When the new Republican-led Senate announced its committee assignments last week, one message was clear: More highways, and less environmental protection, are at the top of the 2003 agenda.

Among other sweeping changes, the Transportation Committee, formerly headed by Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen, is now the Highways and Transportation Committee, headed by Eastside Sen. Jim Horn, the Republican most responsible for the inclusion of nearly $8 billion for Interstate 405 in Referendum 51, the failed statewide gas-tax plan.

The new regime casts fresh doubt on R-51 opponents’ ability to work with the Senate leadership to craft a more balanced, transit-friendly alternative to the roads-heavy gas-tax bill. But environmental activists who fought R-51 don’t see the change as a permanent setback. “Jim Horn was never someone we had a lot of hope of working with,” says Aaron Ostrom, director of 1000 Friends of Washington, which celebrated R-51’s defeat election night. “I think it just means their tenure in the majority will be short-lived.” . . .


Nick Licata, head of the erstwhile Monorail Ad Hoc Committee, will no longer be in charge of shepherding monorail business through the Seattle City Council. Instead, that job will fall to monorail skeptic Richard Conlin, whose transportation committee will take over the monorail committee’s former duties. Will his skepticism affect the council member’s ability to fairly judge all things monorail? “I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” Conlin says tersely. . . .

The Hahn building, a squat, turn-of-the-century structure at the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street, has been through a lot in the past six months. First, its owner, Douglas Buck, kicked out the 34 very-low-income tenants. Then he applied for a permit to demolish the historic building and replace it with a sand-colored, outsized condo tower. In August, prodded by low-income-housing advocates, the city’s housing office director, Cynthia Parker, agreed to enforce Buck’s loan agreement with the city, which stipulated that the building had to remain in use as low-income housing until the $280,000 loan was paid. Parker didn’t promise the building would be reoccupied by low-income tenants. But she did agree, says downtown housing activist Joe Martin, to “try to get something out of the deal, like replacement housing.” And she agreed to involve housing advocates in the negotiations. Then she quit.

Fast forward to last week, when the housing office announced abruptly that it had reached an agreement with the building’s owner: Buck would pay back the loan, plus restitution of $60,000. In exchange, he would be free to build whatever he wanted. Although Joanne LaTuchie, the housing office official who worked on the Hahn loan after Parker’s departure, did not return calls for comment, a letter she sent to the Seattle Displacement Coalition says the $60,000 will be spent on “new affordable-housing units.” Martin says the pending demolition is another example of the city’s policy of displacing low-income tenants and redeveloping their former homes: “Maybe they should take that money and find a permanent place for Tent City, because that’s where we’re driving everybody.” Less facetiously, “Whatever money comes from the Hahn building should be used to preserve housing for people who are destitute.”

Erica C. Barnett