Monorail rolling on

Faced with the threat of a lawsuit, the Seattle City Council almost took action recently on the Monorail Initiative.

This sudden surge proved a false alarm, as legislators generously gave themselves another month to think about things; council member Heidi Wills' last-minute resolution never came to a vote. But the council can't indefinitely duck the issues raised by Initiative 41, approved by 52 percent of Seattle voters in 1997.

Wills' resolution states that the city has studied the proposed 41-mile, X-shaped monorail system and found it unfeasible to construct. Wills had intended it, in part, to head off a threatened lawsuit (by David Huber, a Seattle attorney and neighborhood activist) contending that city officials have illegally failed to properly implement the initiative.

Wills also included language encouraging the Elevated Transportation Company (the entity created to study and implement the system) to remain intact, and even dangled the carrot of a few city dollars to complete ETC's report on its two years of monorail study. Hardly big promises, but council consensus proved elusive even for this kinder, gentler death warrant for the monorail effort.

As two years have passed since the initiative took effect, the council can simply repeal it and move on—a tempting option for monorail doubters.

Wills says there is little support for continued city funding of the ETC or for a proposed $2 million study of a downtown monorail circulator line. But, she supports "keeping the energy, the enthusiasm, and the ideas of the ETC at the table" in future transportation planning efforts.

But ETC board members don't like the proposal that the group function as "a smaller-scale public development authority" supported by donations and grant funds. "We are looking for a revenue stream. We want to see us in the same category as every other Seattle public development authority," says board vice-chair Kristina Hill. The ETC wants Seattle to fork over a portion of the revenue it receives from the operation of the current Seattle Center monorail.

Hill also rejects the contentions that the total monorail package is unfeasible. "That's not our conclusion," she says. "And I don't know who's studied it more than we have." The discussion of private sector monorail funding is at a stalemate, she says. Private companies who have investigated the monorail proposal have declined to go any further because city leaders don't appear to support the concept. And city leaders point to this hesitancy as proof the private sector isn't interested.

Hill says ETC board members are disappointed by the city's dismissive attitude. Its membership includes several people who weren't initially monorail supporters, but now think the concept could work, she says. "Here we were asked to serve and our results aren't taken as a matter of substance, they're being treated as politics." The ETC board hopes to meet with council members over the next month to share the results of their two years of study; Wills' resolution faces a May 29 vote.

Live-aboard flameout

My least favorite thing about e-mail is that it provides hard evidence to journalists that our little post-story debates often prove far more interesting than the articles themselves.

Take this reply I wrote to a reader who charged that "my heart wasn't in" a recent article profiling live-aboard boaters who are under attack by the State Department of Natural Resources and State Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher:

"I may need to ramp up my rage next time I write about this topic, because I am quite annoyed at Belcher's anti-live-aboard stance. This comes in part from a bias formed when I was editor of the Lake Union Review (1988- 94). In covering stories, I never found a single Lake Union person (dock owners, house boaters, live-aboards, waterfront business people) who didn't passionately hate the DNR—largely because the Olympia bureaucrats go out of their way to screw with people every time one of those silly leases comes due.

"My main objection to Belcher's latest crusade is that she feels no obligation to explain why she's essentially evicting some 3,000 Washington residents from their homes. Comparing a few squatters anchored on Eagle Harbor with Seattle residents who pay rent, license their boats, and pay property taxes like every other renter does (through their rent) is patently absurd. Live-aboard boaters have been around forever and they aren't doing any demonstrable harm to the lake—or to the state government, for that matter. Unless there is some compelling reason shown for government intervention in this situation, the DNR should shut up and go back to sorting papers or whatever the hell it does."

Fish house follies

Despite having specifically been told not to by The Seattle Times editorial board, the council went and approved a preliminary agreement with the Seattle Aquarium Society about the new super-duper waterfront aquarium.

Bad, bad office-holders. But, come to think of it, if the Society can really raise $100 million in donations, extort $36 million from other governmental entities, and put together a bond scheme to raise another $40 million, then the city's agreed-upon contribution ($21 million, plus the property) doesn't look so bad. The concern is that these ambitious goals (and those inevitable cost overruns) combined with the momentum of the project could force the city into a financial bailout somewhere down the line.

The challenge then would be where to get the cash. A new aquarium ranked last in a recent city voters' poll on potential ballot issues (not surprising, seeing as the facility's major constituency is high school kids from Blaine). Sure, it looks like a good deal if everything works perfectly, but you can't blame the doubters for doubting this time.

 
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