State Politics, Monorail

STATE POLITICS

Set your environmental security alert to red: The Washington Farm Bureau has announced it will put a property rights initiative on the ballot in 2006. Taking inspiration from Oregon's hideous Measure 37 passed in 2004, the Farm Bureau's initiative "will likely include a provision that government compensate owners whenever regulations reduce property values . . . " according to the Farm Bureau's August newsletter. The Farm Bureau is taking aim at the state's Growth Management Act that preserves rural land from sprawl. "Their basic goal is to create loopholes that developers will exploit," says Aaron Ostrom, executive director of Futurewise—a leading green land-use group. Ostrom says the Farm Bureau has plenty of money to buy its way onto the ballot. Ten years ago, Washingtonians rejected Referendum 48 that would have gutted land use and zoning protections and Ostrom believes the state's electorate has not changed its mind since then. Says Ostrom, "People in Washington aren't interested in throwing land protection out the window." GEORGE HOWLAND JR.

MONORAIL

It's ironic that Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) board member Cindi Laws would make bigoted allegations that opposition to the project was somehow based on Jews' religious faith. If any project is being sustained on faith alone, it's the $11 billion monorail. Project leaders can talk up a redesign, make noise about shortening the 13.7-mile line, proclaim they have a "Monorail Action Plan," and even hire an interim executive director, as they did last week (new guy John Haley's monorail experience is troubleshooting the privately financed, four-mile Las Vegas monorail, which has been plagued by breakdowns, low ridership, and now an investigation into its tax status as, yes, a charity). They can thusly sing to the choir and claim the dream is still alive. But so far this miracle's not going to happen. At the end of the day, if SMP hasn't responsibly resolved its collection-plate deficit—a 30 percent revenue shortfall the agency has been unable to overcome from the first day—there is only one option left: a proper burial. Amen. RICK ANDERSON

Mayor Greg Nickels' Sept. 15 deadline for the SMP to decide on putting a new plan before the voters or risk losing its city permits also creates a tight schedule for state auditor Brian Sonntag. Sonntag wants the results of his current SMP audit out before the deadline. "We're feeling a little bit of pressure" he says. Nevertheless, he still expects the audit to be completed by the end of August and will issue a written report about 10 days later. That's cutting it close, but the audit's scope is narrower than it might have been. Since the SMP's board hasn't approved either the finance plan or the bid, Sonntag's office will not be weighing in on those. It will look at issues such as transparency and conflicts of interest. However, if and when the SMP does approve a plan, Sonntag could be back. And if the Tim Eyman–sponsored I-900 passes in November, he'll have expanded powers to audit local public agencies. KNUTE BERGER

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