Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My thoughts about the Aug. 16th Primary

So this blog is 99.9% about cooking, but I'm going to digress today, just for this one post, to write about something that I am equally passionate about: politics.  If you're not a Washington State voter, and even more specifically, not a Seattle voter, you can ignore this post, but if you're local, read on! Primaries are tough, they're in the middle of summer, the elections are just narrowing it down to the final two, and it's not a singular day everyone in the nation is out voting, so primaries tend to get lost in the excitement of summer. But primary ballots have other stuff on them too - propositions and referendums. If you miss a vote on this one, or vote misinformed, there's no hope of correcting that vote later on. This is it, and they're important this year. A few of my friends have mentioned that they would love a rundown of the primary ballot and my personal opinion* on how to vote, so here you go.

King County Proposition 1: Approve

Proposition 1 asks if you want to renew the Veterans and Human Services Levy.  Originally approved in 2005, this levy provides funding for programs that aid veterans and other families in need. I've yet to find anyone that is against this proposition, and for good reason. In my opinion, it's unbelievably important that we take care of our veterans, so vote to approve this proposition!

Seattle City Council, Position 1: Bobby Forch

There are three major players in this race: Jean Godden (incumbent), Maurice Classen and Bobby Forch. Except for Mike O'Brien, and occasionally the Sally's (Bagshaw and Clark), I'm rarely impressed by the current city council, though keep in mind that the tunnel issue (REJECT REF 1) is very much on my mind, and the Seattle City Council has done little to please me in that respect, so I'm pretty eager to see a fresh face in the mix.

I've been fortunate enough to get to know Bobby Forch this summer, as his campaign headquarters are located next door to my office. Bobby is energetic, progressive, passionate and knowledgeable about Seattle and last but not least, damn friendly. But on to the issues. Bobby has worked his way up the ladder during his career at SDOT, showing both his drive and his ability to lead. He's progressive and his genuine top priority is police accountability and public safety, which is fantastic to see. As a Ballard resident, I also really appreciate his push for a transit system that better connects our neighborhoods. I second what the The Stranger said in their endorsement of Bobby though. They put their weight behind him, but wish he'd strongly reconsider his tunnel stance. It's not that he's pro-tunnel, he just isn't anti-tunnel, as, from what I understand, his biggest issue is that a decision just be made, a plan put in action. He's keenly aware of the importance of replacing the Viaduct, and wishes to see it taken down sooner than later. But I really wish he'd be firmly anti-tunnel Ah well. At least he's not pro-tunnel like Classen and Godden.

Vote Bobby Forch. He's smart, progressive and, well, kind of hard not to like.

Seattle City Council, Position 9: Sally Clark

This race is between Sally Clark (incumbent), Dian Ferguson and  Fathi Karshie. Fathi hasn't really gotten a strong campaign going, so I'm afraid that's a non starter - maybe we'll see more of him in future years. Since it's a primary, the goal here is just to be in the top two, so it's pretty clear that Sally Clark and Dian Furguson will be the top two, but if you still care to know who and why...

Sally Clark is an incumbent. She's behind the tunnel, which stinks, but so is Dian Furguson. Otherwise, Clark is progressive and seems to do a good job of being really well informed and giving due diligence to the issues.  My vote's for Clark, but I'm hoping to hear more from both candidates this fall before I make my decision about who to vote for in the November election.

City of Seattle Referendum 1: REJECT, REJECT, REJECT

Okay. Whew. There are few things that rile me up as much as the tunnel does.  I know people just want a decision made and I know people think the tunnel is already started and it's too late to turn back, AND I know that a lot of people just don't know much about the issue and so they say 'might as well'. But please please please don't be apathetic about this.  Following presentations from people on both sides of the issue and after reading hundreds of pages of documents by WDOT and SDOT, research papers by transportation and transit planners, and case studies of similar cases, I had to write a 20 page paper analyzing the Viaduct replacement for my transportation and land use class last fall. I can honestly say if you read all of the documents, it's really hard to imagine anyone thinking the tunnel is a good idea.  I could go on for days, but I'll bore you, so I'm going to give a short list of some main points, and suggest that if you wish to read more, you read this overview from The Stranger, this guest editorial on Crosscut, this collection of interviews, articles and charts from Sightline, and last but not least, if you can, browse the thousand plus page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which can also be found in print at your local branch of the Seattle Public Library.

1. More than two thirds of SR99 traffic enters or exits downtown, yet the tunnel cannot provide downtown exits.  Add to this the fact that there will be tolls and that the tunnel plan provides no funds for transit, and it's easy to understand why the FEIS shows that downtown Seattle traffic will be the same if not worse than if the tunnel simply got taken down and nothing was done. Pioneer Square's narrow, bumpy streets will be flooded with diverted cars and the waterfront that the pro-tunnel campaign keeps touting will be designed for low-flow traffic but will also see a huge surge in traffic looking to avoid the toll and exit downtown.

2. The tunnel will cost nearly $7 billion when it's all said and done, and that's not counting if the tunnel boring machine (the largest ever made) breaks. It's the most expensive option. That's a huge price tag for something that won't improve traffic and will make it worse in many places.

3. Everyone agrees that the viaduct is unsafe. Everyone. But the tunnel plan is the only one that keeps the viaduct up past 2012. It keeps the viaduct intact and in use until 2016.

Really it comes down to this. If you know that two different plans create similar traffic situations, but Option A costs billions more and keeps an unsafe structure open for 4 extra years and Option B includes money for transit and takes the unsafe structure down next year....which one would you pick? (Hint: there is no way in hell you would pick Option A).

And I know what you've heard, "it's too late to stop it now" or "the referendum doesn't matter anyway". Well guess what? It's never too late to stop a project with a $7 billion price tag, especially when the project is only under way because the state started awarding contracts before the FEIS came out (which is illegal, by the way) showing that the tunnel won't actually improve traffic. And yeah, the referendum is about if you wish to authorize the City Council to move forward with agreements, not a way to outright block the tunnel. But it's something. Don't take this lightly.

* Wondering why and how I have such strong opinions? Well, I'm a Masters candidate at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs, so just generally I have studied, read case studies, and written papers about some of these topics (ahem, the tunnel). I also read the endorsements written by my local PCO, progressive groups, local newspapers and local legislative districts. I don't always agree with them, and certainly you can't take what one paper says as the end all to be all, but if you read them all, it's a great way to parse out the consistent bits and decide for yourself what you think.

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