A labor-backed effort to preserve the Port of Seattle's North Bay site in Magnolia, just to the north of Pier 91, exclusively for maritime and industrial uses was narrowly defeated by the Seattle City Council on Monday. The labor-supported legislation, proposed by David Della, would have postponed for at least one year a Port-backed amendment to the city's comprehensive plan that would allow a broader range of non-maritime uses at North Bay, such as offices, retail, and biotech. (Labor representatives view the Port's proposal as a threat to well-paying blue-collar jobs.) Instead, the council passed legislation written by Peter Steinbrueck that bans housing on the 142-acre site, but leaves the door open to other non-maritime developments.

As recently as Friday, the fate of Della's amendment remained unclear. Late Friday afternoon, Port Commissioner Bob Edwards (who, along with fellow commissioners Paige Miller and Pat Davis, supports allowing non-industrial uses at North Bay) could be seen trolling the council hallway with Port government-relations specialist Marsha Holbrook, pitching the Port's proposal to a largely receptive audience.

But just as Port supporters thought they could count on backing from a majority of the council, a vocal pro-labor faction--led by Della and Richard Conlin--appeared to have the five requisite votes to shelve the Port-backed proposal. (Nick Licata and Richard McIver joined Della and Conlin in opposing the plan; Tom Rasmussen, reportedly onboard with Della's amendment as of Friday, peeled off to support Steinbrueck's proposal.)

Instead, the amendment the council adopted (after extensive public testimony and a lengthy discussion on the council dais) directs the Port, the mayor's office, and the Department of Planning and Development to come back to the council this August with studies detailing the future demand for industrial uses and efforts to retain industrial lands at North Bay.

Labor interests and the four-member opposition bloc on the council see Steinbrueck's proposal as the beginning of the end for maritime and industrial businesses in North Bay. Alec Fisken, a port commissioner who often votes in opposition to Edwards, Davis, and Miller, attributes the preservation of the Ballard/Interbay industrial area so far to "a commitment on the part of the city [to reserve] this area for maritime and industrial uses."

An unusually vehement Della, speaking on behalf of labor interests during the council's discussion Monday, argued that the maritime industry is "the backbone of our city," adding, "We need to make sure that we're creating family-wage jobs for regular people"--not just high-earning, educated biotechnology workers.

But Rasmussen argued that the addition of the study requirements "places a heavy burden on the Port… to prove that they're not going to undermine our maritime industry."

The revamped proposal, Steinbrueck added, "does not in any way constitute a decision or recommend that the amendment [allowing non-maritime uses at North Bay] should be adopted." Instead, Steinbrueck said, the compromise amendment would prevent progress on North Bay from being "brought to a standstill" by endless process.

Ultimately, the argument that prevailed was the one forwarded by Council President Jan Drago, who said, "I don't see how moving this forward now jeopardizes [our ability]… to create more jobs across the board, [including] in manufacturing, industry, and maritime." Steinbrueck's proposal prevailed, 5-4.

barnett@thestranger.com

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