Both Mariners and Amazon have neighbor issues

Winners and Losers: The Mariners object to having others playing in their neighborhood. Amazon tries to minimize giving to needy neighbors and paying taxes.

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Many of the state's tax and trust challenges date back to the tax package for the construction of Safeco Field.

Winners and Losers: The Mariners object to having others playing in their neighborhood. Amazon tries to minimize giving to needy neighbors and paying taxes.

This week, local politics is about NIMBYs and neighbors, good and bad.

Let's start with the proposal for a new basketball and hockey arena in Seattle, a politically charged idea that splits the city's sports fans and skeptics. It's also dividing the arena's potential neighbors.

This week, a city panel looking at the proposal said it looks good, worth continuing to explore. But a major objection was raised by the Seattle Mariners management, who said, in effect, "not in our ball yard!" The team objected to siting the new arena in the SoDo stadium district because it would worsen traffic. And they raised the dreaded "m" word: mitigation, which means money. In a letter objecting to the arena plan, the M's wrote  "It would bring scheduling, traffic and parking challenges that would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate."

Times' Sports columnist Jerry Brewer likened the baseball franchise to the neighborhood codger. "The Mariners sound like stingy, grumpy old men yelling for [investor Chris] Hansen to get off their lawn. Even worse, they risk alienating far more fans than they already have during this decadelong [playoff] dry spell."

But the Mariners also sound like crafty businessmen determined to get their share of public and private money flowing to the project. In other words, if you want to compete with us on our home turf, you need to pay for the privilege.

No matter that the district is already zoned for such facilities. No matter that the area is a major multi-modal transportation hub. No matter that the situation is complicated by sports franchises (like the Mariners) which demand their own specialty facilities instead of being concentrated in a single multipurpose facility, like the old Kingdome which was once home to the Mariners, Seahawks and Sonics.

The M's volley has already worked. Immediately following the M's objections, Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine announced that Chris Hansen has agreed to pay for a traffic study. The trouble with deep pockets is that everyone wants to get into them.

So count the Mariners as losers when it comes to being Sonics party poopers, and winners when it comes to being business sharpies looking to leverage some "mitigation" from the new guy.

More neighborliness and politics down in South Lake Union. The Seattle Times ran a four-day series on Amazon, mostly looking at the dark side of Seattle's darling online retailer. Amazon, we learn, plays hardball politics around the country when it comes to paying local sales taxes. We also learn that the company is based here for very practical reasons. Reports the Times: "Bezos settled on Seattle, in part because Washington's relatively small population effectively would leave more Amazon sales untaxed." So much for all that "smart city" crap.

We learn that the company is stingy when it comes to donating to local charities, a charge that has been leveled at other high-tech companies (notably Microsoft) during their early years. But now, nearly two decades old, Amazon is expected to give back to its hometown.

Jeff Bezos' comments about Amazon's business and philanthropy, or lack of it, were revealing. Gates used to say, I'll give when I'm ready (and boy did he). Bezos seems to be saying, my business is my gift:

"Our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area," Bezos told The Times.

In a 2010 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, Bezos expressed doubt that philanthropy was the best way to solve social problems.

"I'm convinced that in many cases, for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models, if they can be made to work."

In a nutshell, Amazon jobs and online shopping convenience are generous donations to the community. Philanthropy? Lame. Which sounds like he's to the right of Mitt Romney and that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Andrew Carnegie are suckers. Producing warehouse jobs and cheap Kindles should be enough to qualify a CEO for for sainthood.

Bezos is really good at generating returns for shareholders: he was just named the best CEO in America on that basis. One reason is he doesn't give profits away to, you know, needy neighbors.

Loser: Amazon.

Winner: Seattle Times for its illuminating series.

More winners and losers of the week:

Winner: Mitt Romney who swept Wisconsin, etc.

Disturbing headline of the week: "Romney, Santorum headed for a climax in Pennsylvania." Let's hope they're using condoms.

Loser: Rick Santorum, who, according to James Carville, is "like a chicken with his head chopped off. The chicken is dead. The only person that don’t know it is the chicken.”

Winners: Runningmates. There was much discussion about the GOP and Democratic tickets this week. President Obama began campaigning against Romney by name, and he dumped formerly favorite Republican Teddy Roosevelt and instead invoked the wisdom and moderation of Ronald Reagan. And speculation heated up that Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan looked like a GOP dream-team. Reported The Washington Post: "Romney’s aides were sizing Ryan up. And although chief strategist Stuart Stevens waved off any talk of the two forming a national ticket as irresponsibly premature, he did say they got along well behind the scenes and noted their 'chemistry' on the stump." Obama-Reagan, Romney-Ryan. Get your buttons now.

Loser: Jay Inslee, whose resignation from the House of Representatives to run for governor has now necessitated an expensive special election that will elect someone for a one-month job in Congress for a district that will soon cease to exist. Inslee was right to focus on his campaign, but the timing of his resignation has turned it into a ballot-box boondoggle.

Loser: GOP Senate Caucus in Olympia, where a caucus lawyer is claiming that they have created a hostile work environment by re-instating Republican state Sen. Pam Roach, who was booted for being abusive to staff. He's asking $1.75 million for working with Roach, which is almost worth it.

Loser: Liberal TV bloviator Keith Olbermann who explained that he lost his latest job because he was a "$10 million chandelier." I'll bet $10,000 Romney wrote that apology from his wife's Cadillac.

Knute Berger discusses the news of the week on a KUOW Weekday roundtable led by KUOW's Steve Scher at 10 a.m. on Fridays. Hear it at KUOW 94.9 FM or online.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.