Last week was shaping up to be a creepy run for monorail fans: The first official anti-monorail group reared its head, and Metro released a negative report about the monorail's fare revenue numbers. To top it off, City Council Member Richard Conlin hosted a July 18 forum at Seattle Center that, according to wary predictions from monorail advocates, seemed set up as an anti-monorail venting session. Indeed, heading into the forum, monorail campaign leader Peter Sherwin questioned the need for a city council member--particularly a council member like Conlin, who has been hostile to the monorail in the past--to hold a monorail forum. At the voters' behest, the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC) had already run an exhaustive public process to develop the monorail plan. (Sherwin's monorail initiative, I-53, gave the city council no say over the plan.)

Sherwin believes that the near completion of an exciting monorail plan is putting pressure on natural monorail foes (like Sound Transit Board Chairman Ron Sims) to discredit and cast doubt on the plan. Sherwin says last week's Metro memo, for example, was "suspiciously timed" to coincide with Conlin's forum. (Remember, as county exec, Sound Transit guy Sims oversees Metro.)

Even if the meeting was ultimately not the bombshell booby trap that monorail supporters feared, it did mark an opening gambit by some anti-monorail activists who are just beginning to get organized.

One definite anti-monorail attendee in the crowd was Sims' former aide, Tim Hatley. After one notable anti-monorail speech, ETC board member and State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle 36th District) turned to Hatley and asked if Hatley had written the woman's speech. Hatley told Kohl-Welles that not only had he written the woman's speech, but he had more speakers yet to come. This concerned Kohl-Welles enough that she wrote an e-mail to the ETC the next day reporting Hatley's "confession."

However, when reached by phone, Hatley said he had been "just joking" with Kohl-Welles.

Hatley may have been joking, but he is serious about forming an anti-monorail campaign. He says he is getting ready to file a monorail opposition group with the Public Disclosure Commission.

Hatley believes monorail money would be better spent on other transportation solutions. "If you look at our transportation problems, Ballard to downtown is not one of our biggest problems compared to I-405, 520, and I-5," he says, a statement that was echoed by a speaker at the forum.

However, Hatley denies that he is forming his monorail opposition based on orders from anyone, particularly his former boss Sims. "Anyone who pokes their head out on [the monorail] has their motives questioned," he complains.

Monorail supporters may not be as worried about the officially declared anti-monorail foes as they are about the undeclared ones: people like Conlin, who can use the public dime to run forums.

Monorail supporters have accused Conlin of using the meeting to promote an anti-monorail message. Joel Horn, technical program coordinator for the ETC, says that after a tedious half-hour, when he saw how the forum was shaping up, he sent his technical team home. Basically, Horn had been told there would be a Q&A and that his staff of monorail whizzes should be on hand to answer queries. However, people didn't have as many questions as they did speeches, he says.

"We thought it was going to be more in-depth," Horn gripes. "People were making prepared statements [and] when there were questions, [Conlin's panel] gave us limited time to answer. It wasn't a useful meeting in terms of people understanding our plans."

Conlin is "disappointed" with all the criticisms of his forum and all the suspicions of his motives. "If we look at what happened to light rail, some of the tough questions weren't asked in 1996-'97. I think it's to the ETC's advantage that we ask these questions now," he says.

Conlin says the meeting was "really good" for discovering "what the city needs to implement" to support the monorail in terms of extra police security at stations, parking mitigation, and business support during construction.

Ultimately, monorail supporters say they don't specifically have a problem with Conlin hosting meetings, as long as he doesn't hold any after the ETC's plan is finalized on August 5. Any meetings after that time will look suspiciously like an attempt to change the plan, which Sherwin says the council does not have the right to do under the script of I-53. (I-53 also allows the people to put the monorail to a vote without the council's approval.)

Conlin, however, says he has not ruled out the possibility of holding another forum after August 5.

Regardless, if Conlin hearings are the best that monorail foes can muster, the ETC doesn't have much to fear.

"I expected a lot more of an ambush," monorail supporter and panel member Grant Cogswell said afterward. "I think [the crowd] was a good representation of how the vote is going to go, about 60-40 in support."

A plurality of the audience seemed to support the monorail, even if it had questions about station designs, blocked views, and parking concerns. (Hello, Seattle! You don't build parking lots around an urban public transit system. It kind of defeats the purpose.)

One questioner wanted to know if the ETC planned on having taxes "into perpetuity." (ETC board member Tom Weeks said he is proposing a "sunset" provision once the capital costs are paid off.) Another questioner wanted to know how stations would be designed not to "attract people who litter."

Good question, I guess, but as one attendee asked, where have these folks been all year? Mark Dublin, a driver for Metro, offered a pointed criticism for Conlin's panel: "Why is it members of this panel couldn't be at the other 360 meetings [the ETC has held]?" he asked. (Indeed, the ETC claims to have held 360 public meetings in the past year and a half.)

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