Singing Those PDA Blues

In a result as shocking as US Rep. Jim McDermott's recent re-election, the Pike Place Market Constituency last week resoundingly socked market director Shelly Yapp with a vote of no confidence. The 62-21 tally by the group of market merchants and supporters is nonbinding and sure to be ignored by Yapp's real "employer," the Pike Place Preservation and Development Authority council, some of whose members took advantage of the press coverage of the vote to lavishly praise their Shelly. Two days later, a PDA committee re-examined controversial changes in how market daystall tables are assigned and decided they were right. The PDA council was expected to rubber-stamp the changes and forward them to the Seattle City Council.

And so goes business as usual at another city PDA. Nine of the state's 40 active public development authorities are within the city of Seattle, performing functions ranging from building low-income housing (the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program) to running the PacMed health services network. These entities are kept financially separate from the city, although they have municipality-like financial powers, including the power to issue tax-exempt bonds. The PDA's board of directors calls the shots, although the city can shut down the entire operation, as it did the financially troubled Central Area PDA in 1993.

But, short of imposing this death penalty, City Hall generally gives PDAs the hands-off treatment. Most PDA board members are appointed by the mayor and routinely confirmed by the City Council. The chair of PacMed's PDA board was so taken aback by media interest in the long-term lease of the Beacon Hill hospital that she told a reporter, "We function as a private nonprofit [organization]." Like nonprofits, PDA boards are not eager to add watchdogs or critics—just folks who will fit in.

In this atmosphere, a politically connected executive director such as Yapp can, over time, hand-pick most of her own board members. Sent in to save the market from those nasty New York investors nine years ago, Yapp received full cooperation from former Mayor Norm Rice. (One of his last acts as mayor was to reappoint Yapp's slippery pal John Finke, a guy who thinks business ethics is the title of a college course.) She is also a longtime political ally of Rice's successor, Paul Schell (who, when last we checked, was busy appointing a politico with no courtroom experience as a municipal court judge).

The concentration of power in Yapp's pocket is one reason the market constituency is so furious at a pair of its appointees for supporting her plan to expand the existing advantages farmers have over craftspeople in the assignment of daystall tables. Although the constituency recalled the two PDA council representatives (as allowed under its charter), the recall has been ignored by the city. Council Parks Committee chair Nick Licata offered to hold a public hearing if four of his colleagues supported it (not the recall, just holding a hearing). It never happened. The toughest stand the City Council has taken thus far is to return the daystall changes to the PDA for more discussion. The PDA sent 'em right back.

To be fair, Yapp has been up front about her vision for the market. She wants to draw wealthy downtown condo dwellers by emphasizing produce sales. The number of permanent crafts merchants has been frozen and is being reduced through attrition. She has pushed out borderline businesses and raised rents. The conflicts in the market will continue, and Yapp will continue to go about her corporate business.

But the market isn't a corporation—it's a treasured landmark and a part of Seattle history and culture. How long will Seattle citizens accept a system that gives them no control over its operation?

Plowing farms under

It was a classic story of well-meaning lawmaking gone awry: The Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association thought it had found the perfect spot for several fields—a former farm in the Sammamish Valley known as the Muller property. Unfortunately, part of the property lies in a designated Agricultural Production District and the land can only be used for agricultural purposes.

But there's no political problem that can't be made worse by inept lawmaking. First, some King County Council members tried to add sports fields as an allowed use in this specific APD. This approach ran into trouble when a Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that, council vote or no, sports fields are not an "agricultural use." Now a group of state senators, including Seattle's Ken Jacobsen, have tucked language in a bill (SB 5078) that would allow designated agricultural lands to be converted to sports field complexes and other recreation facilities.

This legislation is especially annoying because county taxpayers have coughed up millions to purchase the development rights for agricultural lands (including $400,000 to "save" the very farm the Lake Washington soccer folks want to convert). These use restrictions have held down property values in APDs, making our few remaining farms easy pickings for sports leagues. Idiotically enough, even though this legislation will effectively gut protections for designated agricultural lands everywhere else, it may not affect the Muller property, which is also protected by use restrictions permanently attached to its deed.

Chet: He's back

H. Bruce Miller, a columnist for Cascadia News Features, is pushing an experienced candidate for US president—Chester Alan Arthur. Miller, long a fan of the 21st president, touts his candidate as scandal-proof. "The fact that Arthur has been dead since 1886 is his greatest asset in today's Puritanical political climate," he claims. Well, it didn't work for Thomas Jefferson. . . .

 
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