Boe, leading the state in such arrests.

Ashleigh Bell was the first explorer officer named a captain, said Boe, and is about to graduate from Highline High School with a 3.9 grade average. She will attend the University of Washington in the fall.

Detective Ricardo Cueva was named the Burien Police employe of the year. He is part of the downtown Burien force helping businesses combat crime in the central Burien district and is bilingual and is working with youth during evenings. The new Highline High principal said “we need more officers like Officer Cueva,” Boe told Council. Boe also gave Cueva his five year coin as a member of the King County Sheriff’s Office, Burien contractor for police services.

Sgt. Henry McLaughlin, a 40-year King County Deputy hired in 1979, designed and taught at the community police academy, “teaches about the sheriff’s office and and where we came from,” said Boe. He is working in Burien, “the busiest patrol district in the county.” The chief said is was “very rare” for an officer to be in a policing job for 40 years, especially in a busy one like Burien. “He can connect with communities like no
one I’ve ever seen,” the chief told the Council.

Mayor Jimmy Matta and Councilmembers also congratulated and praised Sgt. McLaughlin and the other outstanding officers.

Sgt. Henry McLaughlin and Police Chief Ted Boe.

Fixes planned for Burien website
The city launched a new website last May 2018 and the Council agenda said “response to the new website had been mostly positive, there were enough concerns expressed by residents and other stakeholders that the city made the decision to hire an outside firm to test the usability and accessibility of the new website.”

Emily Inlow-Hood, the city communications officer, told Council about a usability and accessibility testing project and what city staff “will be taking to improve the website based on those findings.” She said the city’s website was moved from CivicPlus content management system to CivicLive’s Presence content management system.

She said the city has “also launched several new third-party websites” including: MyCivicApps for issue reporting, iCompass to manage Council and Commission communications, PetTrack to manage pet licensing, and PerfectMind to manage registration for recreation classes and programs and facility rentals.

Website problems probed
But there are some problems with the new website, said Inlow-Hood, and the testing project probed the new site, along with a “qualitative survey,” “stakeholder survey” and user testing.

She said the consultant found “a number of issues that will need to be addressed to improve both the usability and accessibility of the website.”

The findings can be broken up into two areas of responsibility (CivicLive and City staff) and six broad categories of tasks: content design and strategy, third-party websites and services, navigation, performance, and accessibility.

One change that can “be confusing” to users of the new website is to embed third-party websites and services into the city site. Such changes also slow the site down. In one case a “brief principals” in updating of crime data causing “some confusion for our users,” Inlow-Hood said.

Some of the city website screen displays are confusing by using what appears the same display icon. Those will be fixed, she said.

Another fix will be to simplify content and looking at content with “plain language principals” and to shorten the information on some pages. Finally, Inlow-Hood said that the city needs to make it easier to get to “simplify pathways to popular content.” For example, there are three pathways on he Burien website to register for classes in the city park section. “That’s really confusing,” she said.

Site too slow
The city site performance and load times are too slow, she added.

The full number of fixes and changes is complicated, Inlow-Hood said, but some of the more urgent ones include fixing broken links and to “update link display,” and to “re-imagine landing page layout.” Other changes include fixing broken links, “re-imagine landing page layout,” and make smaller images.

“Longer term which will have a high impact but which will maybe take a little bit more time to develop will include more consistent content strategy for home page and top landing pages,” she told the Council, and to “update” the website “consistently across all departments, projects and programs.” Something not possible with current city staff would be to centralize updating of departmental parts of the site.

Finally, said the press officer, the city wants to be more consistent with the way information is presented on the city website.

Inlow-Hood said the city would be talking to developers on updates to “navigation and design” like improving the site search engine, problems with the way “urls” or web addresses are displayed, and code fixes, amongst others.

Councilmember Bob Edgar wondered if the fixes will cost the city and Inlow-Hood said the city hoped not, but that would have to be determined in talks between city and vendor.