From today's city council meeting, updated as the meeting proceeded.
At issue today is the council's plan to pass a nonbinding resolution that pledges to approve tunnel contracts with the state after the bidder is chosen next February (text). City Council Member Mike O'Brien will be introducing five amendments to beef up the city's protections from cost overruns, seek more transit funding along with the highway, and mitigate traffic impacts. Several other council members (Conlin, Bagshaw, Godden, and Licata) are then expected to gut those protections by offering watered-down amendments.
Last week, six members of the council attempted mightily to portray this resolution as an attempt to let us see the bids before we begin, thereby protecting Seattle's interests. But the council appears to be deliberately deceptive: this looks more like an attempt to avoid a referendum. If the council does indeed gut O'Brien's sensible amendments, it will underscore that the council is trying—not to oversee a plan that best serves the city—but to ram this project through without ruffling the state's feathers.
UPDATES: No surprise, the council is shooting down proposals to limit the city's liability and ensure better transit. On the positive side, the council unanimously approved an amendment asking the state to disclose changes to the contract with tunnel bidders. But Council Members O'Brien's other proposals, as expected, are being poorly received. The council has rejected an amendment that would require the state to provide transit funding before the council approves the contract. Council Member Tim Burgess calls it the '"poison pill" amendment about transit."
The council also rejected O'Brien's amendment that said the city wouldn't approve the contract unless the state removed a law that says Seattle property owners must pay the cost-overruns. It was rejected in favor of gesture provision by Licata that says the state would simply have to demonstrate that it could pay for its baseline budget. By an 8-1 vote, the council has also shot down an amendment that would require the Port of Seattle—which has passed a nonbinding resolution but not identified a funding plan for its part of the project—to solidify its commitment to provide $300 million to the project and identify exactly how it would come up with that money. Licata pushes an amendment that says the city will work with the port to identify funding, which is meaningless because—of course—the city will work with the port. Says Burgess: "Voting so far shows that O'Brien/McGinn effort to derail project will fail." An amendment that says the state must evaluate the traffic impacts, such as the tens of thousands of cars that will pass through Pioneer Square, also fails 8-1.
UPDATE ON SEAWALL FUNDING: The city council says it will hear a proposal from Council Member Tom Rasmussen, drafted by central staff, to hike the commercial parking tax from 10 percent this year to 12.5 percent next year to help pay for the seawall. Here's the unsecured funding for the waterfront:
The legislation (.pdf) serves as an alternative to mayor Mike McGinn's proposal to pay for the seawall replacement entirely with a property tax bond measure. The council's counter-proposal, outlined in the .pdf PowerPoint, would use a combination of funding sources. Here's a table that assumes a local improvement district (LID), a localized property tax, is in place and how that compares to the mayor's proposal:
Here's info about how that LID factors in:
This would allow us to rebuild the seawall—a necessary step to rebuild the waterfront—while relying less on a property-tax levy and more on parking taxes. But this raises a conflict between the mayor and council. The mayor has proposed using the levy for the seawall and using parking taxes to shore up an $8 million shortfall in the city's transportation department. How would the council help shore up the $8 million shortfall at SDOT if they are using the parking revenue for something else? The council says the transportation committee will follow up on August 10.
THE LAST UPDATE: The council is voting on the resolution—a pledge to approve the tunnel after the bidder is chosen.
Here come passive-aggressive swipes at the mayor and mutual backslapping of the council. "Some individuals in this building have held a lot of press conferences, but council has been in the trenches negotiating this contract," says Burgess. He says this is a significant moment for the city council "showing leadership." He doesn't mention that most of the contract was negotiated by SDOT, under the mayor's oversight, along with the city attorney's office. The rest of the council agrees to disagree and they have faith in each other and etc. and so on.
The council votes 8-1 to approve (with O'Brien voting against, of course) the resolution on the viaduct.
Now, countdown to the initiative that puts the final decision with voters.