Look at Map #1. That's the monorail system Seattle voters ordered the city to build in 1997. Voter-approved Initiative 41 mandated the construction of a comprehensive, citywide rapid-transit system serving Seattle's far-flung neighborhoods. The monorail system we voted for would go a long way toward alleviating Seattle's housing crisis, making it possible for people to live in cheaper neighborhoods far from the center of town. The monorail system voters approved would lure people from their cars by moving them around the city faster than cars, cabs, buses, and surface-level trains stuck in traffic.
Now look at Map #2. That's Judy Nicastro's compromise monorail plan. Or, I should say, that's the monorail plan Nicastro wants the city to study--not build. Nicastro thinks she can get five votes for her study, thereby "saving" the monorail. Nicastro and Richard Conlin, who's backing her proposal, have high hopes that their itty-bitty monorail will attract private money. You see, Nicastro's monorail would link local billionaire Paul Allen's Experience Music Project with local billionaire Paul Allen's South Lake Union office development.
Let's back up a few weeks:
On June 7, in response to a lawsuit filed by a private citizen, King County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Learned ordered the city to build the monorail or kill it. "Reading the initiative," Judge Learned wrote, "clearly shows the intent of the voters to have the system built." The city was obligated to support the project--even to fund its construction--by raising the B&O tax or issuing councilmanic bonds. If the city didn't want to build the monorail, it could kill it by repealing I-41.
A subsequent move to kill the monorail initiated by City Council President Margaret Pageler became politically impossible when voters went ballistic. Unable to kill the monorail honestly, the Seattle City Council is hard at work trying to kill the monorail dishonestly. Peter Steinbrueck wants to "hold hearings." Richard Conlin has proposed an ordinance that would do away with the voter-created Elevated Transportation Company, essentially gutting I-41. But the lamest idea has to be Nicastro's. Seattle's most progressive city council member apparently wants to build a private choo-choo for Seattle's wealthiest at-risk adolescent, Paul Allen.
"The plan is what it is because of the votes," Nicastro told me late Monday night. Nicastro had originally pushed for a study of the entire X-shaped system approved by the voters, but, she says, "I couldn't get five votes for a study of the citywide X plan. I couldn't even get it heard."
And this is where Nicastro is making a real political blunder. At the same moment that political pressure is mounting for the council to build the voter-approved monorail system, Nicastro starts playing fixer. She's proposed a middle-of-the-road compromise that gets the city council off the hook. Voting for Nicastro's plan will allow members to go on record in support of "further study." Then two years down the road, when the results come in and the heat is off, the city council can safely vote to kill the monorail. Nicastro would do better to leave her original proposal on the table--a full study of the X-shaped system Seattle voters approved--and let the rest of the council put up or shut up: Build it or kill it.
Nicastro insists that the numbers generated by her small feasibility study could still be used by people advocating a large monorail system. "We'll know that it costs, say, 20 million dollars a mile to build a monorail," says Nicastro, "then the council can't use 'we don't have any numbers' as an excuse not to act. And the numbers from the small study can be used to argue for a larger system."
Some activists aren't waiting for Nicastro's numbers. Drafts of a second monorail initiative are circulating, and activists are meeting to strategize. As we went to press, we learned that the decision had been made to file this new initiative. Considering the hostility of most council members (Pageler, McIver, Drago, Wills, Compton), and the idiocy of council members who claim to support the plan (Nicastro, Conlin, Steinbrueck), Seattle voters may have to take the matter into their own hands once again.
But even passing another monorail initiative--a law ordering the city council to obey a law we've already passed--might not be enough to move Seattle's arrogant city council members. "The will of the people is a very tricky thing to interpret," said City Council Member Richard Conlin. "Yes, people go out and vote for something... but it's dangerous to read too much into what you're calling 'the will of the people.'
"If another initiative is approved by the voters, well, I guess we would just have another impasse," Conlin says.
The monorail initiative passed 53 to 47. On June 20, the day after City Council President Margaret Pageler announced she was planning to ignore the monorail mandate by orchestrating a vote to repeal I-41, her office received nearly 50 e-mails (email@example.com) reminding her that she lives in a democracy. Here are some choice quotes:
"You should be horsewhipped and I would be honored to apply the lashes myself." --Glenn D. Goldman
"Yes, a monorail--we do know how to read, thanks."--Spencer Sundell
"The last political campaign I actually worked for was Councilmember Pageler's.... How sorry I am I did so. I will actively campaign against her and any and all councilmembers who vote for the repeal of a citizen initiative."--Bob Redmond
"Excuse me... the people of Seattle voted FOR the expansion of the monorail." --Nikki Phillips
"I voted for the Monorail and I meant it." --Christopher Greenlee
"We would like to see our elected representatives pursue the objectives we voted for, rather than to squelch them."--Hank Bradley
"Since you obviously never wanted to follow the will of the people, I suggest you take the only remaining course of action with any shred of credibility. Resign."--Jef Jaisun
"How dare you blatantly and arbitrarily defy the wishes of the voters!"--Jim Crocker
"I will be voting for your rival next election." --Susanne Cleis
"Do those in favor of repealing the Monorail initiative ever drive on Seattle streets, or are they merely figureheads like The Simpson's Mayor Quimby?"--Brian Ackley
"I voted for a monorail. Build it."--Paul Harris
Compiled by Josh Feit, Allie Holly-Gottlieb, and Amy Jenniges.