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    The arena's forgotten issue: social justice

    In the the sound and fury of the arena debate, real life concerns are getting lost.
    The mix of truck, rail, and other traffic in SoDo has become an issue in discussion of a proposed sports arena.

    The mix of truck, rail, and other traffic in SoDo has become an issue in discussion of a proposed sports arena. Joey Shevelson/Flickr

    Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine discuss a plan for a new arena in Seattle during a Feb. 16 press conference.

    Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine discuss a plan for a new arena in Seattle during a Feb. 16 press conference. Office of the Mayor

    As Seattle grows, there will always be debates about what kind of city we want to be, how to innovate, and how welcome newcomers — all while protecting and enhancing those attributes that make this city so special.

    The arena debate, much like the Alaskan Way Viaduct debate, has pushed these issues to the forefront and created an opening to talk about our maritime and industrial lands, plus the families that are supported by these businesses.

    The discussion about Chris Hansen's plan to build an NBA arena and entertainment complex in Seattle's maritime industrial neighborhood south of downtown has focused on transportation, economics, and the excitement of having an NBA team back in Seattle. The idea of an NBA team returning has invoked a compelling emotional and familiar narrative for die-hard basketball fans: of paradise lost, the dark times, the redemption, and the promised land. The opposition similarly has tapped into a familiar American narrative of the promise of upward mobility through hard work and economic growth, a path lost if bread and butter blue-collar jobs are taken for granted in favor of more service and entertainment sectors.

    But missing from the public conversation about Hansen's plan is just what kind of city we want to be. Will we be a city that continues to embrace our maritime and industrial heritage alongside lawyers, accountants, gamers, and the new technology sectors? Or will we push out the blue collar workers and with them the middle class?

    Make no mistake. This is a social justice issue. It’s surprising that some of the main proponents of this plan turn out also to be eloquent orators on the need for a socially just society. 

    Mike McGinn and Dow Constantine, the main sponsors of the proposal, are social liberals. Some of our other socially progressive elected officials such as County Council members Larry Gossett, Joe McDermott, Bob Ferguson, and City Council members Mike O'Brien and Bruce Harrell were all predisposed to supporting the proposal —  even before the appointed panels had convened and reported back, before the raging debates in the media ran their course, and in some cases, before the Mayor's office released the proposed "MOU" agreement to the public.

    They are doing so long before any conversation has taken place about the social justice implications of the proposal. There is no evidence that any of these leaders are reconsidering their stance.

    Most of the demands for environmental review have not come from the Democratic Party leadership or even the progressive left, but from established and fairly conservative members of the business community (save the ILWU, of which I'm a part, and some Democratic district groups). Several opinion makers on local blogs, with reputations built on center-left advocacy, have opined in favor of an NBA arena in SoDo.  Seattle's array of social justice activists, who normally might be concerned with a Wall Streeter wanting public money for a private business enterprise, have been largely absent at the numerous public hearings. 

    The story of a hedge fund manager coming to town, wooing a politically troubled city leader into secret negotiations, pressuring a local government to take the deal with no review, trying to bypass the state's environmental review laws, while handlers embark on a massive public relations campaign complete with an astroturf rally in Occidental Park, is a classic challenge to progressives to make a lot of noise.

    There are several issues related to the NBA arena proposal that have social justice implications, if it were to be built in Seattle's SoDo district. These include the health of small businesses, the quality of transit, the ability for the city to maintain social services, and the city's neighborhood groups’ ability to secure funding for future amenities.

    It is difficult to convincingly dispute that an additional arena on First Avenue will exacerbate the existing traffic problems affecting the diesel truck traffic from the Port and rail yards, as well as the commuter traffic.

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    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 12:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    Oh please. Seattle's "progressives" have never once cared about "social justice." We have the best city council money can buy, and a corrupt mayor in the hip pocket of whatever rich guy comes along next.


    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 7:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    Terrific. A column about social justice from a member of the ILWU. Hey, John, was that "social justice" when your union brothers held those six security guards hostage during the Port of Longview dustup last year?

    I'll listen to a Longshoreman talk about social justice as readily as I'll listen to a vampire plugging the next Red Cross blood drive.

    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    From the piece:

    We have seen this [little external economic benefits] in the case of our existing stadiums, in relation to both Pioneer Square and the International District. Century Link and Safeco have not prevented longtime small business from closing or moving out of Pioneer Square.

    It's worth noting that the vast sums spent on transit to that very corner of the city likewise have not resulted in spillover economic benefits to those neighborhoods. Sound Transit has confiscated about $5.75 billion in regressive taxes so far from this region, and sold about $1.5 billion in bonds. All its rail and most of its bus routes terminate there. The punishing financing plan it proposes -- confiscating perhaps $85 billion in regressive taxes for the next 40+ years merely as security for ~$8 billion more of long term bonds -- is staggeringly abusive to the individuals and families here and completely unlike the reasonable method for financing light rail all the peers use.

    You want an example of the antithesis of "social justice"? Sound Transit is nothing but a massive taking of wealth from the poor and middle class and handing it to the muni-bond financiers, some out-of-state corporate interests, and the private property developers with projects near the stations. They are getting rich off us.


    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    The idea of building a new sports arena in SoDo is beyond nonsensical – it is stupid. The site and an out-of-town hedge fund manager with some local billionaire investors are dictating everything -- elected officials McGinn, Constantine and some council members are genuflecting to them and completely ignoring the will of the taxpayers, who oppose this deal, the best interests of the state, region, city and our economy, and thousands of working men and women whose blue-cvollar family wage jobs depend directly on our industrial area and access to/from the port.

    The proposal would make Key Arena, which barely breaks even now, a money loser, adding to the public burden. The proposal would take the new facility off the property tax rolls, driving up homeowners' and businesses taxes. It would squander public resources on something that won't generate much of anything in new economic activity, as countless studies and examples have shown all across this country.

    Yet the response of many pro-arena folks is to belittle all these legitimate concerns while screaming and ranting that people opposed or strongly concerned about the arena and its location are "anti-sports", and attacking the Port of Seattle for completely unrelated issues in hopes of diverting attention. Whatever problems the Port has, and it certainly has some, they do not change the fact that this arena proposal for Sodo is wrong on so many fronts. Ports like Everett, Tacoma, Moses Lake and others, farmers in Eastern Washington, transportation leaders in the Legislature, with the Transportation Commission, regional and state freight boards, and many others do not benefit one iota from carrying water for the Port of Seattle's leadership -- that has nothing to do with the issues they have raised. They rather are concerned because of the very real impact of this proposed facility in this location.

    If this is such a great deal with public money, then at the very least the public should have a say with a direct vote. If we can vote on a seawall, which is necessary to protect downtown, then we should certainly be able to vote on whether it's a good idea to use public resources for an unneeded sports facility that will hamstring a major segment of our economy.

    Will common sense, jobs, our economy, and the voters' will prevail? Or will these electeds blithely ignore all these concerns and remain star-struck by thoughts of rubbing shoulders with millionaires and billionaires in a facility many of the common folk won't be able to afford to enter? Looks likely that they will move ahead. One can only hope that if they do, voters will remember and clean house.

    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    Arthur King wrote this:

    If this is such a great deal with public money, then at the very least the public should have a say with a direct vote.

    No way, no how.

    Public votes on big projects around here are 100% rigged. The proponents get to choose who signs the "Statements Against" in the voters guides, and those fake-enemies draft lame, unconvincing statements. The true public costs never are disclosed before the vote. The proposed ordinances are drafted by the bond-counsel for the local governments, and they are full of "shaft-the-public" terms that aren't part of the "public dialog" in the press during the run-up to the election.

    The Seattle Popular Monorail Authority and Sound Transit are examples of the kind of fundamentally-deceptive ballot measures for megaprojects that are floated around here. The "pro" side always is backed by huge ad campaigns by self-interested entities, and the real negatives are not known by voters.

    First we had the tax-proponents' useful idiot Tim Eyman pushing public votes on big projects, now Arthur King is doing the same. Catch a clue, Arthur . . . votes on megaprojects are a guaranteed losing proposition for people around here.


    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 11:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    Great to say that social justice should be part of an arena conversation, but there is no debate in the first place. There is no debate because there isn't a forum for it. So we get headlong plunges into wasteful projects related to anything from arenas to education to police forcing. These guys are heading in the right direction. Maybe Seattle is ready: www.at10us.com


    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate


    I understand your concern about public votes. It would be far better if the politicians saw through what a bum deal this is and told Hansen to select a new site and build it with his own money, or we'll wait for someone who is a little more civic-minded. After all, what's the rush? There's is no available NBA team.

    But if the electeds won't tell Hansen this, then a public vote -- perhaps through a signature-gathering referendum -- may be the last resort.

    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 4:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    $75 million dollars a year in tax subsidy for Port of Seattle, paying clerks $150,000 a year, losing 20% of your container business to Tacoma = go for the "social justice" argument?

    Given how few facts the Port uses, I guess this makes total sense to them.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 4:59 p.m. Inappropriate


    Vanishing—Big Time, also, a hard look at the High Line.


    Posted Mon, Sep 10, 6:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    Don't you think that our urban hobbyists and transportation experts would wait to see if they can mitigate some of the self-inflicted traffic congestion and loss of commuter mobility that will result from their intentional sacrifice of the viaduct on behalf of downtown special interests?

    Would you really fork out millions more tax dollars on another frat party project for downtown when the rest of Seattle's 90+ neighborhoods are tightening their belts?

    Reminds me again of what you get when you cross a hyena with a slot machine...something that takes your money and laughs at you.


    Posted Tue, Sep 11, 7:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Social justice is really about social control.

    Posted Tue, Sep 11, 10:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    Excellent piece, which I agree with 100%. Aside from the social justice reasons, I had other objections which I wrote in an email answer to a blog from Tim Burgess this morning. My response is as follows:
    I still remain opposed to the new arena. You slide over wording such as "private and public investment, which would include the state and federal governments". .... But any "investments" that are expected from state/federal government are, once again, taxpayer funds.

    To expect help from a state so strapped for cash that UW is trolling for overseas students who can afford to pay higher tuition costs seems out of line to me. Without a progressive state income tax, any new permit charges, or fees, or whatever the State throws out into the market to assist with the arena would then be, again, a new regressive tax that falls on low income Washingtonians the hardest.

    And with a federal governement that is $14 trillion in debt I really don't want one of its priorities to be assisting with new highways to an arena that is superfluous to thousands who can't afford the tickets into that arena.

    I will tell you and any other councilperson that I am totally pissed off at the neglect of the Central District by the City. While being turned into what the City says it wants (mass transit surrounded by high density), we suffer from the worst arterials in the city. As a UW retiree who lives on Capitol Hill, I drive out to the UW at least twice weekly to use the gym there to work out. That means I have to come home by way of 24th/23rd E and 23rd Avenue. From the intersection at Boyer pretty much to 23rd and Aloha I might as well be in Romania or Iraq when I'm in the right lane because the Metro buses have ground it down to a mass of lumps and bumps. The same goes for spots on East Union between 14th and E. Union and 20th and E. Union St. And when I commute to work in the morning I traverse from 23rd and E. Cherry St. to 23rd and Massachusetts, where I turn right on Massachusetts to head for an I-90 on-ramp. The reason I take THAT bumpy route is because driving southeast on Rainier Avenue from the Dearborn intersection to the I-90 on-ramp is even WORSE. The very next time a mechanic tells me I need new shock absorbers I'm going to pick up a Small Claims Court application and sue Seattle for the cost of those shock absorbers. Seriously.


    Posted Wed, Sep 12, 8:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Persak:
    Could you please explain what social justice is.


    Posted Fri, Sep 14, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    GuiltyBystander and taupe get to the heart of this deceptive post.

    This is nothing more than the opponents of the deal warping themselves in moral superiority in order to continue their opposition to the development of southern downtown Seattle.

    I find it particularly disgusting that the author insinuates that by continuing the expansion of downtown Seattle southward we are somehow killing the middle class. I completely disagree with his insinuation that port union jobs have a monopoly on the title "middle class."

    It is also worth noting that the author has little objection to a new arena in the region, he just doesn't want it in his back yard. Such NIMBY claims are selfish and prevent people from appreciating the civic benefits which could come at the expense of redeveloping a few city blocks.

    Readers need to read between the lines and understand that the author is in the "everything, including the kitchen sink" phase of arguing against the expansion and improvement of our city and region.


    Posted Wed, Oct 17, 3:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    Will there be any debate? No. The career politicians who make up the bulk of the local "progressives" (and I use that term loosely) have decided their future ambitions are best met by riding the backs of the poor to the mansions of the uber-rich. That's your plutocratic dystopia, "progressive" Seatllte-style

    that means the sacred cows named in the article, remember them: Mike McGinn and Dow Constantine, County Council members Larry Gossett, Joe McDermott, Bob Ferguson, and City Council members Mike O'Brien and Bruce Harrell

    they will be asking you for your support, for reelection or promotion


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