For weeks, the city council's calendar has been woefully fallow, with items like "a proclamation celebrating the courage and endurance of Ocean Adventure Racing Northwest" and "recognizing the work of a group of visiting Ukrainian accountants" filling the agenda. This week (actual agenda: pet-daycare regulations; new technology for on-street parking; vacate part of a staircase in Queen Anne) was no exception.
So what, on such an uncontentious agenda, could possibly occasion tears, shouts, and such impassioned statements as "I'm really very sorry about this [vote]"; "I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Conlin"; and "I hope that nobody who follows you will be... put through all the hoops and bureaucracy that you've experienced"?
Answer: The street vacation, which prompted half the council to rise from their chairs and make speeches alternately praising and blasting the seemingly benign proposal. (Since 2000, the council has passed 23 street vacations unanimously.) The "street" in question, a 70-by-10-foot public staircase that follows the route of West Highland Drive in Queen Anne, was coveted by homeowners Michael Strathmann and Jennifer Dent, who wanted to build a two-car garage. Not so fast, the council said. "An enormous amount of land in Queen Anne has been lost to the public... because of the vacation of little strips of land here and there," Jan Drago said. Richard Conlin countered testily that "inconsistent" city policies allow "large corporations" to win vacations while residential landowners spend years mired in the city bureaucracy. Ultimately, everyone agreed that the city's street-vacation process needed an overhaul; and as Dent wept in the front row, the council voted 7—2 to deny the couple its dream garage.
Another garage, this one with as many as 200 spaces, is in the works in West Seattle, although its approval will require the cooperation of two government agencies that haven't shown much inclination to play along. The garage would be part of a seven-story condo development; its owners hope to convince the city and King County Metro to sign off on a "park and pool" facility for commuters who carpool or take the bus. Although Metro officials have met with the developers, BCK Investments, Metro spokesman Jim Jacobson said the agency has not "committed to anything, nor are we particularly interested," noting that the city has a policy against building more park-and-ride lots. "You'd be talking about spending millions to essentially collect a few people who already live within walking distance of a bus route," Jacobson said.
As for its main order of business—the budget—the council has made minimal tangible progress, hindered mainly by a lack of things to object to. Among the rare controversial issues: public safety (Peter Steinbrueck wants 250 new cops; the rest of the council wants to pare that back); the proposed privatization of Hangar 27 in Magnuson Park, which would leave the Rat City Roller Girls without a place to roll; and new graffiti-cleanup officers and "park rangers," mayoral priorities which some on the council consider superfluous.