Seattle Ramming Through Measure for Business over Livability

November 11, 2008

While we’re still experiencing the buzz of the election, let’s chanel that into some attention to local politics.  There is a local issue coming to attention of the Council this week that influences everyone living here.

At issue are rather classic competing concerns about the City.  On one side are the people who live here who would like to  enhance its livability and on the other side are people interested beautifying the Westlake area where it intersects the Mercer Corridor.  The issue is whether $30 million is best spent construction a 6 block boulevard or whether it can be put to better use.

The City Council is trying to rush the boulevard approval through without considering a variety of relevant issues including alternative uses of the money.

The City Council’s Budget Committee this week l will consider whether to authorize spending $30 million for the Mercer Corridor Project in 2009 without first receiving the financial and environmental information it requested in Ordinance 122686 (passed in May 2008) as a necessary condition for the Mayor to proceed with the Mercer Project.

Nick Licata is leading the “livability” concerns and is joined by the following groups:

Magnolia Community Club
Rainier Beach Community Club Executive Board
Queen Anne Community Council
Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council
Othello Neighborhood Association
Columbia City Community Council
North Seattle Industrial Association
Aurora Avenue Merchants Association
Fremont Chamber of Commerce
Ballard District Council
Seattle Community Council Federation
Northeast District Council
Metropolitan Democratic Club
Seattle Marine Business Coalition
36th District Democrats
46th District Democrats
43rd District Democrats
BINMIC
Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth
University District Community Council

Expressing Concerns

Feet First (supports dedicating surplus commercial
parking tax revenues to fully funding healthy transportation choices equitably across Seattle rather than going to the Mercer Project)

The money is on the “boulevard” side, as you might guess, with Paul Allen’s people seeing this as a nice enhancement for their South Lake Union project, businesses in the Mercer area favor it as an enhancement that is likely to help business.  Many people in the Queen Anne area also favor the project as it enhances their neighborhood, while others there are eager to see the money used for other more broadly beneficial. (There is a discussion of the alternative uses here on September 30).  Generally speaking the moneyed interests favor investing the money to make Seattle a better place to drive to.  It is important to understand though that this measure is not to relieve traffic but to add aesthetic value to the drive.

To find out more you can contact any of the groups listed above or read the previous entries here or contact the City.  Please register your thoughts with the Council members who operate without the benefit of a great deal of public input.

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov
Sally.Clark@seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov
Jan.Drago@seattle.gov
Jean.Godden@seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov
Nick.Licata@seattle.gov
Richard.McIver@seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office.
http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm


Celebrations in DC and Seattle

November 10, 2008

Here’s an email from my daughter Amy, who works in Washington DC and was somewhat overwhelmed by the Tuesday night post-election celebration there. Below that is a copy of my reply to her  about the celebration here.

From Amy:

DC on election night was absolutely amazing.

I watched the election at a friend’s house in Maryland, then headed back into town after the speeches. As we got close to DC, we heard yelling and honking, that got louder as we rolled into the city. When we hit Capital Street, we decided that we should joint the celebration, so we rolled down the street honking, yelling, and waving to passing cars. Everyone in the cars were looking for people to shout to and didn’t seem to miss any opportunities. It was certainly the most collegial honking I have ever encountered in this city.

We parked the car at my apartment then walked up to U-Street. For people unfamiliar with DC, U Street is an historically African American that was a cultural center for much of the 20th century. It was Harlem before Harlem. It was also the center of the DC race riots, when many of the U Street businesses were destroyed. It was particularly poignant to see the celebration there on Tuesday night.

We spent two hours walking down U Street. When I say we walked down U Street, I mean we walked right down the middle of it (I’m talking yellow line). People drove their cars onto U Street then stopped them, leaving radios blaring. Cars were stopped on both sides of the street with people sitting and standing on top of the cars cheering and holding signs and chanting and honking. Walking down the street we walked by the cars high fiving everyone and cheering with them. Pedestrians were hugging, high fiving, and just erupting into spontaneous cheers together. (I haven’t hugged so many strangers since the 1995 playoffs.) People were chanting O-BAM-A, Yes-We-Can, and Si-Se-Puede (all, conveniently the same number of syllables I couldn’t help but notice), as well as general celebratory yelling. If someone started yelling or chanting, everyone around him/her would yell or chant in response.

A couple drummers set up shop on a corner and a huge group of people were jumping up and down (my kind of celebration) and chanting. It wasn’t aggressive jumping at all, just everyone celebrating together. I could go into the group do some jumping then come back out again. It was very cool. In the middle of another block, a giant ring of people, probably four or five people deep, were chanting O-BAM-A. I snuck in to get a closer look and two guys were break dancing to the chanting. They would pause and encourage the crowd to chant louder, then start dancing again. A young skinny white guy jumped in the middle of the group and started doing some decidedly un-break dancing and everyone cheered and chanted for him too.

It was without a doubt the most diverse celebration I have ever seen. It was diverse in every sense of the word. Beyond the racial diversity, I saw all kinds of people out–from goths to grandmas, and everyone was celebrating together, and happy. I saw parents out with their little kids (only three or four years old). A grandma-aged lady was in the in the front row of people watching and chanting for the break dancers. It was clear that everyone wanted to celebrate, but also to be there and experience history occurring. There seemed to be a feeling that everyone was experiencing something much bigger than themselves.

It was truly one of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I took some pictures. They aren’t impressive photographically, but perhaps you can get a sense of the what was going on. http://picasaweb.google.com/amykoler/YesWeCan#

Amy

My reply:

It would be interesting to have a study of the celebrations in the different communities, then make bold generalizations about the places where the celebrations occurred. Seattle had a celebration break out on Broadway, near Seattle Central CC. There was merrymaking aplenty with a crowd of similar diversity, although weighted toward younger people and there were many fewer than the number of DC celebrants. When the police showed up and got out of their cars, people feared a confrontation, only to discover that many of the cops had left their vehicles to join in the dancing. Led by a drag queen, the throng marched to the area of the market to continue its revelry.

Startled and rather proud of this exhibition of politically correct glee, news media swarmed the group of celebrants, as SUVs and smart-looking vehicles arrived from the nether regions with occupants eager to join in the event. Encircled by media with periodic infiltration for an interview, the celebration became self aware and dissipated eventually. Nonetheless this may have been the first spontaneous street gathering and unlicensed parade since the Vietnam War. (I’m not counting the WTO activity as an unlicensed parade.) I can’t think of a time that the police joined such a party, except maybe at the end of the Second World War.

Alex, who was working as the Smith Tower night watchman, said that he saw groups of men walking by weeping, most of them homeless people on their way to the mission down the street.


A Triumph of a Foundational Belief

November 5, 2008

Our country has come a remarkable way in my lifetime.

I was born in a racially segregated country with laws impairing the black’s right to vote. There were neighborhoods in Seattle with covenants that made it unlawful for blacks to live there. When I was in college, black people could not buy property in my parent’s neighborhood. For that matter they would not even sell to Jews. In the 1960’s there were people living who had been slaves and several who had parents who had been slaves. Society was racially segregated and racism was rather obvious.

I’ve see the Supreme Court declare racial segregation to be unconstitutional. The civil rights movement was an enormous effort by many, many people and the experience became deeply imbedded in the participants’ consciousness. There was a sense of camaraderie among the participants in the movement not unlike the what happens among troops in a war. There was real grief over the assassinations of civil rights leaders and people still get deeply moved hearing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. It was truly a profound experience full of struggle and violence and doubt and faith.

The country has made mighty efforts to overcome the ghetto-ization of the descendants of the slaves. Every step was marked with controversy, extremely high emotions, and great uncertainty about the benefits of the undertaking. The resistance to the movement included outspoken racists, but far from only those people.

Many, many people were not remotely racists but worried about the preservation of the fabric of society, going too far and too fast. Many of the “civil rights” efforts seemed artificial and meaningless. Many felt that the efforts were going way too far and penalizing non-blacks by usurping opportunities precious to struggling whites. Emotions always ran high with everyone on all sides seeing himself or herself fighting against injustice on the other side and saw the risk of the country’s doom hovering above everything.

It seemed to me that everyone in the last few decades has been fighting for opportunity as that person perceived it. Beneath all the squabbling was a foundational belief that this is the land of opportunity.

Many on the left despaired that with the demise of affirmative action, we were shirking our moral responsibility. Many felt that with the reduction in social services assured the further decline of people in the cycle of poverty. Many saw the Bush administration as having put us back toward the inequities of the 1960’s.

Out of this seething cauldron of accusations, distrust, blame, failed hope and sharp division steps a black president, calling for unity. For me he represents, not a triumph of the civil rights movement, but a triumph of the American experiment. People on the right who opposed the civil rights “social engineers,” who opposed formulaic affirmative action should feel vindicated. Out of the impossible tangle of competing ideas we have elected a black president, something no industrialized western country has done. Thirty-five years ago this was utterly inconceivable. Our foundation belief in opportunity has triumphed.


Sarah Vowell in Seattle

October 17, 2008

On Monday at Town Hall Sarah Vowell read from her recent book “Wordy Shipmates.”  I attended the reading but had not read any of her books.  There are four previous books.  “Assassination Vacation” was probably the most popular.  It was on on the overstock table at Elliot Bay which means that the publisher expected a lot of sales and carries a vague hint of disappointment.

Sarah Vowell, as you probably know, early in her career worked with David Sedaris on Ira Glass’s show “This American Life,” and still occasionally does a piece for the radio show.  I find her little autobiographical pieces side-splittingly funny and her books have been highly recommended to me but have just never made it to the top of my reading list.

For all her public speaking and television and radio appearances, she is quite shy and reserved in public, at least on this stop of her book tour.  Nonetheless her reading and discussion afterwards was very enjoyable and made me bump her new book to the top of my reading list.

I’ve just started but can already recommend the book as a very engaging and unique look at American colonial history.  The breadth and originality of her associations with early writings and historical events is almost mesmerizing.  Pop culture, contemporary events and Puritanical doctrine seem to somehow blend in a way that enriches the reader’s understanding of all of them.

One of the things that has struck me is how two threads of the colonist’s doctrine have been unwoven from that fabric, one has been largely abandoned and the other used to justify things far from the minds of the Puritans.

The Puritans advocated a rich inner life of learning, reading, appreciation of history, science and literature (mostly Biblical).  They were creatures of the Age of Reason and avid writers, committed to the exchange of ideas.  They saw the colonies as a refuge from hostilities between nations.

This developed into our founding fathers’ abhorrence of “entangling liaisons” with other nations.  This prioritization of scholarly learning and the development of our understanding of science and literature does not seem to have taken a firm grip on today’s society.  Nor does the notion that in the interest of fostering this enrichment we ought to avoid becoming entangled with other countries.

The other thread was probably thought of at the time as a benign Christian notion.  I guess it still is but it has lost some of its “benign” luster.  Sarah Vowell’s book discusses the Massachusetts Bay colony, which was founded by Puritans faithful to England, people full of doubt and second thoughts about leaving.  They were fleeing persecution but searching for a Godly justification for the trip.

The official seal of the colony, brought over from England, has on it an Indian and the words “Come over and help us.”  A person glancing at the official documents of the day might get the impression that the trip was motivated by a heathen’s call for help.  Things certainly didn’t work out that way.

This call for help has echoed down the course of American history and heard at opportune times by our leaders.   It was heard by William McKinley who sent gunboats to Manila to Christianize Filipinos.  The ardor of this vision was not abated by the discovery shortly after arrival that the Philippines had been Catholic for two hundred years.  John Kennedy heard the same plea from the Vietnamese (at least from the ones at the south end of the country) and sent aircraft carriers to “help freedom defend itself.”  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney heard the same pleas.  Bush heard the people of Iraq crying to him for freedom and Cheney knew that we would be greeted as liberators.   Sarah Vowell reminds us that we have been hearing this for a long time.


The Storm is Part of Seattle’s Community

September 29, 2008

I thought I’d mention Seattle’s WNBA team, the Storm, which seems to have been embraced by the community. Seattle owes the team an expression of thanks and gratitude for their efforts.

I could not go to the last game in the L.A. series because I had a long standing commitment to attend the Mariners game. The Thursday game was a good baseball game with the Mariners coming out victors against the Angels, a rare feat this season or for that matter in recent seasons.

I was on the second level where they have areas with food and drink concessions, along with tables and lots of televisions. During the game one of the televisions was turned to the channel showing the Storm game and there was a cluster of people leaning forward at the tables anxiously watching the game. A small group of people stood behind them and vendors were craning their necks to get a view.

The viewers were mostly men but women were well represented as well. They cheered as the team came back then grew silernt as L.A. held off the Storm at the end of the game. The disappointment was obvious but the folks watching the games expressed appreciation for theteam and the effort at the end. There was no grousing about the coaches or players; everyone seemed to really like the team and to be proud of it.

This authentic warmth struck as rather unique these days when we tend to dismiss anything but complete success and are quick to find fault with players and coaches. I go to my share of games in different sports and do not often see the love of the sport and the appreciation of the athletes as I do among Storm fans.

The players have not been corrupted by staggering contracts and bring a refreshing sense of sportsmanship to their game; these days it seems almost innocent. I think to some degree the Storm fans are people who miss the innocence of sports, rooting for your team through good and bad times, players who truly are people like you’d like your children to become, people who love their sport and do not imagine that it somehow separates them from others.


Building Green in King County, Washington

September 9, 2008

It is sometimes good to remind ourselves, while we listen to campaigning about the energy crisis, that things are in fact changing to better acomodate the energy difficulties that beset us. For example a town house development on Capital Hill boasts

The REM modeling shows the buildings will perform 30 to 40 percent better than 2004 International Energy Code and the tight envelopes will allow leakage of only 0.215 to 0.25 air changes per hour. Beyond the technical aspects of the project, gProjects paid great attention to the overall site layout and achieved high quality community design. By limiting parking to the exterior areas of the site and through detailed planning, the project has provided for several communal areas, including a pea patch, “the canyon”, and a shared bike shed.

This development is described in detail at the website BuiltGreen, which is run by the Master Builder’s Association of King County and Snohomish County. Check out the site to see news, past newsletters and information about building green. Hopefully the market will catch on to this more than it has, as only 786 new certified homes have been built this year.

At this time there is a conference in Minnesota. This one does not seem to be attracting the attention of recent activity in the state but will have a noticeable impact on new housing nonetheless. There is a conference to determine what changes will be recommended to the building code. One one side are reformists who want state of the art energy saving requirements and on the other are builders who argue that there has not been sufficient research to verify the energy savings or that the some of the changes would not be cost justified.


County’s Hands Tied on Excessive Forest Clearing

July 9, 2008

RCW 82.02.020 is an example of the ways in which the stong hand of special interest lobbies in Olympia affect folks in Washington. This law says in pertinent part that

no county, city, town, or other municipal corporation shall impose any tax, fee, or charge, either direct or indirect, on the construction or reconstruction of residential buildings, commercial buildings, industrial buildings, or on any other building or building space or appurtenance thereto, or on the development, subdivision, classification, or reclassification of land.

Meanwhile King County adopted its Clearing and Grading Critical Areas Ordinance in 2004 pursuant to the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A.060(2)) which required it to adopt regulations to protect its critical assets. Generally speaking the ordinance prohibited clearing more than 50% of rural lots with a number of qualifications and exceptions.

Before adopting this regulation the County undertook a number of studies and consulted with experts to verify that excessive clearing had negative impacts on stream health, wildlife, and critical aquifer recharge areas in the County.

The ordinance was challenged by a property rights groups that contended that the blanket prohibition against clearing was an improper indirect charge under RCW 82.02.020.

The County said that this was not a tax but a justified regulation, presenting 24 journal articles and several experts who identified the harm sought to be avoided and vouched for the efficacy of the regulation in terms of avoiding the harm.

The trial court sided with the County but the Court of Appeals did not. In Citizens Alliance for Property Rights v. Ron Sims

the court held that the bar against excessive clearing was prohibited by statute. The decision seems quite sound to me, relying on well established pro-development case law. Without disregarding precedent, the court could do little else. (Personally I would like to see the court start whittling away at the existing law.)

What is important here, I believe is that local decision regarding the environment, urban sprawl, habitat, and water issues are fairly commonly thwarted by the state legislature which in turn is rather shockingly influenced by special interests, particularly the building industry which pushed through the legislation giving developers a preferred tax status.