City Council says 'not so fast' to McGinn's sea-wall plan
Mayor Mike McGinn's first big proposal — to ask voters to pay to replace the city's sea wall — is already facing resistance with Seattle City Council members, who questioned his approach and understanding of the issue in a letter Tuesday
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mayor Mike McGinn's first big proposal — to ask voters to pay to replace the city's sea wall — is already facing resistance with Seattle City Council members, who questioned his approach and understanding of the issue in a letter Tuesday.
Eight of the nine council members signed the two-page letter that stops just short of opposing McGinn's plan to ask voters in May to approve a $241 million bond measure. The members lay out "ideas and concerns" in the form of a detailed primer on the sea-wall project's history. They say it is premature to suggest a "reliable" price tag, suggest that other funding sources have not been fully explored, and note the estimated $1 million expense for a special election.
At a news conference on Thursday, McGinn portrayed replacing the crumbling sea wall as a straightforward public-safety issue, but council members wrote Tuesday that it's more complicated than that.
McGinn, who surprised council members with last week's announcement, will need their support to get the measure on the ballot. He is scheduled to brief the council on his proposal Monday.
"We'd like to learn more about why he thinks it needs to go before voters this spring," Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the council Transportation Committee, said in an interview. "Tell us why there's a rush."
The sea wall is fraught with politics, in part because it is included in the plan to replace the nearby Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. McGinn opposes the tunnel. The council supports it.
The letter urges that decisions about what to ask voters to pay for and when — on a range of projects — be made in a "comprehensive, organized, inclusive and transparent manner."
The letter notes that the council last fall asked for the mayor's office to report back with a detailed assessment of three potential funding sources for the project: increased commercial parking taxes and the creation of two kinds of special taxing districts. That assessment, according to the letter, has not been completed.
"We are certainly open to considering other ideas, such as a bond issue or levy ... but the Council believes that it is very important that we have a comprehensive plan so that the public and elected decision makers are fully informed about what to expect over time," the letter says.
Along with questioning the timing and cost of the election, council members ask whether a stakeholder group has had enough time to work on the issue. The Central Waterfront Partnership Committee was appointed in November and has had one meeting.
Motives in question
Councilmember Sally Clark said in an interview that it would be best for waterfront businesses if work on the tunnel and the sea wall were coordinated.
She and Councilmember Tim Burgess have questioned the mayor's motives regarding his sea-wall proposal.
McGinn said during his Thursday news conference that the sea wall and tunnel are not related, but Burgess said he is "leery of what's going on here," and whether the sea-wall plan is connected to McGinn's opposition to the tunnel.
McGinn's proposal ignores work the city has been doing to ensure the sea wall is safe, Burgess said. The city has done interim emergency repairs, replaced some sections altogether and is doing "aggressive monitoring," he said.
McGinn's proposal would complete the sea wall by 2014. Current plans call for it to be completed by 2015 or 2016.
Rasmussen questioned whether voters should even be asked about the sea wall.
"This is an essential project that must be done," he said, "so I question why we would put it to the voters when we have to do it. What if the voters say no?"
Only new Councilmember Mike O'Brien declined to sign the letter. O'Brien, McGinn's political ally and a fellow Sierra Club volunteer, opposes the tunnel.
O'Brien said transportation projects tend to "drag on," and he doesn't think the sea-wall project should be tied up in the viaduct-replacement project.
"The idea of lumping a bunch of things together ... I think is not a good strategy," he said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
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