The bright side to I-695

The much-touted post-Initiative 695 politics are off to a depressing start, but a few surprises may lie down the road.

Having been told for months that their state revenue-slashing tax cut would heavily impact funding for public transit, ferries, and road repairs, the pro-695 masses seem shocked to find these programs facing major cuts. After accepting the assurances of their hero, citizen-nitwit Tim Eyman, that state government could prop up programs by tapping the budget surplus, they're outraged that Governor Gary Locke has proposed doing just that.

It's pretty clear that your average I-695 voter assumed every government budget contained an enormous line item labeled "fat"—and that trimming it would be a quick, painless process.

Welcome to the real world, folks.

But our new, low-tax state government has a few potential benefits. For years, the pledge to "help get people out of their cars" has been a popular mantra in Seattle political races. Ironically, a tax cut aimed at enriching auto owners could help accomplish this task.

Call it "chaos environmentalism." Some radical environmentalists have long backed a "no new roads" policy. Traffic would back up, sure, but the inconvenience would force commuters to start looking for other options to get to work and back. I-695 and its resulting traffic jams could make arcane concepts like telecommuting, flex time, and even light rail more attractive to the average citizen. The $30 car tab vote has already gutted the state's $2 billion bond-funded transportation improvement program. And, as our existing roads crumble, the little funding local and state governments can accumulate will be used to patch potholes. Expensive new roads aren't in the picture.

This means we can say goodbye to the proposed extra Interstate highway ringing the Eastside suburbs. Forget about a major upgrade of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. The Cascadia gang will have to do without their double-decked Interstate 5. We'll all have cheap car tabs, but nowhere to drive.

Better still, I-695's requirement that new taxes pass muster at the ballot box means Seattle voters can serve as a powerful bloc assuring that new taxes for highway construction come from the pockets of car owners, probably through an increase in the gas tax.

This car tab revolt may yet be followed by a new enlightenment.

Greenwood exists, says city

Having decided not to continue fighting several decades of history, the City Council last week acknowledged that the commercial district of Greenwood/Phinney Ridge is a big, long strip.

People who actually live and work in the neighborhood noticed this fact years ago and promoted the Phinney Avenue/Greenwood Avenue corridor as "The Miracle Mile." City zoning laws, which until recent years concentrated commercial zones along major arterials, have long affirmed these land uses.

Now our City Council members are finally on board, too.

The griping over Greenwood came several years ago, when Mayor Norm Rice began pushing the "urban village" concept. These mini-neighborhood centers were designed to encourage new higher-density housing close to shopping and transit. Rice's planners sketched out their preferred Greenwood urban village—roughly a five-block square centering on the intersection of North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North. But commercial property owners were angry when they learned the development potential of lots outside urban village boundaries would be reduced.

Instead of just getting mad, neighborhood property owners got organized. Linking with residents who didn't want to see their neighbors' rights trampled in the rush to urban villages, the community proposed that properties along the strip share in the urban village designation. But nontraditional approaches are never popular in City Hall. The mayor's strategic planning office did its best to scuttle the Greenwood neighborhood proposal. Several hours before the final vote, at their morning briefing, some council members were still griping. Fortunately, colleague Richard McIver injected a note of common sense by citing the apparently unfamiliar concept of self-determination. "I would hope that we could get a strong neighborhood influence on [village boundaries], and let them determine their own destiny," he told his fellow council members.

Later that afternoon, with the council chambers filled with neighborhood representatives, the gripers were silent. This neighborhood plan was approved grudgingly, but unanimously.

Promises, promises

Last-minute proposals for budget additions are seldom welcomed with open arms, but broken promises are even less popular.

That's the lesson the Seattle City Council may learn after rejecting a proposal by council members Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, and Peter Steinbrueck to insert $375,000 into next year's budget to add weekend hours at several neighborhood community centers. The trio (who were joined by new guy Jim Compton on the final vote) argued that the first draft of the successful Seattle Center/community centers levy included funding for weekend hours. The money was later removed because this noncapital expense would be more appropriately funded through the regular budget process. Licata argued that, less than six months ago, the council pledged to add the weekend hours.

Surprisingly, Licata's opponents agreed that a promise had been made, but argued that I-695 and the resulting dip in city revenues called for tough decisions. "I think we did make that commitment, but things have changed," stated council member Jan Drago.

That's ridiculous. City voters approved the property tax increase, so the council has no excuse not to hold up its end of the bargain. Next time the topic of voter distrust is raised, the council majority needs to keep this vote in mind.

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