I'll skip the "year in review" staple this year. You remember it well enough, if you don't have amnesia. If you do have amnesia, the past year has been neatly archived over here.
Instead, here are a few predictions about the headlines (and some stories that will fly mostly below the radar) for 2011:
What to Do About the Seattle Police: It doesn’t matter what discipline is imposed—or not imposed—in several high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct this last year; the rash of incidents beg further scrutiny of the department. If, for instance, an inquest finds Seattle Police Department Officer Ian Birk in the wrong for killing for Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, it demonstrates that officers need more training, more restraint (so cops don’t willy-nilly cap disheveled old guys shuffling across the street). If he’s exonerated, well holy shit. Let’s just give Ted Kaczynski a Nobel Peace Prize. Likewise, if SPD’s internal accountability investigation of Detective Shandy “Beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you” Cobane and knee-stomping colleague Officer Mary Woollum are found guilty of wrongdoing, that further demonstrates a problem. But since this is an internal investigation, an administrative remedy—simply suspended for three days?—will seem out of scale with the racially charged threat of assault. If they're absolved of wrongdoing like the vast majority of misconduct cases, Seattle could rightfully riot. Regardless, the whole ordeal will likely to leave more unrest than closure.
The Tunnel Fracas Continues: Not sick of the tunnel yet? You will be. Despite tunnel proponents' chant that “the debate is over” and claims that the decision is made, this sucker will simmer on front burner before nearly a year—and it still may never boil...
...The city council will deliberate contracts this winter that would allow the state to excavate the 58-foot-wide tube under downtown. Meanwhile, the state DOT can’t make its official decision until mid-July, when it’s completed an environmental impact statement on the project. Expect headlines throughout. Assuming all that goes off on schedule, lawsuits are standard for a project like this. The difference? They’ll get more traction than the typical NIMBY death gasp lawsuit. Experts in environmental law insist that the state is well into illegal territory by developing a tunnel plan—bids, designs, contracts—far more complete than any alternative before making a final decision. As that zips through the courts, then come questions for the state about its ability to actually fund its end of the $4.2 billion project: Tolling the highway may require a two-thirds vote of the legislature under Tim Eyman’s I-1053—a majority the legislature probably doesn’t have. Lacking for $400 million from tolls and the state nudging past its borrowing threshold (the 520 bridge isn’t fully funded, either), financing balances precariously in the wind while the state faces a revenue freefall. Add to the mix two tunnel city initiatives, one well on its way to qualifying for the ballot, which will keep delivering tunnel headlines through the fall election.
Sad State: It's easy to accuse the state—or any government, for that matter—of being penny wise and pound foolish when it cuts mental health, public health, and harm reduction only to pay more later on emergency rooms, cops, and jails. But it's more difficult to criticize when the state has neither pounds nor pennies. What will be saved—after cutting $5.1 billion already in the last biennium—when we have to cut another $4.6 billion in the next two years (besides our untouchable highway department, esteemed state patrol, and the Capital Building lunchroom)? Not much.
Most of the Council Wants Your Vote: Five members of the council are asking for another four-year term (or four if Jean Godden chooses to call it quits). Expect a frenzy of candidate forums and stacks of election mail. All tunnel enthusiasts, they've tried to avoid the megaproject debate, but they’ll likely be forced to defend an unpopular decision to proceed before the state removes the law stating intent to capture—one way or another—any cost overruns from Seattle. A slate of progressives are certain to run against them. The questions are: Will the challengers be viable? Or will they be mumbling do-gooders and histrionic proselytizers? Other themes for the council race: Police accountability, a double-dip recession, job creation, downtown vacancy, extending light rail, the war on cars, and the usual Chex Mix of banal campaign chatter.
Weed and Booze: State senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) will introduce a sweeping medical marijuana bill to beef up the 1998 medical pot law approved by voters. If passed, it would allow dispensaries, collective grows, and arrest protection for authorized patients. If approved, expect to see even more pot stores across the state. But expect a partisan fight, complicated by a moderate Democratic Roadkill Caucus that may not want to touch the hot potato, and pushback from cops. In other pot friction: Local group Sensible Washington says it will run an initiative to legalize pot completely. That's a nice notion, but expect resistance from the national players of drug reform that fund these sorts of things—the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the ACLU—which all telegraphed their opposition to a 2011 pot measure at a Town Hall event last fall. More likely: An initiative to decriminalize pot possession in 2012, when there's a younger electorate in the presidential election year. In booze: After the Costco- and grocery-store-sponsored liquor privatizations initiative got shot down, state senator Tim Sheldon (D-35) is pondering a bill to get the state out of the liquor retail business without the flaws that brought down I-1100. If it stalls—as seems likely—Costco may be back at the ballot.
Emaciated Bus Service: By spring, we’ll know if the legislature took the steps to save Metro from a funding drop that would, in effect, cut roughly 17 percent of all bus service in the county by 2012. Metro is bracing for a shortfall of $1.2 billion between now and 2015, which manifests as 600,000 fewer service hours. The solution? The King County Regional Transit Task Force, a mix of urban liberal officials and exurban moderates, have united to ask lawmakers in Olympia for new funding authority. This of course assumes that Seattle’s nebbish legislative delegation can unify to jam through a progressive, Seattle-centric issue (other than that gay one originating from Speaker Chopp’s mates in 43rd District).
McKenna vs. Another White Guy: By year’s end, we’ll have a better idea of who’s running for governor. Gregoire is expected to step down—after hitting an endearingly vitriolic stride in her third term (heart)—and bring a few Democrats to challenge presumptive Republican front runner Attorney General Rob McKenna. One likely favorite is County Exec. Dow Constantine, who got down to some savvy budget balancing by dodging the press and instead charming employee unions into forgoing perks.
New District: We’re getting a 10th Congressional district. But depending on how its drawn, consuming part of the 3rd and part of the 8th, it may be red or blue. It could consume part of the currently Republican 8th District, leaving the remaining 8th District more progressive and flipping it out of Republican Congressman Dave Reichert’s hands in 2012. Here's to hoping.
An Outright Ban on Plastic Bags: City council member Mike O’Brien is going to pick up where colleague Tim Burgess left off, exploring a total ban on plastic shopping bags in Seattle. Last time the council taxed disposable bags, an unprecedented overfunded campaign from the plastic lobby persuaded voters to repeal the law. What will happen when a bag ban bill hits the council hopper? It’s a non-issue, of course, that will nonetheless send Seattle Times editorial pages into a tizzy fit along with, if the council passes it, the bluster of another out-of-state campaign gassing up the ballot.