Urban Politics #47: Olympic Games Status

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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.


Olympic Games Status

It appears that five or more City Council Members are now opposed to passing a Resolution on Monday endorsing the Seattle Bid Committee’s effort to represent Seattle and host the Olympics here in the year 2012.

However, the Bid Committee and the Mayor are making efforts to have folks lobby City Council to go ahead with the deal. This may turn into dueling email missives coming over the wires. So if you have an opinion you still have time to share it with the Council and Mayor.

The Mayor (who now has an email list serve similar to mine) just sent out a brief statement explaining his position on the Olympics. Like the Bid Committee his two main arguments seem to be: 1) There will be little cost to the city to pursue the bid and 2) let the people decide.

With regards to the first point he writes: “It’ll cost the City very little ($30-50,000), and the work will be done by the bid committee, not City Government.” The problem I have with this assumption is that the official bid that goes before the governing body of the Olympics, will most likely propose a number of conditions that could dramatically impact Seattle. For instance, where will the Olympic Village go? It is expected to house more than 15,000 people. I agree with the Mayor when he says “It could produce a lot of housing-and we’re talking THOUSANDS of units.”

What Seattle neighborhood will end up with this Olympic Village? That decision, to be done right, must involve public input. It cannot be left to the Bid Committee alone. It’s a decision that must involve city staff in analyzing things like potential traffic and parking impacts. That is a long process given our experience in the amount of time the City is devoting to the location of the Rapid Transit stations.

If the City does not allocate any staff time to analyze those issues, then the bid could present the City with actions it would not favor. Remember the proposed resolution says that the City recognizes the Bid Committee as the City’s official representative.

I am sure that members of the Bid Committee have the have the same civic concerns that the Council Members have, although I do not know how big the committee is or who they all are. The City Council’s central staff informed me as of last week that we did not have a list of who was on the Bid Committee. It is not a government body. It is a collection of individuals with some corporate backing. They are not accountable to the public in the same manner as the City Council is expected to be.

The other argument by the proponents is that we should let the people vote on it. Public votes are good, especially on important issues like this one. But without campaign finance reforms that limit contributions or cap expenditures, state wide “issue” elections can be won by the side that can afford effective polling and TV/media campaigns.

Unfortunately if one side out spends the other side by a ratio of 5 to 1, (the Seahawk vote was about 50 to 1) how representative is that vote of the people’s will? The Bid Committee already has paid staff and their numbers will only grow. As each month passes more corporate sponsors will jump on board allowing for more paid staff.

The Bid Committee would do outreach and they will involve many, many volunteers, but underlying that effort will be a budget that no other citizen group could match. And since the City government should be a neutral party waiting for the results it will not be taking a position in the election.

The process will have an appearance of a democratic vote, but the underlying dynamics set up a condition where the proponent side will be represented by a well organized, financed group and the other will most likely consist of a scattering of individual citizens scrambling to put together an organization. One side will have vested interests that have much to gain from the economics of throwing a $2 billion event. The other side will represent those who do not have any direct vested interest, and consequently they will not be able to raise anywhere near the funds that the proponents will have access to.

This situation doesn’t mean that one side is “good” and the other side is “bad”. They both may have good points, but only one side will be able to effectively reach the public. And that makes for a bad process in measuring the public will.

I respect the Mayor and other public officials who see the Olympic Games as an opportunity. A $ 2 billion event does present many opportunities. But there’s no $ 2 billion free lunch. The city would have to heavily invest its resources to make sure that this massive event does more good than harm.

We need to focus our attention on the many issues that thousands of Seattle residents have identified in our neighborhood planning efforts, rather than shifting our resources to figuring out how to host the Olympic Games. On Monday, the Council should bring closure on this issue. We should thank the efforts of the Bid Committee and then move onto our other concerns. A vague response may encourage an ongoing lobbying effort, which could distract public officials from moving forward with implementing our many neighborhood plans.

Keep in touch…


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Comment from Bobbie Agresto
Time December 14, 2011 at 1:08 am

I really like your writing style, superb information, thankyou for posting : D.

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