Urban Politics #84: Two Percent For Art Delayed


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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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CONTENTS:

  • Two Percent For Art Delayed
  • Aquarium Notes: Panel Review And MOU Content
  • KOUW Program On The Aquarium

Two Percent For Art Delayed

Last Monday, March 6th, 2000, the City Council once again rejected to vote on my legislation to increase the percent for arts to two percent. I recognized that there were only four votes in favor of passage at this time, and if a vote had been taken the legislation would have been clearly defeated.

The Mayor also took a count and came to the same conclusion. He then sent me a letter stating, “It is my understanding that several of your colleagues would like to table your resolution until this (my) comprehensive proposal can be completed. I would appreciate your support for this brief delay so that all aspects of expanding the percent for art program can be considered by the Council.”

In a strategic move, I agreed to reluctantly support the Mayor’s request so that the legislation could be kept alive. In May, the Mayor will be bringing a comprehensive proposal for increasing the percent for art program that should address the questions now being raised by other Council Members.

The legislation will now go back to my Culture, Arts and Parks Committee where it will incorporate elements of the Mayor’s proposals. I then expect to reintroduce my legislation to support the arts in June. Hopefully the Council will then take a vote.

I am disappointed that we could not pass the two- percent increase in arts legislation now. Over the past six months, a considerable amount of research on the impacts of this increase has been gathered and presented to the Council. This information should have provided more than enough information upon which to base a decision and take a vote on the increase.

I disagree with those Council Members who argue that the % For Arts program should be discontinued. I also do not share their fear that a 1% increase will negatively impact capital projects or that the city should replace its support for the arts with more private philanthropy. I do not believe that two cents a month increase in utility rates will burden citizens or delay capital projects. I do believe that the esthetic, social and educational benefits to our city produced by an increase in the % For Art program will far outweigh its minimal implementation costs.

If you have more questions, feel free to contact my legislative assistant Frank Video at frank.video@seattle.gov, or at 684-8849.

Aquarium Notes: Panel Review And MOU Content

Last week my Culture, Arts and Parks Committee passed a resolution unanimously designating the aquarium as a “targeted partnership” because it met all of the criteria to be subject to the Public Private Partnership Panel (4P) review.

City Council is now discussing whether this 4P review should occur before or after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and the Seattle Aquarium Society (SEAS) is approved by the Council. Those favoring the 4P review after the MOU is signed argue that the Council would hinder the Aquarium’s ability to fundraise if SEAS had to wait for this agreement with the City until the 4P review. Such a hindrance could even delay the Aquarium’s expansion schedule.

In May of last year the City Council passed Resolution 29939 and appropriated $500,000 to the Aquarium with the expectation that SEAS would provide a “partial schematic design” and an “Updated Financial Feasibility Study” by the end of 1999. However last fall SEAS asked for a delay in providing that information to the City and set a new date of March 8th, 2000. The Council’s Central Staff may have received them, but they have yet to be distributed to the Council Members.

Is The MOU Binding?

The Mayor and Aquarium expansion proponents argue that since the MOU is not a legally binding document, as confirmed by the City’s Law Department, it should be considered as something that can be changed later. I have argued that the MOU should be seen as “politically binding”, since the City states that it recognizes that a substantial amount of money and effort will be expended based on this “understanding”.

The MOU states that SEAS and the City are signing off on this agreement for the purpose of establishing how the new aquarium “shall be financed, constructed, owned and operated.” (1.14) This notation is a reference to the section of the MOU where a quote is taken from or where an issue is covered.

Also, the MOU contains a number of provisions. The Council’s approval of the MOU essentially signs off on these provisions. In order to understand that the MOU is an important document and worthy of serious consideration by your elected officials, I’ve listed a few of the MOU provisions below.

MOU Provisions

1. Part of the MOU is Exhibit A which provides a schedule of expected City contributions to the project in the minimum amount of $21 million over the next 6 years. The city has already committed up to $1 million to be matched by private donations. Next year the proposed schedule would have the City Contributing about $1.3 million and it would increase to a high of $6.4 million in 2003. The proposed contribution schedule is not currently available on the City Clerk’s WEB site.

2. The current Aquarium is expected to be demolished. (2.1) This would negate the possibility of simply expanding the current Aquarium; consequently it commits the City to building a new one.

3. The City intends to turn the aquarium over to SEAS for its management and operation for the next 60 years And SEAS “will have exclusive use and control of the premises.”(2.6) This situation is similar to the management of the professional sport stadiums where the public sector “owns” the facilities but the “net revenue” goes to the corporate entity operating the facility. The Council must be careful to make sure that we do not encumber ourselves for future operating and maintenance costs and yet we must still protect the public’s interest in maintaining affordable admission fees.

4. SEAS will set the admission and rental fees without approval by the City. (3.2) They may consult and inform the City but they do not need the City’s approval to set the fees. Currently the City Council must approve every fee increase.

5. SEAS will have naming rights to the Aquarium. (3.4) Do we want a major public facility like the Aquarium to be named after a private or corporate donor? The revenue generated from “naming right” would go to SEAS to help them pay for building or operating the new Aquarium.

6. The City’s Aquarium Steering Committee that is referenced is currently not functioning. In the past the City Council has not had formal representation on it. (4.6) This Committee should be up and functioning to provide adequate information to the City Council.

7. The SEAS Board of Directors is to have only one representative appointed by the City on it. (5.5.1) If there is only one citizen on the Board to represent the public’s interest, can that lead to any significant public oversight?

The above list of provisions is only a sampling of the MOU provisions. They are ones that I’ve personally noted as possibly being of importance to the public. There may be others as well.

KOUW Program On The Aquarium

This Thursday morning from 9AM to 10 AM I will be on KUOW (94.9 FM) along with George Willoughby, of the SEAS Board of Governors and James McClurg, President of the Waterfront Landings Aquarium Committee to discuss the proposed Aquarium expansion.

Keep in touch…

 

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