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Friday, December 21, 2007

Governance Reform is the New Prop. 1

posted by on December 21 at 12:04 PM

There’s going to be a ferocious battle this legislative session in Olympia between Sound Transit and backers of governance reform.

Sound Transit is looking to go the ballot while governance reform advocates (Gov. Gregoire among them) want the agency to cool its jets and become a subset of a larger, coordinated transportation agency. Of course, coordinated is short hand for diluted—as in Sound Transit would be part of a giant regional agency where roads (not transit) would be the priority and there would no longer be a dedicated force pushing for light rail.

My take on governance reform is that governance reform is the new Prop. 1—a transit/roads combo platter that seeks consensus to the point of obliterating a pertinent transit project. (And it seems like governance reform advocates aren’t hiding that goal—arguing that light rail should consider stopping at Convention Place, which would fall short of even completing voter-approved Phase 1 to the U. District.)

So, I was glad to see that Sen. Ed Murray, who Gov. Christine Gregoire is counting on to move governance reform legislation (she got him to move RTID+Sound Transit legislation back in 2006), posted this comment over at Seattle Transit Blog in their discussion of governance reform.

I have no current plans to work on a regional proposal. No one has shown much interest. I support ST going to the ballot this fall should they make that decision and will oppose any efforts in the legislature to prevent them. My interest in regional issues remains one of planning. We fail to look at the best way to move people and focus on road corridors vs light rail corridors. That is not how you get to an integrated transportation system.

Ed Murray

December 19, 2007 4:27 PM

Despite Murray’s surprising statement (last time I talked to him about ST, he was hot on governance reform), my sense is that governance reform will have momentum in the legislature.

Before Sound Transit goes on the defensive they should go to work with the philosophy that the best defense is a serious offense and put light rail on the ballot now.

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ST should request that their board be at least partially elected. They should also rewrite resolution 75 and put some assurances behind their promises.

Josh since there is more money in light rail projects why would a new agency be pro road? Why would the people not support transit if you believe the polls?

Light rail fans are being hysterical. They don't want to be accountable.

I thought Gregoire is all pro tearing down the viaduct - is that pro roads.

Posted by do the math | December 21, 2007 11:13 AM

I agree that ST could come out intact under a sensible governance reform package. Makes me nervous as hell to go that route, though. So, as we enter the session, ST should start out on the offense.

Posted by Josh Feit | December 21, 2007 11:19 AM

What Sound Transit should do is get the bus tunnel open. If they can’t show they can operate the damn thing, all other debate becomes irrelevant.

Friday evening before Christmas is one of the heaviest traffic days of the year. Bad timing, folks.

Posted by BB | December 21, 2007 11:41 AM

Light Rail fans probably should be hysterical. As history tells us, when it comes to transportation issues, things in that town have a way of unfolding without regard to what happens at the ballot box.

Posted by Dougsf | December 21, 2007 11:57 AM

I too share the fears about the so-called Governance Reform. To begin with, it adds years to achieving any forward movement on major projects, for the simple reason that voters will NOT vote major new tax revenues to a new and untried agency. Whether it's for transit or roads. Been there, done that, and the results were not pretty.

Voters will insist that any new agency prove itself for a few years before opening the taxpayers' purse. Sound Transit has proved itself, and the polls verify that. Instead of subjecting us all to more years of delay, Sound Transit should move ahead and put light rail back on the ballot in 2008. The long knives are out, and indeed, the best defense is a good offense.

Posted by Perfect Voter | December 21, 2007 12:10 PM

You call it Governance Reform.

I call it the Roads Lobby that tried to shove RTID down our throats and got it's throat cut by the voters.

RTID is dead. People who don't get that are going to have a major problem with reality until they're kicked out of office.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 21, 2007 12:16 PM

Will in Seattle is right that governance reform = roads lobby, but I am not sure who we in Seattle will be able to kick out of office in order to stop getting roads built.

Kick Gregoire out and we get Rossi who is a HELL of a lot more pro-roads than even gregoire is.

Posted by Andrew | December 21, 2007 12:38 PM

Josh Feit writes:

Before Sound Transit goes on the defensive they should go to work with the philosophy that the best defense is a serious offense and put light rail on the ballot now.

I think Josh has got it right here, provided Sound Transit has something they're confident can win at the ballot in 2008.

Posted by cressona | December 21, 2007 12:44 PM


p.s. Click on the link too!

Posted by Josh Feit | December 21, 2007 12:47 PM

Andrew @7, the issue is not kicking people out of office. Yes, Rossi & Co. would be far worse than what we've got.

Gregoire's concern needs to be, if she pisses off progressive voters in Seattle and the near burbs, the issue is not that they will go vote for Rossi, she needs to be concerned that they don't just sit on their hands -- you know, like last time? Malaise among progressive voters will kill her, like it almost did in 2004.

The gov. has nad different positions on different days, re "governance reform". We need to work to make sure she understands the consequences of going off in the wrong direction.

Posted by Perfect Voter | December 21, 2007 2:05 PM

First, credit where it's due: Now that Josh has finally decided to pay attention to this issue he is getting it right. Wish he'd been informed in the fall before spouting off, but better late than never.

Backhanded compliments aside, Josh is totally right that this is about ramming roads down our throats. And we should not have this debate in isolation. Look to the north. The British Columbia government, led by a far-right free-market government, just obliterated their regional transportation board. TransLink was replaced with a board dominated by cronies of the governing party, developers, and pro-roads folks.

The issues in BC and here in WA are strikingly similar. The province is trying to promote new roads, including a massive expansion of a major freeway bridge (the Port Mann Bridge) and dragging its feet on rail.

The "governance reform" here in WA is being sold with the same rhetoric, and clearly for the same purposes. It's an effort to gut Sound Transit before the light rail line opens. The timing is key - once that line opens, and ridership soars well beyond expectations, momentum for more rail and not roads will become nearly unstoppable. Governance reform in 2008 or the 2009 session will allow the Olympia roads lobby to seize control of regional planning *before* that happens so that popular enthusiasm after Central Link opens is blunted.

Posted by eugene | December 21, 2007 2:14 PM

Historically around Seattle, every time mass transit gains ground with a new "ring" voters from the city, the roads lobby proposes a even larger and less democratic(in both senses) regional governing body to stymie its development.

1950-1960s - Seattle
1970-80s- King County
1990-2000 - King, Snohomish, Pierce
2010-? - K,S,P + Kitsap, Thurston, Skagit?, Whatcom?

Each time to gather more rural or newly suburban voters who think we can build more roads in their neighborhood to ease traffic. Then the voters realize they need more transit, just like the city!

Posted by anna | December 21, 2007 2:32 PM

Look, just because I cut thru the carp to tell you what "Governance Reform" really means ... Roads Lobby .... doesn't mean I'm not 100 percent in favor of a directly elected 2/3 or 3/4 ST Board.

It's a great idea.

But ... it's cover for the Roads Lobby to sneak in more roads building that the voting public will NOT support.

Follow the money and the money for the people that write the op-eds on it.

Yes, I am cynical, but it's from long experience in figuring out what's going on, starting with me and a friend confronting the tobacco lobby House Whip for the Liberal Party of Canada when he visited our elite college in BC expecting no one to call him on the bills he snuck in to prop up the tobacco farmers without public oversight.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 21, 2007 2:54 PM

oh, and @10, you are correct that the reason the Gov should keep from trying to use ST as the springboard for the roads lobby is that Seattle is likely to sit on our hands and not vote for her. And it is a very very high risk, sadly.

Chris should get in gear and make sure the light rail goes thru and not let it get derailed by other agendas - defer those fights until after the 2008 ST2.1 vote.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 21, 2007 2:58 PM

@10: That's kind of what happened in the recent election, too. I'm convinced that Eyman's initiative passed because King and Pierce counties had lousy turnout compared to the more conservative parts of the state.

Posted by Orv | December 21, 2007 3:46 PM

An Elected board would mean that folks like Tim Eyman or John Niles (Kemper's little transit buddy) would end up on the board and we would not get any transit ever.

The way we have it is actually really good, because the politicians who have the ear to the ground in their districts are the ones setting the policy. Look at the port of seattle for what happens when you have an elected, separated from the rest of government organization.

They wasted, what $100mn in just 5 years?

Posted by andrew | December 21, 2007 4:28 PM

Hey, andrew, the monorail wasted $150 million in 3 years, and their elected "accountable" members were the worst lapdogs of the bunch. Had they actually asked some tough questions, that project may be underway today. Elected doesn't mean accountable - DO THE MATH has a unique talent for finding a way to always get it wrong.

The consistent and growing public sentiment in favor of light rail makes anti-transit goons realize they have only one chance to enact their freeway-obsessed "vision": if you can't win under the current set of rules, change 'em.

Kemper's OWGARs (old white guys against rail) and Discovery Institute's Reagan Era throwbacks have researched what happened in Denver when the RTD board went from appointed to elected. The result was 8 years of delay for light rail, two (bought and paid-for) Libertarian board of which became RTD chair, and tanked their light rail ballot measure from within. It took civic leaders in Denver years to finally send that guy packing (now he runs a think tank similar to the ones John Niles works for)

Ted Van Dyk and other right wing types pretend the new mega agency will be all about "accountability." If you want an "accountable," elected board example, take a look at what the monied interests did to Alec Fisken on the Port of Seattle Commission. Fisken was one of the few members who actually tried to point the Port Commission ship in the direction of the public, and away from the big corrupting businesses which form the foundation of the good old boy network there.

Since the average voter couldn't name his/her Port Commissioner if their lives depended on it, Fisken (the reformer) was tossed out in favor of a Republican good old boy, thanks to the money that flowed into his campaign war chest.

A Regional Transportation Commission would provide similar results...and the anti-railers behind governance "reform" know that. Why do you think a bunch of anti-government types would be promoting more government? The federated ST board does not allow the big-monied elitists like Kemper Freeman or Mark Baerwaldt to purchase a seat or two on the new RTC. Appointed board members may be one-step away from direct elections, but this firewall prevents the road warriors from throwing their money around, and trying to kill of light rail from inside the chicken coop.

Posted by Ron S | December 21, 2007 6:00 PM

John Stanton (aided by his lapdog Norm Rice) has one goal in mind for this transportation "reform" effort: take the I-90 light rail money, and flush it down the 520 (lotsa bells and whistles version) rat hole.

Stanton's Points Communities neighbors "deserve" the most expensive lids/parks money can buy.

Posted by Ron S | December 21, 2007 6:05 PM

"Light rail fans are being hysterical. They don't want to be accountable. "

Keep in mind, when DO THE MATH perpetually grinds his axe about a lack of accountability on the ST board, he's really just whining about the fact they don't follow his ignorance-based version of what a regional high capacity light rail network should look like.

DO THE MATH (mantra: everybody is a frustrated transit planner) could care less whether ST's mission is REGIONAL in scope. DTM also isn't bothered by the fact Seattle does not have the tax capacity to turn his naive concepts into reality. He just wants the suburbs to pay for a train that serves his neighborhood.

Since DO THE MATH's ideas will never come to fruition, one can expect plenty more whining and disinformation coming across his internet connection...for years and years to come....

Posted by Ron S | December 21, 2007 6:12 PM

Don't waste your time on "do the math."

It's Peter Sherwin, whose math skills helped give Seattle transportation a black eye for many years to come.

Posted by Manny | December 21, 2007 6:55 PM

At 19#
"DO THE MATH (mantra: everybody is a frustrated transit planner) could care less whether ST's mission is REGIONAL in scope."

What a laugh. Regional?? Give me a break. It is severly limited to the small number of stations it services
on its single line.

"Regional light rail" will be parallel to freeways in that they will promote regional sprawl by facilitating only
a few stations and distant, suburban terminals. It does nothing to improve urban density, and it only serves a limited number of neighborhoods. If you live in Ballard, West Seattle, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Wedgewood, Greenlake. Licton Springs, Georgetown, Belltown, South Park, Seward Park, Madison Park, View Ridge, Laurelhurst, Sand- point, Wedgewood, University District etc., etc., etc., don't waste your money voting for this garbage. It does nothing to meet your transit needs and only drains your wallet.

Posted by Princess Caroline | December 21, 2007 8:38 PM

I've been supportive of the concept of governance reform in the past and I think there's a way to do it that would be much better than the status quo in terms of making voters more comfortable handing over their hard earned tax dollars to fund new transit options. But not yet. Most of the people behind governance reform are looking for ways to leverage the road dollars they need to build out I-405. And, as Ted Dyck's piece indicated, they'll use to kill light rail in the process.

It'd be great to get more consolidation of planning efforts and, maybe, merge the transit agencies. But, until Kemper Freeman and his buddies are finally relegated to the dustbin of history (to occur upon the passage of ST2.1) reform, or more accurately, streamlining, needs to wait. Also, the exit polling on Prop. 1 indicated this was not a big issue for voters.

Posted by Bill LaBorde | December 21, 2007 8:54 PM

Good points, Bill.

First, ST2.1 in 2008.

Then, after the 2008 Blue Wave, we consider a separate vote for a directly elected transit board.

Horse. Then cart.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 21, 2007 10:35 PM

Remember, though, that to win any ST2.1 vote, Seattle voters will have to come in heavily pro. To win in Seattle, all the neighborhoods which would not be served by the original ST2 plan will need - somehow - to feel like or actually be served by this second plan. Puts an interesting onus on the insiders at Sound Transit - can you come up with something which will get a clear majority of Seattleites to vote yes on?

Posted by chas Redmond | December 22, 2007 1:22 AM

Uh, Ron S. Why are you arguing against the guy who came up with the expression "Old White Guys Against Rail", check out the Seattle Transit blog if you question my knowledge of the issue.

Posted by Andrew | December 22, 2007 3:45 AM

Wait -- you mean that we're in a situation where the legislature is going to build the roads projects proposed in Prop 1 anyway, at mass transit's expense? Gee, I just wish somebody would've told people that before the vote...oh.

Why anybody is surprised by this I have no idea. What's going to happen is exactly what everybody said was going to happen -- the roads projects are gonna get built, and by not supporting Prop 1 the pro-mass transit people have ensured that light rail expansion is dead for quite some time. Told 'ya so!

Posted by Bax | December 22, 2007 9:44 AM

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