Urban Politics #164: Homeless Men Downtown; Monorail Center Route


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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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Homeless Men Downtown

On Tuesday, September 2nd I invited representatives from the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) and downtown social service providers to discuss what to do when the social service provider Compass Center closes in January for renovations. It is estimated that during this time 300 to 400 people per day who have been accessing their hygiene services will be on the streets for over a year.

The obvious solution is to temporarily re-site hygiene services during this period. What is not so obvious is where. Previously the City Council had allocated and the City’s Human Resources Department had distributed $800,000 to existing shelters in downtown to address the increasing number of homeless people in need of day facilities. That need had been confirmed by a City sponsored consultant study. That study identified single homeless men as most in need of day shelters and hygiene facilities. Unfortunately few of the current providers service this population. Most, if not all, of those displaced by the temporary closure of the Compass Center will be single men.

Representatives of the Seattle King County Homeless Coalition and the Downtown Seattle Association approached me with the request that Public Safety Building (PSB) be used during this period of time to provide hygiene services for this population. Although PSB is currently occupied by some city employees most of the building is empty and it is scheduled to be demolished this spring or summer to make way for the final phase of our new Civic Center.

The PSB block is owned by the City and is scheduled to be redeveloped into an open space park and a private office building, with a parking garage underneath. The block’s development design and financing have yet to be determined.

Council Members are debating whether the PBS block should just be turned over to a private developer in order to maximize the immediate cash flow to our City in order to lessen our budget cutbacks. The current master plan envisions that the open space portion of the block will compliment City Hall’s open space across 4th avenue.

I wanted the Council to delay implementing the master plan for this block so we could determine what the cost of delaying the demolition of the PBS would be to allow its use as a temporary hygiene facility while the Compass Center is closed. As a result I voted with the majority of the Council (on September 2nd) against the City beginning the process of selecting a developer for the PBS block.

I believe that finding a temporary alternative hygiene site would protect the business interests of the downtown core, mitigate any potential impact on the library’s scheduled re-opening, and help people meet their basic needs with dignity. I have suggested to the Mayor that using the PSB appears to be less expensive than creating a new location to use for a limited time.

The Mayor’s office is looking at this proposal although they believe the cost is higher than what might be expected due to the entire building having to be heated 24 hours a day seven days a week, even if only a portion of the building is used. They are currently investigating other strategies for meeting this impending crisis. I look forward to reviewing any proposal that the Executive Office presents and I am glad that they recognize that something needs to happen when the Compass Center closes.

Monorail Center Route

Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck will introduce a resolution into my NAC Committee meeting on September 23rd calling for the Seattle Monorail Project to drop from consideration a route that would run the monorail through the Seattle Center, else known as the “Northwest Route”.

He, and many others whom I have heard from, strongly believe that the Seattle Center is a critical park-like centerpiece of our urban landscape and that it would be ruined by the Monorail going across it. However, others have argued that the Monorail crossing the Center reflects the original orientation of the 1962 World’s Fair to expand the Monorail as an urban transportation feature making the Center accessible to a greater number of Seattle residents.

Aside from the debate on whether the Monorail’s cross campus route detracts or enhances the Center, another issue is what are the benefits and problems of the Monorail using the Mercer Street corridor to circumvent the Center. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was just completed and still needs to be thoroughly reviewed to fairly answer these questions and determine which route provides the greater good to the general public. The DEIS can be viewed at the SMP website at www.elevated.org

Another element that enters into choosing which route is looking at who most directly benefits or is impacted negatively. The EMP building was built with the monorail going through it, consequently they would like to preserve that feature and support the cross campus route. Since the EMP is owned by Paul Allen, some critics of the cross-center route have charged that those who support this option are paying too much attention to just this one beneficiary.

However the Council has heard from others who also support the cross-center route because they oppose the Mercer Street route. The Queen Anne Community Council and representatives of the new McCall Performance Hall both oppose the Mercer Street route because of how it would impair the traffic access to local businesses and theaters.

The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) originally told the Council they did not have a preferred route. In addition they said they would like to know as soon as possible if the Council intended to veto the use of the Center for the Monorail route. The Seattle City Council must approve any alignment that crosses the Seattle Center. This invitation may have prompted the Steinbrueck resolution.

Nevertheless, I believe it may be too early to make a final decision on which monorail route should be used in the Center area. In August, I asked the City of Seattle’s Monorail Review Panel to examine the entire Monorail alignment, and advise the Council. I included the Seattle Center in my request, and I would like to hear from them before we vote.

Further, the Seattle Center Advisory Commission has informed us that they can make their final recommendation to us as early as mid-October. They have been attending the monthly Seattle Center Stakeholders Workshop and have yet to meet with the Council to share what they have learned to date.

Finally, the Draft EIS has just been published which begins a 45-day comment period to consider the routes through and around the Seattle Center. This is a necessary, legally required and logical process to consider the pros and cons of the several options considered. After this review is completed the Seattle Monorail Project will unveil its revised preferred alternative in mid-November

It is fairly clear that either of these two routes will have negative impacts to the environment and that these two are the best of the four Center routes presented in the DEIS. This is a decision that I can guarantee will result in making some citizens very unhappy. As a result the best the Council can do is to carefully examine the choices, listen to all those impacted and make a decision based on clear and understandable criteria. If we can accomplish that task then at least we can justify whatever decision we make based on something other than who speaks the loudest.

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