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    Ramps to Nowhere: A word on behalf of 'Seattle process'

    Guest Opinion: As the 520 Floating Bridge is rebuilt, it's right for the Arboretum to preserve the memory of a great citizens uprising.
    One of the ramps for a never-completed freeway project that would have plowed through the Seattle Arboretum and Wedgwood

    One of the ramps for a never-completed freeway project that would have plowed through the Seattle Arboretum and Wedgwood Jet/Flickr

    Thank goodness for good old Seattle Process. Although often damned as anti-progressive, Seattle Process also has  more than once  saved the city from major disasters.

    One of the most dastardly of the threatened disasters was a 1960s plan by the State Highway Department (predecessor of the Washington State Department of Transportation) to impose a griddle of freeways across Seattle to accommodate hordes of ex-urbanites whom planners believed would choose to settle in the suburbs. Their plan was a Mid-20th Century nightmare, involving a new North-South freeway, an additional Lake Washington bridge or even two and an elevated viaduct walling off South Lake Union.

    The backbone of the system was the R. H. Thomson Expressway, a six-lane freeway designed to stretch from the Duwamish to Bothell, destroying the Washington Park Arboretum, bisecting a dozen family neighborhoods and paving a major portion of the city. The Thomson was nothing less than a tsunami of cement, blessed by state and city engineers. That the horror never happened was thanks to some feisty citizens, who organized into two citizen groups, took advantage of process and, quite improbably, ended up winning.

    What we are left with, the only tangible tombstone, is a pair of ramps to nowhere, reminders of the never-built R. H. Thomson. The ramps stand at the North end of the Arboretum and have been popular for decades with adventurous youth who have used them as diving and sunbathing platforms.

    With the projected rebuilding of SR 520, the plan now is to tear those ramps down. However, there are some — Crosscut columnist Knute Berger among them — who believe the ramps or some portion of them, ought to be saved as a memorial to grassroots democracy. A group called ARCH  Activists Remembered, Celebrated and Honored  wants to keep two pillars and a cross piece of the old freeway, an archway, standing as a monument.

    Those certainly are my sentiments. In my pre-newspaper days, I was one of that small rowdy group of citizens who opposed the Thomson and even named one of the opposition groups CAF (short for Citizens Against Freeways).

    However, I have traveled to the Arboretum and talked with members of the Seattle Parks Board and the Arboretum Botanical Garden Committee, some of whom voted in 2011 to remove the ramps, citing environmental and safety issues. The Arboretum activists have declined to reconsider, although they have said that they would be willing to consider a monument, perhaps one containing a piece of one of the ramps.

    As a veteran of that war, I am personally pleased to hear that the Arboretum officials are amenable to working on something significant. It would be tragic to think that there would not be some way to commemorate the decades long struggle, a classic David and Goliath encounter.

    The scenes from that clash of wills still haunt and comfort me. I recall one long afternoon in Seattle City Council chambers when activists joined hands with forces from the Central Area. CAF volunteers were seated in back rows and joined hands with Black Panthers who yelled out that, if freeway builders dared pave parts of their city, they would fire the place. They yelled, “Burn, baby burn.”

    I cheered then and still cheer in memory of indomitable activists like University professors Maynard Arsove and Bill Frantilla of CARHT (Citizens Against R. H. Thomson) and CAF founders Margaret Tunks, Dave and Joan LeFebvre, Laurie and Gary Ness and Lois and Jack Brooks.

    Credit also goes to some right-thinking local officials like former mayors Wes Uhlman and Charlie Royer and former councilmembers Tim Hill and Phyllis Lamphere. When I look at those ramps to nowhere I think of all those citizens, all the twists and turns and I thank goodness we had Seattle process to use to defend our city.

    Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers. She has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray for mayor. You can follow her on Twitter: @jean_godden.

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    Posted Thu, May 1, 7:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Contrary to what Jean Godden asserts, the Seattle Process never has had anything to do with with people challenging state government. Indeed, the plans for that freeway through the Arboretum would not have progressed further than they did even if the handful of people she names never had spoken out against them. It's a cute fairy tale though.

    The Seattle Process does exist, and it is unique in the country. It has its roots in old-Metro, an unconstitutional municipality that taxed for “green” purposes around here from the 1960's until it was held to be unconstitutional in 1990.

    Since the mid-1990's the Seattle Process has become the primary source of new regressive taxes. It involves bond lawyers – acting at the behest of Goldman Sachs – drafting enabling legislation for new local taxing districts that are variants of old-Metro. Those bond lawyers work at the elder Bill Gates' law firm and Foster Pepper. The state democrat leadership then ensures the enabling legislation for these new entities is adopted. Examples include the stadium facility authorities, the WSTCC entity, the Pac-Med and Union St. parking garage authorities, and the two really big ones: Sound Transit and the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority.

    The key features of these Seattle Process entities are that are separate bond-issuing municipalities with new tax authority. To the extent the public is to be asked to vote on any aspects of them, the same groups and individuals always pimp the measures. If there are legal flaws the justices cover them up. Here’s an essay describing four majority opinions by the state supreme court that demonstrate the manifest pattern of corrupt behavior the justices engage in to facilitate the Seattle Process:


    The monorail authority is a good example of the Seattle Process. The draft state enabling legislation was prepared early 2002 and hand delivered to the legislative leadership that year by Hugh Spitzer (a Foster Pepper lawyer). The legislature rubberstamped it that session. The board was comprised of political appointees, Goldman Sachs designed the aborted financing plan, and the new taxing authority was regressive (car tab taxes). All the usual Seattle tax-measure pushers were firmly behind it. Here's what the 2002 voters guide said about the ballot proposition:

    Broad support. Monorail supporters include League of Women Voters, Washington Conservation Voters, King County Labor Council, King County Democratic Party, Sierra Club, Speaker Frank Chopp, environmentalist Denis Hayes, Dick Falkenbury, Peter Sherwin, Judy Runstad and many more.

    That “Statement For” in the 2002 voters guide was signed by Greg Nickels, Dan Evans, and Jim McDermott.

    The city council enabled that monorail authority debacle for years – loaning this authority money, handing it the transitway agreement, failing to look out for the public's financial interests, etc. That manifestation of the Seattle Process cost people here over $200 million in completely wasted tax confiscations.

    Sound Transit is like the monorail authority, only on steroids.

    The same tax-hike ballot measure techniques were used by Metro leading up to the special election last month. For example, all the same interest groups supported it, a new taxing district silo called a TBD would have been authorized to confiscate regressive taxes, Denis Hayes wrote the “statement for” the voters guide, etc. That model – pitch regressive tax hikes by saying they are “green” – failed. That failure illustrates how the Seattle Process has been used too often. People now understand it is a failed model.


    Posted Thu, May 1, 12:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    You've never understood the Monorail Project debacle, and even years later you seem intent on kicking the corpse...

    Your comment is laughable when the Seattle Monorail Project is the exact opposite of what occurred in the Arboreturm. In this case, a good idea started by grassroots activists, that had to be fought for every step of the way -- to get proposals on the ballot, to get enabling legislation in Olympia, to push for a PROgressive MVET tax to fund it, and more -- eventually was killed by the political elites and transportation engineers who saw it as a threat to themselves and their work.

    If that public transit system was up and running, we might not be spending $2 billion plus dollars on a tunnel with a stuck boring machine and future cost overruns in it. In fact, as I saw plans for a bored tunnel underneath Downtown all the way back then, that could be one of the reasons it was killed.


    Posted Thu, May 1, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    1) Car tab taxes are regressive. That includes the ones based on vehicle value. They disproportionately impact the families with the least discretionary spending power the heaviest.

    2) The "political elites" (your term) all supported that tax and spend debacle, as is shown by what I copied above from the voters' guide.

    3) In early 2002 Hugh Spitzer brought some proposed statutes for an unaccountable municipality with limitless tax confiscation, condemnation, and other governmental powers down to Olympia. Frank Chopp marshaled them though the state legislature. Seven months after that the financial beneficiaries of the scheme -- including developers, contractors, democrat party heads, and the local muni-bond financier interest group -- pushed a vague ballot measure that contained no taxpayer-protection provisions and called for an unaccountable board structure. That measure passed. There was NOTHING "grassroots" about that 12-month process.

    4) The aberrant, abusive financing plan finally came to light in early 2005. That is why it was "killed", not because of "transportation engineers", or political party heads.

    5) Don't think you are special because you saw plans for a downtown tunnel in the 2003-2005 time frame. Lots of people saw those plans. Parsons Brinckerhoff has been working with WSDOT since 2001 on ways to replace the AWV, including a tunnel. The route of the proposed Seattle Popular Monorail Authority's line was going to be well east of SR-99 in downtown Seattle (it would have plowed through Pioneer Square, with a stop at the "sinking ship" garage, and then up Second Avenue to the Seattle Center). Contrary to your wild speculation, the AWV still would need to be replaced if the monorail had been built. That structure is defective and the state needs limited access roadway in that corridor. Moreover, the burning desire of Jean Godden and her colleagues on the city council to make the commercial property owners near the AWV richer impelled them to approve the tunnel option in that corridor; that also would have happened if the monorail had been built.

    You simply are wrong, on all accounts.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    The replacement for the AWS could have been a surface street had the Monorail been running because it would have replaced a lot of the car trips ie moved people. As it is, the fuel trucks from Ballard Oil can't run in the tunnel and are on the surface route anyway.

    And now that the drill is stuck, the city of Seattle is going to get stuck with the $125M cost over run. ... and a tunnel in the wrong place, carrying the wrong thing. What Seattle now needs is a another tunnel to carry light rail to Ballard and West Seattle as the current rail tunnel will be at capacity as soon as East Link starts running.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    The monorail project died because
    *) Joel Horn lied about the cost overruns vs the tax revenu collected.
    *) No bidders were found for the plan which was "design/build/run"
    *) The political eleite put the pressure on Mayor Nickles to kill it as the tax revenue was needed for ST phase 2. Vs have him take over it, and scale it down to run within the budget.

    As for the bond sales, yep, yep and yep. The fix for financing the projects is not more bonds but instead a loan from a state bank which uses the tax revenue for it's collateral.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    -- Joel Horn did not lie about cost overruns. Go ahead, try supporting that claim with facts. Hint: you can't.

    -- There was one bidder. That bid was accepted by the unelected political appointees on that board. You are wrong about that as well.

    -- Sound Transit did not have any additional car tab tax authority, and certainly did not use the monorail's car tab tax authority for the ST2 projects it has begun financing.

    You are as misinformed as Wells. Crosscut attracts some seriously ignorant readers when the topic of public financings comes up . . ..


    Posted Mon, May 12, 4:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    He did lie.


    Crosscut also seems to attract folks with a one track rant about regressive taxes who also don't seem to be able to suggest alteratives that will pass at the voting box.


    Posted Mon, May 12, 5:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    Also Cascadia Monorail Company, LLC failed to meet the requirements for the bid that they were going to submit.

    The issue AFAIK was that while they were ok with building it, they didn't want to run it. An entirely reasonable state, as it should have been run by Metro.


    Posted Tue, May 6, 6:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    No viaduct on south lake union. Instead, the corrupt "progressives" gave it all to Paul Allen, and completed it by hijacking hundreds of millions to give him his own street project and streetcar. And now the same corrupt "progressives" are gving themselves and their other rich friends a half billion dollar waterfront.

    Seattle Process is nothing but a matter of which face to put on theft.


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