Urban Politics #162: Monorail Update: Landmark Status & Code Changes

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Assisted by Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich on this issue.

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.



  • Landmarks Update
  • Monorail Transfer Resolution
  • Resolution 30486
  • Land Use Code Amendments Vote

Landmarks Update

On July 22, the Neighborhoods, Arts & Civil Rights Committee of the Seattle City Council passed Council Bill 114629 an ordinance designating only the Alweg cars for landmarks protection. The ordinance, which I sponsored, does not grant landmarks protections (called “controls”) to the monorail guide ways and columns.

The vote was: PASS (Licata, Compton, Conlin, Drago, Wills), DO NOT PASS (Pageler), ABSTAIN (Nicastro, Steinbrueck)

More information is available in UP 158.

At the Full Council Meeting this Monday, August 4th, the Council will vote on this ordinance and an accompanying resolution I’ve introduced regarding the conditions under which the City intends to transfer the monorail.

I did not support historic landmark status for the current monorail system. I believe the voters cast a vote to tear it down when they voted to build a new monorail system. I believe a new monorail will improve 5th Avenue, and deliver on the Belltown community’s long-standing desire for a neighborhood station, which would not be provided if the current one remained. Also, the City Council received postcards from over 500 business people along the current route on 5th Avenue who did not want the current monorail to remain plus having a new one also use that corridor.

Consequently I did support landmark status for the monorail cars, and believe they should be preserved.

Monorail Transfer Resolution

At the July 9 public hearing on historic landmark status for the current monorail, various citizens raised concerns about the schedule for demolition of the current monorail, if the Council passed my proposed ordinance.

Some speakers suggested that the Council add a provision to the landmarks ordinance stating that the current monorail could not be demolished until the Seattle Monorail Project had a contract signed for a new monorail.

I thought this was a good idea, and decided to pursue it. However, because landmark ordinances usually just describe what is or is not a landmark, and what gets landmarks controls, it didn’t seem like a good place to make that statement. Further, since the City of Seattle owns the current monorail, it will be able to include conditions if and when it transfers the new monorail to the Seattle Monorail Project.

So I decided to introduce a separate resolution, (#30616) to accompany the landmarks ordinance. It passed out of committee (Licata, Compton, Conlin, Drago, Nicastro, Pageler, Wills) with Steinbrueck abstaining.

The resolution states that it is the Council’s intent that any agreement authorizing transfer of the Seattle Center Monorail to the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) shall include certain conditions intended to minimize the disruption of monorail service for the citizens of Seattle.

The Details are as follows:

A. SMP’s demolition of the existing monorail will be contingent on execution of a contract for construction of the new monorail system.

B. The SMP will make every reasonable effort to minimize the time between demolition of the existing system and construction of a new and operational segment between Seattle Center and Westlake Center, and the concurrent interruption in monorail service.

The resolution also contains a section noting the City can retain ownership of parts of the current monorail in the Seattle Center in order to display the monorail cars:

C. The City reserves the right, in the transfer agreement, to retain ownership of a portion of the beams and guide way, on the Seattle Center campus, for adaptive reuse as a display area for the historic Alweg Monorail cars. This segment of guide way would not conflict with the construction or operation of the SMP’s proposed Green Line.

At the NAC Committee meeting, a new section was added by an amendment from Councilmember Conlin to ensure the current system is documented:

D. The City will ensure that the historical significance of the current monorail will receive appropriate recognition and commemoration.

Resolution 30486

This resolution is in line with an earlier resolution (#30486) I sponsored, passed in July 2002, which stated that the City’s intent to transfer the current monorail to the SMP if Seattle voters passed the monorail measure, and that “the City also intends to negotiate an assignment of its rights and responsibilities under such agreement to the authority at no net cost to the City.”

I feel my proposed resolution is a positive statement, which will help assure citizens of the direction of monorail events. Furthermore, it is in line with what the SMP is planning. I received a letter from the SMP which states their intent to continue running the current until demolition is necessary to build the Green Line.

Land Use Code Amendments Vote

The monorail land use and street use code amendments discussed in UP 161 were also passed by the Neighborhoods, Arts & Civil Rights Committee on July 22nd as Council Bill 114647. However no vote was taken and it was referred directly to the Full Council this Monday for a vote.

The committee did amend it. I believe those changes make the legislation more accountable to our residents. It’s important to understand that this legislation applies to monorail facilities only, and do not rezone neighborhoods adjacent to the monorail line or monorail stations. This was of a particular concern to three neighborhoods where the stations, for practical reasons, will most likely have to be higher than the current zone allows.

From initial reactions that I’ve received the amended legislation appears to address their concerns. However a number of community leaders, both residents and businesses, have asked me to hold the Council vote in September to allow them time to review the newly amended legislation.

Ken Alhadeff, downtown property owner, wrote to me requesting that the monorail code amendments decision be decided in September so that the public has an opportunity to participate further in the process and to share their opinions.

Peter Sherwin, author of Initiative 53, which saved the monorail project in 2000, said with regards to having the vote in September, “it’s important that we listen to the people, and doing it right always trumps doing it fast.” Cindy Barker, community leader in West Seattle’s Morgan Junction neighborhood, informed me that the September vote will allow their community to come together and actually discuss this document before the Council’s final vote is taken.

Because of comments like these, I will be asking the City Council to delay a vote on the amended ordinance until its September 8 meeting.

The Monorail Project’s staff expressed serious concerns about this delay because they felt it might impede the progress for their design and construction plans. On the other hand, I also received comments from citizens who wanted the vote delayed until the end of the year or when the current EIS was completed.

I took both views into account before I decided to ask for the vote to be held up. I personally reviewed the Monorail Project’s timetable and rationale for needing this legislation in a timely fashion. I determined that the September 8th date would provide a risk of delay that is comparable to what they are already assuming in their proposed scheduling. However, the risk of delay would increase considerably if the decision was put off much longer.

From talking to other Council members, I expect that the legislation will pass with perhaps some additional tweaks. I do support the legislation, particularly now that it has been amended.

For the Monorail Project to succeed, it must not only be built on time and within budget, but it must also maintain the good will and trust of the general public. The delay of this vote until September will go a long ways toward meeting this objective.

My motion will be voted on Monday at 2 p.m. when the legislation is considered. If the motion succeeds, a second public hearing for the legislation will be scheduled in August.

If you would like any additional information about the land use code amendments please contact my legislative aide Newell Aldrich at newell.aldrich@seattle.gov.

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