Who Will Be Drinking At 4:30pm Today?

[ Mike McGinn arriving at the election party in his favorite personal vehicle. ]

It was a good night for hope and the Party of the Future.  Every one of my WTFs has gone the right way.  Assuming McGinn hangs on.  Hurry up and wait until 4:30pm.

The anti-WTF results so far:

  Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 89132 / 375164 23.76%
  Mike McGinn   42563 50.03%
  Joe Mallahan   41653 48.96%
Council Position No. 8
  Mike O’Brien   44040 57.91%
  Robert Rosencrantz   31835 41.86%
Proposition No. 1
  YES   53715 63.33%
  NO   31102 36.67%


  Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 254261 / 1079842 23.55%
County Executive short and full term
  Susan Hutchison   104622 42.76%
  Dow Constantine   139501 57.01%


State Of Washington
  Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 254261 / 1079842 23.55%
Initiative Measure No. 1033
  YES   78111 34.28%
  NO   149739 65.72%
Referendum Measure No. 71
  APPROVED   164724 65.91%
  REJECTED   85188 34.09%

Halloween, Election Day, And Hope

[ Memorial for Officer Timothy Brenton where he was murdered at the corner of 29th and Yesler ]

Last year while out trick-or-treating with my two small children in the Central District we all heard the gunshots that killed 15-year old Quincy Coleman.  This year I was out of town on Halloween but my wife was home to hear the shots that killed officer Timothy Brenton.

Last year, a few days after Halloween, Barack Obama was elected president.  And though that could could never make up for a senseless, tragic murder, it did provide a much needed rebuttal, showing us—as the universe has a habit of doing—that hopeful things can happen in the midst of the worst.

This year, here’s to the prospect that today’s election delivers hope in the wake of another local tragedy.  Because it’s all related.  Because if we don’t start taking better care of our most vulnerable, if we don’t start making hard decisions to prepare ourselves to thrive in a world of limited resources, then we are setting ourselves up for a very tragic future.

Opposite Ends Of I-90

Which mayor’s race does the following describe?

[Both candidates] want the same things: better schools, improved public safety, sustainable economic development, accessible parks, affordable housing, livable neighborhoods. To win the November 3 election, both candidates may go so far as to endorse motherhood — perhaps, if the polls get really close, apple pie.

Seattle’s, perhaps?  Or pretty much any large North American city’s, it would be safe to say, no?

If you’re up on your nation’s most shameful public spaces, then you can guess the right answer based on the location shown in the photo above.  Yep, it’s Boston, where Tom Menino is running for a record fifth term against veteran city councilor Michael Flaherty.

Over at the east end of I-90, the city’s “respectable” newspaper has endorsed the establishment candidate, while the biggest weekly has endorsed the challenger who is perceived as a change agent.  Sounds familiar, but in Boston’s case we’re talking about the famously liberal, New York Times-owned Boston Globe, that published a nuanced, fact-filled endorsement weighing in at 1066 words.

The Seattle Times could only think of 640 to say about Mallahan, in a piece that begins with the vapid platitude “Seattle is in a funk,” and concludes with the profoundly inspiring proclamation that “once he learns the complexities of the job, he and his team will lead Seattle to better circumstances.”

Oh, and the Seattle Times also endorsed Susan Hutchison for King County Executive.  You knew that, but for the sake of the children, it needs to be said over and over again.

One position on which the Boston candidates differ is the role of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the very organization that facilitated the Boston City Hall “urban renewal” project back in the 1960s.  Flaherty—the change candidate—advocates taking power away from the BRA to make it more responsive to neighborhood concerns.

In contrast, here at the west end of I-90, the change agent we need is a leader bold enough to create an organization like the BRA so we can actually get something done in this city.  As in, transformational public investment and redevelopment at our pathetic excuses for light-rail station areas. And no, the complex,  human-scale, walkable urban fabric that was destroyed by the Boston City Hall project is not the same thing as the auto-centric mess that engulfs the Mt. Baker light rail station.

An organization like the BRA can be a force for good, especially if embedded in a culture like Seattle’s that respects the relationships between urban form and community, a respect that has manifested itself, for example, in a city hall that is the polar opposite of Boston’s.

But whichever end of I-90 you happen to be on,  it’s almost over.  And I’m likely wasting my keystrokes here, but please, if you haven’t yet, vote.   And make all your friends and family vote too.  Blackmail them.  Whatever it takes.  Cause this one is important. The latest polling shows the mayor’s race is now a statistical dead heat. McGinn could still pull it off.  Your vote counts.  Right, so I guess that means I better mail mine in tomorrow…

Choo-Choo Train Conference

Gone East to Railvolution in Boston.  They have lots of transit and narrow streets in this city.  Exciting posts will surely be forthcoming.

The Party of the Future

Preface: To waste some time I wrote the riff below with the deluded idea that I might get it published in the Seattle Times, but upon submission was told they don’t publish op-eds that tout one candidate over another. Except their own, apparently. The “Party of the Future” meme was inspired by local brainiacs Alex Steffen and Roger Valdez, and isn’t mind-shattering stuff for the HAC bubble, but my big fat blogger ego compels me to post it anyway.


Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in the introduction to his early lectures about how the continuum of politics in any society flows from the party of the past to the party of the future. And Seattle’s upcoming mayoral election is a textbook example of this dynamic.

Joe Mallahan is backed by the status-quo political establishment, and as Mayor can be expected to do their bidding by resisting meaningful change if it threatens the status-quo. If you believe that Seattle is doing just fine, and that everything will be okay with more of the same, then the party of the past’s Joe Mallahan is your man.

But if you believe that the reigning political establishment is unlikely to fulfill Seattle’s potential to become a city that will prosper in the face of serious future challenges; if you believe Seattle needs to step up and passionately respond to a rapidly changing world; and if you believe that these challenges and changes actually present inspiring opportunities, then please consider voting for Mike McGinn and the party of the future.

Mike McGinn is running a campaign that is almost entirely powered by volunteers, and funded primarily by small contributions from individual donors. And the promise of a McGinn mayorship is a future in which the establishment is compelled to follow the will of the people. As in when McGinn bucked conventional wisdom and led a campaign to reject a 2007 transit funding ballot measure because it was tied to excessive funding for roads. McGinn believed that enough people wanted light rail for it to stand on its own, and the passage of Proposition 1 in 2008 proved him right.

When a leader’s power is derived more directly from the people, that leader has more freedom to challenge establishment proposals with dubious public merit. Take for example the State’s funding legislation for the deep-bore tunnel that puts the City of Seattle on the hook for any cost overruns. The Mallahan campaign is packed with advisors who are influential tunnel supporters, including the author of the cost overrun provision, Representative Judy Clibborn. Not surprisingly, Mallahan has said that the tunnel should move forward even though cost overruns could put a massive burden on Seattle taxpayers, while McGinn says we shouldn’t start boring anything until we know who’s going to pay for it.

But more importantly, McGinn’s position that the tunnel is a bad idea overall—which is shared by all of the City’s most respected environmental leaders—reveals his capacity to question the way things have always been done. Why spend billions on infrastructure for cars when we are striving to get off the fossil fuel rollercoaster that drains our economy, and when cars are the region’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions? And ultimately, at the heart of the party of the future is the recognition that the alternative is no sacrifice, but will help create a city and region that are better than what we have now.

In tough economic times people tend to focus on immediate concerns, and the security of an establishment candidate like Joe Mallahan becomes more appealing. But we all know that short-sighted choices will come back to bite us in the long run. A vote for McGinn is a vote for an optimistic vision for how Seattle can make bold moves and become a model of sustainable prosperity for the world. A vote for Mike McGinn is a vote for the party of the future.

Transit-Oriented Communities Event Tonight

Don’t forget about the Futurewise/GGLO/Transportation Choices Coalition Blueprint for Transit-Oriented Communities launch event tonight from 4–6pm at the Pike Brewing Company in Pike Place Market, followed by a gallery opening reception from 6–8pm at AIA Seattle on First Ave between Virginia and Stewart.  More info here. 

And at the risk of getting everyone all hot and bothered, an exerpt from the document:

The sustainability of our cities—as measured by both the quality of life they provide today, and the long-term environmental protection they promise to future generations—will determine the future of our planet. Considering the host of social and environmental challenges we currently face—including global warming, air quality concerns, water scarcity, food and energy security, poverty and declining social equity—the global trend toward urbanization demands that cities will need to be a part of the solution.

New transit investments offer more than a means of moving people from one point to another; they can also be an opportunity to support, and in some cases, create communities by opening up new opportunities for people to gain access to, from, and within the neighborhood. By integrating land use, transportation, and housing policies to foster vibrant and safe mixed-use communities where residents, employees, and visitors can walk, bicycle, or take transit to reach their destinations, cities can continue to grow in a manner that is healthy for both people and the planet. And perhaps most importantly, if done well, this growth is an opportunity not a sacrifice, because the end result will be great urban places for people. Such is the vision of transit-oriented communities (TOC).

A Repsonse To The Viaduct Earthquake Video

Five former members of the Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee just issued the following press release in response the viaduct earthquake scenario video that was made public yesterday by the Washington State Department of Transportation.



SEATTLE, WA — Oct. 26, 2009

Yesterday the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released a dramatization showing the potential damage to the viaduct in the case of an earthquake.  The probability of an earthquake strong enough to close the viaduct happening was stated as a 10% chance in the next ten years.

As citizens who served for a year in 2008 on the Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee, we are disturbed that WSDOT did not share this video with us during the stakeholder process, even though it appears that they had paid Parsons Brinkerhoff to prepare it in 2007.

“From the beginning of the process, we had always operated under the assumption that the Governor meant what she said when she insisted that the Viaduct was coming down in 2012,” said Mike O’Brien. 

“The deep bore tunnel was the only scenario that did not meet this strict deadline of removal of the viaduct by 2012,” commented Chuck Ayres.  “All of the other scenarios we studied, including the two recommendations made by WSDOT, would have allowed for removal by 2012.”

“After watching the video, we are even more convinced that taking down the viaduct by 2012 should be a non-negotiable public safety priority of all parties involved,” said Mary McCumber.

“Would you sign a ten year lease on a building if you knew there was a 10% chance of it collapsing on you in those ten years?” asked Cary Moon. “By delaying the closure of the viaduct, that is in essence what we are asking the citizens of Seattle to do.”

Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee members:

Chuck Ayres  206.851.4312
Rob Johnson  206.920.9578
Mary McCumber  206.284.0605
Cary Moon  206.624.1061 
Mike O’Brien   206.200.2980


Here’s the video:

The Tunnel: 8 track technology for an I-Pod world

I have been trying to think of an analogy, a parable maybe, to explain the absurdity of a waterfront tunnel to replace the viaduct. I think I have one. This should also clarify the term “backward looking,” I used to describe tunnel advocates. That term is not intended to be an insult or some kind of transportation bigotry. Instead, it’s a kind of explanation of the confusion that could lead otherwise intelligent people to think of the tunnel as a replacement for the viaduct. So here it goes, the parable of the 8-track.

Imagine that for the last 35 years the main way you appreciated your music was using an 8- track player and 8-track tapes. When you bought it back in the 70s it was state of the art. You bought all your music, Donny Osmond, Earth Wind and Fire, Captain and Tineal and Golden Earring on 8-track tapes.

Things were just rocking along until your player started to break down. At first it was small things. A dial fell off, the vinyl siding cracked a bit, nothing serious. But soon it was mechanical problems. Tapes started playing slower. Donna Summers sounded like she wasn’t inhaling helium when she sang “Last Dance.” So you fixed it. And then you fixed it again, and again and then again.

So last night while you were groovin’ to the sounds of Steppenwolf, the player makes a weird sound. And right in the middle of Boddhisatva everything stops, smoke starts pouring out and your roommate, Jack Tripper, pours his Pina Colada on the flames. But its too late, the fire also consumes most of your 8-track tapes too.

Now it’s ruined. It will never play again. You have a choice. You can pay thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands to have someone build you a custom 8-track player and custom 8- track tapes. You don’t know where to start but you put out an RFP. The responses are really high and none of the contractors can guarantee that it won’t cost even more—and there may be legal problems because of copyright issues.

Your other choice is to buy an I-Pod and replace your music on I-Tunes for $1,000 maybe $1,500.

The same is true of the viaduct replacement. Freeways and cars are to transportation today what the 8-track tape players and 8-track tapes are to music listening devices of the 21st century. They work, but most of us agree its time to make a shift to new ideas and technology. Why would we rebuild or conform our thinking around a technology that is running, has run or certainly will run its course. Do we want to rely on Mideast and Alaskan oil supplies? An think about climate change and pollution.

And the thing is that we can still listen to our music, that is we can still get around town, travel to see friends and do everything else we want to do but we can just do it on foot, buses, zip cars or via the internet. The idea that we would spend billions of dollars to recapitulate an old way of doing things is backward looking, it assumes a one for one replacement of an old thing with something that is passé, outmoded and finished.

So let’s get the I-Pod and replace that old Deep Purple 8-track with some MP3s. You can keep the Matador. It’s still pretty cool.

Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State

What you best be doing next Tuesday, October 27, from 4 to 8pm, is this: Drinking beer and talking the wonk about transit-oriented communities. Because that’s when there’s gonna be a release party and AIA exhibit opening for a new report called Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State, written by Futurewise and its partners GGLO and Transportation Choices Coalition. Details here and here.

Some may recall a little brouhaha over HB1490, a.k.a. the TOD bill, during the 2009 legislative session, when the evil social engineers at Futurewise tried to mandate that every Seattle neighborhood would have to become as dense as Mumbai or lose City snow-plow service. Or something.

Seriously though, the Blueprint was inspired in part by the HB1490 experience, which demonstrated the need to educate the public and address the concerns of community members. The report reviews the social and environmental benefits of TOC, proposes a typology and performance metrics, examines the potential for TOC on the ground in the Central Puget Sound region, and proposes policy actions that would help foster TOC.

This report is chock full of wholesome wonky/planful/urban designy goodness—I should know because I helped write it. Since in a past life I was an electrical engineering researcher, I took on a lot of the techy stuff, such as energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  My science background has left the indelible stamp of a skeptic on my brain, but the more I learned about the relationships between GHGs and land-use patterns, the stronger the case became.

Below is a little sample from the “Evidence” section of the Blueprint, that goes with the bar chart porn at the top of the post:

A 2000 Canadian study of the Toronto area modeled the effects of socioeconomic makeup, location, and neighborhood design on GHG emissions from vehicles.   The results are summarized above, and show that the both urban form and distance to the central business district have a significant impact on household GHG emissions. For example, in the “inner area” case, GHG emissions from households in a neo-traditional neighborhood (residential density = 102 units per acre) are half that of households in the traditional suburban neighborhood (residential density = 9 units per acre).

Regarding The Upcoming Election: One Acronym And A Punctuation Mark: WTF?

In this, the year 2009, can it really be true that so many of the choices on the upcoming Fall ballot are still questions that are the subject of contentious debate; on which our citizenry must vote; that represent such a clear distinction between backward and forward, yet that could go either way?

Let us review the choices one might naively assume would be staggeringly obvious to the majority of human beings with a pulse:

R-71: Is there a sane person among us who believes that in a few decades when people look back on this era they won’t be wondering what the hell was wrong with us that it was such a struggle to legally recognize same-sex marriage?  A shame that the brain disease that causes so many to be somehow threatened by love between two people doesn’t also cause permanent laryngitis.

I-1033: What will it take for us to finally and permanently put a fork in Ronald Reagan’s  “government is the problem” mantra of idiocy?  How many past examples do we need of how tax limits like I-1033 fuck over important government institutions like public schools?  When will enough people open their eyes to the fact that in those other developed nations where tax rates are higher than ours, the people actually live quite well?

Seattle Housing Levy: Most people have no choice but to be aware of the cost of housing, and here in Seattle, it is pretty much universally recognized that we have a problematic, growing lack of affordable housing.  And as history has repeatedly shown in cities all over the world, there is very little that can be done about it aside from government subsidy.  So then, how is it that the modest levy on the current ballot isn’t a slam dunk at the polls?  And for that matter,  shouldn’t significant funding for affordable housing be a permanent part of the City budget that doesn’t depend on begging the voters every few years?

King County Executive: A closet Republican ex-local TV news anchor model with zero civic experience and no ideas is polling ahead of a progressive, experienced politician with a proven record of forwarding the cause sustainable urbanism.  Totally “move to Canada” material.

Seattle Mayor: The volunteer-driven, well-informed, neighborhood activist, environmentalist, and urbanist versus the corporate exec who never bothered much with civic affairs before he paid his way into this election, and has demonstrated limited understanding of the issues and no notable vision.  Based on the popular perception of Seattle as uber-liberal and hyper-green, one might expect no contest.  But the perception is not the reality.

Seattle City Council Position #8: One guy understands the environmental and social benefits of density, recognizes the urgency of addressing climate change, believes car drivers should pay the true costs of their actions, and has a record of strong support for transit, as was recently demonstrated in his work to get last year’s Proposition 1 on the ballot and passed.  The other guy, not so much on any of these issues, and also is opposed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL.   Ditto the previous paragraph on the perception vs. reality of the Seattle populace.

All six of the above could go either way come election day.

So are you ready to say it with me now?  Go ahead, howl it:  ….W! …T! …F!!!!!!!

What Do You Spend $5.50 A Month On?

(Editor’s note: Guest poster Kate Stineback is a resident of West Seattle and an affordable housing developer and community organizer at Capitol Hill Housing.  More on the housing levy here. )


Less than $6.00 a month for the typical Seattle homeowner—that’s about 18 cents per day, or $65 a year for the Seattle Housing Levy, on the ballot for renewal this Fall.

Levies have become a common funding vehicle in Seattle for things that deliver widespread public benefit, such as parks, schools, and the Pike Place Market. The Housing Levy has been around since 1981, and every seven years since then, the electorate has chosen to renew it.

You should vote for the Levy because it houses homeless families.
A full 60% of Levy-funded rental apartments are for people and families making less than about $20,000 a year. For these individuals and families, homelessness is often one paycheck away, and many are now finding themselves on the streets for the first time because of the ongoing economic recession. We need the Housing Levy now more than ever.

But maybe you aren’t swayed by this moral argument; maybe you need more convincing. For you, wonky HAC reader, I have the following details…

The Levy saves taxpayers money.
In its first year of operation, DESC’s 1811 Eastlake project saved taxpayers $4 million. By providing permanent housing to 75 formerly homeless chronic alcoholics who were the heaviest users of crisis services (police, fire, hospital), the Levy’s $2.2 million capital investment in this building was leveraged to achieve long-term significant (and ongoing) cost savings for the City of Seattle (and you the taxpayer).

[ 1811 Eastlake, Downtown Emergency Service Center ]

The Levy helps keep affordable projects local.
Ever wonder what it would be like to have the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building projects in your community like the one shown below?

[ Cabrini Green Housing Project, Chicago, Illinois---NOT a Levy funded project ]

Through the Housing Levy, affordable housing development projects in Seattle are kept local, almost entirely built by neighborhood based non-profit organizations. So instead, projects look like this:

[ The Pantages Apartments, Capitol Hill Housing ]

And this:

[ The Historic Cooper School, Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association ]

The Levy leverages outside investment.
As a powerful local funding source, the Levy leverages outside public and private investment, mostly through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (the public/private funding mechanism that largely replaced HUD development in the 1980s). In Seattle, every Housing Levy dollar is matched by over $3 in other investment. Check out this pie:

Isn’t it nice to know that your tax dollars are being matched by non-government sources?

The Levy is administered efficiently and effectively.
I don’t know about you, but I also like to know that my taxes are being used wisely. In the 2002 Housing Levy, every production goal has either been met or exceeded, as this chart demonstrates:

The Seattle Office of Housing, which administers the Levy, is a great example of good government, at a time when government isn’t always so inspiring. It is efficient, transparent and effective.

The Housing Levy is a seven year investment in maintaining the housing affordability and economic diversity of our City. As this blog has highlighted so many times, the mismatch between low-wage jobs and housing affordability is staggering in Seattle. As we grow our public transportation options, and increasingly focus on transit oriented development in land use, it is the Levy that will ensure that future TOD retains affordability at the deepest levels and protects our neighborhoods from becoming enclaves of the very wealthy.

Vote Yes on Proposition 1 this Fall, because the Housing Levy is worth the price of a couple of lattes a month.

This Blog Will Now Go Slit Its Wrists

Because Mike McGinn said that if elected Mayor he would honor prior agreements made by the City’s elected representatives.  The sun has set on hugeasscity.


UPDATE:  Please note that I grew up in the Boston area where sarcasm is well-used.

UPDATE 2:  I better spell it out:  Sarcasm is when you say the opposite of what you mean, as in, “slitting your wrists” would mean you actually couldn’t care less.  In other words, McGinn’s statement on the Council’s approval of the tunnel agreement has not changed anything regarding my unequivocal support for his candidacy.  Because it has always been about more than one issue.

The Elephant In The Room

(Editor’s note:  The following was excerpted from Jabe Blumenthal’s voter recommendation email, which came my way via facebook, and is republished here with permission.  Much of this will be familiar territory for HAC readers, but nonetheless, it’s good reinforcement from yet another thoughtful voice, and more fodder for the intentionally redundant HAC tunnel blitz.)


The elephant in the room:  thoughts on the tunnel.

This is another issue I’d love to dodge.  But it’s an important issue in the mayor’s race at least and there’s much misinformation out there that people have come to accept as truth.  So I’m going to explain why I support some candidates who think that:  A) the tunnel decision process was a deeply flawed one,  B) the tunnel probably isn’t the best solution to our multiple societal goals, and C) it’s worth taking the few months and few $M to get it right on what will be a multi-$B project with a 50-100 year lifespan.  And I feel the same way, as do many people more thoughtful and informed than myself – Denis Hayes, KC Golden, and Alan Durning to name just a few.

I’m not against the tunnel per se.  I’m in favor of whatever solution meets the three goals of:

1) a vibrant/sustainable/livable city

2) adequately meeting our mobility needs

3) complying with our state emission and vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) reduction goals all within a price that is realistic and leaves some funding capacity for waterfront parks and improvements.

The stake-holder process, which included the city, county and state departments of transportation, began by taking #3 off the table as a goal (rather ironic given that it was immediately after the Governor and legislature had passed emission and VMT reduction goals).  In December of 2008, the three department of transportation heads announced the two final hybrid recommendations, and carefully explained why those two and not others.  One reportedly said “I cannot imagine any situation in which the bored tunnel would be a good use of WSDOT’s money.”  In particular, their modeling showed that the combination of surface streets, transit, and I-5 improvements (S/T/5) would meet our traffic needs.  Then the backroom meetings and deals began, with pressure on the Governor from Boeing, Tayloe Washburn (Chamber of Commerce), the Discovery Institute and others.  Thrown into the mix was the desire to thwart Chopp’s viaduct replacement idea.  And voila, an answer emerged, one not recommended by the DOTs and not supported by technical analysis.

Somehow people have come to think that the process favored the tunnel and that the surface street option was shown to not work.  Whatever one thinks of the tunnel, this version of events is simply wrong.

Now, back to that #3 above.  Had climate impacts actually been considered, the case for S/T/5 and against a tunnel becomes *stronger*, as the tunnel certainly has the highest embedded *and* operational carbon impact.  No one seems to talk about this much even in the environmental community.  Here’s where I pause and ask of whatever subset of us really believe that we care about climate change:  Do we really think that we have any hope of reducing our societal emission by the necessary 80-90% and our VMT by 50% in 40 years if we remove climate from consideration and optimize for single-occupancy vehicles when making 50-100 year infrastructural decisions?  I mean, get real!!  “But won’t the cars all be electric soon?”  By 2020?  No way.  By 2030?  No chance.  By 2040, some but not a majority. By 2050?  Many, not all.  And will the electrons all be zer0-carbon?  Not a chance.  And will it amount to anything like a 90% reduction?  Dream on.  That’s *why* the Governor and legislature realized that we *had to reduce VMT by 50%*.

Sadly, at some level, most of even us supposed climate change warriors are climate change deniers; even we don’t admit that, yes, we have to make our major societal decisions *differently* to have any hope of addressing climate change.  If I were designing a city to maximize VMT and if I assumed that money will someday grow on trees once the current recession is over, a tunnel sounds pretty good to me.  But otherwise it is a highly questionable conclusion. Given that, and the expense, and the near certainty of cost overruns, and the potential for lawsuits (one with a lot of merit was just filed last week over the failure to complete the required environmental impact statement), and the climate implications, and the 50-100 lifetime of whatever decision we make, and the flawed process… it’s not just reasonable but responsible to question and revisit this “decision”. You don’t have to agree with this statement but the more I learn about the issue and the process, the more reasonable a point of view it seems to me and I’m grateful that we have at least a few candidates questioning things.

Jabe Blumenthal

Tunnel Memorandum of Agreement Petition

Not that I expect to reach many deep-bore tunnel fans in the hugeasscity echo chamber, but for any of you out there who are still unsure, I hope you will consider the many reasons why the Seattle City Council should not rush to approve an agreement this week.   The many remaining uncertainties and unanswered questions are listed in the petition reproduced below, which is now set up on-line to accept signatures at this link. If you agree, please sign the online form ASAP and spread the word, as this petition needs to be delivered tomorrow (Monday).


October 19, 2009

Dear Mayor Nickels and Members of the Seattle City Council,

We are writing today to express our concern over the undue economic, environmental and social risks that Seattle residents will be taking on if the City Council moves forward with its Memorandum of Agreement to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel. While our specific motivations are varied, we are united in our belief that in the current economic climate, it is premature to irrevocably obligate the City of Seattle to the fiduciary and environmental risks associated with this project without holistic review of possible detrimental impacts.

Below is an unbiased list of the critical issues and uncertainties. We believe that the voters and taxpayers of Seattle deserve answers to these questions before our elected leaders further commit significant public resources to the deep-bore tunnel project through the proposed agreement.

COST OVERRUNS. Who will pay for cost overruns and how? Currently the State has mandated that Seattle voters will be responsible for all cost overruns. While many have asserted that this is illegal, there will need to be some equitable distribution of the risk of overruns between the City, County and State. A recent study by the Sightline Institute showed that recent tunnel projects have gone over budget by 30 – 56%.

THE IMPACTS OF I-1033. If I-1033 passes, severely limiting both the City, County and State’s abilities to raise revenues, how will the project be funded without drastic cuts to other government programs?

SAFETY. The deep-bore tunnel plan leaves the current viaduct in place for the longest amount of time. The safety of the viaduct continues to be a pressing matter and leaving it standing until 2016 increases the risk of catastrophic and life-threatening failure.

CLIMATE CHANGE. The transportation sector generates half of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have repeatedly shown that new urban highways induce vehicular travel resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions. How will the tunnel project help us achieve our broader goals as outlined in the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement?

OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS. What are the range and consequences of potential environmental impacts? How will salmon and other marine life be affected? What is the likely cost of cleanup from historic industrial practices? How does building a tunnel support or detract from Seattle’s goals for a healthier, more sustainable and environmentally responsible future? We fear that these questions are not being adequately addressed due to the lack of alternative evaluations in the State’s EIS process.

PIONEER SQUARE IMPACTS. What will the impacts be upon our cultural resources in Pioneer Square? Since the tunnel does not have any downtown exits and there are no plans for the First Avenue streetcar, the project will direct a large number of cars through Pioneer Square, and the tunnelling equipment may cause instability under these cherished buildings.

GEOLOGY. The geology of the waterfront area is some of the most complex in Washington State.The tunnel routing goes through liquefaction zones andcuts across earthquake faults. What kind of risk does this incur? Will the tunnel be safe in an earthquake?

AN ELEVATED OVERPASS. Will the state rebuild a portion of an elevated structure West of Pioneer Square? If built, what impact will that have upon Pioneer Square’s connection to the waterfront?

CUTS TO HUMAN SERVICES AND OTHER PROGRAMS. What cuts will be taken out of other programs to free up the $17 million dollars in general fund resources that were identified to replace downtown parking revenue? Will these cuts be made in social services, arts, police, or parks?

SIDEWALK FUNDING. How will the City fund sidewalks when many of the proposed if funding sources for sidewalks are used to fund the tunnel project, including increased parking taxes, increased utility fees, and a vehicle licensing fee?

TOLLING COSTS. What will the tolling cost for the tunnel? Some WSDOT estimates place the annual toll cost at close to $3000 for a commuter who uses the tunnel daily.

IMPACTS ON HOUSING AFFORDABILITY. What will the impacts be to housing affordability be from new taxes, utility rates and other fees are levied upon development?

HIGHER UTILITY RATES. A report in Saturday’s Seattle Times documented the high costs of basic services that Seattle residents already pay. How will the new utility rates impact those at the margins and on fixed incomes? How will it affect Seattle’s capacity to be a jobs-generator?

As concerned citizens and in many cases experts on issues related to the proposed deep-bore tunnel project, we are urging you to wait before signing any agreement with the State. While we appreciate the desire to move forward with a solution to the replacement to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the City Council attend to the questions above before taking any next steps.

In short, we believe that there simply is not enough information at this time to commit Seattle to this momentous decision without further clarity on the issues described above. We hope that you do not bear this burden lightly, and are united in our belief that consideration to this letter will save the City residents from unwarranted expenses, service reductions and assure a waterfront replacement project worthy of Seattle’s world standing in the 21st century.


One Issue

[ The deep-bore tunnel would provide no access to the downtown core from SR-99. ]

The deep-bore tunnel is the loose cannon of Seattle’s upcoming mayoral election.  In the primary, the tunnel energized Mike McGinn’s supporters while it drove many greens away from the Nickels camp, and was arguably the single most important issue that led to Mayor Nickels’ defeat.

Now in the general election, the burning question on every Seattle politico’s lips is, will the loose cannon tunnel end up pointed back at McGinn, and hand victory to Mallahan?

Recent polling results that show Mallahan doing well in neighborhoods  like Fremont have been interpreted by some as evidence that the tunnel issue has caused many who would normally be expected to back McGinn to opt for Mallahan instead.   My interwebs have been flush with anecdotal stories along these lines.  Though at this point nobody really knows how big a factor it may turn out to be.  And Publicola’s polling also revealed that a whopping one third are still undecided.

As a McGinn supporter and one who also believes that the deep-bore tunnel is a spectacularly bad idea, my response to those who would  seem to be compromising their values in a broad sense by letting the tunnel be the single deciding factor, is this:  There is a lot more at stake here than the tunnel.  We are deciding between two futures for Seattle, and the tunnel is just one of the many potential manifestations of that choice.*

Many have accused McGinn of being a one-issue candidate, even though his past experience and his prolific production of ideas on wide range of issues during the campaign both testify otherwise.  But in any case, if one is in the habit of deriding one-issue candidates, then one ought not be a one-issue voter.

And the truth is, it is Mallahan who is turning out to be the real one-issue candidate of the race: We still don’t know much about why Joe Mallahan wants to be Mayor, but at least we know he’ll get that tunnel built, whatever it takes.


*Postscript:  Of course, the tunnel happens to be a quintessential example of the kind of challenging choices our future will increasingly demand.  Mallahan’s future is one in which we respond to such a choice by doing what we’ve always done—building more roads, in this example—and denying the reality that the most prosperous cities of the future will be the ones that aggressively apply their energy and resources towards making the transformation away from car-dependence.

Cost Overruns For Seattle-area Tunnel Projects

(Editor’s note:  The following post was copped from Sightline with permission from the author, Eric de Place, who, as is generally the rule with the whole Sightline crew, has a brain that is far too big for his own good.)


Will the deep-bore tunnel – the current choice by the city and state to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct – go over budget?

One way to answer that question is to look at what’s happened with other tunneling projects in the Seattle area. In a new report — Cost Overruns For Seattle-area Tunnel Projects — Sightline examines the cost history of four recent tunneling projects: the Mt Baker I-90 expansion tunnel; the downtown Seattle bus tunnel; Sound Transit’s Beacon Hill tunnel; and the Brightwater sewage tunnels.


Opinions about the likelihood of a cost overrun for the deep-bore tunnel tend to fall in a pattern. Those in favor of the deep-bore project downplay the chance of going over-budget, and point to a 22 percent cushion in current budget that is set aside for unforeseen problems. Those opposed to the tunnel tend to less sanguine, pointing to international research suggesting that major infrastructure projects rarely stay within budget, even when they include such line items. 

There’s a lot riding on the current cost estimates. If the project goes over budget, Seattle taxpayers foot the bill — a curious result, considering that Seattle voters rejected a tunnel replacement option by a 39 point margin. A cost overrun as small as $100 million (just 2.4 percent of a $4.2 billion project) works out to about $167 per Seattle resident — or almost $700 for a family of four. For a city struggling to avoid deep cuts to basic services, even a relatively small cost overrun could be challenging.

Of course, it is impossible to know in advance whether any project will stay on budget. And that’s especially true for a project as complex, daunting, and unknown as this one. It would be among the widest-diameter bored tunnels ever built, through a seismic fault, directly underneath some of the densest and most valuable urban real estate on the West Coast. Besides, when engineers first made the $4.2 billion cost estimate for the entire Alaska Way Viaduct replacement project — with $1.9 billion price tag for the deep-bore tunnel — they had finished only 1 percent of the design. So the current cost estimate is little more than a placeholder.

It goes without saying that no two tunnels are alike. The deep-bore tunnel will be unlike any other tunnel that has been constructed locally. Nonetheless, we can learn something by examining recent local projects, each of which grappled with specific geographic and historical issues. It is only reasonable to believe that the deep-bore tunnel will face its own unique problems. But, speaking personally, the fact that the deep-bore tunnel is something new and different makes me more pessimistic than optimistic.

Importantly, the cost estimates I’ve included here are very conservative — that is, they tend to paint the projects in a favorable light — because they use initial cost estimates that were relatively well thought-out, usually when the contracts were ready to be sent out for bidding. In some cases, the earlier and less-planned-out cost estimates were much lower; using those rougher estimates could have resulted in a much worse accounting for the cost overruns.

Will the deep-bore tunnel prove to be as inexpensive as the Mount Baker tunnel? Or will it look more like the downtown Seattle bus tunnel? Only time will tell. In the meantime, Sightline’s report, “Cost Overruns For Seattle-area Tunnel Projects,” can help inform public understanding about the actual costs of similar projects nearby.

What The Corner Really Needs

[ How many rockstar reporters can you spot at McGinn's 23rd and Union press conference? ]

For eleven years I have lived two blocks from the notorious intersection of 23rd and Union where Mike McGinn recently held a press conference on public safety. We all know that the crime that has plagued the area around that intersection has little to do with the choice of Seattle’s Chief of Police, but hey, that’s politics.

In contrast, over on the southwest corner of the intersection (left background in the photo above) is a missed opportunity that actually could have breathed some new life into the area.  In 2007 a six-story mixed-use project was proposed for the vacant site, but since it was only zoned for only 40 feet, a contract rezone was required.  This added a full year to the project schedule,  and unfortunately that additional year happened to be a very bad one for banks—all the rules for financing changed, and the project has been shelved.

Given that the proposed building was (a) exactly the kind of mixed-use infill project that Seattle needs more of to achieve its sustainability goals, and (b) a redevelopment trailblazer that could have brought catalytic, positive change to a chronically troubled corner, the question is:  Why couldn’t the City have done more to help make the project happen, as opposed to effectively killing it by causing delay?

The short answer is that it’s a bureaucracy, and has not been able to keep policy up to speed with the demands of a rapidly changing world.  The longer answer is that Seattle as a whole continues to struggle with establishing and uniting around a bold vision for the more urban city it needs to become.

The world is only going to change faster.  Rapid growth in Seattle will continue for decades, and given that climate change impacts are likely to be more benign in the Pacific Northwest compared to much of the United States, it would not be unreasonable to expect significantly more growth than is currently projected.  So how can we do better at encouraging the kind of development that will ensure  Seattle’s growth plays out as an asset, rather than a liability?

I’m envisioning an agency with the focused mission of (1) identifying the City’s highest priority areas for redevelopment, and (2) getting policy implemented that makes it happen.   Actions might range from modest moves such as fast track permitting and upzones, to more substantial efforts such as land acquisition and the establishment of public-private partnerships, to major infrastructure improvements.

To take one example, the Mt. Baker light rail station area is such an urban design disaster that redevelopment has stagnated for years even though the trains are now running.  The critical action that must be taken to create a neighborhood center in which people would want to live is a remake of Rainier Avenue.  Rainier rebuilt as a multi-lane boulevard would establish the heart of a new community, and redevelopment would follow.  But what entity in Seattle is an influential force for making such a thing happen?  I’m waiting.

The promotion of smart development would likely be best served by a quasi-governmental organization like the Portland Development Commission or the Boston Redevelopment Authority. It says a lot that doesn’t Seattle have one of these.

Or perhaps it could be a new City department, or it could grow out of the Planning Commission, or it could be part of some yet to be created fantasy such as the Office of Sustainable Urbanism.

Seattle is well positioned to realize the potential of “MetroNation,” to use Bruce Katz’s term, but success isn’t going to fall into our laps. 


[ The Corner, a temporary art installation at 23rd and Union on a site that has been unused since 2001 ]

The Mayoral Candidates and Knowledge-Based Land Use Leadership

(Editor’s note:  Chuck Wolfe is a land-use attorney and an affiliate faculty member in the UW Department of Urban Design and Planning.  Chuck is a frequent contributor to Crosscut, but wanted to take walk on the wild side with the following post, adapted from this longer version.)


On Sunday, the Seattle Times asked how our two Mayoral candidates would lead, with scant reference to the issues of the day, such as land use.  The Times did what newspapers often do—leaving subject matter junkies to further reflect about leadership within the land use silo.

The Times’ bottom line: Mike McGinn, the downtown attorney turned energetic Great City activist/successful electoral strategist on transit and parks, against Joe Mallahan, the corporate team leader who has succeeded at a large company with laudable customer service achievements—something for readers from both camps, and a style choice for the electorate.

The policies proposed by McGinn and Mallahan reflect the Times’ bottom line. The McGinn policies, largely issued in September, are generally broad and tone-setting, while the Mallahan policies, more recently produced, are more surgical, and reflective of advisory expertise.  McGinn provides a comprehensive Planning, Zoning and Land Use Policy, as well as Neighborhoods and Transportation Policies, while Mallahan provides some land use components within his Housing and Transportation Policies.

The land use silo is built upon protection of “health, safety and welfare,” and intersects individual cities and city neighborhoods with regional transit and housing needs.  Electeds need broad personal expertise in these areas so they can readily know and understand best practices, and ask intelligent questions about budget allocations for urban infrastructure projects and the redesign of regulatory mechanisms to serve the 21st century city.

Simultaneously, private sector clients hope for clear, predictable regulations and efficient public process. Many of our days are spent addressing alleged regulatory inconsistency, inefficiency and marketplace sensitivity, advocating for results to advance client needs. Our elected leaders should also have the ability to assess government innovation in service delivery to such private “customers,” and assure governmental success in managing the associated public process.

My bottom line is based on the so-called “diffusion of innovation” at the core of land use leadership, and values both the vision of the savvy urban strategist, as well as the success of the service delivery innovator and manager—but in one Mayoral candidate:  Mike McGinn. His community and non-profit experience is described by the Times, and his Planning, Land Use and Zoning Policy was developed after a broad based listening session (disclosure: held in my law office), and reflects both urban vision and service delivery.  And not only does this Policy envision sensitivity to neighborhood needs and achieving consensus results through expanded incentive zoning and work with the City Council, it also proposes a zoning audit to assure sound land use practices, and underscores collaboration with the region, as well as necessary steps to secure new approaches to infrastructure funding from Olympia.

Last week I wrote in Crosscut about the new visionaries of Detroit, a city afflicted in ways we have yet to fully acknowledge.  Filmmaker Michael Moore, who has documented that affliction throughout his career, has also captured the spirit of this year and last in “Capitalism: A Love Story”. Drawing from the sea change of Obama, he emphasizes how votes prevail over symbolic endorsements and numerous advisors, and that the bases for political power can change dramatically in far less than a lifetime.

At a recent Seattle Transit Blog/Northwest Hub “meet up,” an audience member asked how to assess the mayoral candidates.  My answer:  “Mallahan has excellent advisors, and McGinn knows his stuff.”  In the land use silo, knowledge is key to leadership, and key to my support.


[ Susan Hutchison and Dow Constantine facing off at the Seattle Aquarium last night. ]

Did I forget that I had just taken a hit off the crack pipe, or did I actually hear Susan Hutchison say that Metro’s $100 million plus projected annual budget shortfall should be addressed by cracking down on unpaid fares?  The latter, I’m afraid.

Such a befitting position for Susan Hutchison to take, laying the blame on all those untrustworthy, unwashed bus riding types from the big scary city. Gotta play to your base.

Never mind that unpaid fares are a complete non-issue. Though for sure, it’s just the kind of overblown, pseudo-controversial story that would be a perfect fit for an anchor-model to read on the local TV evening news.

From 2005 to 2008, Metro estimates that about one percent of riders didn’t pay or paid partially.  That probably amounts to around $2 million per year, or just two percent of Metro’s deficit.   But then you have to factor in how much it would cost to reduce the unpaid rate, how much it would delay service, and the extra risk to which it would expose drivers.

Of course, the professionals who run Metro already understand these issues and their costs/benefits, and they operate the system accordingly.  No, scratch that.  The Hutch knows better.

Please Join Me Tonight

Please join fellow sustainability and built environment leaders for a fundraiser in support of Mike McGinn. As a leader at the Sierra Club, he fought against highway expansion and last year Mike lead the successful effort to pass the Parks and Green Spaces Levy. Rather than sinking billions of dollars in auto-dependent infrastructure, Mike wants to invest in a city-wide light rail network that will connect our communities.

This evening is made possible by the generous support of our hosts: Matt Anderson, Bob Anderton, Michael Beneke, Craig Benjamin, Dan Bertolet, Anne Bikle, David Bolin, Nate Cormier, Nate Cole-Daum, Brendan Donckers, Alan Durning, Kevin Fullerton, Rich Haag, Keith Harris, David Hiller, Brett Horvath, Sean Howell, Japhet Koteen, Bill LaBorde, David Levinger, Gary Manca, Brice and Bridgette Maryman, Brady Montz, Steve Moddemeyer, David Montgomery, Shannon Nichol, Sara Nikolic, Jeff Pavey, Dave Rodgers, Peg Staeheli, Alex Steffen, Ron Sher, Darryl Smith, Justus Stewart, Bryan Terry, Jeff Thompson, Cheryl Trivison, Roger Valdez, Lisa Vanderford-Anderson, Alison van Gorp, Tom von Schrader, Heidi Wills, Chuck Wolfe and Yancy Wright.