A country seeking change has put Barack Obama in the presidency. It is more than high time that we opt for similar change in Seattle.
Much has been made of the Seattle Mariners' cost inefficiency, parlaying a nearly $120-million 2008 player payroll into the second-worst record in the major leagues. The Mariners' cost inefficiency is topped locally only by the Seattle City Council, whose pay of $104,000 makes it second-highest paid in the country (after Los Angeles) and surely the weakest in any American big city.
A couple weeks back, I was reminded of this as I sat through a ridiculous council meeting in which, by an 8-1 vote (only Nick Licata dissenting), that body overrode its own earlier resolution requiring that Mayor Greg Nickels provide basic financial and other information before moving forward with the Mercer Project. That project is intended to reconfigure traffic patterns in the notorious Mercer Mess off I-5 to conform to the development plans of Vulcan's South Lake Union commercial and residential real estate development. The information was not provided but the council gave the go-ahead anyway to spending of $30 million toward the $230 million project. The project is opposed by community groups in Queen Anne, Magnolia, Interbay, Fremont, and Ballard because, according to the City's own traffic study, it would not ease present congestion in the area but would instead make travel more difficult for commercial and commuter traffic.
Councilwoman Jan Drago, as usual, served as Vulcan's lead agent on the project (as she had, earlier, on behalf of the Allentown Trolley from Westlake Center to South Lake Union). Only Licata asked that the council stick by its earlier position and require facts from Mayor Nickels before approving the Mercer money. Drago and other council members suggested the data could be supplied by Jan. 15 — although there is nothing now to require Nickels to do so— and that the $30-million start should be authorized because federal public-works money conceivably could be forthcoming for the project. (There is no factual basis at this point for that assertion). Councilman Richard McIver had been expected to vote with Licata but, at last minute, voted "yes" on the basis, as he put it, that "it looks as if we are going to approve this so I guess I will vote for it."
The Mercer Project has been discussed over many months within the council but Councilman Bruce Harrell, in his remarks, exhibited general ignorance of it and voted yes for no apparent reason. ("Didn't this guy say he used to run a law firm?" my seatmate asked, "how could he be so ignorant of such a major issue?"). Council President Richard Conlin, who earlier had voted for submission of the required data, reversed himself with accompanying comments to the effect that big cities should get used to dense traffic. Councilman Tom Rasmussen asked good questions but, in the end, also voted yes. Councilwoman Sally Clark voted procedurally with Licata in asking that the required data be provided but, in the end, voted to go forward without it. Councilmembers Jean Godden and Tim Burgess asked no relevant questions but also reversed themselves and voted to give Nickels the money.
John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition declared after the vote that "at no time in 30 years of our observation of city politics have we seen such a gulf between the citizens and our politicians on the critical issues."
Then, this past Tuesday, they did it again. Spearheaded again by Drago, the council's transportation committee voted, 4-2 (Licata and McIver dissenting), to support development of a streetcar system connecting neighborhoods to downtown and to buses, ferries, and trains. Such a system would be extended from the present Allentown trolley line and, perhaps, a revived Alaskan Way line. It would include lines in Ballard and the University District. Price tag: $600 million.
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