THERE'S SOMETHING I wanna say to five of Seattle's nine city council members: Fuck you people. Fuck you, Richard McIver, and you too, Heidi Wills. Fuck you, Jan Drago. Fuck you, Jim Compton. And fuck you, City Council President Margaret Pageler. And I'd like to say the same to you, Mayor McOneTermWonder: Fuck you, Paul "Protest-Free Zone" Schell. There isn't a city in this country being run by a bigger collection of log-stupid assholes.
Okay, I feel better! But you're probably wondering what the mayor and most of the council has done to make me want to scream "fuck you" in their faces. For two and a half years now--ever since Seattle voters approved Initiative 41, supporting an elevated monorail system--the city council and the mayor have been screaming "fuck you"in our faces, giving the big, fat finger to all of us who voted in favor of building a functional mass-transit system.
And after the stunt that Wills, McIver, Compton, and Drago pulled last week--tabling a proposal to even discuss the possibility of public funding for the transit project--I'm so fucking steamed I'd like to extend the monorail right up their asses.
What We Voted for in 1997
In 1997, Seattle voters approved by a six-percent margin (53 to 47) an initiative that mandated--mandated!--the construction of an X-shaped monorail system serving all four corners of the city (see map), with 40 miles of track and 22 stations. The proposed X-shaped "single-tracked, rubber-wheeled" system is supposed to comprise two lines, one running from the northwest corner of the city south through Ballard, Fremont, Downtown, past our dearly departed Kingdome, and on through West Seattle before ending near the southwest corner of the city. A second is supposed to run from Lake City through the University District, Downtown, and Capitol Hill, ending in the southeast corner of the city in Rainier Beach.
The initiative forced the city to create the Elevated Transit Corporation (ETC) to oversee the system's planning and construction. Dick Falkenbury and Grant Cogswell, the men behind I-41, modeled their initiative on the grassroots initiative that saved the Pike Place Market. "Like saving the Market, this was an obvious thing that needed doing," says Cogswell. "The politicians were against it, so we had to do it ourselves."
When Initiative 41 passed, the plan to build a monorail became law--not a suggestion, not a request. "Government has failed to provide for rapid mass transit; therefore, a Public Development Agency is proposed to build, maintain and operate a system," the text reads. "The purpose of the ETC shall be to cause a transportation system to be built... [The] ETC shall seek non-government moneys to carry out its purpose and goals before turning to government sources." If the ETC can't find private money to build the system, "the City Council of Seattle shall make funds available to the [ETC] either by issuing Councilmanic Revenue Bonds or raising the city's Business and Occupation Tax." If the city fails to cough up the dough, "the salaries of the City Council must be withheld... " While there are disputes over whether this language requires the council to fund the entire construction of the monorail, it does require the council, the mayor, and the city attorney to do everything possible to help the ETC accomplish its mission, which is--get this!--to build the monorail. Last month, a private citizen, David Talbert Huber--who, ironically, voted no on I-41--filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking a court order requiring city officials to comply with the terms of the initiative. A King County Superior Court judge is expected to issue a ruling sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Voters and politicians were aware when they went to the polls that public funds might be used for the monorail's construction: In the voter's guide that year, monorail-bashing former City Council Member Martha Choe huffed and puffed about the "risk" to taxpayers. And McIver tried to push a resolution through the council that would have urged citizens to vote against the monorail initiative because it would require that the system be built.
After years of watching the city council spend public money--our money--building parking garages for Nordstrom and stadiums for billionaires (a stadium we voted against!), Seattle voters were apparently willing to risk spending a little bit of public money on something that would actually benefit the public.
The Fuck-You Five
Yet--and even with their salaries on the line--four members of the Seattle City Council (Compton, Wills, Drago, and McIver) did something unusual last week (Pageler is included in the "Five" simply for her vehement and long-standing opposition to the project). From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "After months of debate over a city bailout for monorail boosters, City Council members Judy Nicastro and Nick Licata had proposed letting the people decide. Their proposed November ballot measure would have asked voter approval of a $4 million study on monorail feasibility. But half of the council members wouldn't even discuss it. On a 4-4 vote, the council killed the idea by not assigning it for a committee hearing. Such items are normally assigned to committees as a matter of course...."
The excuse was that the ETC had failed to generate any financial interest from other sources. "They've had two years," said Richard McIver, chairman of the council's transportation committee. "Voting 'no' now saves us the trouble of voting 'no' later."
McIver's arrogance is staggering: Seattle voters did not say "yes" at the polls in 1997 so that McIver could say "no" in an underhanded procedural move three years later. The city doesn't have a responsibility to "bail out" the monorail; the city's responsibility is to help build the monorail (the full text of the monorail initiative can be read online at www.elevated.org).
While Drago and Compton's recent anti-monorail votes didn't come as a surprise to the ETC's Kristina Hill, she is shocked by McIver and Wills' scheming. "We've been pulled left and right by Heidi Wills on this resolution," says Hill. "Heidi indicated she wanted to help with the resolution, and then voted to not even consider it. She now says she never got a 'final report' from us. [In addition, at an April 11 meeting, Wills attempted to pass a resolution that would have effectively killed the ETC.] Our work isn't done, so we can't make a 'final report.' And McIver says he hasn't gotten information from us, and that there hasn't been any support for the monorail from private sources. That's not based in fact."
When the ETC approached private groups who might be interested in financing at least part of the monorail's construction, says Hill, 14 companies responded. "Out of that number," she continues, "four or five [said] they would put money up if the city would 'demonstrate strong support' for this idea. But not one public official has even been willing to meet with them. We write reports. They don't read them, and then claim we haven't written them. The city withholds their support, which they know is causing private companies to withhold their support. Then the city turns around and says they can't support the monorail because we have no private support. This is all so frustrating."
Why did McIver, the city's transportation committee chair, and Wills, the city's recently elected pro-mass-transit policy wonk, refuse to allow any discussion of even the possibility of putting a referendum on the ballot to finance a monorail feasibility study? Both declined to return The Stranger's phone calls, but the reason for their opposition to a referendum seems obvious. I-41 backer Cogswell believes the council resents the monorail because it wasn't their idea. "It makes them look bad," says Cogswell. "The monorail is a threat to the credibility of do-nothing people like Richard McIver."
They're also scared shitless. They know that if they put the monorail back on the ballot, it will pass again, and that support for a system that would serve all of Seattle's neighborhoods could damage or even kill Sound Transit's bloated, inefficient plan to send a limited, slow-moving light rail train straight through the middle of the city.
Sound Transit seems to have convinced the city that there is an either/or choice between Sound Transit and the monorail. The ETC, however, has made it clear to the council that the two plans would work together, with light rail providing a north/south spine and the monorail reaching the rest of Seattle's neighborhoods.
The Seattle Times Is Full of Shit
In an unsigned editorial last Thursday ("Pulling the Monorail's Plug"), The Seattle Times' editors wrote, "Don't blame City Hall for the power failure stalling plans for an expanded monorail.... Voters in 1997 approved the broadest of concepts for monorail service.... Voters did not approve a budget or plan or financing scheme, because there was none.... In a region tingling with dot-com wealth and high-powered thinkers, if the idea had any merit, the monorail committee would have been able to find someone to share the dream and the expense."
First of all, voters didn't approve a "concept"--we approved a plan, complete with financing. And the ETC is not made up of three daydreaming hippies in a yurt somewhere. "We have two Ph.D.s, two people from Price Waterhouse, and the head of the University District Chamber of Commerce," says Tom Carr, chairman of the ETC, himself a downtown real-estate lawyer. Second, how can The Seattle Times slam the ETC for failing to drum up private support in the face of city hall's open hostility?
Oh, and talk about hypocrisy! Last year when the city asked voters to spend $72 million to tart up the opera house, The Seattle Times endorsed the levy. There were no editorials in the Times insisting that "dot-com-ers and high-powered thinkers" pony up the dough for that project. Apparently in a "region tingling with dot-com wealth," it's okay to spend public funds on an opera house (where tickets start at $100), but not to build a mass-transit system that benefits the public at large. The Times, after the last round of elections, ran an editorial urging politicians to "trust discerning voters" to make funding decisions. Yet now they're insisting that voters can't be trusted when it comes to approving the monorail.
Whenever the shit-for-brains mediocrities who run this town want a new downtown library ($200 million), a new concert hall ($130 million), a renovated opera house ($72 million), a new aquarium ($200 million), a new city hall ($226 million), a large public park (Commons I, $111 million; Commons II, 50 million), or a new baseball stadium ($500 million), the Times can usually be counted on to come out swinging for it. We'll never be a world-class city without a new city hall/opera house/concert hall/aquarium/park/baseball stadium, we're told over and over again.
Someone needs to tell The Seattle Times that we can't be a world-class city without fast, efficient mass transit.
Rhymes with Vagina
"There are three streets in Chicago that rhyme with vagina," the joke went. "Paulina, Carolina, and Lunt."
Growing up on Chicago's Lunt Avenue had two perks. The Paulina/Carolina/Lunt joke was one; the Morse "L" station was the other. Chicago is a big town, with two major-league baseball teams, colorful organized-crime figures, and a huge mass-transit system run by the Chicago Transit Authority. At the turn of the century, Chicago started building a massive, noisy, elevated train system that grew to serve every corner of the city. By the time I was 10 years old, I was riding the L's eight different lines to friends' houses, baseball games, and movies. Every weekday for four years, I rode the L to high school 10 miles from home, a 30-minute one-way trip. I wasn't cut off or isolated--thanks to the L. I could get downtown in 35 minutes. Can anyone living in Kent (about the same distance from downtown as I was) get on a bus and travel to downtown Seattle in 35 minutes? When I moved out of my parents' house on Lunt Avenue, I looked for an apartment near an L stop. I never even bothered to learn to drive.
When I left Chicago, I moved to London, where I was able to find a cheap apartment miles from the center of London. My commute to work every morning took only 20 minutes, however, because of the train. Then I moved to Berlin, where that city's U-Bahn system made it possible for me to live in a neighborhood even farther from the center of town. Building the monorail would do more to alleviate Seattle's housing crisis than 1,000 Renters' Summits.
Seattle's lack of a world-class, big-city rapid transit system isolates us in our neighborhoods. If you live on Capitol Hill, when's the last time you went out to dinner in Fremont? If you live in Ballard, when's the last time you went out to dinner in West Seattle? I can't remember the last time I was in Queen Anne. It takes forever by bus; there's nowhere to park if you drive; and it's impossible to ride your bike up that hill. But if I could hop on the monorail and be in Ballard in 10 minutes, I would go bowling at Sunset Bowl all the time. If I could get to West Seattle without a huge hassle, I would see movies at the Admiral Theater. I would go out to eat in Fremont if I could get there.
Sound Transit is about to spend $3.9 billion dollars on the light rail plan, yet when that money is spent, Seattle still won't have a rapid transit system. The light rail line--as it's currently planned--will only run in one straight line, from the University District to Boeing field; it will be hugely disruptive to build, as streets are gutted to make way for tunnels; and it will likely include segments that run at street level, causing a whole new kind of traffic problem. In other words, we'll have a pricey, slow-moving train that doesn't go anywhere. We'll be $3.9 billion dollars poorer (and does anyone believe Sound Transit is going to build the system at or under budget?), and for what? Light rail is only expected to alleviate 1.5 percent of the area's projected growth in traffic. That still leaves most of us sitting in our homes at night, wondering what the rest of the city is up to.
The Mayor's Transit Solution: Take a Cab
Mayor Schell recently announced his plan to ease traffic congestion. His big idea? Cabs.
"Mayor Paul Schell yesterday presented a $9 million grab bag of projects aimed at getting people around the city more quickly and safely. His plan includes tweaking Seattle's 471 traffic signals to move cars more efficiently, adding bike lanes and mounting video cameras on major streets to tip off drivers on traffic snarls... and [starting] a pilot project to help people pay for taxi rides if they leave their second car at home."--The Seattle Times.
Schell's package of congestion-easing measures has to be the most idiotic thing the mayor has done since declaring the city a first-Amendment-Free Zone during the WTO demonstrations. Naturally, the city council's two biggest idiots--McIver and Wills--showed up to cheer the mayor on at his press conference. How much does Schell plan to spend on free taxi rides for two-car families? $100,000.
The ETC received an initial grant from the city of $200,000. And when that money was running out, after two years and two reports, the city agreed to kick in another $50,000--provided the ETC raised $61,000 on its own. The city then encouraged the ETC to apply for money from Sound Transit's Alternative Technology Fund, set up by voters to study transportation solutions.
On February 17, 2000, the Sound Transit Finance Committee approved a grant of $50,000 for the ETC at the urging of Sound Transit Board Member and King County Council Member Greg Nickels. It looked like the ETC would get the money it needed to match the grant from the city council. But on February 18, when the grant proposal was considered by the full Sound Transit Board, Richard McIver, the board's city council representative, moved to deny it. He claimed the council was "unanimously opposed" to any further funding for the ETC. Mayor Schell joined McIver in voting against the grant, and the ETC failed to get the money.
Christopher Beer, the attorney who's working with David Talbert Huber (the guy who recently sued the city), has this to say of the apparent sabotage: "The ETC has not asked the city to pay to build the system. It has asked the city to fully fund the ETC so that the ETC can achieve its purpose. [For the mayor and city council to] actively oppose grants for the ETC and not provide funds is to thumb their noses at the law."
Okay, does it strike anyone else as odd that the same mayor who voted against a $50,000 grant for the ETC wants to spend $100,000 on a pilot program to pay for cab rides for people who own more than one car? Does the mayor know there are only 700 cabs in all of Seattle? Does the mayor know that given the choice between being stuck in traffic in their own automobiles and being stuck in traffic in a cab, people will choose their own cars?
To get people out of their cars and onto mass transit, the city is going to have to make it worth their while, and the only way to do that is to make taking mass transit more convenient and faster than driving. Light rail won't be convenient, and it won't be faster than driving. Buses are not faster than driving. Cabs are not faster than driving. Bike lanes are nice, but it rains a lot here, and we've got a few hills in this town. When will Seattle's elected officials wake up and realize that people don't take the L in Chicago because it's virtuous; they ride it because it's the fastest way to get around?
Carr Has His Hopes
"We have tried to get public sector support, but we were told that without the city's active support we aren't going to get anywhere," says Tom Carr, the ETC's chairman. "And despite what The Seattle Times had to say, we actually did attract some dot-com money, but not enough. No one in the private sector is going to commit funds unless the city is 100 percent behind this plan, and as we've seen, the city is not behind it. Yet."
Carr is hopeful that the council is coming around, and he's encouraged by the fact that the ETC now has four votes on the council. "Last month I thought we had two solid votes on the council," he says. "Now I think we may get a fifth. And there's a mayoral election next year--I think this is going to be an issue."
Carr grew up in the Bronx in New York City, which has a subway and an elevated train system. When he was a kid, he lived steps from a train stop. "It took us to school; it took us to college, to track meets, to museums, to shows," Carr says. "The subway represented opportunity and entertainment and education. It was everything in the world to us. It rumbled behind our back window 24 hours a day; and you know, it was the sweetest sound in the world to us. That's why I'm working so hard for this."