Growing the concrete jungle

If the new, improved Convention Center turns out to be not to your liking, don't blame Peter Steinbrueck. The City Council's lone architect brought back memories of former council member Charlie Chong in showing up on the losing end of a long series of votes.

At an April 2 meeting, Peter unsuccessfully attempted to: narrow the proposed truck bridge over Pike Street (by a vote of 7-2); narrow an accompanying pedestrian bridge (6-3); shrink the arched glass canopy above the two bridges (5-4); scale down a portion of the center over Eighth Avenue (7-2); and provide an additional $405,000 in mitigation funds to neighborhood nonprofit organizations (7-2). Although Nick Licata joined Steinbrueck on all these votes, he at least showed some legislative panache by later voting in favor of several provisions he had previously tried to amend; Peter just said "no."

On the other hand, the council did vote to make the Convention Center folks wash the windows on that humongous glass arch from time to time. That'll keep 'em in line.

A few observations: Why must everyone call the glass arch a "galleria"? Not only is that non-word commonly used to refer to an atrium space, it's the actual name of the Convention Center's existing atrium-style retail/office area. And wasn't it this columnist who predicted the center backers would get most everything they wanted for an extra million in mitigation money?

OK, it only cost 'em $480,000 extra, but Mondays are half-price days at City Hall.

Skeptics in the house

A Seattle citizens committee formed to review public/private partnerships had some unusual guest speakers last Thursday: a panel of admitted critics of the practice.

Although the committee's own membership includes a couple of known doubters (Civic Foundation administrator Brian Livingston and activist Dan Norton, a leader of the opposition to reopening Pine Street), all the guest speakers thus far have been public/private partnership experts intent on helping the city create guidelines for future dealmaking.

Attorney Rick Aramburu, a critic of the city's Nordstrom parking garage deal, notes that subsidizing any private business could create jobs. Any deal with public money should be held to a higher standard, he says. "There needs to be a hard set of demonstrable public benefits."

Chris Van Dyk, leader of ballot box battles against new stadiums for the Mariners and Seahawks, told the committee that recent Supreme Court decisions have removed any hope of legal recourse for public/private partnership opponents. Legally, the city doesn't have to get a good deal; "the simple statement by a legislative body that there is [any] public benefit is good enough," he noted.

All of which seems to indicate that the only logical place to provide oversight is early in the process, before city officials sign on the dotted line. The public/private partnership committee will draft its recommendations at two May meetings and present them to the City Council in early June.

Sharing the wealth

A few economic facts of life for the coming campaign. According to the Seattle City Clerk's office, the Seattle Progressive Coalition has $148 in its campaign kitty, while the state's Realtors have $327,000 in their candidates fund and $56,675 in their issues fund.

Bill's skank account

As long as we're talking about donations, a check of the Federal Elections Commission Web site shows that Washington residents were the 18th-most-generous state in donating money to President Clinton's $3.7 million-and-counting legal defense fund.

Among the 910 Washington state givers were a few notables, including actor Tom Skerritt ($200) and Seattle Weekly editor Knute Berger ($75). In the contrasts department, Stimson Bullitt gave $3,000, Dorothy Bullitt just $45. Oh, and Wenatchee's James Bush gave five bucks, while the checkbook of Seattle's James Bush never left the drawer.

Council: Cheryl's in

Former council member Cheryl Chow wants to change her title to "future council member." The candidate and some 500 of her closest friends filled the Westin Hotel's Grand Ballroom in the early morning hours of April 8 for a campaign kickoff. The highlight was the formal flag salute: To the surprise of no one, temporary elementary school principal Cheryl managed to organize a color guard during her few months at McGilvra Elementary. (If she'd had a year there, she'd have all the kids marching in formation.)

Chow's speech focused on a need for more quality "community play spaces," such as parks, playgrounds, and community centers, and a focus on meeting the needs of children. "We can build a city where children don't just survive—they succeed," she said, adding, "I'm not pushy, but I'm persistent, and I like to get things done."

Alas, poor Pansy

The importance of effective signage was illustrated by council president Sue Donaldson at a recent council briefings meeting. During a discussion of chemical use by the Seattle Parks Department, Donaldson related the story of how her then-4-year-old daughter took her guinea pig for a romp on a park lawn, only to have the critter expire from ingesting pesticide-tainted grass. "If there had been a sign saying, 'Please, no grazing guinea pigs,'" she said, "we would still have Pansy at our house."

Cash only, please

A scary headline on a story posted March 31 on the Seattle Times Web site turned out to be one word short. The headline: "Planned developments prompt Issaquah's deal to buy Seattle." The missing last word: "water."

 
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