Having experienced nothing but trouble over the years dealing with parking garages, the Seattle City Council faces yet another vote on the topic.
Residents and merchants in West Seattle's Admiral neighborhood will finally get the thumbs up or thumbs down from legislators on their proposal to build a $3.5 million parking garage to serve their crowded shopping district. The project would add a second layer of parking—129 spaces—to the garage of an already-planned mixed-use building near the historic Admiral Theater. The project was proposed after neighbors learned new buildings were slated for development on two lots formerly used for surface parking.
Neighborhood merchants would contribute $150,000 annually to pay off the debt for the garage; the city would pick up an equal amount each year. Parking fees would go toward maintenance, with any money left refunded to the merchants. While Mayor Paul Schell backs the proposal, it's unclear if the project can get a City Council majority. The garage plan is flanked by opponents on both left and right— environmentalists say the project would just encourage further auto use; fiscal conservatives say the price tag is too steep.
Nonsense, says Dennis Ross, president of the Admiral Community Council and a longtime supporter of the project. He argues that without adequate parking, residents will bypass their neighborhood shopping area—by driving to farther-off destinations. Ross notes that the city would pay only for construction costs; the building owner would allow the garage on his property without charge. "We have a unique opportunity that the city needs to take advantage of," he says.
The council might be wise to do so. Neighborhood residents have already noted that the council had no qualms about buying a parking garage just east of where they plan to build their palatial new City Hall. Well, you can't say our elected officials don't have clear priorities.
The private garden
Paul Schell's decision to pad the proposed parks levy with a $500,000 allocation for the Seattle Chinese Garden has enraged some critics, who note that the nonprofit project is being pushed by Paige Miller, the mayor's former Port commission colleague.
Although the battle seems to be over whether the mayor should have made this proposal, a bigger question remains—can the city legally allocate this money? In January, the Seattle City Council granted $150,000 to the Chinese garden project, but the money remains in city coffers. The law department has so far blocked the transfer because the government can't legally give money to a private organization without receiving something in return. One proposal would have the garden grant free admission to school kids to provide the needed public benefit. That's a lot of kids. If the garden gets the money both from the council and from the levy, and admission is set at five bucks a pop, taxpayers will be just 130,000 youthful visits away from getting their money's worth.
Standing up for sitting
A group of activists with carpentry skills have proven that there's more to political protest than symbolism.
A project organized by the Seattle Displacement Coalition recently placed a total of 16 benches on Seattle streets. The homeless advocacy group, long opposed to laws that prohibit sitting on downtown sidewalks, organized "Da Bench Project" to dramatize their stand on the issue, while performing a public service. The coalition's John Fox says the original plan was for the benches to appear mysteriously on city streets overnight, but this dramatic approach was shelved in favor of finding neighborhoods that would actually welcome their installation. "We picked a couple areas where we thought (merchants) might be receptive, and indeed they were," he says.
Nine of the benches (some of which include slogans or colorful paint jobs) were placed in the Pike-Pine corridor east of Interstate 5, with the remainder going in on Second Avenue in the Belltown neighborhood.
Tax, spend, tax, spend
Showing that he's learned a trick or two from the folks across James Street, King County Executive Ron Sims wants to pack the ballot with tax increases come fall.
If the Exec gets his way, county voters would see two money issues on the September ballot—a $250 million package for earthquake retrofits to Harborview Medical Center and the county courthouse, plus a smaller levy to continue funding for the automated fingerprint identification system. Wait, that's not all! Sims also wants to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot to offset cuts in transit funding resulting from state Initiative 695.
This is bad news for city officials, who have already proposed their own $223 million November parks levy. Given that tightfisted county voters (who nixed two previous countywide open space ballot measures) are the reason the city has to do its own parks and open space levy in the first place, Sims' late rush to the ballot hardly seems sporting. Given that it took two tries to get county voters to approve funding for paramedics(!), Ron's ballot-packing plan hardly seems wise. Given that this is the same Ron Sims who was cozying up to suburban officials on water issues while thumbing his nose at his Seattle constituents just a few short months ago, this proposal hardly seems forgivable.
Fortunately, a happy ending is likely, courtesy of the County Council Republicans, who should ground Super Ron and his spending spree without the use of kryptonite. But, when the only thing protecting county residents from complete idiocy is the Republican Party, this is a thin wall indeed.