Six Signs of Seattle Sanity

A few things that are actually right with this city.

I've been suffering from my annual bout of prickly heat, which makes me feel like Godzilla looking for a town to tear up. Seattle is such an easy target: smugness, killing sprees, and, of course, Seafair.

Maybe it's just a reaction to last week's Best of Seattle issue. I'm still cringing over the fact that you picked John Curley, Tim Eyman, and the tunnel option for the viaduct as "bests." Please, people: These ought to be piñatas, not heroes.

But after a weekend of sun and sleep, color me mellow. Hence, I've decided on a new annual ritual: a column about what's right with this town.

1. After years of being played for suckers by local pro sports franchises, Seattle is finally standing up to extortion by multimillionaires. The fact that I-91 will put the topic of sports welfare before city voters is a major step in what ought to be a 12-step program for weaning us off the addiction of subsidizing franchises with no guarantee of return for the taxpayers. The group behind the initiative, Citizens for More Important Things, is well-named: Too often, what rises to the top of the civic agenda is what the business lobby demands from lawmakers. Thus, Gary Locke declared an "emergency" to get the Seahawks stadium its own special election. It is governance by stampede, scaring folks with dire scenarios. Seattle has now been around long enough to see the folly of this never-ending cycle. Do I like the idea that the Sonics may leave town? No. Basketball is a great game, and Seattle's been a proud part of NBA history. But I have to quote my favorite Washington governor, John Rankin Rogers, who said, "The rich can take care of themselves." And if they can't, it's not the public's job to bail them out.

2. The monorail, a "Golden Gate Bridge" over Elliott Bay, a Big Dig–style waterfront tunnel: Seattle can't seem to resist a billion-dollar boondoggle topped with a shimmering civic tiara. What's worse, such projects often come at the expense of the practical infrastructure that quietly makes the city work. Maybe the tide is turning. The monorail is dead, and powerful politicians like House Speaker Frank Chopp are raising serious doubts about funding the proposed tunnel. Even better, the city, led by civic gourmand Greg Nickels, and King County, led by Ron Sims, have stepped in with ambitious proposals to get back to basics. Nickels and the City Council are putting forward a $1.6 billion proposal to fix city streets, bridges, and sidewalks. Sims' "Transit Now" proposal makes expanding plain old vanilla bus service a major priority. Soon, voters will face a number of major transportation measures—most of which, I believe, will only exacerbate our problems. But these two plans deserve consideration because they are ambitious programs that invest in the unglamorous stuff people actually use.

3. Seattle loves a business that is glossed with goodness. Remember when was supposed to be the world's coolest bookstore? Or when Starbucks was famous for creating community by reinventing the "Third Place"? Such commercial enterprises rarely stay good for long—Wall Street must be appeased—but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of those rare efforts that promises to be even bigger and do more good than the business that made it possible as a global eleemosynary colossus. With Warren Buffet's money also in hand, the retiring Bill Gates will be able to marshal some $60 billion in combined personal fortune to change the picture of global health forever.

4. Local Democrats may not have noticed (or cared), but the state Republican Party is showing signs of returning to the mainstream. Exhibit A would be Seattle's Mike McGavick, the former Safeco exec who is the first Republican in recent memory to run his statewide campaign out of the Blue City on the Sound. Seattle used to be a two-party town before it turned into the Evergreen State College with skyscrapers. McGavick would like to return to the bygone era by nudging the city toward having conversations that once again span the political spectrum. Note how McGavick is not Seattle-bashing the way his onetime boss Slade Gorton used to. Exhibit B is top state GOP officeholder Rob McKenna, who has not overly politicized the attorney general's office and is working well with Gov. Christine Gregoire.

5. People sometimes accuse Mossback of being a turn-back-the-clock guy, but I know there are many things that are better today. Like food and drink: We have more good restaurants, greater ethnic variety, and more organics. We have bakeries that produce more than Wonder Bread and breweries that churn out better beverages than Rainier's Green Death. The movement toward not only eating well but eating locally is gaining momentum. It's good not only for our gustatory well-being but for our land-use policies. As groups like Sustainable Ballard promote the 100-mile diet and local farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture outfits (such as Carnation's Full Circle Farm) proliferate, they help keep nearby agricultural lands productive and fend off sprawl.

6. OK, I'm not totally against turning back the clock. Tearing out the English ivy to save our parks and greenbelts from suffocation; day-lighting creeks; returning natural shoreline segments to Elliott Bay; even architect Jerry Garcia's proposal to rebuild the washed-away Denny Hill: These are worthy environmental restoration projects that will help keep Seattle grounded in both its history and natural history. They raise awareness about where we are and where we come from—which, I think, is a prerequisite to civic sanity.

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