Drawing lines at the seawall

Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council are probing to see who rules on the waterfront, an important opening skirmish between the two branches.
Melbourne's striking design for a seawall on the Yarra River

Melbourne's striking design for a seawall on the Yarra River Mithun Architects/John Golling

If Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council were boxers, they would be in the early rounds on the seawall replacement question, still feeling each other out, circling and casting jabs from a safe distance. On Monday, they will move close enough to throw real punches, when the mayor goes before the council for a briefing on the seawall.

McGinn caught the council by surprise with his announcement Jan. 14 that he wants a May election on a $241 million bond issue to replace the deteriorating wall. He portrayed a two-year speedup of the seawall replacement as a matter of public safety for the waterfront and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a view that he elaborated with a little bit of detail in a Seattle Times op-ed Saturday.

But the mayor, who wouldn’t answer viaduct-related questions from reporters when he unveiled his proposal, did pretty much the same with a host of good questions raised by a letter from the council. The council hit good points: the reliability of cost estimates, design questions, potential financing options that wouldn't require more direct taxes on property owners, and other priorities the mayor and the city may have for raising taxes.

So far, the council has the momentum in resisting McGinn's call for a hurried resort to the ballot. The council letter pulled together expertise from veterans and newcomer Sally Bagshaw, who knows the issues around the waterfront and plans to replace the viaduct with a tunnel. In contrast, McGinn looked like he was grasping for support as he, in a near self-parody of his ask-the-voter attitude, ended his mayoral-debutante op-ed with a call for the public to provide "your input on this issue" at his city web site.

The council letter, however, verged toward a patronizing tone with the new mayor, noting McGinn's urgency and asking, "Have you received recent information that causes you to recommend modifications to the seawall replacement schedule presented by (the Seattle Department of Transportation)? If so, please provide council with that information." Translation: Hey, newby, you know something?

If McGinn indeed has alarming, new information, the council question leaves a wide opening for him to strike a big blow. It would be easy to see the council then feeling it had to hold a May election. McGinn also has a chance to score points by portraying the council as overly concerned with Seattle's habitual process.

Of course, politics practiced reasonably is much more than a fight or a contest; it’s about serving the public’s needs well. Doug Hurley, a leader on such voter-approved issues as the first Sound Transit construction package and an expert on infrastructure, recently suggested the council could take the mayor's proposal as a good-faith effort to deal with a real problem, not an attempt to undermine the tunnel plan he opposed during his campaign. Then, the council could reject a May ballot as well-meant but premature, while using McGinn’s proposal as a spur toward a more carefully planned tax measure.

In such a scenario, seawall financing and other spending priorities could then be discussed collaboratively by the mayor and council, while taking account of both Seattle voters’ traditional generosity and the city's current economic challenges. For that to happen, it would help if council and the mayor come out listening to one another Monday, rather than swinging.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 25, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Haiti earthquake: Jan 12th.

McGinn announcement: Jan 14th

Knee-jerk reaction (Patellar reflex): "Striking the tendon below the patella gives rise to a sudden extension of the leg, known as the knee-jerk." (Sir Michael Foster in his Text-book of physiology, 1877)

unter

Posted Mon, Jan 25, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Knee-jerk? Hardly. The Mayor’s seawall proposal is a carefully calculated move to separate funding for the waterfront makeover into two big pieces. By putting the seawall ballot measure out there first, the Mayor and his one Council supporter are betting that the voters will find that their pockets do have bottoms and will be reluctant to pony up for the tunnel and possible overruns.

Posted Mon, Jan 25, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Reading McGinn's piece in the Times, I found he was conflating the issue of seawall replacement with the issue of soil liquefaction behind the seawall. In reality, the soil liquefaction occurs because of the earthquake, not because of water seepage through the seawall- fixing the seawall will not prevent soil liquefaction during a quake.

You can see why McGinn has publicly threatened the jobs of all senior staff in Seattle- he wants to make sure there won't be any qualified people with experience opposing what he wants to do.

Everything McGinn has done so far is the classic work of a demagogue. He lies to win elections, threatens to fire anyone who disagrees with him, and tells us we have to do what he says or we're all gonna die!!.

Particularly appalling, at this juncture of history, is the fact that he obviously has never given any real thought to the environment. We're already in the largest mass extinction event the world has ever known. trying to make choices about a once-in-a-century rebuild of the waterfront, and McGinn's idea is to bring in the bulldozers. That's just sick.

Posted Mon, Jan 25, 10:07 p.m. Inappropriate

C'mon Catowner. It's a working waterfront, not Disneyland. Mike has a successful record on environmental issues - parks, sidewalks, light rail, Sierra Club. Geez. The Deep-bore tunnel will dump tons of traffic onto the new Alaskan Way and Mercer Street. Its engineering is terrible in every way including environmental impact. It does only one thing well: it inconveniences motorists the least during construction. After it's done, motorists will be extremely inconvenienced. You better believe it. It still looks like a cut/cover tunnel is the better option by far.

Watch the Monday briefing to City Council on the Seattle Channel site.

Wells

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