Very Unclearly

Last week, both the Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer reported that Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to redevelop Northgate Mall disappointed environmental activists. Essentially--to the chagrin of environmentalists--Nickels' plan made no actual commitment to daylighting Thornton Creek.

The issue has pitted local enviros against Northgate Mall's property managers, Simon Properties, for years. Environmentalists want to see the mall's entire nine-acre south parking lot transformed into a sort of urban village, including mixed retail and housing around an exposed Thornton Creek.

Rather than taking a bold stand--as he did on the campaign trail--Mayor Nickels danced around the daylighting issue, using the kind of tentative, noncommittal language that, sadly, I've come to expect from Clintonesque Democrats. Announcing his meager commitment to buy just three acres of the south lot for a pond that would collect Northgate Mall's dirty runoff, Nickels said: "Getting the site into public control will help us preserve the opportunity for potential future daylighting of Thornton Creek."

I called the mayor's office to see if they felt like making a bolder statement. Here's the best I could get out of Nickels' spokesperson Marianne Bichsel: "The mayor has very clearly said he would like to see Thornton Creek daylighted." Sure he has; but the mayor hasn't "very clearly said" that he will make sure Thornton Creek is daylighted. (What's the point of being mayor if you can't even push around a bunch of mall developers? "Very clearly" saying you'd like to see something happen is very clearly different from "very clearly" saying you're going to make something happen.)

And while I'm bitching about Nickels' communication skills, let me get to the part of the Northgate story that the daily papers didn't report.

According to Pam Johnson, co-chair of Yes for Seattle, Nickels' office misled the Thornton Creek advocates. After two preliminary meetings where Nickels brought together the enviros and the Simon Properties folks, Nickels' Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said there would be more talks.

Well, Johnson and her allies never heard back from the mayor. The next time Johnson and her Thornton Creek contingent met the mayor, Nickels presented his underwhelming plan. The following day, to the surprise of the enviros, Nickels shopped the plan to the press, congratulating himself for breaking the deadlock at Northgate.

It's not clear what deadlock Nickels broke. The Thornton Creek folks can't stand Nickels' proposal. (Heck, the proposal even continues to float Margaret Pageler's idiotic idea of exempting Northgate developers from the community review process.)

"It was a slap in the face," Johnson says. "Nickels' plan does not commit to daylighting Thornton Creek."

She's right. But Mayor Greg Nickels never very clearly said he was committed to daylighting Thornton Creek.

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