Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist
Referendum 1: How the downtown tunnel became a political pretzel
Referendum 1, regarding Seattle's downtown tunnel, appears on the Aug. 16 ballot. The tunnel debate has dragged on too long and twisted the city into a pretzel. Even voting yes to approve the referendum, which voters should do, may not settle the endless battle.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
With most ballot measures, voters are asked a question and, postelection, a pressing community debate is settled. Seattleites watching the histrionics on Referendum 1, the gobbledygook measure on the downtown tunnel, will get none of that satisfaction.
The tunnel battle has dragged on too many years and twisted the city into an unrecognizable pretzel.
One of the most troubling aspects of Referendum 1, appearing on the Aug. 16 ballot, is that the question posed is Great Seattle Fog. Read it for yourself:
"Section 6, if approved, would authorize the City Council to give notice to proceed, beyond preliminary design work, with three agreements concerning the state's proposal to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. Section 6 states: 'The City Council is authorized to decide whether to issue the notice referenced in Section 2.3 of each Agreement. That decision shall be made at an open public meeting held after issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.' Should this ordinance section be: approved or rejected."
What on Earth does all that mean?
It means whatever proponents and opponents want. There is enough wiggle room in that verbiage for both sides to say it did or did not mean much. The council can go forward either way.
In the middle of all this, we have anti-tunnel activist Elizabeth Campbell foolishly trying to recall City Councilmember Richard Conlin for his actions on the tunnel. The guy is council president. Campbell purposely confused her disdain for the tunnel with misfeasance, malfeasance and violation of the oath of office, actual reasons for recall. Opposing the tunnel is her absolute right; how she goes about it is another matter.
Thankfully, King County Superior Court Judge Carol Schapira politely said none of the souped-up allegations met the threshold for recall. Of course they didn't.
Campbell has a charter-provided mechanism for disagreeing with Conlin or anyone else who makes her unhappy. It's called an election; she can vote against him when he comes up in 2013.
The tunnel debate is so coiled it now pits environmentalists against environmentalists. Apparently, you can only call yourself an enviro if you agree with the Sierra Club and Mayor Mike McGinn.
After a group of highly respected environmentalists came out in favor of the tunnel, a not-too-swift spokesman for the anti-tunnelites, Ben Schiendelman, said they were "a few downtown business interests who call themselves environmentalists ... They are not part of the environmental community ... Those names came out of nowhere."
Let's take one so-called phony environmentalist who attended the pro-tunnel event, Peter Goldman. He has spent his life as a bicycle advocate, philanthropist and lawyer — all in service to his sturdy ecological beliefs. He, by the way, is a member of and occasional attorney for the Sierra Club, which has become a do-it-my-way-or-be-trashed organization.
Apologies were extended, and that's a good thing, but you have to wonder: What has become of Seattle? One group with one cause can determine who is an environmentalist? Aren't most Northwesterners earth huggers in their own way?
Goldman and his wife, Martha Kongsgaard, have given literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to green candidates and causes, mainstream and fringe. Goldman is allowed to have an opinion different from others. He says, "A vibrant downtown is one of the best measures against sprawl."
Another stellar Seattle environmentalist, Kathy Fletcher, the longtime, recently retired executive director of People for Puget Sound, spent decades working to clean up and restore the region's beloved waterway. She was also maligned, wrongly, by the anti-tunnel campaign. She said the allegations that she is somehow enviro-light "were so ridiculous they didn't warrant a response."
Yeah, and that is the point. Seattle is so bent out of shape about the tunnel that it can't see simple truths in front of it. Like who is an environmentalist. Like how and why you recall a sitting City Council member.
There are many reasons to vote yes to approve Referendum 1 and help move the city forward. Here's one more: Vote yes to move beyond umpteen years of civic paralysis and do your part to end this overwrought, tangled debate.
Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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