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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.
In the Budget Committee this week the City Council will consider whether to authorize spending $30 million for the Mercer Corridor Project in 2009 without first receiving the financial and environmental information it requested in Ordinance 122686 (passed in May 2008) as a necessary condition for the Mayor to proceed with the Mercer Project. The majority of Councilmembers referenced the ordinance’s intent in a September 30th letter by agreeing to review the project in 2009 before determining a proper course of action.
Two proposals will be discussed and voted on this week.
The first proposal, sponsored by Jan Drago, allows $30 million in spending, which would have the practical effect of authorizing all property acquisition necessary to expand the right-of-way in the corridor without meeting the conditions in Ordinance 122686.
I’m sponsoring the second proposal, which will not release those funds, until the conditions in the ordinance are met by Council having the opportunity to evaluate the Executive’s progress toward closing the combined $100 million funding gap for the Mercer and the Spokane Street Projects.
The necessary information requested would provide the Council with:
- A revised finance plan for both projects, including
- a schedule for both anticipated revenues and expenditures;
- an updated project cost estimates based on 100% design;
- further value engineering analysis;
- a revised assessment of potential sources for grant and partner agency funding;
- and a contingency plan that identifies proposed alternative funding sources should anticipated revenues not materialize
- A completed environmental review for the Mercer Project, including all technical reports and memoranda
None of this information has been provided to the Council. To allow the Mercer Project to go forward without it would be committing millions of dollars to a project that does not meet the Seattle Auditor’s recommended best practices for proceeding with major public works projects.
The City Auditor recommended not issuing notices to proceed with projects that depend on external funding prior to obtaining secured financial commitments. Further the Auditor stated that if the City decides to proceed, City departments should provide the Council with a contingency plan in advance of project approval.
The budget for the $200 million Mercer project lists $52 million yet to be obtained from state and federal sources.
The financing plan for the Mercer Project has also changed since the April 1, 2008 presentation to the Council’s Transportation Committee. There SDOT proposed financing bonds with revenues from the commercial parking tax in excess of original projections, over 15 years. The Mayor now proposes dedicating additional commercial parking tax revenues to the Mercer Project to pay off the bonds in 20 not 15 years, thus increasing interest costs.
Seattle residents from around the city have expressed opposition to the current Mercer Project. By proceeding with this project without reviewing the minimum requirements set by the Council, I believe sends the wrong message to them.
Below is the list of community groups that have come out in opposition to proceeding with the Mercer Project.
- Magnolia Community Club
- Rainier Beach Community Club Executive Board
- Queen Anne Community Council
- Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council
- Othello Neighborhood Association
- Columbia City Community Council
- North Seattle Industrial Association
- Aurora Avenue Merchants Association
- Fremont Chamber of Commerce
- Ballard District
- Seattle Community Council Federation
- Northeast District Council
- Metropolitan Democratic Club
- Seattle Marine Business Coalition
- 36th District
- 46th District
- 43rd District
- Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth
- University District Community Council
Feet First (supports dedicating surplus commercial parking tax revenues to fully funding healthy transportation choices equitably across Seattle rather than going to the Mercer Project).