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Monday, February 18, 2008

My Dream Ticket: Obama/Sound Transit ‘08

posted by on February 18 at 18:31 PM

Someone like Wes Clark would probably be a good VP choice for Obama: tough, older, NATO, security white dude.

But there’s a lot of other people who should jump on with Obama. This guy’s going to have coat tails. Gov. Gregoire was smart to endorse him, and she will win if he’s on the top of the ticket.

Right now, the Sound Transit staff and board are trying to decide if they should go to voters with a light rail plan in ‘08. My advice: Don’t make your decision until you see if Obama cinches the nomination. If he does: go, go, go!

Voters will be thinking big. They’ll be voting for sweeping measures. And they’ll be a pack of energized liberals.

There are a lot a pluses to Obama—for one: he’s a flaming liberal egghead wrapped up in charisma—but a big plus locally? Progressive measures will fly.

Quick, someone dust off that city council districts initiative; haul out an income tax measure; and by all means, light rail is sure thing.

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Josh: Is a Wesley Clark VP Slot possible with Clark's endorsement of HRC? I agree with you it is a great match but wonder if it would happen.

Posted by Andrew | February 18, 2008 6:38 PM

I would REALLY REALLY REALLY like Seattle to switch to city council districts. Outlying neighborhoods (e.g. South Seattle, North Seattle) can't get any attention with the current system for anything. Only rich areas of town and corporations are truly represented on the council.

Posted by S. M. | February 18, 2008 6:44 PM

Interesting, yesterday I pulled out the old districts initiative from 2003 and started to redraft it.

This time the idea is to have both districts and a few at large, like 7 districts (to match the school board director districts) and 2 at large.

The last time we ran this we went for 9 districts and none at large.

Posted by Cleve | February 18, 2008 6:52 PM

It isn't often that I feel like putting the words "Josh Feit" and "thinking what I'm thinking" together in the same sentence, but really, to see a resurrected Sound Transit 2 on the November ballot alongside Barack Obama—well, it just doesn't get any better than that. Sound Transit 2 + Obama = a kind of progressive perfect storm.

Posted by cressona | February 18, 2008 7:06 PM

I thought your dream ticket was obama/monorail

Posted by Andrew | February 18, 2008 7:07 PM

It's funny how cautious centrists like Obama -- or Howard Dean before him -- can become invested with dreams, to the point that Obama is called a "flaming liberal." But if the ticket were laden with a wish list of initiatives, calling Obama a liberal can actually make him one, at least locally.

Whether such projection of desire can turn Obama into a real liberal president remains to be seen. But it's worth a shot. Kucinich is most definitely never going to be elected, so the next best thing is someone like Obama.

Posted by elenchos | February 18, 2008 7:11 PM

This assumes that the Sound Transit 2 plan is actually worthy of our financial support. That awaits being seen. It's an element of the blindness of Sound Transit that there is NO capacity on the north link to add passengers from a 520 trans-lake line. Hence, the supreme low priority of that mass transit route. Unbelievable shortsightedness here and clearly a system which was engineered to low expectations. I'm really not that sure that Sound Transit's present Link plans are worth continuing. But, trying to remain open, I'll wait and see what the ballot actually holds.

Posted by chas Redmond | February 18, 2008 7:11 PM

They should put up the best plan they can come up with, with full transparency and disclosure about costs, finances, ridership and so on. Up or down, it's about accountability.

The hurdles will still be reliance on the sales tax, their failure to alllow directly elected board members, and limitations of the proposal such as the 520 problem alluded to above, and that they won't have any rail link to almost half of Seattle from W. Seattle to Ballard. Though, they will tax that area, and ask for its votes.
Leaving out half the city is not a feature you see on most major rail systems around the world.

Posted by Cleve | February 18, 2008 7:25 PM

I remember reading a month or so ago in the P-I how some members of the Sound Transit board were reluctant to go back to the ballot this year. Well, that may all be posturing, but it is worth asking… What could they put on the ballot in 2008? Or rather, what do they have the time to put on the ballot in 2008, what with all the process they would have to go through? Would they have to do new EISs?

FWIW, it seems to me the following light rail extensions would be political sure bets:

  1. North to Northgate.
  2. East to Redmond.
  3. South to Federal Way. Hey, Fed Way is not so far south of SeaTac, and it's going hugeass anyway.

Well, I've only mentioned King County so far. So what does that leave for Snohomish and Pierce?

I know I would be happy to see the original ST2 plan go back intact, sans RTID. I also realize those Pierce/Sno extensions drew a lot of heat from the Seattle-centric enviro crowd. Would the likes of Sierra Club be willing to stump for the same extensions they opposed when those extensions were part of Prop. 1?

And if not those extensions, what would Pierce and Snohomish get instead? How would that fit into the whole subarea equity arrangement? How could that be planned in time? Any alternative sure sounds like a 2010 thing to me, which would be a shame, but I'm not the expert.

Posted by cressona | February 18, 2008 7:31 PM

Cleve @8: Leaving out half the city is not a feature you see on most major rail systems around the world.

Cleve, I have to say this statement is a doozy, even by your standards. So let me ask, what major rail system around the world didn't start out leaving out half or more of the central city it was serving?

Posted by cressona | February 18, 2008 7:42 PM

Too beautiful:

Sound Transit 2 + Obama = a kind of progressive perfect storm.

Yes, the Little Engine that Could and the Obama campaign.

The train whose slogan is I-Think-I- Can and the campaign whose slogan is Yes We Can


Posted by ouch | February 18, 2008 7:56 PM


You have a false premise.

ST is NOT planning to "start out" with Link in the I 5 corridor to Redmond FW etc., & then add rail in the W. Seattle-Ballard corridor later -- they have no plan to add W Seattle or Ballard.
Their plan is to leave out half the city for a generation or so.

I am not aware of a system elsewhere that got built by planning to tax half of the biggest city and provide no service while extending out to the nondense areas.

Usually they build transit from the inside out and serve the vast majority of the central city jurisdiction, the denser areas.

My standard has always been that the whole city should be covered without duplication. That's why I favored I 53 years ago and when campaigning for monorail the last time that's why I said it's just the west side line while light rail is the east side line we need both they work together and if we kill the west side line (a) those on the west side of Seattle will have less reason to vote for light rail. And, (b) those served directly by the east side line (light rail) will be unable to access destinations on the west side (monorail) line. So, leaving out half the city hurts everyone. And IMHO it's immoral to tax West Seattle and Ballard for a generation or so and give them nothing.

You can call that a "doozy" but if you are agreeing there should be service to West Seattle and Ballard -- where is it? When do we get it? Do we have to wait another 20 years after 2027?

2047 is the target date??

And if you make personal attacks you should have enough guts to ID yourself, rather than hiding in anonymity.

Get it, man?

Posted by Cleve | February 18, 2008 8:08 PM


Re: districts - go for 5 districts (cut close to our current Leg Districts) and 4 at-large positions. That way we have districts that we're already familiar with (our current LDs), and everybody still gets to "vote for a majority", which will cut the legs out from under the downtown business interest.

Seriously - look at a 5/4 split. I really think it's the way to go.

Posted by Willis | February 18, 2008 8:35 PM

Josh - Did you only just realize this?

Posted by Daniel K | February 18, 2008 8:40 PM

I definitely like the 5/4 split for exactly the reasons cited by Willis. Thanks, needed that. Now let's see if we can make it happen.

Posted by chas Redmond | February 18, 2008 9:21 PM

Based on options presented to the ST board by its planning staff, here's what a 2008 ST 2.1 proposal could look like, by sub-area:

-King North: light rail to Northgate
-East King: light rail via I-90 to Bellevue or Overlake; more frequent bus service on 520 corridor
-King South: light rail extension to Des Moines or Star Lake; all-day, 2-way Sounder service
-Pierce: all-day, 2-way Sounder service; more frequent express service to Seattle (no light rail extension to Tacoma, which Prop. 1 exit polling showed was a drag on the yes vote), possibly some extensions of the the Tacoma light rail
-Snohomish: more frequent, express bus service; Everett light rail similar to the service now operating in Tacoma

The goal would be to complete construction by 2020 and fund it at either .3 or .4 cent sales tax increase.

Posted by Bill LaBorde | February 18, 2008 10:31 PM

Richardson or Dodd would make a good VP choice.

ST2.1 should step up for Nov 2008, and ride the Blue Tidal Wave to victory.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 19, 2008 12:26 AM

obama/clark would sooo be santos/mcgarry. life imitating art.

Posted by Judith | February 19, 2008 3:32 AM

@18, but McGary died on election day.....

BTW, on a West Wing note, did anyone notice that Obama's campaign organization is called "Obama for America"? Hmmm "Bartlett for America" anyone?

Posted by Andrew | February 19, 2008 7:13 AM

people forget the down ticket effect if Obama gets elected.

With a strong democrat at the helm, all those fringe right wing anti-transit voices might all go away.

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 19, 2008 7:44 AM

I don't know why nobody has mentioned this, but ST2 included a study of the west Seattle corridor, including Ballard and Fremont. Why don't they put that study in with the 2008 ballot measures? It's an important piece of planning that needs to be done, and it will help show that West Seattle isn't going to be totally ignored.

Posted by Greg | February 19, 2008 8:06 AM

Sometimes it's fun to go back through the Stranger's archives and find all the negative things that the old Josh Feit had to say about Sound Transit.

You know, just for kicks.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | February 19, 2008 8:46 AM

Could Aaron Sorkin be ultimately responsible for the resurgence in the Dem party?

Posted by NaFun | February 19, 2008 8:48 AM


Yes please! I remember back when the first initiative was debated feeling the 5/4 split was the perfect mix, but either way, I'm heartened to know someone is doing something with this, and that it involves some kind of split, even if it's not perfect. You'll have plenty of help if you jump in on this, Cleve!

Posted by Juris | February 19, 2008 9:58 AM


That is simply great, truely.

Btw, Sound Transit will start Light-Rail testing between the tunnel and Sea-Tac Airport in June. The Tunnel Boring Machine should be coming out of the tunnel next week.

Posted by Brian | February 19, 2008 10:47 AM

Cleve @12,

You seem awfully outraged at the idea of taxing Ballard and West Seattle and not giving them rail service, but perfectly pleased to take the tax dollars of outer suburbs without giving them squat.

There's a reason other transit systems were able to more completely serve their inner cores before building out: state and federal government chipped in. Meanwhile, our state is MIA, and since we have to vote on everything there has to be a complete plan, adequately sourced from local taxes, before we go to the Feds. That makes it hard to support more Seattle lines in a financially responsible and politically palatable way.

When you have a politically and economically viable alternative that gets to West Seattle and Ballard before 2030 or so, let me know. For now, I'm going to stick with Sound Transit, which actually has a halfway-decent track record with rail lines.

Posted by MHD | February 19, 2008 11:43 AM

I wanted ST2, but I'll take ST2.1 as it is shaping up (as described by Bill LaBorde in a previous post.) It would be relatively trivial to throw in a study of West Seattle light rail as part of the package to indicate that Seattle's going to get more in the long run.

But we can't scale back any further than the all-out 2.1 plan, and it's politically impossible to kill sub-area equity. If Obama's the nominee, put it on the ballot this year. Otherwise wait until 2010.

Posted by Cascadian | February 19, 2008 11:47 AM


The politically viable way to get W. Seattle/Ballard light rail before 2030 is for Sound Transit to let each sub-area have the power to tax itself more to build more than is possible under sub-area equity. Then Seattle/North King residents can vote to pay more to add in-city lines. W. Seattle and Ballard are obvious choices, following the old monorail Green Line. An extension from W. Seattle to Seatac would complete the southern side of the west line, and long-term a northern spur along the 99 corridor might be a good idea. I'd also like to see a cross-town line from Ballard to the U-District through Fremont, and a Northshore spur along Lake City and Bothell Way. That would complete the city's light rail network.

The Eastside could tax itself more for its needs, including hooking up with the Northshore line, adding rail lines on 405 from Bothell to Renton and from Bellevue to Issaquah, and expanding bus or commuter rail service in lower-density areas.

Pierce and Snohomish would only have their connector lines to the central system left to do, so they would probably be OK without spending more.

Posted by Cascadian | February 19, 2008 12:01 PM

"I don't know why nobody has mentioned this, but ST2 included a study of the west Seattle corridor, including Ballard and Fremont. Why don't they put that study in with the 2008 ballot measures? It's an important piece of planning that needs to be done, and it will help show that West Seattle isn't going to be totally ignored."

I would agree, Greg, and I hope they put that in there; but a lower tax rate (what the Stranger essentially endorsed by opposing Prop 1) will likely exclude most of the so-called "peanut butter" projects in favor of the "must-haves" as Bill Laborde so artfully listed off above.

Posted by Max | February 19, 2008 2:42 PM

"My standard has always been that the whole city should be covered without duplication. That's why I favored I 53 years ago and when campaigning for monorail the last time that's why I said it's just the west side line while light rail is the east side line we need both they work together and if we kill the west side line (a) those on the west side of Seattle will have less reason to vote for light rail."

Cleve Stockmeyer has only had one consistent standard: lying.

The whole time he was feigning the pitch about "light rail and monorail working together", he was always working with conservative anti-transit forces to help kill of the light rail project.

Want proof? Skip down to the part where he's playing legal advisor to Kemper's people:

Posted by Max | February 19, 2008 5:23 PM

And what's everyone's going-in guess as to the support for ST2.1? 52% in favor? 50%? 65%

The racketeers want to know. Will someone buy negative ads?

Posted by chas Redmond | February 19, 2008 5:24 PM

A few examples of how "accountable" an elected transportation board member can be (don't event get me started on Cleve Stockmeyer's moral lowground antics on imminent domain)

Monorail chief gets $11,000 raise

Members of the Seattle Monorail Project executive committee voted 3-1 last night to raise Horn's annual salary as monorail project director to at least $184,573 next year, up 5 percent from his current pay level. That increase doesn't include any separate cost-of-living adjustment.

If the adjustment is what the agency thinks it might be, Horn, 49, could end up getting an $11,900 raise, staying among the state's higher-paid public agency directors.

Horn's supporters said he'd earned the raise by guiding the agency through a year of controversies, political opposition and complex legalities, to a point at which it is preparing to build the $1.6 billion, 14-mile system and has tentative approval to use city streets.

"We are rocking and rolling here, and I think we should say (yes to) it," committee member Cleve Stockmeyer said. Committee members Tom Weeks and Kristina Hill agreed.
(Dec. '04)
"At twice the rate per mile than the monorail, "light rail (costs) billions more and that's (considered) OK," Stockmeyer said." (August, '05)
"If we're not asking for higher taxes and not asking for a shorter line, I don't believe there's any reason we should go to a new vote,
because we're doing what people voted for already," board member Cleve Stockmeyer said.
(August, '05)
Shorter monorail line may be on ballot

Stockmeyer and board member Sue Secker called for other leaders to help craft a ballot measure that's acceptable to other leaders, avoiding more last-minute changes and undermining of the effort and achieving what Stockmeyer called a "win-win."

The activists underscored Stockmeyer's remarks that the monorail line, to cost about $150 milliion per mile, is far cheaper than the proposed 3.3-mile Sound Transit light rail line from downtown to the University District at about $450 million per mile.
(Sept. '05)

Posted by Max | February 19, 2008 5:25 PM

Two final citations related to Cleve Stockmeyer's "standard" of light and monorail "working together". You can tell he is driven by pure principle:

Light-rail critics -- including Emory Bundy, state Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, John Niles, King County Councilman Rob McKenna, R-Bellevue, George Curtis, Peter Armato and Cleveland Stockmeyer -- flooded the three Inspector General investigators with a mountain of reports, videotapes and testimony. The material was the result of years of simmering resentment about a project they believe will cost more than it's worth.
And how's about this guest editorial, penned by Cleve himself:

MOST opposition to Sound Transit's proposed Phase I "Light Rail" project focuses on specific neighborhood concerns. But the truly significant reason the proposed Phase I should not be built is that it fails from a regional perspective.

We need to realign and reorient the proposal.

First, we should abandon the trolley-like light-rail concept and choose a fast-moving, high-ridership design that will actually reduce projected regional highway congestion.

Second, we should reorient the route to aim at the bull's eye of regional congestion - State Route 520 across Lake Washington. This will best serve regional mobility needs, by linking Seattle with the booming growth-and-congestion corridor between Bellevue, Overlake and Redmond.

And here's a couple choice quote from that (not to be missed) guest editorial from Cleve Stockmeyer:

"To address regional congestion any rail system should be assessed by asking to what degree it reduces SOV commuter-miles. There is little point in building ridership out of former bus riders or former SOV riders who travel just a few miles each day. "

Hm. Interesting that "standard" didn't prevent Cleve from opposing his own Green Line monorail project.

"We should realign Phase I along the following lines:

We should "do no harm" to existing mass-transit routes and facilities. This means building a separate tunnel downtown for rail, rather than cannibalizing the downtown bus tunnel.

We should abandon the light-rail concept and build the best commuter rail possible with today's technology, including:

-- Full-size trains, six to 10 cars long, with stations platforms the same length, to move large numbers of riders.

-- Full-grade separation and tunnels in all populated areas to allow high speeds.

-- Modern rubber tires, rather than 19th-century steel wheels. "

Hm. ST had financial problems. Cleve Stockmeyer's solution....triple the price tag. And people wonder why the monorail project was so screwed up.

"Bringing high-volume, high-speed trains across Lake Washington may be more expensive than the current proposal. There are many sources of funding, including a local option gas tax. Without creating new taxes, we could extend currently authorized Sound Transit sales taxes for years into the future, commensurate with the useful life of the system. "

Cleve Stockmeyer is an attorney (playing transit planner on TV) who apparently thought gas taxes could be used for transit.

And people wonder why mass transit is so screwed up around here - and I wonder about the efficacy of electing more Cleveland Stockmeyers to make the big decisions. If progressives in this city used a little brainpower and skepticism once in a while, they would reject these loopy dreamers once and for all.

Posted by Max | February 19, 2008 5:57 PM

"The racketeers want to know. Will someone buy negative ads?"

Yes, Charles Redmond. CETA sugardaddy Kemper Freeman will buy lots more negative ads. He's up to a couple million smackaroos fighting light rail at this point. What's another million when you're fighting for....freeways and buses. Two very noble causes, indeed.

Posted by Max | February 19, 2008 6:08 PM

Unless a tape of Obama taking cash under the table from Rezko shows up he will get the nomination.

He has had an easy path thus far and much will be coming. The Clinton campaign will be criticized in hindsight for being too easy but they had no real option.

I hope that he tones down the we will change the couintry and then the world rhetoric but then he can't talk wonk for the next 8 months either.

Obama will hire Clinton and Edwards people and the campaign will evolve from the current movement to a more gritty campaign.

It will be a long winding road.

Posted by McG | February 20, 2008 8:24 AM

Ooh, ooh! Could we try for an IRV amendment, too, like Pierce County passed last year?


Posted by sherrold | February 20, 2008 9:23 AM

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