Kids Love Trains

When it comes to taking charge of the monorail, Seattle lacks adult supervision.

Now that so many other columnists around town are calling for a quick mercy killing of the People's Boondoggle, Mossback can return to another favorite topic.

Recently, I noted in this column that The New York Times reported that Seattle was the second most childless city in America. But I now think the reporter got it all wrong—Seattle is the city with the fewest adults.

Our whimsical obsessions were a lot more charming when we were younger and could do less damage. Waiting for the Interurban never hurt a soul. But now, the city of Peter Pans has morphed into a lummox of a child, not a 900-pound gorilla but a 900-pound Baby Huey doing billions of dollars of damage to itself because it will not be denied its whims, including a monorail—even at $14 billion and counting.

Personally, I'd like one question answered: Who gave Baby Huey the credit card and the freaking car keys? Doesn't that qualify as reckless endangerment? Is someone going to call the Department of Social and Health Services? Our civic inner child needs a foster home.

In answer to the first question, I do have a list of prime suspects.

One is Mayor Greg Nickels, a guy who just can't say "no." The mayor likes all big projects and thinks there's the money to pay for them all—even when Aunt Patty Murray, our senior U.S. senator, has to slap naughty Greg's wrist and tell him, "No," when he begs for $1 billion in federal funds to bury the Alaskan Way Viaduct in a tunnel. Greg, the Mom in Tennis Shoes knows when you're around, she's got to lock up the pork rinds! Nickels has redefined the Seattle Way as "my way," and his way features an endless appetite. In short, he's a role model for irresponsible excess.

Another group of suspects is the Seattle City Council, which considers Dr. Spock a civic role model. (That's Dr. Benjamin Spock, not Mister Spock, though I guess either would work. One is the baby-care guru blamed for spoiling a generation of baby boomers, the other is a guy who will do anything for Vulcan.)

The City Council is chock-full of poster children for Who Wants to Be a Gutless Wonder? Even those on the council who claim to be holding Seattle accountable find a way to cave when it counts. Last week, Seattle City Council member Richard McIver was quoted in The Seattle Times: "Councilman Richard McIver, a monorail skeptic, called the latest [monorail cost] figures 'extremely disturbing.' But McIver said he would respect the will of the voters, as long as the city is not held liable for any monorail problems. 'It's not my place to overturn the votes. I'm not going to lay my body across the track.'"

What kind of leadership is it to say, OK, kid, go kill yourself, just don't spatter your brains on my carpet?

The City Council is specifically tasked with reviewing the viability and sanity of the monorail project before allowing it to eat up the public rights of way in town. It is the job of the reluctant McIver and his colleagues to throw themselves on the tracks if it will save us from a multibillion-dollar boondoggle. But if so-called critics like McIver aren't willing to make any political sacrifice to save the city, the fight is already lost.

Another group of suspects is the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) board, the people specifically charged with keeping the project on track. They've already signed off on the Kool-Aid-stained bidding process. SMP head Joel Horn says they can pull the plug, but does anyone think they'll have the nerve to kill the thing they love? Did Dr. Frankenstein?

Let's look at their record. According to the SMP Web site, the board adopted the following goals: to make sure the project was on time and under budget, and would break even on operations, have excellent design, remain true to its grassroots history, and be transparent and accountable to the public.

What we have is a project that, by SMP's own admission, will be years late, will cost billions, is already millions of dollars over budget, will indenture our children and grandchildren, offers clumsy, stripped-down design, and whose accountability and transparency have been in question since day one. Can we really expect more excellence from their oversight?

It should also be pointed out that part of Seattle civic parenting now routinely includes "outsourcing" responsibility for major projects by creating separate public "authorities" to oversee them. It allows the mayor and City Council to run for cover when things go bad with the baseball or football stadium, the Port, public transportation, the monorail, the Pike Place Market, and Seattle Center. Hey, not my department, they can say. They've outsourced accountability until there is none.

Lastly, as Edgar Allan Poe wrote, there are "the people, ah the people, they that dwell up in the steeple, they are neither brute nor human—they are Ghouls!" As a devoted Hobbesian, Mossback agrees: The people are incorrigible. But they are also crying for help. They are desperate for some good old-fashioned parenting, and they are begging for leadership that offers common sense, direction, discipline, and progress. The state is undertaking an intervention as state Treasurer Mike Murphy and state Auditor Brian Sonntag step in to get hold of the runaway monorail. But we need full-time parents, not state-appointed baby-sitters.

Has the last adult left Seattle? Did he or she leave a night-light on? Or is Seattle truly, finally, actually a Kid's Place at last?

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