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Jolt: Parking Garages and Charter Schools

A Sound Transit train chugs into a station. Credit: Sound Transit

No winners or losers today; just a Jolt. 

In an apparent role reversal (usually it's bureaucratic central planners who are accused of forcing socialist-y ideas onto car-loving neighbhorhoods), residents in north Seattle are complaining that Sound Transit is missing an opportunity to transform the neighborhood into a transit hub.

As Erica first reported, Sound Transit is thinking about building a 900-stall parking garage at the Northgate light rail station.

The whole letter that a band of neighborhood and community activists — including Phillip Duggan, president of the Pinehurst Community Council, David Miller, president of the Maple Leaf Community Council, Renee Staton, a Pinehurst resident, and Eric Youngblut, vice president of the Pinehurst Community Council — along with the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Sierra Club, sent to Sound Transit complaining about the potential garage today is here.

But here are the key paragraphs:

Northgate represents a unique opportunity to transform a traditionally auto-dominated neighborhood into a more walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented community with greater access to retail, grocery stores, medical services, schools, libraries, parks, and more. Vision 2040 and the Regional Growth Strategy identify Northgate as an important place to accommodate some of the 1.5 million new people projected to live in the region by 2040. With the construction of the new Link Light Rail station and acres of underutilized land, Northgate has a real opportunity to transform into a complete community for thousands of new residents and to benefit the surrounding neighborhoods. Sound Transit’s funding priorities at Northgate can help or hinder this future.

The Maple Leaf Community Council uses the phrase, “Community-Oriented Transit Development.” This phrase captures the vision of a complete, compact, and connected community. The phrase evokes the notion of keeping past agreements made with the existing community and following a process for community engagement. Unfortunately, we are worried Sound Transit may be falling short of these goals.

We are concerned that a $40 million, 900-stall parking garage will not realize this vision of “Community-Oriented Transit Development.” Rather than investing in the neighborhood’s and region’s vision for building a vibrant place, our understanding is that Sound Transit plans to build a permanent auto-centric structure for a temporary problem.

The parking garage would adversely affect the community’s vision for its future.

Currently, most of the people who park at the Northgate Transit Center live within a 3-mile radius. The 900-stall garage would increase the number of people who drive rather than encouraging more people to walk, bike, ride, and live at Northgate. As a result, the garage could be an opportunity cost in terms of both public dollars and physical space that should be used more efficiently to build a vibrant community and increase Link ridership.

The letter follows a recent mass email from the Cascade Bicycle Club which, tacking to the theme that's spelled out in today's email about lackluster public process, characterized the pending garage plan as "a backroom deal."

CBC Policy & Government Affairs Manager Craig Benjamin tells Jolt that Sound Transit contacted the group after the email alert went out to invite them to Thursday's public board meeting. Benjamin says they'll be there.

"Sound Transit is taking a narrow view of what the problem is," he says. "Their question is, how do we spend money to help people park? The question should be, how can we spend taxpayer money to provide the most people with safe access to the station?"

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, Benjamin translates 900 stalls into about 2,000 people parking per day. Compared to spending those tax dollars to increase transit access to tens of thousands of people, he says, that's a bad investment. "We have to spend money where you have the most public benefit," he says.

Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray denies Cascade's claims of a "backroom deal," noting that the agency has held numerous meetings about the Northgate station and plans to hold more meetings over the next two months, leading up to a possible decision on June 28. "There's been a giant steering committee that's basically Sound Transit, the city, and King County Metro planners looking at all sorts of different options" to address the needs of drivers and other transit users at the Northgate station, Gray says.

And here's a reverse-Jolt (that is, one with questionable impact). With barely more than a month to meet the July 6 state election filing deadline, supporters of charter schools filed an initiative that would allow 40 charter schools.

They'll need to get more than 241,000 valid signatures from Washington state residents. 

Three charter schools initiatives have gone before Washington voters — the most recent one in 2004. They've all lost. 

According to the text, the initiative sets out several guidelines, including a stipulation that any charter schools must be nonprofit and must not be religious.

This initiative will:

Allow a maximum of up to 40 public charter schools to be established over a five-year period as independently-managed public schools operated only by qualified non-profit organizations approved by the state;

Require that teachers in public charter schools be held to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools;

Require that there will be annual performance reviews of public charter schools created under this measure, and that the performance of these schools be evaluated to determine whether additional public charter schools should be allowed;

Require that public charter schools be free and open to all students just as traditional public schools are, and that students be selected by lottery to ensure fairness if more students apply than a school can accommodate;

Require that public charter schools be subject to the same academic standards as existing public schools;

Require public charter schools to be authorized and overseen by a state charter school commission, or by a local school board;

Require that public charter schools receive funding based on student enrollment just like existing public schools;

Allow public charter schools to be free from many regulations so that they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students; and

Give priority to opening public charter schools that serve at-risk student populations or students from low-performing public schools.

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