Urban Politics #1: Successes so far!


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Dear Friend,

I’m sharing this memo on the freeway park transfer with city council members and some press folks.

There are a few reasons for doing this. First if everyone is kept abreast of the same information, hopefully a mentality of “us against them” will not develop. Secondly I hope this open process leads to a shared effort to promote what is best for our city. And lastly, perhaps I’m just too lazy to write three different memos and then check for consistency. So now everyone can read off the same page.

Sincerely,

Nick Licata

Below is an index of topics. Just scan down to the one that interests you. Most email reading systems should have a “find” command; type in the appropriate roman numeral and go directly to that topic.

CONTENTS:

  • Successes so far!
  • City Hall Responses
  • Reasons given for the Transfer
  • How the Press Has Responded
  • Using Email as a Political Tool
  • What you can do

Successes so far!

The most important success is that the number of citizens who know about giving a $500,000 revenue generating garage to the convention center for $1 a year for the next 30 years has gone from literally one to thousands. It’s quite possible that outside of government employees and journalists I may have been the first citizen to be aware of the details of this transfer.

I’m making this bold assertion after talking to the leaders of two citizen groups which have been most active in monitoring the convention center’s expansion. John Fox, head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which has been lobbying to save low income housing from being lost in the expansion process, was unaware of this transfer. Also, Clint Pehrson, President of Allied Arts, which has been concerned with the design impact of the expansion, was also unaware of it, although he did know something was happening with the garage the details of the transfer were new to him. As a result of some community press coverage, Civic Foundation mailings and email postings, other citizens have been contacting city council members and asking them to explain what is going on.

In addition three organizations have taken some actions. The 36th District Democrats Ex. Board passed a resolution calling upon the City Council to justify the transfer. The Ex. Board of the 43rd has also approved to submit a resolution before their members at their regular meeting on Oct. 21st which states “The 43rd District Democrats feels that the transfer of the Freeway Park Garage to the Convention Center is an important matter that needs to be reviewed publicly and immediately.”

Lastly, the Metropolitan Democrat Club’s (MDC) board passed the following resolution:

“The Metropolitan Democratic Club requests that the City Council hold a public hearing to reconsider the contribution of the Freeway Park Garage to the Washington State Convention Center. Given the severe budget constraints the city faces, we believe the garage’s revenues could be better applied to funding city services and community projects. We also believe that the public deserves a full and public appraisal of this very important revenue matter. We request that the council hold its hearing no later than the end of November or we shall proceed to invite community groups and city officials to a citizen’s public hearing.”

City Hall Responses

City Council

I met with Martha Choe and Matt Lampe of the city’s Dept. of Admin. Services on 9/17 and presented my draft report. The following day I met and gave the same info. to Dan McGrady of Jan Drago’s office. Jan sponsored the transfer ordinance. The following week all of the council members received email summaries and a copy of the report. Choe mailed back a response on 10/3 with an analysis done by Lampe concluding that the differences between my figures and theirs did not “warrant retraction of the Freeway Park Garage from the mix of revenue that would cover the City’s share of expansion costs.” Jan emailed a form letter to all who have questioned this transfer and I received mine on 10/10.

Four other council members have also acknowledged that they are looking into the situation: Margaret Pageler, Tina Podlodowski, Jane Noland and Sue Donaldson.

Also city council candidate Charlie Chong has issued a press release supporting the retention of the garage. Also I heard City Council candidate Bob Rohan say that he is also interested in questioning the transfer but I do not know if he is in favor of retaining it or if he
supports a public hearing on the matter.

Mayor’s Office

I dropped off a copy of my report with a cover letter addressed to the Mayor on 9/23. I haven’t heard anything back from him or his office as of 10/13.

Reasons given for the Transfer

There are three major reasons for supporting the transfer as stated by various council members. First this is an old issue that has been well discussed and therefor it is too late to change the city’s decision. Secondly, the economic return to the city justifies the contribution of the garage revenue to the center’s expansion. And lastly, due to state legislation the city is obligated to give the center the garage’s revenue or an equal amount.

Let me deal with each issue briefly now. There will be a fuller discussion of these points at the Oct. 19th Forum Breakfast that the Civic Foundation is sponsoring. I encourage you to attend to hear an updated analysis that I’ve done and to also hear Councilmember Jan Drago who sponsored this the transfer ordinance and who also sat on the Convention Center’s Expansion Task Force. If interested in attending please call the Civic Foundation at 526-2301.

The First Issue -

The following statement has been released by Jan Drago and some other councilmembers have also referred to it. “The decision was made two years ago in 1994 when the City Council unanimously approved a Resolution to support and contribute money for the expansion of the Convention Center. There was extensive discussion among Councilmembers at business meetings, Committees of the Whole and Full Council meetings (all of which are open to the public)regarding the proposal to use net revenues (profits) from the FPG as part of the City s contribution to the expansion. The public was made aware of the proposal at a City sponsored open house in November of 1994, by the draft report of the Convention Center Task Force, and a Seattle Times article reported that the City would transfer net revenues from the FPG to the Convention Center.”

The above statement is true, however it omits the following facts : 1) The Resolution in ’94 never mentioned the transfer of the garage. 2) There was no prior public notice that the ’94 November Open House would discuss the garage transfer. 3) The Seattle Times article had one sentence mentioning the transfer of the garage’s revenues and it appeared after the Resolution was passed. 4) The draft report of the Convention Center Task Force mentioning the transfer was published after the ’94 Open House.

The issue is not that the city has been trying to hid something; all of their meetings are open to the public. But there has been no effort to educate the public that this transfer would result in a loss of the garage’s $500,000 a year revenue stream.

The Second Issue -

This is a numbers crunching item. The new projections that the city is using have now understated the garage’s revenue by 25%, by simply using a lower growth rate. The revenues brought in by the center’s expansion have also been adjusted to show greater revenue. I won’t get into an analysis of these numbers here. But two points that both my report and Lampe’s report agree on are: 1) the garage will average over $500,000 a year in revenue to the city beginning in 1999; 2) even using Lampe’s higher figures for the center’s revenue, the rate of return to the city is less than 1.5% a year on it’s investment. Neither the city nor the center have argued that if the city retains the garage’s revenue the expansion will not go forward, consequently the economic return to the city vastly improves by retaining the garage.

The Third Issue -

This is the one which states that the city has no choice in the transfer decision. The city must contribute the garage or its equivalent revenue stream to the convention center because of state law. I will not deal with this issue at this time, except to say that if the city is permitted to retain the garage’s revenue then the council must decide if its contribution of $7.5 million to the expansion is a sufficient contribution. The County was also supposed to contribute to the expansion and they have declined.

How the Press Has Responded

The dailies have been reluctant to follow this story. I initially approached Terry McDermott of the Seattle Times. But in my enthusiasm I foolishly buried him with my first 24 page draft report, described by one civic leader as “impenetrable” for anyone other than a policy wonk with insomnia.

A friend approached P.I. columnist Susan Paynter, who then asked a couple of beat reporters if the transfer would be “news”. She apparently was told the city does this type of thing all the time, so it wasn’t news worthy.

Also several other journalists were waiting to see how the city responded to my report. When Lampe’s equally hefty response was released the matter only seemed to become murkier rather than clearer. Peter Lewis of the Seattle Times said it was difficult to write a story of a “he said, she said” type. I think he meant that there wasn’t someone clearly guilty of a wrong – something that I personally think is not productive. True my revenue projections are different from the council’s but that didn’t make a very exciting story.

Since there hasn’t been a public airing of this issue I think the dailies will write about the transfer once civic groups begin requesting that the council hold a hearing to consider retaining the garage’s revenue. The press will probably cover how council members and mayor answer the question as to whether the garage’s revenue should be spent on city services and projects or on subsidizing the convention center’s expansion.

Using Email as a Political Tool

I’ve found the use of email in this effort very useful in presenting detailed information to a wide range of people in a quick and inexpensive manner. Unfortunately the audience is not large because it’s limited to those that have access to the internet. But I believe those that do have access are probably more likely to contact the council because of the ease of using email.

Please email me the responses you receive from the council members and also send me the postings that you send them with a note as to whether I can pass them onto others.

I’m using cc’s now because some chatter was broadcast to everyone on a portion of my list and I received a few complaints of needless “noise” filling their mail boxes. Please don’t send out an email posting to the cc’d list unless it is a relevant contribution to the subject.

It’s quite possible that this garage transfer issue is the first “electronic democratic discourse” that the city council has experienced. I know that when they were considering renewing the cable company licenses there was a list serve set up with interested citizens who wanted to follow this issue. But I don’t believe there was any coordinated effort to use email to lobby the council and keep each other informed in a manner similar to how it is being used on this issue. If anyone knows of such an effort please tell me.

What you can do

1) Attend the Oct. 19th Forum – see # III above for details.

2) Contact the council and the mayor (their email addresses are listed below) and let them know what you think about this issue.

3) Please email me and tell me if this issue should be pursued or not.

4) Write to the press if you think they should be interested in following this issue.

5) Keep in mind that this is a campaign to educate ourselves as well as the mayor and council. By sharing information we can hopefully arrive at a solution that benefits us all.

Keep in touch…

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