Council Vote Forces Agency's Hand
In November, Seattle voters will have two stark options: Cut Ballard from the Seattle Monorail Project's Green Line (reducing the line, which the Seattle Monorail Project is now calling the "initial segment," from 14 miles to 10.6); or shut down the agency.
It didn't have to come to this. Last week, after Mayor Greg Nickels pulled his support for the monorail and canceled the agency's right-of-way agreement with the city, six members of the city council were ready to give the agency more time—if, and only if, the SMP board was willing to acknowledge that it lacked sufficient revenues to build all 14 miles of the Green Line and come up with a plan to give the voters a say in the monorail project's future. (Last week, city officials revealed that the monorail's financial consultant had made questionable "adjustments" to the agency's projected tax growth rate that resulted in a growth rate one percent higher than the city's estimates.)
But then, last Thursday, in a chaotic meeting that lasted until nearly 11:00 p.m., the monorail board opted to do nothing, voting to "engage the city of Seattle in constructive dialogue" to come up with a new finance plan to replace an earlier $11 billion proposal, rejected in June. By refusing to acknowledge it had a financial problem and declining to put a measure on the ballot, the monorail agency was betting that the city council would take its side against the mayor.
On Friday, the SMP lost that bet, when the council passed a resolution, 9-0, backing the mayor's decision to pull the city's permits and encouraging the state legislature to kill the project.
"I'm really quite emotional about this," a teary-eyed Jean Godden, who had been among the swing votes, said moments before the vote. "It's become clear that the Green Line is one of those dreams that got lost." Nick Licata, who held out in hope that the SMP would put a measure on the ballot, said the agency had "[shot themselves in] their temple, not their foot... To say I'm disappointed is mild."
The council's vote propelled the SMP into action. On Friday, the monorail board rescheduled a previously canceled meeting for 2:00 that afternoon—mere hours before the King County deadline for getting a measure on the November ballot. After an unusually candid discussion, the board unanimously passed a hastily written measure that would, if approved, shorten the initial monorail line to a segment from Interbay to West Seattle.
Moments later, as SMP legal director Ross MacFarlane rushed from the room to deliver the measure to King County Elections, Nickels appointee Steve Williamson called publicly, via speakerphone, for Hill's resignation. "I am, frankly, embarrassed by last night's actions by the board and the recent torturous process that we've gone through to get to this point," Williamson said in a statement he had discussed with Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis the night before. "The only reason the public should vote for this measure is if there is new leadership." Hill, who called Williamson's surprise statement a "kamikaze strategy," said Monday that she would talk to her colleagues before making any decisions. "I'm not going to resign just because Tim Ceis and Steve Williamson think I should," Hill said.
Ultimately, the board's action may have come a day too late. On Friday, Pat Flaherty, the president of Cascadia Monorail Company, said the consortium would not continue its negotiations with the SMP "without political support" from the mayor and the city council. "We think it's a great project," Flaherty said. "What it needs now is a political process that supports it." That political support seemed elusive Monday, when the mayor's office and most of the council appeared prepared to stand by Nickels's decision to pull the city's email@example.com