Watching the uproar over management of the city's parks, and that noisy demonstration at City Hall last week by parks activists, some may wonder: what do these people want? After all, didn't city officials follow the usual democratic process, announcing plans and holding hearings and then taking a vote on those public concerts at Gas Works Park or that new parking garage at the zoo?
Well, yes. In the Gas Works case, they held the hearings - after they gave the go-ahead to the concert promoter. As for the zoo garage, the process was so corrupted - closed-door meetings, secret decisions, and a sudden U-turn by the mayor - that City Council member Richard Conlin felt compelled to publicly apologize for himself and the rest of City Hall.
Phinney Ridge neighbors had been told the garage would be built at a south zoo location and, most importantly, be underground. But as the P-Ireported last October: "Within a three-week period last fall, zoo officials told council members about the new location for the $16.2 million garage, and then held an open house to tell neighbors. The council held a public hearing two days later, and approved the plan two weeks after that." The garage had suddenly been moved to the west side, would rise four stories above ground, and was a go.
A prime reason given for the turnaround was the mayor's claim that a buried garage was too costly. You want costs? A study of city figures by the Phinney Ridge Community Council, Save Our Zoo and Phinney Ridge neighbors argues that an above-ground garage will cost twice what the mayor claims - $31 million under a 20-year financing plan, with an $11 million net loss to taxpayers. The groups also believe the city and zoo have over-projected parking-garage revenue by almost $8 million, which could grow the net loss to $19 million. The City Council, in the midst of its budgeting process, hasn't yet committed to funding garage construction. Considering City Hall's history of parking garage decisions - publicly funding a garage for Nordstrom and the upscale and privately owned Pacific Place shopping center, or giving away a city-built garage to the state Convention Center, a public corporation - you'd think someone would notice another garage boondoggle in the making. Oh well, once it happens, they can always hold hearings.