Urban Politics #151: Monorail Update


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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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Creating A Technical Advisory Panel

At my Neighborhood, Arts & Civil Rights Committee, my proposed Resolution 30587 establishing a Monorail Technical Advisory Panel (MTAP) was passed and will now be voted on by the Full Council this Monday.

MTAP will provide comment to the City Council and supplement the services of the City Council Central Staff. The MTAP is anticipated to have two primary functions:

1) provide comment to the City Council about the Seattle Monorail Project’s technical and financial practices and proposals, and the overall financial health of the Seattle Monorail Project, at key points when the City Council is considering taking action related to the Seattle Monorail Project; and

2) be a resource available to the City Council Central Staff to provide additional technical or financial expertise and/or assistance in areas where the Central Staff may lack sufficient expertise or need assistance on particular monorail-related issues.

The MTAP may also provide other advice to the City Council related to the Seattle Monorail Project as requested by the Council. The MTAP will focus only on technical and/or financial issues, and will not comment or provide assistance on other monorail-related issues such as design elements or community impacts.

The MTAP and its members shall serve in a purely advisory capacity. Although the Council intends to seek MTAP comment, MTAP review and comment is not a condition precedent to Council action on any Seattle Monorail Project matter. The Council shall not be bound by the recommendations or advice of the MTAP or its members.

The following are two examples of possible MTAP comment and assistance:

When the City Council is considering enacting legislation or authorizing an agreement under which the Seattle Monorail Project would have permission to construct a monorail in City-owned right-of-way, the MTAP may be asked to review the Seattle Monorail Project’s proposed (or executed) contract(s) with a design-build-operate-maintain contractor or other entities, revenue estimates and collections to date, cost estimates, general financial condition, level of risk, and other factors, and comment to the NAC Committee, to enable the NAC Committee to assess the Seattle Monorail Project’s ability to carry out its work in constructing and operating the new Green Line monorail.

As another example, when the City Council is considering authorizing an agreement to transfer ownership of the existing Seattle Center monorail to the Seattle Monorail Project, the MTAP may be asked to review the Seattle Monorail Project’s technical and financial ability to continue to operate the existing monorail until a date when service will cease and to comply with existing contracts or concession agreements related to the existing monorail, and comment to the Neighborhoods, Arts, and Civil Rights (NAC) Committee about its review.

Relationship Between Monorail And The City

The following is a memorandum from the City’s Law Department explaining the nature of the relationship between the City of Seattle and the Seattle Monorail Project. It is important for citizens to understand this relationship because of its unique nature. Unlike the Parks Department or City Light, the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA) is not a City department, for instance the City does not determine the hiring, firing or wages of SPMA’s staff.

In short, the City and the Seattle Monorail Project are independent governmental entities. The City does not exercise any oversight authority over the Project. With the exception of a limited City role in shaping the membership of the Project Board, the City’s relationship with the Project stems primarily from the fact that the proposed Green Line would be a significant project constructed across a landscape that is either owned or regulated by the City.

Unlike the Elevated Transportation Company, which was created by City initiative as a City public corporation under Chapter 3.110 of the Seattle Municipal Code, the Seattle Monorail Project is a creature of state law. In 2002, the Washington State Legislature enacted a statute allowing for the creation of a “city transportation authority,” with voter approval, to plan, construct, and operate a monorail transportation system. That statute explains that such an authority will have independent taxing power and that its issued bonds will not be the obligation of any other governmental entity.

Last November, voters in Seattle approved Petition/Proposition No. 1, which created the Seattle Monorail Project as a city transportation authority pursuant to the state statute. Petition/Proposition No. 1 itself emphasizes that the Seattle Monorail Project is a separate entity from the City and that the City has no oversight role over the Project. For example, Petition/Proposition No. 1 states: “the City shall not act as treasurer of the [Project], establish budgets for the [Project], issue or approve [Project] obligations, or be under any obligation to provide funds to the [Project] except as provided by ordinance, or have any oversight responsibility concerning the [Project].”

The relationship between the City and the Seattle Monorail Project has roughly four components. First, as provided in Petition/Proposition No. 1, the City Council and Mayor play a role in selecting some members of the Project’s Board of Directors. For all of the interim Project Board positions, and seven of the nine on-going positions, either the Mayor or Council is responsible for either nominating or appointing the candidate.

Second, because the City owns much of the property over which the proposed Green Line will run, the City will play a proprietary role when facing requests from the Seattle Monorail Project to use this property. The City has stated it intends to enter into agreements with the Project addressing, for example, right-of-way use, use of the West Seattle Bridge, and potentially use of portions of the Seattle Center. The City also has stated it intends to negotiate an agreement with the Project about ownership of the existing Seattle Center monorail system, and about the treatment of City-owned utilities under City streets.

Third, because the City regulates land development, the City will play a regulatory role with respect to the Seattle Monorail Project. This may include, for example, review of certain aspects of the Green Line by the City Department of Design, Construction, and Land Use, the City Design Commission, and the Pioneer Square Preservation Board.

Finally, as it does with other independent governmental entities, the City will generally engage in intergovernmental cooperation with the Seattle Monorail Project when City interests would be served by doing so. For example, the City has already extended a “bridge” loan to the Project that will be repaid after the Project begins to receive its own, independent revenue.

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