MAKING IT WORK
January 30, 2003, Volume v, Issue 1
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
REPLACING THE ALASKA WAY VIADUCT
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND TERRORISM
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
NEW ALTERNATIVE 'SURFACES' FOR REPLACING THE ALASKA WAY VIADUCT
The Alaskan Way Viaduct has earthquake damage, and is deteriorating.
So is the associated Seawall that protects the waterfront area from the
waters of Elliott Bay. Few dispute the urgency of taking action to
protect safety and ensure that our transportation system keeps
functioning. However, there is significant disagreement about the most
effective - and affordable - action to address these issues.
Fortunately, in recent months a new alternative has 'surfaced'.
Integrating the replacement for the Viaduct with the existing street
grid could lead to opportunities to create a better and safer
transportation system that works in harmony with the urban environment.
The right kind of plan can bring together good urban design, efficient
transportation, and environmental enhancement, and create a much
healthier waterfront for future generations.
With a road on the surface, the downtown waterfront could be centered
around a well-designed boulevard, like the Westside Highway in New York
or the Embarcadero in San Francisco. These cities, where traffic
congestion is much worse than it is in Seattle, took the bold step to
reject aerial freeways and accept the challenge to liberate their
waterfronts. We could do the same in Seattle, seizing the opportunity
and challenge to encourage a Seattle downtown waterfront with more and
better open space and well-designed mixed use development.
Many of those concerned about the urban environment believe the best
alternative is a tunnel system. Unfortunately, projected costs for
fully reconstructing the Route 99 corridor from Mercer to Spokane are
estimated at over $10 billion, and even the current, scaled-down tunnel
alternative is projected to cost around $4 billion. The dream many
urban designers have of removing the aerial viaduct, which cuts off
downtown from the waterfront and shadows and blights valuable urban
land, is a powerful dream. But, a tunnel may be beyond our reach.
Given that, maybe we should take a long look at replacing the viaduct
with an expanded Alaskan Way Boulevard, including a series of steps to
reduce the amount of traffic using Alaskan Way and Highway 99. The
surface alternative could cost much less than either a tunnel or aerial
alternative. This could free up funding for transportation improvements
to move freight more effectively through other corridors and shift
automobile users onto transit. It would also provide views over Elliott
Bay, like those that make the current Viaduct so attractive to drivers.
Plans for the Viaduct suffered a blow with the defeat of Referendum 51,
which would have provided $450 million to complete the design and begin
work. Planning is continuing with $5 million in City funds, enough to
keep the project going through the spring. City and State officials
will lobby the legislature to provide funds to move forward with
planning and design, and then seek construction funding through the
proposed Regional Transportation Improvement District or future state
The setback in project planning could become a step forward if it
allows fully reviewing a wider range of alternatives. Key questions
include whether patching up the existing viaduct is the only realistic
option in the current funding environment, whether a relatively low cost
surface replacement can handle transportation demands and enhance the
urban environment, and whether even the stripped-down tunnel alternative
is viable, given the resources that might be available.
I am encouraging planners to widen their horizons and explore the
surface alternative. This must involve examining how to manage crucial
freight issues (possibly including a freight ferry from Pier 91 to
Harbor Island?), as well as how to implement increased transit.
Construction of the monorail could potentially remove many automobile
drivers from the Viaduct. With the right kind of design and creativity,
we could improve connections to SR 519, the Spokane Street Viaduct, and
the stadium area, as well as reconnect the street grid in South Lake
Union to improve access and mobility.
Replacing the Viaduct and reworking Seattle's downtown waterfront may
be the largest civic investment that we will make over the next
generation, and could reshape the future for our children. We must
explore a range of options to find the one that works best for the whole
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LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND TERRORISM
When the two planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001,
it was the New York City Fire and Police Departments who responded, and
who suffered many deaths in the resultant catastrophe. As the United
States enters an era of our national life when acts of terror are a
possibility anywhere in the country, local governments will be the first
responders, and local police, fire, and health departments will be on
the front line. It won't be the staff of the Department of Homeland
That is why it is so alarming that the debate on the national level has
ignored the urgent need for funding for local governments, funding that
can improve our real security, and instead has focused on ways to
compromise the rights we are struggling to defend and to divert local
law enforcement to that end rather than to its core mission of
protecting public safety.
Cities and counties have spent more than $3 billion in preparation and
precautions for possible terrorist attacks. More than a third of those
governments have cut back on essential public services to fund these
efforts. Yet, while the Homeland Security Act authorized $3.5 billion
for a "first responder initiative", Congress and the President have
failed to appropriate money to carry out this commitment. The very
areas of government that have been hit hardest by the recession, that
are required by law (unlike the federal government) to have balanced
budgets, and that have the most limited range of potential funding
resources, are being required to fund this national effort.
As Mayor Michael Guido of Dearborn, Michigan, recently noted: "I don't
think anyone could have predicted that national defense would be paid
for by property taxes."
The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials are responsible
to locally elected bodies, and enforce laws passed by state legislatures
and local councils. Effective cooperation between national and local
law enforcement is important to address real issues of threatened or
actual terrorist acts. However, it is also important for local
governments to stand up for basic human rights. Local authority must
not be misused in ways that threaten those rights or compromise our
basic mission of public safety.
Many Americans are disturbed by the sweeping authority given to the
federal government by the so-called "Patriot Act", which has many
troubling clauses that essentially suspend rights in the pursuit of
terrorist suspects and allow widespread surveillance of Americans in
their daily lives, even if no crime is suspected. A number of cities
have passed resolutions critical of the Patriot Act. The Seattle City
Council will soon consider a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Heidi
Wills taking a similar stand. I am cosponsoring the resolution, and
strongly support it.
We have already had several incidents in Seattle, including attempts to
suspend the use of food stamps at grocery stores owned by Somali
immigrants, threats to individuals who post information on the web about
travel to Cuba, and the detention of people like Nadin Hamoui, a Syrian
college student who was detained for nine months along with her father
and mother. We have also had requests from federal authorities to
modify or repeal Seattle's police surveillance statute, which provides
civilian oversight over the collection of data about individuals when no
crime is suspected or being investigated. These actions do not protect
us from terrorists, but allow the harassment of people in the pursuit of
their daily lives or the exercise of their rights of free speech and
We have also had suggestions that local law enforcement should enforce
immigration laws. In response to this, on Monday, January 27, the
Council unanimously approved an ordinance codifying current procedures
used by the Seattle Police Department. These procedures make it clear
that the City's role is to protect public safety and enforce local
criminal laws. Under the Police regulation and the statute, City
employees are not enforcement agents for federal immigration laws, and
only inquire about immigration status if a Police officer has reasonable
suspicion to believe that a person is committing or has committed a
criminal-law violation. This is consistent with current federal law
regarding local responsibility in relation to immigration statutes.
This ordinance will encourage persons who are victims or witnesses to
crimes to come forward without fear of possible irregularities in their
immigration status. This will not only make it less likely that
immigrants will be victims of crime, but will protect the public safety
of all Seattle residents.
It will also make it clear that it is not appropriate for City
enforcement resources to be spent on federal immigration violations,
ensuring that these resources will be used to protect public safety in
Seattle. Questioning the legal status of immigrants has nothing to do
with preventing or fighting terrorism - it would only be another
unfunded burden on local authorities that have more important things to
Public safety is the first and primary responsibility of government,
and we must effectively and intelligently conduct the struggle against
terrorism. But we will have already surrendered without a struggle,
regardless of what terrorist acts take place, if we abandon our
democratic ideals and our civil liberties. That is what we are fighting
to protect, and what terrorists are fighting to eliminate. As Benjamin
Franklin warned: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a
little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
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"Let America be the dream that the dreamers dreamed -
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
O, let America be America again -
The land that never has been yet -
And yet must be-the land where every man is free.
O, yes, I say it plain.
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!"
-- Excerpts from "Let America Be America Again" Langston Hughes
"In Iran, there is beautiful poetry and everything turns out a
disaster. Here the poetry is not so beautiful, but people are free to
discover the best in themselves; that's why America has happy endings.
Here it's a negative system: there is no entrenched despotism, no will
to dominate. We immigrants can remake the whole country if we want to.
It's ours for the taking, as if there is a perpetual clean slate where
nobody is ever owed anything. I'll tell you, the Iranian revolution was
a disaster for Iran and a success for America, because it brought a lot
of talented, ambitious Iranians here. Every time there is a disaster in
the Third World, it's a good thing for America, since the best of the
middle class finds its way here."
-- Iranian immigrant Jamsheed Ameri
Citizen participation and
engagement are critical for maintaining democracy --
fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my
hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues,
inspire you to get involved, and that together we can
make things work better in this great city. Please send
me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and
useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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