As the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) prepared to hold its final public hearing on the monorail's alignment, several Seattle City Council members were pushing to put the brakes on the oft-delayed project.

In a draft letter, dated January 23, that has been circulating behind the scenes at city hall, monorail critic Richard Conlin asked SMP board chairman Tom Weeks and executive director Joel Horn to delay the route decision at least 45 days past the release of the final environmental impact statement on March 10, citing the need for more thorough review and evaluation of the route. The SMP plans to approve the route at its board meeting March 29. "There are areas [along the route] where we might want to weigh in and express a preference," Conlin says, noting that the SMP has made several changes to the route since a draft alignment was released last November. "We don't have all the information we need" to develop an informed opinion, Conlin says.

On its face, Conlin's request seems reasonable: If the route changes, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in on the revised proposal. The flaw in Conlin's logic is that community input is what led the monorail authority to make the very changes--11 tweaks in all--that Conlin now wants vetted in a public forum. If any change has to be considered in a public hearing--and if public hearings are an opportunity for the public to ask for changes--it's easy to imagine an infinite loop of process, in which debate leads endlessly to more debate. Conversely, if the monorail agency hadn't been responsive to community input, the "problem"--changes to the plan--would never have existed in the first place.

"After 11 months and hundreds of meetings, he wants us to delay it another 45 days to have another public hearing," SMP board member Cindi Laws gripes. "The best way to kill the monorail is to have us drive up our costs through endless process." Monorail proponent Peter Sherwin, who has not hesitated to call for more accountability and public input into the monorail agency's decisions, adds that in itself, "process in Seattle isn't the problem. The problem is, sometimes it's used to stop a project or in some way hinder it. How do we compare the amount of public outreach we've had on the monorail to the [mayor's proposed] trolley line in South Lake Union, or even the viaduct?" Ironically, the very week Conlin shopped around his letter asking the SMP to hold off on approving its route, he and his council colleagues unanimously rubber-stamped the mayor's Seattle City Light superintendent nominee, Jorge Carrasco, after a single public hearing.

The council itself seems divided about the pace of the SMP's progress. On the side of more process are council members like Peter Steinbrueck, who cosigned Conlin's letter. Steinbrueck says monorail proponents are trying to brand council members as obstructionists when all they're doing is seeking solid answers. "They're putting all kinds of pressure on us, accusing us of trying to hold up the process, when we're just trying to do our due diligence," Steinbrueck says. Steinbrueck's concern about running the monorail through Seattle Center, which he has expressed repeatedly throughout the council's monorail discussions, illustrates precisely how the monorail could get bogged down in infinite process: No matter how long you prolong the debate, some people aren't going to get their way.

On the side of action are council members like Nick Licata and monorail convert Jan Drago, who notes that the council will have plenty of concrete opportunities to weigh in on the monorail route without unnecessarily obstructing the process. As Drago points out, the SMP can't move forward, period, without the council's approval on the Seattle Center alignment, the use of the West Seattle Bridge, and a number of other issues. "Those are the things the city has to do," Drago says pointedly. "We don't have to be involved in every board decision.... The best thing we can do is do our job, which includes things that are directly related to the monorail."

In keeping with that sentiment, Drago has scheduled a series of committee meetings on the monorail route that don't conflict with the SMP's schedule; the first one will be held next Monday, February 9, at 9:30 a.m. The briefings, Drago says, "will include [discussion of] the changes" to the monorail alignment.