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On Monday, June 14, the Council voted to approve the ordinance accepting the monorail alignment. I cast the only 'no' vote. The Council worked hard on this very complex and challenging set of decisions that have so much potential impact on our communities, and made many changes to the alignment that improved it. However, I believe that:
And there remain concerns about the projectís finances and impacts as a whole.
The basic alignment from Ballard to West Seattle via downtown was set in the 2002 vote, and many details were worked out before the Council began its work. The Council made good progress in addressing many others, especially in moving the alignment out from over the sidewalk on Second Avenue, California, and Harrison.
There are other places along the alignment where I was disappointed in the decision, but where positive outcomes are still possible. The compromise allowing a horizontal station at Elliott and Mercer should make that station less obtrusive, and the direction to work out issues in the King Street Station area will hopefully resolve those.
However, important neighborhoods concerns remain. A crucial one is in Crown Hill/15th Avenue NW in Ballard. Four Councilmembers expressed serious concern and asked for further study, but the other five Councilmembers refused to explore additional options to having the monorail train travel over the sidewalk 6 feet from the property line -- in an area zoned neighborhood commercial, where we require building out to that property line to promote a good pedestrian environment.
It is clear that a key factor in selecting the Seattle Center route were concerns of the business community about having the monorail near the QFC site, concerns of the arts groups about having the monorail in front of their properties along Mercer, and concerns of the Uptown community that the monorail would cut off the community from the Seattle Center. We have been told that the monorail would be welcomed by property owners and stimulate development. John Coney, of the Uptown Alliance, who supported the Seattle Center route, and whom I very much respect, put it candidly when he said publicly "Monorail is great if you're a few blocks away, but if it's by your door it's a problem."
The concerns of the business, neighborhood, and arts groups should have been addressed with design, cooperative development, and careful planning - not foisted off on the public commons by running a transportation system through the heart of what we advertise as our premier gathering place.
Finally, the continued push for hasty decision-making continues to trouble me. Constructing a 14 mile aerial structure through our neighborhoods requires careful and prudent design, and the funding appears to be so marginal that when questions are raised the Council has been told that delaying a week or adding a vital mitigation will kill the project. Crucial decisions are being made with only sketchy designs, and without guarantees that what we are shown will ultimately be constructed. These concerns will not be resolved by turning over the public right-of-way to a group of multinational corporations. I am skeptical that a contract can be written to ensure against cost overruns, poor design, and building on the cheap because the corporation won't be responsible for long-run costs.
Research shows that all over the world, multi-billion dollar megaprojects have a track record of underestimating their costs by 20 to 50%. We've already experienced that with Sound Transit, and I don't think we can afford another such experience. Citizens were deeply divided on the monorail vote, and that division has deepened as alignment and financial issues have come under scrutiny.
Voting "no" is not easy, but I also know that there are many people in Seattle who share my concerns. As an elected official I embrace the responsibility of making difficult choices. I would be relieved to be proven wrong, but I have given careful thought to the issues before us and continue to have serious doubts about some very important items, and therefore voted against the ordinance.
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MAGNUSON PARK PLAN APPROVED
On Monday, June 14, the City Council unanimously approved the Master Plan for the Sand Point Magnuson Park Drainage, Wetland/Habitat Complex & Sports Fields/Courts Project. The Council amended the Mayor's proposal to reduce the number of fields from 15 to 13, reduce the number of lighted fields from 11 to 7, and provide greater assurance that the wetland/habitat complex would be constructed and function successfully. The compromise clears the way for construction of the initial set of 4 fields and development of the wetland/habitat complex, with further development dependent on securing additional resources.
The initial plan would have created the largest complex of lit fields in Seattle, while the revised plan is comparable to the complex at Woodland Park. While there was strong support for the athletic fields development, concerns had been raised by neighbors about the impact of lights, and by environmental organizations about the loss of habitat and the viability of the new wetland/habitat complex. In addition to the reduced number of fields, the compromise included provisions that field lights must be turned off no later than 10 p.m., with no lights on Sundays, that wetlands development will begin in the first phase of the project, and that there will be a wetlands/natural area monitoring and adaptive management plan for monitoring progress at key stages of creating the new wetland. In addition, the Council approved a separate resolution creating a citizen project advisory committee that will advise the Parks Department and report to the Council's Parks Committee on progress of the Magnuson Park project.
The plan for the former Sand Point Naval Air Station includes reuse of residential buildings for low-income housing and of the administrative buildings for community facilities. Development has already begun on an off-leash area, a community garden, and several other elements for the open space, much of which is covered with pavement or degraded with toxic chemicals. The new community garden and p-patch was officially opened on Saturday, June 5.
The new projects will include four full-size sports fields with natural grass surfaces and no lights (the " sports meadow"), a wetland/habitat complex of approximately 65 acres with an open water lagoon connection to Lake Washington between the existing swimming beach and the boat launch, and numerous other activity areas, roads and parking areas, and restrooms and other facilities. The seven all-weather lighted fields are anticipated to include one full-size baseball field, two smaller baseball/softball fields, a rugby field, and three full-size soccer fields, each of which can be divided in half for youth soccer games. Specific decisions on the nature of the lights for these fields will be made through an additional Council process next year.
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SCOOTERS AND SEGWAYS ORDINANCE
On Tuesday, July 6, the Council will adopt an ordinance to regulate Segways and motorized foot scooters in the City. The ordinance was developed by my office in response to community concerns, and has also benefited from extensive public comment.
The goal of the ordinance is to create a regulatory structure for these new transportation options while 1) protecting the pedestrian environment, 2) protecting neighborhoods from adverse impacts, and 3) promoting the safety of those who use them.
The major community concern has been over the proliferation of gas-powered foot scooters. These are noisy, can go up to 35 mph, and often lack basic safety devices. State law limits our ability to regulate, and does not permit the City to prohibit them or to require drivers licenses. Our ordinance restricts them to streets and alleys, sets a minimum age of 16, and requires them to have lights, brakes, and working mufflers.
The ordinance allows Segways and electric scooters, which are slower and quieter, to operate on sidewalks, in alleys, and in most streets, but prohibits them on public paths, in parks, in bike lanes, in schoolyards, or on major streets. In some congested areas, they will be limited to 5 mph. These restrictions do not apply to persons with disabilities. All of these devices will be required to yield to pedestrians. Carrying passengers on scooters will be prohibited, and scooter riders will be required to wear helmets. Last year there were 5900 injury accidents involving motorized scooters, 85% of them to children under 16.
Other new regulations may be needed as new devices enter the commercial market, but this ordinance should address key current concerns.
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On Monday, June 28, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance accepting a revised agreement with Bellevue, Mercer Island, King County and the State to clear the way for development of light rail over I-90 to Bellevue and beyond. This ordinance is the result of a complex series of negotiations that began with the suburban cities seeking more automobile capacity, while Seattle pushed for the 1976 plan to convert the center lanes to light rail.
The compromise provides space for light rail by adding two additional lanes reserved for buses and carpools to the outer edges of the bridges. Amendments I added to the City's ordinance adopting the plan emphasized that these actions should happen together, and that the new agreement does not change the original commitment to "no more than three general-purpose lanes in each direction".
The next step will be for Sound Transit to prepare its Phase II plan and take that to the voters in either 2005 or 2006. Significant funds are already reserved for eastside transit connections in the current plan, and this will free those for the I-90 light rail project. Creating this compromise involved a delicate dance with our suburban partners, and the successful completion of the agreement is a major milestone towards a more cooperative regional transportation approach.
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"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant."
-- Maya Angelou
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