The Seattle City Council is holding a briefing that outlines their plan to postpone signing contracts on the deep-bore tunnel until February, and when they do, insert a provision making it an administrative decision, thereby blocking a public vote, according to sources at City Hall. City Attorney Pete Holmes will address the council any minute now.
As I mentioned on Saturday, the Seattle City Council was expected to roll out some new plan for the deep-bore tunnel today—specifically a plan to block a referendum. Holmes's legal opinion will, in theory, explain how it's legal to authorize the tunnel agreements while blocking the referendum process.
UPDATE: Conlin says the council considered holding this meeting in executive session—an attempt to hold it privately—but the council elected to hold the discussion in public.
UPDATE 9:46 AM: While we're waiting for Holmes to address the council, it's worth noting that—if the council does indeed seek to postpone contract till February—it will clash with the council's claim that delay causes problems. "The primary cause of potential cost overruns is intentional delay. Delaying the project only increases the danger of a catastrophe and hurts the economy and Seattle taxpayers," Conlin wrote on his blog earlier this year.
UPDATE 9:51 AM: Now Conlin is talking about the city's virtuous goal of carbon neutrality. I can't wait to hear how building a new freeway through the city helps this goal.
UPDATE 10:03 AM: Sources at City Hall say that the council will be introducing a resolution today that outlines the plan I mentioned above. So here's the question: What will Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond say at the 2:30 PM meeting of the viaduct committee, where she is slated to address the council? Does the resolution give the state and contract bidders who want to build the tunnel some sense of security that the political seas are stable enough to proceed? Or is this the same sort of delay that Hammond and Conlin have insisted they were trying to avoid?
Regardless, all of this maneuvering demonstrates two things: (1) The council is not confident in signing a contract before the bids are in, which is expected to occur in November, and (2) that the council knows it's on the unpopular side of the project. The only reason to sidestep a public vote is because they know voters oppose them.
UPDATE 10:06 AM: You can go to the 2:30 PM meeting at City Hall and comment.
UPDATE 10:41: They are distributing a copy of the resolution now. I asked Council Spokeswoman Laura Lockard on the phone just now if she had a copy of the resolution and could email me a copy. She said the meeting was underway and then hung up on me.
UPDATE: 10:47 AM: Sally Bagshaw says the council will vote next week, and signals that the long-term plan is to block a public vote. "We are going to be submitting a resolution we will be voting on it next week," she says. "The resolution state council intention to sign but we are not signing right now we are going to put them forward until January and February. We are going to sign this resolution and vote next week. we are sending a strong message that the city intends to go forward with his project. ... We are stopping the endless delay. A friend pulled me aside and pleaded, 'Don't take this back to a public vote.'"
Bagshaw noted that Seattle is not a party to the tunnel contract (between a construction team and the state), and the city is thereby indemnified from financial obligation to pay for cost overruns. However, her analysis deliberately ignores the core issue: If the project runs over budget, the contractor can collect from the state—and the state says it will make Seattle pay. The contract here is weaker than the legislature's intent to make Seattle pay cost overruns if they do occur.
UPDATE 11:00 AM: City Attorney Pete Holmes explains that the city has reached a deal with the state to delay signing a contract despite a time line that said the city had to get this done by August. "We reached out to the govenor. We learned last week from the governor's office that WSDOT and the city can wait and see what the bids look like. this is really a win-win... It means we can continue to do our work and let this issue of cost overruns work itself out. This is very good development."
Council President Richard Conlin adds, "What we are doing right now is saying that the city needs to to be in same place as state—that we will wait until February and they we know what the bids are actually going to be. By endorsing these agreements, we are are moving forward without making a final decision."
And then they make the case that this isn't a delay. "It is important to point out that the council decision is not to delay the program," says City Council Member Tim Burgess. The bids are still due when they are due. Our action is not delaying the project."
UPDATE 11:20 AM: Here is the resolution (.pdf). It doesn't specifically mention hard dates that the council has to approve a contract, or the council's intent to bypass a public vote. Ultimately, this allows the council to avoid passing an ordinance—which is subject to a referendum—until any time they choose.
More after the jump.
UPDATE 11:30: The council is back-stepping while also being hypocritical. They are acknowledging that, in lieu seeing bids or a thorough impact statement, this project is too risky for the city to sign off on now. They have to wait till February, but that's not a problem.
This is just doublespeak. The council has stamped its feet for months to claim that asking the legislature to take action in winter would delay the project—that it would cause cost overruns. That creating any uncertainty for the bidders would cause cost overruns. That having this debate any longer would cause cost overruns. So we had to move now. Or we did.
The bidding process was always on a timeline set by the state and the design teams. Seattle's contract had no bearing on that process—not when the mayor or community groups called for it, when the council condemned it. And not now, when the council support it ""The mayor's formula is a recipe for delay one that will cost this project money and one that will cost [sic] cost overruns," Conlin told KOMO in June.
Now the council is claiming the opposite. When they are concerned, it's not a problem. When other poeple have an issue, it's a bad idea. But still, the council has no plan to deal with cost overruns if and when they occur.