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Posts tagged as “Seattle”

Seattle v. Vancouver (BC)

A little compare & contrast never hurts when figuring out what works and what doesn't. Seattle and Vancouver have a light rivalry of a sorts - both have similar ideas about what constitutes civic virtue - that can make such a thing useful.

Knute Berger at Crosscut has a report on a meeting that put one up against the other, the spokesmen being Seattle council member Peter Steinbrueck and Vancouver council member Gordon Price - each speaking up for the other city. Some of the points of praise were interesting (and notably, the points of praise for Bellevue, which tends to get more than its due share of knocks from the other side of the water).

It's all worthwhile. Here's a slice for flavor:

Price praised Seattle as a "great American city," which made folks in the audience laugh, apparently thinking the word "American" was a qualifier, as "great for an American city." But Price, wearing an American flag tie, quickly corrected the impression. Vancouver, he said, has not nearly had the impact on Canada that Seattle has had on America, or Canada for that matter. Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco: these are Seattle originals that have been widely influential in a way Vancouver is not and never has been.

On the other hand, Steinbrueck rates Vancouver much higher on the livability scale, in part because the city's more consistent and integrated planning has resulted in a denser, more people-oriented city that is more family friendly than Seattle and has a larger slice of its middle class living in the core. In short, for all of Seattle's protectiveness on livability, Vancouver is doing a better job.

Spider to fly

Jan Drago

Jan Drago

You sorta get the feeling that the Greg Nickels forces have been preparing for this. In Crosscut, the headline was, "The Mayor 'welcomes' Jan Drago to the campaign," and you get the sense of a puzzle piece calculatedly falling into place. Even though this means he now actually has not a possible serious opponent, but a real one.

The Seattle mayor should, by rights, be in trouble. His polling borders on horrendous; the Seattle Times reported a couple of weeks ago that Drago is positioned to win by 21 points. Drago is no unknown; she's been on the council since she was first elected in 1993, longer than anyone else now on it.

And there are some structural reasons for thinking Drago might pull it off, including a primary contest which may favor her kind supporters.

But there's also no sense here that Nickles, twice elected (and the first time after two close and tough contests) is on the run. From Crosscut: "It's clear that Mayor Greg Nickels' political Swat team is trying to cut Drago down early in the campaign, before she can get much momentum. There's a press release a day touting Nickels' achievements in his most vulnerable areas: getting stimulus funds, getting favors from Olympia, the pesky snowstorm. The media is peppered with pointed questions to ask Drago: about her absenteeism (code for getting too old), her Nickels-like voting record. Nickels is playing a tough Hillary to Drago's Obama-like message of consensus. It's meant to rattle her (she is eminently rattleable) and to freeze Nickels' supporters from any thought of defection."

A challenger to a veteran incumbent ordinarily has to play one of two cards: Either make the case that a very different policy direction is needed (not useful here, because Nickels and Drago aren't far apart) or hammer the incumbent as too bad to keep in place (which would upend the consensus style Drago likes and which has helped her in the past). She has strategic options available, but they're apt to be unpalatable, and Nickles' people seem to have assessed as much.

Her problem, in other words, seems to be strategic more than anything else. It may be solvable. Should be fascinating to see how she tries to do it.

Doing the viaduct: Resolved

Third message up on Washington Governor Chris Gregoire's brand new Twitter account: "The tunnel bill is signed! Thanks to mayor, county exec, port and lege for support. New jobs, waterfront, and transpo capacity coming soon."

Good timing; she had something of substance to report.

There will be no end of ongoing talk about the Alaskan Way viaduct, for as long as there is such a thing, but today marks a turning point: Law is signed setting in motion a reconstruction effort to reroute traffic through Seattle. It's a pretty big day.

Getting this new project - a tunnel approach, already estimated to be the most expensive realistic option on the table - done and within budget will be a challenge.

Bremerton v Seattle

bozeman

Cary Bozeman

Was in Bremerton last night, having dinner with a friend at Anthony's, which is right on the waterfront. A great view from there, but getting to Anthony's wasn't easy: Strategic parts of downtown Bremerton seem to be torn up to street repair, and there's a very concrete feel to a lot of what ought to be one of the city's major attractions.

And there's the matter of mediocre road signage in the Bremerton area, but we'll let that go.

Given that, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman's recent hashing of Seattle's waterfront, and his recommendation that others do as Bremerton has done . . . well . . .

MORE ON BOZEMAN All right, this may have been a little unfair, because Bozeman has been something of a dynamo at Bremerton (probably more, in context, than Greg Nickels at Seattle). Tom Menzel, who lives not far from Bremerton (thursday night's dinner partner) offers this thought:

By the way, I meant to mention a political superstar who hangs around in Bremerton -- Mayor Cary Bozeman. This guy has been kicking ass and taking names in Bremerton for several years now. He is boldly taking a crappy town with no identity or direction into the 21st century. The guy is amazing. Everything you saw on the waterfront was due to his hard work and persistence. I wish you could have seen that area 5 or 6 years ago. It was a horrible disaster. Nearly all retail left downtown years ago for the mongo mall in Silverdale, leaving downtown in wretched shape. Since I had such a great experience working on downtown Boise redevelopment years ago, I have a real affinity for this guy.

Seattle, the cheaper alternative to Tacoma?

Any time a local paper reaches the conclusion that an important local business is likely to move away, that falls into man-bites-dog territory. But there's another bit more remarkable yet in today's story by Tacoma News Tribune reporter Dan Voelpel on the strategic planning, and potential move, of Tacoma's Russell Investments.

Russell is an unusual, maybe one of a kind thing in the Northwest - an investment company that is also a big employer, a direct major force in a local city's economy: Its employment base was 1,100 just at Tacoma, and it has offices around the globe. Note the "was", because the macro economy has led to scalebacks here too, by about 200 employees, a real hit at Tacoma.

But there could be more. Voelpel looked at the physical space and growth (or contraction) considerations Russell will have to be dealing with in the next few years, especially in the period right around 2013. Once-discussed plans for a Tacoma Russell tower probably have evaporated. But there was also this:

"In Seattle today, you can find a glut of vacant office space that could suit Russell’s needs and cost far less than paying the lease on a newly constructed office building. Most prominent of Seattle’s buildings? The former WaMu Center, a 55-story, 1.1 million-square-foot behemoth that became available with the demise of Washington Mutual Bank last year."

A hidden budget?

You have to wonder what Seattle Times columnist, as opposed to Seattle Council member, Jean Godden would have written about this:

"A Seattle Times reporter was denied entrance to a budget briefing on Thursday afternoon. Tom Von Bronkhorst, a legislative aide to Councilmember Jean Godden, physically dragged the reporter away from it by the strap of her bag."

We're not so totally one-sided on the matter of public meetings as to argue that there are, from time to time, legitimate reasons for shutting the doors. But there are no very damn many, and they certainly don't include the fashioning of budgets - which are financial documents describing how the public's money is going to be spent for, one hopes, the public good.

Leave aside the matter of law, that shutting out the public from a budget session is almost certainly illegal. As well: How is it possibly defensible as a matter of public ethics? Maybe council member Godden could offer some enlightenment . . .

ANOTHER VIEW The Slog has a very different take on what was going on - primarily, that the meeting was informal and concerned budget cuts, not budget setting. Still doesn't especially convince us away from the main point.

Seattle P-I: Print ends Tuesday, web goes on

A sad day we knew was coming soon: Tomorrow marks the end of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a print publication. After tomorrow, it becomes web-only. One intriguing point: It will be "outside the JOA" - outside the agreement with the Seattle Times, with which its current website is linked. So this will be something new.

What will the web version be like? How will it differ from, say, Crosscut or Publicola? The early indications were not at all clear. The paper itself said "The so-called 'community platform' will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets." That might have been one thing with a newsroom the size of the print P-I's; what it will be with 20 or so will emerge in the days ahead.

The transition goes on.

Wide open spaces

seattle

Seattle office central

The Slog's headline - a sorta invitation for Wal-Mart to shack up in Seattle - was just snark, but the post's content was worth some attention: Abruptly, there's a whole lot of empty office space in Seattle.

The Slog: "As the [Daily Journal of Commerce] reports today, owners of the 12-story 1st and Stewart Building are placing the property up for sale at the same time two new downtown office buildings are staking real-estate signs. In addition, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Building and Seattle Tower were recently put on the market. Meanwhile, other office buildings, like the WaMu Center, are clearing out their tenants. Companies that had planned to expand into new downtown spaces, including Microsoft and Starbucks, are retreating to their headquarters. And more lanky office towers are in the works downtown. In short, the inventory of commercial office space grossly exceeds the demand for offices. We’ve probably got 10 years of inventory that will sit empty."

A cautionary note: There are some apples and oranges here; some of these buildings (like the 1st and Stewart) are pretty well leased up, and sale of the building won't change that. Still, the vacancies in many large-scale office spaces are becoming massive.

Where is all that likely to lead? On its face, it seems to suggest some whole new direction for the downtown Seattle area, which has upscaled and gentrified almost to the point (in some places) of unrecognizability in recent years. How can that continue when the area is floating in "For Lease" signs all over the place?

The effort will be made. Or will Seattle return, a bit, to elements of its grungier past?

Evaluating the vunnel

tunnel

Viaduct-tunnel/City of Seattle

Right next to the Crosscut article headlined "The tunnel solution for the Viaduct is too risky," are these links to encouraging stories from other news organizations: "Ideas debated about using private development to help pay for Viaduct park" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), "Gregoire distances herself from car tabs portion of the Viaduct tunnel deal" (Times), "Tolls probably needed to cover full cost of waterfront tunnel, state says" (Tacoma News Tribune).

It's never easy, is it?

Approved about a month ago by the top elected officials at Washington state, King County and Seattle, the tunnel - why has no one called it the "vunnel" yet?, since it is loosely expected to approximate the current Alaskan Way viaduct - the underground plan has been on the table for a long time. Its main problem has been that it's been viewed as the Rolex plan - nice, maybe preferable, but awfully expensive.

Matt Fiske at Crosscut sums up the issues, which include the financial concerns (fair enough) but also adds this:

"My father Tyman Fikse was an expert who invented many tunneling technologies and spent his career designing massive tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for projects around the world. If there is one thing hanging out with "sandhogs" as a kid and riding muck trains miles in the dark deep below ground taught me, it is this: The earth will surprise you. Consider: The ground between preliminary core samples can change most unexpectedly. Geologic pressures are enormous. Tunnel liners shift and spring leaks. Gases escape — or worse. The best hard-rock boring machine will become gunked-up to a standstill if it is surprised by a section of sand or clay. Stuff happens. Deep tunnels are marvels of engineering that are also among the most difficult projects to plan in advance. To pretend otherwise is delusion. Remove the blinders and the real-world cost of the deep-bore tunnel will easily be double the current guess of $2.8 billion."

All of which sounds real-world. And yet . . . they had to do something.

So now they - and especially their successors (one of the signatories, King County executive Ron Sims, already is almost outta here) - get to ride the tiger.

Not quite so much the warrior, maybe

Gil Kerlikowske

Gil Kerlikowske

For coming on to 40 years, we've had a "war on drugs," which has become quite a war indeed. The February 2 Washington Post Magazine featured a must-read, detailed report about the raid on the home of a small-town mayor in Maryland: "Acting on a mistaken drug trafficking suspicion, a SWAT team broke down their door, shot beloved pets and shattered a happy home. Was it an extreme reaction, or business as usual in America's war on drugs?" (The pretext for the raid was a box containing drugs, which police themselves had planted at the mayor's front door.) In a followup online chat, one of the writers remarked, "Obviously, one of the most frightening aspects of this sad tale is that it could happen to any one of us."

This paramilitary activity in our country has been a federally-driven, primarily, development, pushed by presidents of both parties for four decades; the results have included no diminishment of drug activity but unabated violence which is becoming increasingly hazardous. Might the Obama Administration try a different direction?

In nominating Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as "drug czar," Obama may be signaling that change is in the wind. Not radical, 180-degree turnarounds - which might have been what appointment of his predecessor, Norm Stamper, would have indicated - but significant adjustment at least.

The key touchstone here is Seattle Initiative 75, a 2003 measure which specifically called for making marijuana not legal exactly, but the lowest priority for law enforcement. The measure passed. It didn't pass with Kerlikowske's endorsement, but that has to be parsed: The Seattle Times reported local law enforcement considered it "vague, potentially confusing and unlikely to change what they do on the street" - in other words, not wrong as policy, but simply unnecessary. The followup sentence: "Arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use, says Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, is not a priority now." Since the measure's passage, the chief appears to have abided by its terms, without complaint. (more…)