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Monday, April 7, 2008

Like Rapid Transit and Taxes on Plastic Shopping Bags and Removing Elevated Downtown Freeways and Replacing them With Boulevards…

posted by on April 7 at 10:30 AM

this could never work here. Because, you know, our terrain is too hilly and our downtown would die and our poor people really, really need those plastic shopping bags and in general the very, very special uniqueness of absolutely everything about our very, very special region means, of course, that things that work elsewhere—even things that work everywhere else—could never, ever work here. But this seems like an idea worth discussing at least:

Pittsburghers complain about the failure to change with the times, but the release of a citizens report on the need for the city and Allegheny County to pursue a merger is a powerful impetus to get moving in the right direction. The long-awaited report, from a committee headed by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, assessed the bureaucratic duplication, the administrative overlap and the economic roadblocks that stem from too many layers of local government. It is not exactly a new idea.

Once again, the people of Allegheny County are asked if they want to move to a form of government that is not only modern and streamlined, but also holds the promise of greater efficiency and even some savings…. The Nordenberg report advances three broad recommendations that allow citizens to fill in the details: the county executive and the mayor should intensify their efforts toward cooperation that enhances efficiency; the city and county should sign a formal cooperation compact to ensure that such partnership continues in the future; and the question of city-county consolidation should be placed before the voters as soon as possible.

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A city-county? Dull. I want a city-state.

Posted by elenchos | April 7, 2008 11:13 AM

would anyone on the eastside agree to it?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 11:15 AM

Efficiency is often a code word for less democracy and more pro-business policies.

Our city has a pretty decent tax base so there isn't much reason to merge with suburbia

Posted by jonglix | April 7, 2008 11:18 AM

The Eastside doesn't want to subsidize our STI clinics and wonton crack addiction. That's why they moved to suburbia in the first place.

Posted by Ziggity | April 7, 2008 11:20 AM

That is a fucking stupid idea: the needs of voters in Fall City and Black Diamond are nothing like those of capitol hill or belltown residents, and grouping them together would be a disaster/

Posted by Andrew | April 7, 2008 11:20 AM

@4 they already do!

King Co funds Harborview and the buses that take the poor folks there. And plenty come from outside the city limits

Posted by jonglix | April 7, 2008 11:26 AM

Wait. Who said merge? I thought the idea was for Seattle to become it's own county.

If you're talking about West Seattle and Redmond and Issaquah becoming as single city-county with Seattle, then hell naw. They have their problems, we have ours. Let them stay in King County and we will be Seattle county. And some day, the Free City of Seattle.

Posted by elenchos | April 7, 2008 11:27 AM

Hey, I'm just glad Dan is reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and not the minor-league, Santorum-loving Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

P.S. Go, Pens!

Posted by cressona | April 7, 2008 11:29 AM

hell fucking no. this is one that really wouldn't work here because Seattle and King County represent such different scopes of territory. city-county consolidation is functional in communities where the city makes up a significant majority of the county's population. examples: Indianapolis-Marion County, Kansas City-Wyandotte County, Louisville-Jefferson County, and Jacksonville-Duval County. In all of these examples, the city was by far the predominant municipality in the county. King County has three times the population of Seattle and includes many constituencies that would not be amenable to it, and merging these two would result in more conservative city policy than you currently get, because you would have Reagan Dunn setting city policy instead of Sally Clark.

by all means, Dan, discuss away, but there are a thousand other good-government reforms we need way more than this poorly thought out proposal.

Posted by lorax | April 7, 2008 11:35 AM

and by the way, Elenchos, West Seattle is already part of Seattle. since 1907.

Posted by lorax | April 7, 2008 11:36 AM

Oh...wonton crack addiction. Delicious, Ziggity.

Posted by tomasyalba | April 7, 2008 11:36 AM

If @7 is right, and we change to be like SFO, with the city and county borders identical, then yeah, we could totally do this. But otherwise, King County is way too fucking big. I barely want people in Mill Creek having a say in county government, and I sure as hell wouldn't want them messing with my neighborhood.

Posted by Gitai | April 7, 2008 11:44 AM

Pittsburgh is only a third of Allegheny County's population, although it is by far the largest municipality. Pittsburgh's problem is that it's still running itself like it's the top-ten US city it was several decades ago, on a significantly eroded tax-base.

I'm not certain whether it's a good idea or not to merge Pittsburgh and Allegheny county- I do know, however, that as a resident of Pittsburgh I pay way more taxes than people in the burbs do. If there wasn't such a tax advantage to living outside the city limits, perhaps the population of Pittsburgh would increase and the value of my house would go up. But as it stands there isn't enough tax revenue, despite a steady stream of new additional taxes (like the poured-drink tax) and when the authorities cut spending they cut in stupid places, like mass transit. So I'm in favor of consolidation if we can squeeze more money out of suburbanites whose enjoyment of Pittsburgh's civic institutions is subsidized by city residents like myself.

Posted by oljb | April 7, 2008 12:11 PM

All this "city-state" talk is exactly the kind of thinking that turns working cities into Detroits. It's the sound of Capital Hill and Belltown. Most of the city doesn't look like that, and the difference between city and county is totally arbitrary and unrecognizable at the fringes. Think there's any kind of big change where Seattle shades into Shoreline, or Tukwila? Downtown Bellevue is denser than most neighborhoods in Seattle. And we DO have similar, and interconnected, needs. I think it's a great idea -- with an expanded district council.

If you don't, you run the risk of sidelining Seattle and driving business to the burbs even more than it is already. We have regional problems that demand regional solutions.

Posted by Fnarf | April 7, 2008 12:34 PM

That's what we're doing here in San Francisco, only we've somehow mastered a way to add more layers of bureaucracy than one would expect, but still retained all our local-level corruption at the same time. Our situation of course differs from this proposition in a couple of ways, but there's no reason theirs can't meander as wildly from what you'd expect.

Up Good Unigov!

Posted by Dougsf | April 7, 2008 12:39 PM

A merger doesn't make sense. What we need is to place the right powers at the right level of government.

I think some city powers should be devolved to neighborhoods. In terms of development, the city should have overall regulations about density, parking, etc. but leave most of the details and permitting process for local implementation.

Other powers should be taken up by larger entities. For example, Metro Transit doesn't make sense at the city OR county level--its routes should be part of Sound Transit and integrated into the system along with Community Transit and Pierce Transit. A separate regional agency for roads would also be a good idea.

Basically, the governance problems I see are:

1) Neighborhoods have no official voice, which I think actually makes unofficial NIMBYism a bigger problem. People see poorly thought development in their neighborhood but have no direct way to make it better or bear the responsibility of their own choices--it's easier to just blame the city while opposing all development.

2) There's no effective regional government, leading to suburban vs. urban infighting that doesn't accomplish anything.

3) The state is actively counterproductive in many cases, largely because the interests of non-metro WA are not the same as its metro areas, and the interests of the Puget Sound metro area are different from those of other metro areas in the state. This creates a whole different level of political infighting that's unnecessary and at odds with good policy.

4) The federal government is controlled by insane right-wing ideologues who are actively opposed to everything the Seattle area stands for if they notice us at all.

Posted by Cascadian | April 7, 2008 12:42 PM

I generally agree with Cascadian's points but I want to focus in on two of them.

First, regarding Metro, I agree that it makes sense to scale your transit network as big as you can within the metro (small m) area and it would be great to see Sound Transit take over local bus service and to see its boundaries expanded to include all of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties and even perhaps Thurston and Kitsap counties. Of course, the downside of this is that these more conservative suburban counties are not nearly as amenable to transit as we are in King so we might see them shoot down transit measures that would pass overwhelmingly here.

In regard to "there's no effective regional government," I think that's only partially true, and I would refer to an article by (gag) Chris Vance from Crosscut in November: We have a regional government: the King County Council. Rather than trying for some grand reorganization and creating new governance bodies, it makes sense to empower the King County Council to make more decisions on these matters of regional significance and, when necessary, to convene jointly with the Snohomish and Pierce County Councils.

Of course, this would require action by the Legislature, which doesn't like to giver bodies other than itself too much power. So don't expect it to happen.

Posted by lorax | April 7, 2008 1:09 PM

The concept that we in the Puget Sound could do what people in Vancouver (Vancouver Regional District) or Portland (similar) have done is ... just shocking.

We have always been at war with Oceania.

But I like the idea of becoming Sealth County and absorbing Mercer Island and Tukwilla.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 7, 2008 1:35 PM

Will, your last sentence is at odds with your first two. Sound Transit's district is similar in extent to Metro Vancouver and TriMet. A Seattle-only political island is nothing like either of those examples.

Also, everything you've ever said about light rail belies your claim to support regional transportation planning like that in Vancouver and Portland.

Posted by Cascadian | April 7, 2008 2:59 PM

Seattle County would give the city better in-city transit and make it eligible for state and federal money that goes through the county level.

Vancouver's system is less than 20 miles long not the 70 mile long system envisioned by ST.

Posted by bob | April 7, 2008 3:52 PM

bob the skytrain has several lines with total length way more than 20 miles.

Anyway they are more dense there. Like in most other cities. We are nondense so we need a transit system that is nondenssity based, and goes 70 miles.

Talking about what they do in other places means you don't get what is unique here. We have hills and bodies of water and growth restrictions, so we are pretty unique. This is another reason why our rail cost structure is also unique.

Posted by joe | April 7, 2008 4:22 PM

While the density of Vancouver proper is much higher than Seattle's, comparing metropolitan regions gives much closer results. Vancouver Metro has a density about four times that of King County, but the eastern 2/3 of the County is relatively empty. Skytrain serves places that are quite similar to parts of Seattle, like Surrey and New Westminster.

According to Wikipedia Skytrain is currently 30.8 miles on 2 lines, with another 11.8 miles coming on the new airport line next year. Bob is probably remembering when it was only a single line. They opened a second in 2002.

Vancouver has two main advantages over us: a long head start, and a political structure that makes protest and blockage more difficult. They can get things done much more quickly, it seems.

Posted by Fnarf | April 7, 2008 6:25 PM

@19 - one can hold two contrary thoughts in one's head, you know. There is not only one solution - sometimes there are many different solutions, which are good and/or bad to varying degrees. Which is why I said "But ..."

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 8, 2008 12:34 AM

AWESOME IDEA. Hannover, Germany did this in the late '90s and by all accounts, never regretted it.

The official borders of cities just don't have much to do with their functional borders anymore.

The creation of urban regions is a damned good way to deal with that. Go Pittsburgh!!

Posted by k | April 8, 2008 7:32 AM

Fnarf Skytrain is about 18 miles end to end. The second line is not an exnsion but rather a second line to NE of the first line. They form an ellipical loop shape.

ST's plans are for a straight line, not including the MSFT line, of about 70 miles from Tacoma to Everett.

A combination of Link from Seatac to Northgate and the monorail green line would look a lot more like what Vancouver has than the current ST plans.

Posted by bob | April 8, 2008 8:07 AM

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