Lights, camera, controversy

Seated in plastic chairs on a studio riser, we all sat attentively as the "audience coordinator" taught us clapping signals.

Yes, it was off to the television studio for an audience with the mighty Ken Schram and KOMO's Town Meeting. Along with about 70 other lucky folks, this columnist had made the trek to the studio near Seattle Center to see city attorney Mark Sidran debate Matthew Fox, rock guitarist and former City Council aide, over the city's latest efforts to control noise and license clubs which offer live music and dancing.

Having signed a photo release, made it through the metal detector, and survived a green room screening of Jeopardy!, the hardy group sat and waited for the show to start. Fox, having fortunately saved at least one suit from his year at City Hall, was first to arrive, looking dapper in swirly red tie, long hair, and beard. Sidran wore a lawyer's suit and dragged along a handcart filled with case files from two notorious now-closed Seattle clubs, the Iguana Cantina and the Celebrity. In a last-minute maneuver which delighted the crowd, the floor director brought out the powder brush to lessen the glare from Sidran's extra-large forehead.

One of the strengths of Town Meeting has always been its success in getting so many important players in any debate into its studio audience (hence the metal detector). Last Wednesday's taping (the show was screened Sunday evening) was no exception. Several leaders of the effort to tighten noise regulations were there, along with club owners, club neighbors, and various music/arts scenesters.

As for the main combatants, Sidran was his usual authoritative self, quoting figures and shrugging off critics with aplomb. Fox was awesome—well-prepared, well-spoken, and less combative than usual. Score it a TKO for Fox in Round Five.

One more thing. In case you were wondering, the four clapping signals tell you when: 1) it's almost time to clap; 2) it's time to clap; 3) it's time to clap loudly; and 4) it's time to taper off your clapping in an orderly fashion. (Haven't you always wondered how those TV shows accomplished that?)

Undergrounding groundswell?

Battered, but not beaten, advocates for undergrounding Sound Transit's light rail lines in Southeast Seattle are taking to the ballot. Last Tuesday, the newly formed Neighborhoods First! Coalition filed Initiative 47, which would mandate that all new light rail lines within city limits be placed in tunnels, not along surface streets.

The coalition has 180 days to gather some 18,830 signatures (10 percent of the number of votes in the last mayoral election). Coalition coordinator George Curtis says his group will get the signatures, but probably not in time to place the initiative on the ballot this November. Sound Transit plans to have its light rail route set by the end of this year.

Curtis, a stalwart in the Save Our Valley organization fighting for a tunnel in the Rainier Valley, says the initiative isn't only about reversing Sound Transit's plans for his neighborhood. With light rail set to be extended north from the University District to Northgate Mall and beyond, he says, other neighborhoods would have to fight the same battle to keep transit planners from resorting to cheaper but neighborhood-disrupting surface or elevated rail lines.

While the initiative process isn't the best tool for transportation planning, the Save Our Valley folks have done a good job convincing residents of Southeast Seattle of the value of tunnels—although few elected officials have signed on. Initiative 47 will balance the political scales only if backers can engage voters citywide on what has so far been a South End issue.

Yet another solution

Speaking of light rail planning and Matthew Fox, the University District Community Council recently provided Sound Transit with some cost-saving suggestions.

Calling the proposed tunnel through Capitol Hill to the University District "unfeasible" due to safety, traffic, and engineering considerations, the Community Council, in a June 9 letter signed by president Fox, proposes that the Sound Transit light rail line stop at Union Station, where passengers could transfer to buses in the existing bus tunnel. The extra money could go toward building that $400 million Rainier Valley tunnel. While this action doesn't constitute any sort of groundswell against the light rail plan, it does indicate that the standard of review gets tougher when citizens look at plans for their own community.

Council wants hotel review

The Seattle City Council is getting aggressive in its efforts to convince three key city departments to allow council review of the proposed view-blocking waterfront Marriott Hotel. Last week, a letter signed by six council members was distributed to those three department heads, arguing that the project had been changed significantly enough to trigger council review.

Potentially, the department heads in question could stand up to the council and deny the request. Unless, of course, they remember just who approves their budgets.

Old college buddy

Muni League recruiter Keith Grate says he still needs South King County residents to fill out that region's candidate rating panel. "You have to check your political stripes at the door," Grate warns, ominously. Call him at 622-8333 to sign on.

County vs. Mariners

Having led government efforts to give the Mariners every little thing they wanted, King County Council member Larry Phillips is now trying to recast himself as a budget tough guy. The County Council has unanimously voted to devote any excess revenues from the public bonds used to build Safeco Field to paying off the bonds early—not toward cost overruns on the new $517 million facility.

"Don't come here with your glove out," warns born-again financial hard-liner Phillips. Well, he's no Maggi Fimia, but at least he's trying.

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