Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogAfter writing Urban Politics on Seattle politics for over 19 years, I will now also be covering urban issues in other cities that could have importance to metropolitan areas in general. Seattle issues will still be covered in Urban Politics – Seattle, but will not come out as frequently as in the past. In a couple of weeks a searchable archive of all former Urban Politics will be available on a newly redesigned www.becomingacitizenactivist.org. If you do not wish to receive Urban Politics – US reply with “Unsubscribe UP-US” in the Subject Line.

Category Archives: Urban Politics – Seattle

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & SOCIAL JUSTICE & STREETCARS

By | Urban Politics - Seattle | No Comments

 

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Seattle City Council has begun the process for funding the construction and operation of a downtown streetcar project called the Center City Connector Streetcar, and referenced as the CCC. Initially the advocates argued that the CCC was a transportation solution for connecting the South Lake Union and the First Hill streetcars. However, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to get on the First Hill streetcar at a Capitol Hill stop, like Denny and Broadway to get to SLU, when they could get there in a third of the time by just taking the number 12 bus to downtown, or another bus line at a different stop, and then board the SLU streetcar.

That detail has not deterred the Seattle Downtown (business) Association as its biggest promoter. They have been angling for a downtown streetcar for at least 10 years. As a councilmember during that entire time, I often hosted supporters in my office to listen how Seattle’s downtown could be more prosperous if we had a streetcar running right through downtown’s already congested streets.

The best argument for building the CCC might be that it will encourage shoppers to visit a number of retail establishments along the line, as long as it has enough stops, which would slow it down. Pioneer Square businesses owners also hoped it would deliver increased pedestrian traffic to them, which has clustered further north along First Avenue. However, this business development objective really makes the CCC an economic stimulus project not a transportation project. The advocates soft-peddle that rationale because the city needs federal transportation funding to build the CCC, and those funds are intended to serve transit needs.

WHO IS PAYING FOR THE CCC?

This conflict begged the question that the council needed to answer: What are the public costs and transit benefits for building and maintaining the CCC? To provide that answer, Councilmember Lisa Herbold amended Council Bill Number: 119008which accepted $50 million in federal dollars towards this project, by requiring our Seattle Dept. of Transportation (SDOT) to report to the council detailing the financial operating plan for the CCC, the projected performance measures and contingency plan for funding CCC should the additional federal $25 million that the city expects to receive did not materialize.

Even if those funds are received, the city is already prepared to spend $52 from our transit budget to build the CCC. What other transit needs will be sacrificed? For the SLU streetcar bus service hours were diverted from lower income families being served by bus routes in the Rainier Valley. This was a social justice issue that residents in the south end of Seattle raised and protested the cut in their bus routes.

An article in City Lab concluded, “Taxpayers are picking up most of the bill for the 21st century streetcar renaissance—money which could otherwise support more effective forms of public transportation.” Check it out here

FISCAL RISKS

Director of Transit & Mobility Andrew Glass Hastings delivered the required report 2 weeks ago to the Council. His revenue projections are more aspirational than rational. The bulk of the streetcar network’s operational income will come from ridership. The city’s transportation department wrote that the project would increase the entire streetcar network average daily streetcar ridership from approximately 6,000 today to an estimated 25,000 average daily riders by some unspecified date in the future. However their report shows that by 2025 their daily average riders will only represent 38% of the 25,000 target. Even if they meet 2025 goal, it appears to be unrealistic since it represents an increase of over 400%. Meanwhile, the SLU streetcar has experienced a decline in ridership of 32% since 2013 due to reduced congestion and improved bus service serving South Lake Union. Improved bus service is siphoning off riders from the SLU streetcar.

After reviewing SDOT’s report, the Council’s central staff continued to believe there is financial risk in the Center City Connector’s financial plan. Although, they added that much of this risk already existed with operating the South Lake Union Streetcar and First Hill Streetcar lines, and is not directly attributable to the CCC. In other words, the current streetcar system will continue to face the same financial problems it has now.

If the predicted ridership for the CCC follows the same course as what happened with the SLU line, which the city still has an outstanding loan of over $3 million to support SLU Streetcar operations, where will the additional revenue come from? The expectation is that both King County and Sound Transit will continue their annual subsidies for our two existing streetcar lines and will presumably also help subsidize CCC’s costs.

WHO WILL HELP SUBSIDIZE THE CITY’S STREETCAR NETWORK

For the SLU Streetcar, King County Metro provides an annual contribution that escalates to $1,550,000 in 2019, when the current operating agreement expires. SDOT anticipates that a future agreement will maintain this level of support. This subsidy will probably come by moving service hours that could be devoted to providing more reliable bus service to employees and shoppers coming into downtown rather than paying for a streetcar trying to move through downtown traffic that will not help anyone get to work on time.

For the FH Streetcar, Sound Transit provides a $5,000,000 annual contribution through 2023. SDOT anticipates that a future agreement will maintain this level of Sound Transit support; however, the voter-approved ST3 ballot measure did not include any funding for this purpose. Will the city then be on the hook?

The city council’s central staff also raised an intriguing scenario: the city could be exposed to a greater financial risk of losing Sound Transit funding in the future if the CCC is built because then the city will be operating one interconnected system. Sound Transit funded the FH Streetcar because it served a discreet function of providing access to downtown that was abandoned by Sound Transit when it did not build a First Hill station. However, when the CCC is complete it will be harder to characterize the First Hill segment as a discrete portion of the line that Sound Transit must maintain. If it does divest, the City will then have to pick up the $5 million annual tab.

SDOT’s report to the Council said any future funding shortfalls, like not getting the additional $25 in federal transportation funds that the city has applied for but has yet to receive, could be met by possible additional revenue sources like increased sponsorship and increased fares.

The promise of corporate sponsorships as a streetcar revenue source is like searching for the Holy Grail, it’s got to be out there somewhere. But not in Seattle. Sponsorships did not stop the SLU streetcar from going into the hole. No mention is made in the SDOT report on how much sponsorships currently contribute to either of the existing streetcar lines. For the year 2020, when the CCC is expected to be completed, annual operating costs are just over $16 million for all 3 lines and less than a million in sponsorship revenue is expected; no projection for future years is even attempted.

The one reason that the CCC is being pushed through right now is the lure of receiving free money, i.e. the $50 to $75 million that the feds will be giving to Seattle to build it. But free federal money is not always going to lead to the best solution to improving our urban environment.

Citizens in 1971 realized that when they rejected, by initiative, receiving millions in federal dollars for an urban renewal project that would replace 90 percent of the Pike Place Market with offices, hotels, and parking garages. They were not deterred by the city council voting unanimously to approve the renewal project and both daily newspapers supporting that decision.

WILL TRANSIT RIDERS BENEFIT?

Aside from the financial risk of building and maintaining the CCC, what will be the actual transit benefits? It’s already apparent that it will not serve working people trying to get to their jobs downtown, but will the CCC allow workers or shoppers to move more quickly through it? That’s doubtful. A robust network of bus routes 40, 62, and 70 already connects the ends of the two existing streetcars, along with Link light rail, which is faster than the CCC will ever be.

What makes the CCC particularly challenging is that it will be happening at the same time as the deep bore tunnel opens – closing the current bus tunnel to buses, and I-90 buses will be slowed by the second phase of Sound Transit construction on I-90. The cumulative impact will be more traffic diverting to 2nd and 4th avenues and very likely leading to gridlock.

SUMMARY

Budget Chair Councilmember Herbold considers SDOT’s report a non-answer to the Council’s questions of where the funds will come from. She concludes that unfortunately, the only realistic funding sources may be to cut other spending, such as roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, proactive landslide prevention, and transit. Read her newsletter to understand how $4 million of the city’s limited revenue stream from the Commercial Parking tax could be diverted for the next 20 years to pay for the CCC.

It is clear that the CCC streetcar is only a downtown circulator. Public transit is already good downtown it’s everywhere else in Seattle that commuters need more reliable and frequent bus service. Worse still, there is a fair chance that the CCC streetcar would make downtown circulation worse since it will be using limited right of way space that will be desperately needed for the additional busses that will be pushed out of the bus tunnel.

First Avenue should handle more public transit and shifting bus routes there would be much more cost-efficient than spending at least $60 million in local tax revenues for building a streetcar line. And, that’s assuming the feds cough up another $25 million, if SDOT’s ridership numbers are accurate, and that both King County and Sound Transit continue to subsidize our streetcar system. Not to mention any possible cost overruns.

Other cities have faced similar decisions. Many do succumb to the charm of streetcars as well as the influence of well-organized interest groups that would benefit from such grand public expenditures, such as developers, property owners along the lines, consultants and construction companies. However, just last year, Rhode Island leaders decided that the streetcar wasn’t the right answer for downtown Providence.  They redirected their federal funding for a streetcar into a bus-based project in the same downtown corridor with buses coming every 4-5 minutes. It would provide the same reliable service that a streetcar would but more importantly it would allow major bus lines to continue to serve those outside the downtown neighborhoods.

The Seattle City Council has been in the national forefront in recognizing that social justice issues must be addressed in our policies and projects. But sometimes they are difficult to apply to capital projects, particularly attractive ones like the proposed Center City Connector Streetcar. Nevertheless, in this instance there is a social justice issue that will impact the poor and the middle class. Will our public dollars be spent most efficiently on a project that does not increase the ease of getting to work downtown? There is scant evidence that laying down those rails will make Seattle any more livable or affordable for its residents.

THE SOLUTION

The Council could hold up any further expenditure on the CCC project, until an outside neutral party can determine if it will benefit residents and employees throughout the city by providing them better access to downtown. That motion could be made by 3 councilmembers introducing a Budget Proviso. However, they would need to do so by this coming Thursday. If they do, then this proposal could be discussed before the full council.

If this approach strikes you as a reasonable step in doing due diligence please let the councilmembers know by emailing citycouncil@seattle.gov and all councilmembers will receive your message.

The city council’s Budget Session I begins at – 10:30 a.m., or right after the Council Briefing meeting, this Monday to discuss SDOT’s budget. Questions about the CCC may be raised. Public testimony will be held just before the meeting begins. Watch the meeting live.

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Becoming a Citizen Activist Live Webinar and PowerPoint

By | Featured, Urban Politics - Seattle | No Comments

Have you recently become more politically engaged? Would you like to know how to make that engagement as effective as possible? Recently, Nick Licata was joined by Indivisible Plus WA and Whats Next for a live webinar about his experience as a citizen activist and what you can do today to be part of effective change in your community and country. Check out the live recording and download the PowerPoint, 7 Steps to Becoming a Citizen Activist below.

Download the Powerpoint here: Powerpoint Citizen’s 7 Steps V1

 

WTO

WTO – The Battle in Seattle

By | Urban Politics - Seattle | No Comments

By Nick Licata, former Seattle City Councilmember, who invited demonstrators to Seattle and marched with them; and, author of Becoming A Citizen Activist – Stories, Strategies and Advice for Changing Our World (released January 2016)


 

The freedom to dissent was tested as the US closed out the twentieth century with a demonstration that grabbed the world’s attention. Forty thousand citizens marched through Seattle’s downtown on November 30, 1999, to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization Ministerial (WTO.) Having decided to hold its third biannual meeting in the US, over forty cities competed to host it. Seattle beat out the others by promising to spend over $9 million, almost twice as much as the nearest bid from Honolulu. The City Council wasn’t asked to approve the offer because the Seattle Host Organization, consisting of membership from the region’s major corporations and chaired by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, promised to pick up the tab, although they ended contributing far less.

This was to be the most important trade conference ever held in the US; the newly formed WTO was assuming powers that far outstripped its predecessors. In particular it would not only continue to regulate manufactured goods, but services, intellectual property, and agriculture would be added. More importantly, it would have the authority to require the elimination of local labor standards and environmental protections if they violated trade agreements. It was a wet dream for corporate leaders bent on expanding trade opportunities, and a nightmare for those defending worker rights and the environment. Without firing a shot, the world was seeing the formation of a new international power. The context for Seattle’s WTO meeting was set, it would not happen without vocal and visible dissent from those affected.

To publicize our own concerns with the WTO, I sponsored, and the council unanimously passed, resolution number 29926 in April, expressing the Council’s ability to regulate and pass laws regarding environmental protection and fair labor practices within its jurisdiction and that it opposed international agreements that could restrict that ability. It was a small attempt to support those opposing WTO’s growing power.

Just as delegates from the 130 countries and the several thousand media correspondents were preparing to attend, so were citizen activists. I met with Mike Dolan from Public Citizen; a Ralph Nader initiated organization, in the spring of 1999 to discuss how to create an open environment in which citizens could be heard. Dolan was building community support by acquiring venues to accommodate a huge number of open educational meetings. Meanwhile another organization from San Francisco, the International Forum on Globalization, organized two-day teach-in the pristine downtown Bennaroya Symphony Hall. Each day more than 2,500 attendees packed the hall to listen to an analysis of how WTO was reshaping the world around profits not human needs.

Opposition to the WTO came from three groupings distinguished by their tactics and objectives. By far the largest one was a precedent setting alliance between organized labor and environmental groups, referred to as the “Teamsters and turtles” coalition, due to hundreds of protestors appearing in sea turtle costumes to protest WTO’s rules harming sea life. Labor leaders, for their part, wanted any new WTO trade agreement to set minimum labor standards in factories around the world, so as not to drag down labor agreements in the US.

Although they tussled over whether saving jobs or the environment was more important, they recognized that they faced a common fate of being sacrificed on the alter-of-trade if they didn’t ultimately shrink WTO’s authority. Their tactic was to organize and lead tens of thousands of demonstrators in a permitted march into downtown. I participated, walking alongside AFL-CIO President Sweeny and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and a number of other labor and Congressional leaders who were present.

The second group, numbering perhaps a thousand, came together under an umbrella group, the Direct Action Network (DAN) whose publicized objective was to use non- violent civil disobedience (calling for no property destruction) to stop the WTO from meeting. Their long-term goal was to create a mass movement to challenge global capital, “making radical change and social revolution.” Their actions evolved from independent affinity groups that had been training for months on their tactics. They arrived downtown hours before the mass march was to arrive. By forming large circles of protestors with arms interlocked with duct tape or bicycle locks, they successfully blocked major intersections. Delegates were unable to enter the Washington State Convention & Trade Center while buses and cars were suddenly diverted around the downtown retail core to avoid the protestors.

The third and smallest group, numbering a hundred at most, consisted of militant anarchists, referred to the black block. They systematically blockaded streets with newspaper boxes and smashed the windows of retail outlets owned by exploitive corporations. They also reached the downtown core before the mass march. The media showered this group with attention while ignoring the anti-WTO forums. Throwing a garbage can through a store window certainly is more eye- catching than a snapshot of a room full of people listening to a lecture. But I couldn’t help but ask, which is better suited for building a lasting informed social movement for change?

As November 30, 1999 approached, public officials had recognized there would be thousands of protestors. Even President Bill Clinton told the workers at a Harley Davidson factory before heading to Seattle, “Every group in the world with an ax to grind is going to Seattle. I told them all, I wanted them to come…. I want everybody to get this all out of their system…” Mayor Paul Schell, a former war protestor himself, said Seattle would welcome all who came to protest peacefully against WTO. And I got the City Council, through a resolution, to request that the Mayor help accommodate all visitors arriving for the Ministerial, by encouraging “…organizations who are serving demonstrators coming to our community to explore opportunities to ensure adequate lodgings and home stays.” It was going to be needed; Mike Dolan informed me that there were 750 Accredited Non-Governmental Organizations actively recruiting people to attend the WTO ministerial.

I had attended a number of meetings between our police leadership and leaders of the mainstream protestor groups, to see if they could agree promote on how to proceed with the demonstrations. Representatives from both sides were cautious and the meetings were inconclusive. The reality was that dissent would be taking many forms and no amount of volunteer parade marshals could keep folks walking in a straight line down the road. There was anger in the air that the City did not take into account.

Our police showed pictures to the councilmembers of what happened sixteen months earlier at the WTO’s second ministerial conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Five thousand protestors gathered there, firebombing three autos and damaging other cars and stores. The Seattle police were scared but the mainstream protest leaders assured them they would lead a peaceful march.

As I walked down first avenue with thousands other protestors from the huge AFL-CIO rally held about a mile north of downtown, I felt that we would show the world how much opposition there was to WTO’s plans. At the front of the march were labor leaders and Congressmen. When we reached the retail core, we were to proceed to a gathering spot and not continue to the Convention Center; however, some protestors emerged from the march and encouraged us to veer towards it. Confusion reigned and the march splintered into smaller streams of protestors. Meanwhile the DAN group blocked the main intersections and the black block faction attacked Starbuck and Nike stores, spraying graffiti on their windows that had not been smashed.

Perhaps stunned by the violence and not prepared for a strategic response the police initially failed to intervene with those smashing windows. The parades’ monitors took up protective positions outside some of the retail stores, fearing that the plate glass windows being shattered by handkerchief- masked anarchists would overshadow their own orderly protesting. Even as the police began using tear gas to break up DAN’s circles to allow the WTO delegates to enter the Convention Center, a couple of blocks away other protestors, many in costumes, chanted, waved signs and even danced in the streets. David Solnit, one of DAN’s organizers, described the scene as a festival of resistance, from which the labor leaders and congressional representatives quietly slipped away.

With the situation deemed dangerous for the upcoming visit of President Clinton, Mayor Schell declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew on most of downtown starting at 7:00 p.m. The police moved into the crowds in late afternoon using pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets to end the demonstrations and property damage. Several hundred protestors were pushed up into the dense residential Capitol Hill neighborhood abutting the Convention Center. Not confident of securing downtown for the next day, Mayor Schell issued another emergency order establishing a “no protest zone” — in 25 blocks of downtown. Governor Locke called in the National Guard, so that by daylight on Wednesday, troops lined its perimeter. Police then used tear gas to disperse any crowds; more than 500 people, including downtown residents and employees leaving work, were jailed that day for not clearing out from the heart of downtown Seattle. In the evening, hard- core protestors returned to shout and throw debris at the police, who responded with concussion grenades and large quantities of tear gas, fearing they would be overrun. The fire fighters’ union refused a request to turn their fire hoses on the protestors.

Although accusations were repeated in the media that firebombs and bags of urine were thrown at the officers, later investigations revealed them to be unfounded. Wednesday evening, the protestors and the police were once again in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, infuriating residents, as their main retail street became a battleground. Having lived on Capitol Hill for twenty-five years I walked the familiar streets talking to both police officers and protestors, in a vain attempt to lower the level of hostility. There was no room for any rationale dialogue in an atmosphere filled with fear and pepper gas. On Thursday, the President left and both the police and the protestors ratcheting down their confrontations while the WTO meeting petered out.

Did the massive and confrontational expression of citizen dissent achieve its objective? They did play the most visible role in stopping the WTO from reaching a new trade agreement. However, it was also widely acknowledged that intense divisions among its delegates contributed to that failure. It remains as the only one of nine WTO meetings held up to 2013 that did not issue a Ministerial Declaration, perhaps because it was the only one that experienced massive citizen opposition. Other WTO Ministerials were held in places that did not allow or severely restricted demonstrations, like Dubai and Singapore, or were in difficult places to reach with few accommodations like Cancun. And, those that were held in Geneva never saw as many protestors as appeared in Seattle.

Supporters of WTO and those critical of the protestors, accused political leaders of inviting trouble when they encouraged citizens to Seattle to demonstrate their opposition. They ignored the basic principle of our American democracy, a strong faith in the right to assemble and protest. Seattle, known as a tolerant city, was portrayed as naïve in expecting things to go peacefully. Perhaps, but more importantly, the City was not prepared for massive demonstrations. Review reports issued from the ACLU, the Police Department and the City Council all concluded that our police force was not properly trained for crowd control or for moving in quickly to isolate those destroying property.

While both DAN members and the police agreed in advance that their members would be arrested peacefully, the police relied on teargas and pepper spray to accomplish that task, which needlessly affected all those nearby. Perhaps the worse example of police response was their pursuit of protestors up to Capitol Hill where uninvolved residents, business owners and shoppers found themselves breathing in teargas or even arrested for being in the wrong spot while the police rounded up protestors. Those actions and the Mayor’s enactment of a no protest zone treated many citizens as criminals. Eight years later in January 2007, a federal jury found that the city had violated protesters’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause or hard evidence.

Although the Council passed the Mayor’s emergency declarations, I and Councilmembers Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard Conlin voted against it. After WTO meeting ended the city council held two public hearings to allow citizens to air their grievances. The first evening went from 4 pm to 1 am and the second one took almost as long, with over three hundred people testifying. Their complaints were similar to the emails I received; a few blamed the protestors for all the trouble but most were critical of the police response.

“Mr. Licata, they are smashing up downtown, you’re personally responsible, since you supported them.”

“You welcomed the protestors, in Seattle 52 years, it’s become a sewer, why aren’t you in Westlake to quite these people down. Why wasn’t City prepared for anarchists? You expect taxpayers to pay for all this? I’d fine them, make them clean it up, and then cut their nuts off.”

“Yesterday Police let hooligans get away with too much. Today people with legitimate protests are being mistreated. Disgusted with situation.”

“I’m upset about Police actions downtown, throwing tear gas canisters at peaceful protestors all day; I’m a resident and taxpayer, and got a mouthful of it. I’m outraged that Police we pay to protect us would do this.”

“I was impartial about events before, but seeing what Mayor and SPD have done is wrong and illegal, going way too far, hope there are repercussions for Mayor and the Police Department.”

“The Police action on Capitol Hill last night, was like a military action, it was indiscriminate, no reason for it. Whoever authorized it should be fired.”

Police Chief Norm Stamper resigned soon after the protestors and the WTO delegates left town. Latter he said using tear gas was wrong and that there was a need to move away from paramilitary tactics in policing. Mayor Paul Schell lost his next election, failing to get past the primary, in part due to the WTO events.

The City Council formed a special WTO Accountability Review Committee, which convened three independent citizen panels and had staff review more than 14,000 documents accompanied by interviews with key individuals. The Council then passed three separate pieces of legislation. The first (Ordinance 120096) required every SPD peace officer to wear a nametag on the outermost layer of the peace officer’s uniform, since many accusations of police abuse could not be traced to any specific officer. The second (Resolution 30340) implemented a new process notifying the Council of any solicitation of major events and allowed them to formally review any requests made of the city. This would allow the City Council an opportunity to have a public process, if necessary, for evaluating the impact of a controversial gathering. Lastly, the procedures used to declare and/or terminate a civil emergency were modified to allow greater Council control over how long one would remain in force.

The WTO meeting came to be known at the Battle in Seattle. Were the protests a legitimate expression of concern for our citizens wanting to protect their jobs and quality of life? Or as critics charged, were they hooligans and anarchists intent on destroying our civil society? Observations from both the police and the media noted that the later group made up less than a half percent of all who protested.

Despite the critics who charged that Seattle’s reputation had been irreversibly damaged, overall holiday sales rose 6 percent in 1999 and Seattle has gone on to become one of the most economic prosperous cities in the country, while still promoting strong labor protection laws and environmental regulations.

All parties agreed that the public suddenly became aware of the WTO and its growing international power. Despite the media’s attention on the vandalizing of property, a month later, in January 2000, a Business Week opinion poll found that 52 percent of Americans sympathized with the WTO protestors in Seattle. What had been had been buried in the back pages of the business section had now emerged as an important topic of debate within our democracy. The massive turn out by thousands of protestors in Seattle proved the effectiveness of citizens exercising their right to publically and forcefully dissent to alter the course of their democracy when it threatens their livelihood and quality of life.

Nick Licata was on the Seattle City Council 18 years and the founding chair of Local Progress. The Nation named him Most Valuable Local Official in 2012.

Six colleges are using Becoming A Citizen Activist for classroom texts. Reviews of his book as well as his other writings are available on the website.

www.BecomingaCitizenActivist.org

Contact him at nick@becomingacitizenactivist.org

Council Dynamics on Monday’s Surprise Vote

By | Urban Politics - Seattle | No Comments

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I’ve been to many council meetings over 18 years but yesterday’s full council meeting truly stands out as one for having a surprise ending.
 
Before jumping into how the councilmembers got to their final vote, it was evident that they all had done their homework. The debate was mature and rested entirely on understanding the practical consequences of their actions and the legal restraints that they were operating under. It was one of the best demonstrations one could imagine of how a legislative body should perform.
 
The history of the council supporting a new arena to be built in the SODO area has largely been framed within the context of balancing the public costs and benefits. Those benefits are not only measured in direct public financial subsidies against general economic gain, but also on the impact that project would have on the kind of jobs that would be eliminated and gained, and on the recognition that having a third professional sports team in Seattle would be greatly appreciated by many citizens. 
 
The vote was seemingly a trifle one. It would have simply been a filing with the City Clerk to vacate a public street, i.e. allow a private use of a public piece of property. This was something that had been seen as necessary condition by the proponents of building a new basketball/hockey arena in order to go forward with the project. So, voting against a street vacation was framed as a vote on whether the City should proceed with this project. That was the big picture. The devil of course always hides in the details.
 
By law when the city vacates a public street it must way the value of what the public benefits from giving up a public resource. Vacating this portion of Occidental Street would provide a public benefit of securing a professional basketball team, since a new arena could then be built in this location. The problem for the proponents was that there was no team waiting to come to Seattle. The NBA Commissioner outlined a process for providing Seattle a new team that would easily push that decision into 2018.  The developer and new owner of the proposed team Chris Hansen, only has until November of 2017 to obtain one, in order to meet the requirements set forth in a written agreement with the city, referred to as a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU).
 
If the council passed the legislation yesterday to vacate the street, Hansen would have gained another three and a half years to secure the team and preserved his right to obtain public financing. Without the street being vacated, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to secure a new team for Seattle by next November, hence a no vote was seen as a death knell for his proposed project. That did not eliminate him or another entrepreneur from attracting a team sometime afterwards, but both the SODO location and public financing would have to be renegotiated with the city – an arduous task.
 
Given that background, it was expected that the council would, perhaps reluctantly, agree to vacate the street. Mayor Murray had come out strongly in favor of that option and a prior vote in a council committee, which preceded the Full Council Committee’s meeting yesterday, had voted 4 to 1 (Sally Bagshaw dissenting) in favor of the legislation. The proponents only needed one more vote to pass it and three of the councilmembers (Debora Juarez, Lorena Gonzalez and Kshama Sawant) had not made their positions known. Lisa Herbold had already been critical of the proposed street vacation. (I should mention, as a former critic of the proposal, that I had no words with her or any of the councilmembers on this topic.)
 
The Full Council meeting on this matter began with Councilmember Tim Burgess proposing 3 cleanup amendments, which would make the arena operations accommodate other spectator events in that area and also address some traffic congestions issues: all solid, logical improvements that passed unanimously. These were necessary changes to assure that the other sport teams would not oppose sharing their turf, something that they had raised doubts about in the past. With this move, Burgess may have intended to eliminate one potential significant industry from stopping the legislation. It foreshadowed a victory around the corner for the arena folks.
 
Next, Councilmember Lisa Herbold offered her 3 amendments. The first was the most dangerous to the arena. She cleverly recognized that the MOU required Hansen to secure a team by November of 2017 otherwise it would expire. Her amendment tied the knot on the deal by, not necessarily denying the street vacation but by conditioning it to meet the requirements of the MOU: team was secured by that date, then the vacation would not take effect.
 
O’Brien smartly countered that passing the amendment would not allow for public funds, therefor passing it increased the chance that the arena would be built with private funds, assuming that Hansen did not ask for public funding as he has in the past. His argument played to the sentiment of most of the other councilmembers, who would prefer to have it built with private money and not publicly financed.
Herbold pointed out that public financing was not her main point, she countered that the public benefit is securing the team, without making that a requirement then the public benefit is not necessarily realized.
 
Her amendment went down 6 to 3 (Herbold, Bagshaw and Juarez being the yes votes.) Juarez had not spoken up so it was a bit of a surprise that she took this strong position. However, it was not certain by any means where she would go on the final vote. With only Herbold and Bagshaw expecting to vote no on the street vacation, it was highly unlikely that the councilmembers who voted against limiting the street vacation would then turn around and vote against approving the street vacation.
 
Herbold’s other two amendments, while offering some constraints on the arena project, passed without debate. Likewise an amendment from Lorena Gonzalez’s that safeguarded freedom of speech and assembly on the property of the vacated street also passed without debate. Gonzalez’s amendment was a very good one, but it could be assumed that it had met her major concerns so that she could vote in favor of the street vacation.
 
Bagshaw’s final statement in which she appealed to her colleagues to change their minds and vote against the street vacation, reminded me of the same pitch I had made to the other councilmembers in the past on other long shot efforts and I truly felt for her – an obvious hopeless pitch.
           
When Council President Bruce Harrell (who did a very fair and efficient chairing of the meeting) asked for the final wrap up statements from the other councilmembers, the absolutely best that opponents could count on was losing in a 5 to 4 vote to approve the legislation.
           
It was possible that Juarez might come out against it, given her vote to support Herbold’s amendment. And with a passionate speech she indeed voted against the legislation. Councilmember Kshama Sawant had been quiet during the debate, with the exception of asking some questions, so it was unclear where she would land. When she gave her final statement it continued in that vein until she concluded that she would vote against it. Suddenly the best scenario had played out – 4 votes against vacating the street.
           
All eyes then turned to councilmember Gonzalez. She had been attentive asked critical questions, had introduced a good amendment that passed, so she could have voted in favor of the legislation and justified it by showing that she had taken her job seriously. But then came the surprise. She continued to present her thoughts in a straightforward fashion (reminding me of Burgess’s style) and concluded that she would vote against the street vacation.
           
Everyone, let me repeat, everyone was shocked by the turn of events. Every sign that this legislation was going to pass had been signaled clearly, and yet somehow on the dais, and apparently not before hand, councilmembers were still deciding how to vote. It was a very democratic moment, one that we too often don’t enjoy witnessing.
           
Hansen will have to rethink his strategy and the Mayor has vowed to continue his efforts to bring a professional basketball team to Seattle, so the game is not over. But for one afternoon a legislative body had a thoughtful discussion on how much to bend the rules for those with the most money on the table.