The Vulcanization of Seattle elected officials was emphatically confirmed Tuesday, May 27, when the City Council approved a $93 million bond issue that will raise $43 million to begin work on the so-called Mercer Mess makeover in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
Council member Nick Licata cast the sole vote against this important step in a $201 million project undertaken at behest of Vulcan, the Paul Allen-owned company which has more than 60 acres of a commercial development in the area. This follows direct and indirect city subsidies, estimated in the hundreds of millions, for Vulcan projects and construction of the running-near-empty Allentown streetcar from Westlake Center to South Lake Union at a cost of some $50 million. The trolley monies came, in part, from cutbacks in bus service in outlying neighborhoods.
City studies have shown that the Mercer Mess makeover will, in fact, have little impact on traffic snarls in the area. Rather, it is designed to accommodate Vulcan plans.
Licata, casting his no vote, pointed to the "huge benefit" for Vulcan, as against the marginal or negligible improvements in traffic flow that the project will provide. He urged opposition in general to the eventual $201 million, which the Mercer Mess redo is estimated to eventually cost.
Council member Jan Drago served as Vulcan point person in support of the bond issue. She had filled the same role on behalf of the Allentown trolley, going so far as to sponsor a fundraiser to help Vulcan pay for a campaign on behalf of the trolley. She and fellow council members Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen were absent at Tuesday's vote. They are on an international junket. Before departing town, Drago characterized her Vulcan advocacy role as "true leadership."
Paul Allen, the co-founding Microsoft billionaire, has done some great things for brain research and university libraries, among other philanthropic projects. But that is no reason his commercial ventures should get rubber-stamp subsidies from Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council when there are so many competing demands for public tax dollars.
Kudos to Licata. If Peter Steinbrueck still sat on the council, he doubtless would have cast a no vote, as well. But he chose to bail out at the end of his term.
SOS to prospective mayor and council candidates: Please, step forward for public service. Mayor Greg Nickels and the present council lack critical faculties and too often operate as wholly owned subsidiaries of those with political money and juice.
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