They want you to believe that the coming public vote on the deep-bore tunnel is meaningless.
"Some of us are calling it the 'Seinfeld referendum,'" Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin, a tunnel supporter, told the Seattle Times after a judge ordered the council to place the measure on the ballot. "It's going to be a referendum about nothing."
Nothing, eh? Is that why Conlin and the city council fought so hard to stop this referendum from going to voters?
They insisted the city attorney could sue a group that gathered 29,000 signatures to place the tunnel on the ballot (but a judge decided on May 13 the city "does not have the authority" to file the case). They said the tunnel couldn't go on the ballot at all (but the judge found this policy decision was ripe for a public vote). They claimed the tunnel was the best way to move the traffic that currently uses the Alaskan Way Viaduct (but the state's and city's own reports show two-thirds of viaduct users won't take the tunnel, to avoid $4 tolls and because the tunnel has no downtown exits).
They have been wrong on every important point about the $4.2 billion project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. And they're wrong about your chance to vote on it.
On May 20, King County Superior Court judge Laura Gene Middaugh ruled that "the heart" of the referendum on the tunnel could go to voters. That part concerned the final decision to proceed with the project. (Three agreements with the state on preliminary design work couldn't go on the ballot.) What's going on the ballot isn't exactly an up-or-down vote on the tunnel itself.
Bear with me for a moment: In February, the city council slipped language into a bill that allowed the council to approve the tunnel without any risk of a referendum from voters. Petitioners gathered 29,000 signatures to put that law on the ballot. Seattle voters now have a chance to repeal the law that prevents them from voting on the tunnel.
If this referendum hadn't made the ballot, the tunnel would be a done deal. If voters approve the referendum (thereby upholding the city council's effort to cut voters out of the process), the tunnel is a done deal. But if voters reject the referendum (thereby vetoing the council's attempt to cut voters out of the process), the tunnel is no longer a done deal. Why? Because the council's final vote on building the tunnel, scheduled for later this year, will be subject to a referendum.
"The city and the state can't pretend this is a done deal anymore," says Cary Moon, director of the People's Waterfront Coalition.
This is a vote on whether the tunnel should proceed without further scrutiny, a vote on whether Seattle thinks we should pitch in roughly $930 million on a transportation megaproject that fails at moving vehicles, and a vote on whether the council can cut voters out of a policy decision. Maybe all of that adds up to "nothing" for Richard Conlin, but it's not nothing to the 29,000 Seattle voters who signed the petitions.
Granted, this is not a vote on the final decision. But, again, if the group Protect Seattle Now hadn't gathered signatures and qualified the referendum for the ballot, the tunnel would be a done deal. Like the lengthy process or not, like the deep-bore tunnel or not, like Richard Conlin or not—this referendum could derail the tunnel.
"I think we all know that if the public votes yes for this, the council will go ahead and build that tunnel despite the risks to the city," says Mayor Mike McGinn. "If you want the city council to stand up to protect Seattle, you have to vote no."