In 1997 Seattle voters approved Initiative 41. The vote created the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), which was charged with building a citywide monorail system. But official city support for the ETC and the monorail has been limp and discouraging. And when the city refused to continue funding the ETC in January 2000, a private citizen named David Huber (The Stranger's Man of the Year?!) was so outraged, he sued the city and won.
"The city council may repeal [Initiative 41]," Judge Learned wrote, "but it may not 'de facto' repeal it by mere inaction."
Now, four city council members--Nick Licata, Judy Nicastro, Margaret Pageler, and Heidi Wills--have submitted monorail council bills or resolutions. On July 27 at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, the city council will hold a public hearing, giving voters a chance to weigh in on the four proposals:
· Licata and Nicastro (who has come around since her harebrained proposal to create a mini-monorail) are basically proposing the same thing: Immediately make $30,000 available to the ETC for short-term staffing, then provide the ETC with $4 million so it can do a feasibility study for the citywide system voters approved. The study would result in a monorail plan, which would then go to the voters. This proposal--call it the Licastro Ordinance--is the best of the lot. It adheres to voter-approved I-41 by keeping the ETC intact and giving the group the money it needs to do its work.
· Heidi Wills' ordinance would kill the ETC, folding the group into Mayor Schell's Seattle Transit Initiative (STI)--a regional partnership between Seattle, Sound Transit, King County, and the state Department of Transportation. Sound Transit's $3.9 billion light-rail project is the centerpiece of the STI, with other forms of transportation (like buses) functioning as "arterials" to the light-rail "freeway." Wills' proposal, however, doesn't earmark any money for a monorail feasibility study, and entrusts the monorail to a group that is actively hostile to the plan approved by voters. Wills' office sees her proposal as a last-ditch effort to keep the beleaguered monorail plan alive, but monorail advocates are skeptical. "The STI has a different charge than the ETC does," says Tom Carr, chair of the ETC. "Our charge is to build a monorail. It's a different focus. It's important that we exist to focus on what the voters asked us to do."
· Margaret Pageler is putting forward two ideas. The first simply calls for the outright repeal of I-41. The second is a resolution that would send Initiative 53, a ballot initiative being pushed by pro-monorail activists, straight to a vote of the council. I-53 mandates that the city council spend $6 million on a monorail feasibility study, and then--if the resulting plan is approved by the voters--set aside $200 million in Councilmanic bonds to start building.
Some council members believe that I-53 may be fatally flawed, as the $200 million set aside may exceed the city's bonding capacity, and will cut into funding for projects like the new city hall. These budgeting problems make monorail foe and Council President Pageler's proposal a savvy political play: By sidestepping the voters and letting the council vote on I-53, the $200 million could be used as an excuse to kill I-53 before voters have a chance to go on the record approving a new monorail initiative. Once I-53 is safely dead, Pageler may have the credibility and political cover she needs to kill I-41.
Ultimately, "Licastro's" proposal is the best of the lot. The Licastro Ordinance forces the city to live up to its legal obligations under I-41; i.e., supporting and funding the ETC in its mission to build the monorail. As for the I-53 petition drive, we obviously support it ["Build It," July 13, 2000]. In fact, the aforementioned budgeting challenges may work in I-53's favor, because they would throw a spotlight on spendy projects like the new city hall, which should clearly be secondary to building an efficient transit system.
However, I-53 must still be viewed as a backup while we focus on locking into voter-approved I-41--an existing law that requires the council to fund the construction of a citywide monorail system. This is the route now being proposed by Licata and Nicastro.