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Friday, August 26, 2005

Mayor Still Doesn’t Get It on South Lake Union

Posted by on August 26 at 10:25 AM

For the past few weeks, the Stranger Election Control Board has been meeting with this year’s crew of municipal candidates. We’ve been meeting a lot of the candidates at local bars, including one get-together on the top floor of the Columbia Tower’s private club (The Stratus Lounge) to drink with Jan Drago, Casey Corr, Ángel Bolaños, and the Socialist candidate. We also did shots with a few candidates over at Cowgirls Inc.

Yesterday, however, we met with Mayor Nickels at the College Inn Pub on the Ave. We met with him for about an hour while he sipped some merlot, and we ate nachos, drank vodkas, and asked questions. I dig Mayor Nickels, but it’s clear he still doesn’t “get it” on South Lake Union.

For example: I asked him why he opposed the Council's idea to change the formula for taxing SLU businesses to pay for their streetcar. (The council tax plan linked local business payments to the benefit realized by the increased property values of owners around the streetcar, while the mayor's version sidestepped that issue and left small businesses who weren't benefiting much to pay on an equal footing with big beneficiaries). Nickels flat-out avoided my question about equity, saying only that he negotiated in good faith with the local businesses, and they had agreed to a tax limit up to $25 million (of the trolley's $45 million cost), and he didn't want to renege on that deal. The problem is: That deal only helped the handful of SLU property owners who were benefiting handsomely from the trolley without having their payment reflect that benefit proportionally. Conversely, the businesses, who weren't seeing as much of a whopping benefit from the trolley, would be kicking in on a disproportionate footing from the losing end. So really, the only folks Nickels was worried about disappointing were the big Vulcan property owners who wanted to hold down their payments. Nickels point about the $25 million cap ignores the question of just how to divvy up the money. It's a dodge for the rich property owners who want everyone else to pay for their amenity.