Op-ed: Vote no on Seattle Proposition 1 to replace the Alaskan Way seawall
Seattle Proposition 1 is an incomplete, flawed and ambiguous request that unfairly taxes the entire city, writes guest columnist Christopher V. Brown.
Special to The Times
SEATTLE’S Proposition 1 regarding the Alaskan Way Seawall Replacement Project is an incomplete, flawed and ambiguous request that unfairly taxes the entire city for a public-works project of undefined scope.
Seattle voters should reject the $290 million seawall measure on the Nov. 6 ballot because the ordinance is vague and lacks assurance that its key elements will be completed.
The text of Council Bill 117498, which sent the measure to the voters, contains false and disingenuous statements. Among these is the probability that an earthquake has “a one in ten chance in the next ten years” of causing “liquefaction.”
No one can predict when an earthquake will occur, according to geological experts. Further, the bill says a failure “would severely disrupt public transportation and commerce,” an impossibility since Alaskan Wayhas a daily traffic volume of only 12,300 vehicles — less than 3 percent of the city’s total north-south traffic demand.
Equally disquieting is that the council bill does not contain a description of what the seawall project actually entails, apart from a reference to two piers and a donation of 1 percent for the arts.
For example, Alaskan Way stretches from South Royal Brougham Way to the Magnolia Bridge, a distance of almost 17,000 feet. By comparison, the Central Waterfront concept, by James Corner Field Operations, extends from South Washington Street to Broad Street, about 6,800 feet. An Oct. 13 article in The Seattle Times, “Voters face hefty bill for crumbling seawall,” states that it runs from South Washington Street to Virginia Street, merely 3,600 feet.
Which is it: 17,000 feet or only 3,600 feet? Clearly, this massive bond measure is entirely lacking in terms of scope and scale.
Of significant concern, no information is provided that describes what would be built. Is this new seawall to be a stone or concrete-block gravity wall, a steel sheet-piling wall, a precast reinforced concrete wall, a cast-in-place concrete wall, some combination of these, or what? Just what kind of seawall is this to be?
For $290 million the voters must know what will be built and precisely where. Doubtless, the bond attorneys and the Securities and Exchange Commission would insist on specifics lest the bond proposal be deemed unlawful.
Also absent from the council bill are any references to two statutory requirements, the State Environmental Policy Act and Value Engineering. These two analyses must be done in advance of any vote to assure Seattle voters that the $290 million is properly spent on a project whose scale is correctly identified and construction design is precisely described.
It’s particularly troubling where one section of the council bill says, “… the City may delay completion of all or any element of the Project until adequate funding is available, or may eliminate any element.” This section could allow the city to circumvent the stated purpose of the bond measure. This escape clause is indefensible and highly suspect.
Finally, Seattle’s own feasibility analysis establishes the bounds for a local-improvement district. Local-improvement district statutes date back to 1917 and have been used for limited-scope projects like this that serve a small part of the community. Consequently, because the proposed seawall refurbishment adds value to the central waterfront and adjacent properties, this type of financing, not citywide bonds, is appropriate.
Waterfront property owners will achieve a benefit estimated to be as high as $1.95 billion, or six times the cost of the local improvement district, as determined by the city’s own Special Benefits study. Accordingly, let them pay for this improvement, not every taxpayer in the city.
This bond measure lacks specifications and is riddled with ambiguities. It should be rejected.
Christopher V. Brown is chair of the No on Proposition 1 campaign. He has practiced transportation engineering for more than 50 years.