2 hours and 40 minutes, but nobody was really fired up till the very end … shame, since by then, about 95% of what started as an SRO crowd had long since fled into the fog.
7 pm-ish: It began with host County Councilguy Dow Constantine (who is irresistibly likable) and his colleagues introducing themselves. Several seemed to feel the need to show solidarity with the crowd by mentioning how long THEY were without power back in December. Then came yet more intros. Even the mayor of Seatac was in the house, but no sign of a rep of OUR mayor, of course, unless you count WS-residing City Councilguy Tom Rasmussen. Then, a long presentation about some folks who did some bang-up job during the storm. We start looking around the room, deciding it must have been the cafeteria/auditorium when The Hall was Fauntleroy School.
7:30-ish: Council Chairperson Julia Patterson starts telling us there was a windstorm and a lot of people lost power and stuff, then declares the ensuing proceedings will be about finding out “what went right, and what went wrong.” We momentarily brighten when she introduces county disaster expert Eric Holdeman, an often-interesting and well-regarded public official type. Sadly, he disappoints us, especially when claiming a good job was done during stormtime by rpin.org, and we are distracted by a guy named Michael Fuller who’s handing out flyers in the aisle (after brushing off two official types who seemed to be trying to talk him out of it), campaigning to end homelessness.
7:40-ish: No Just Plain Citizens yet. We hear about more meetings to come, including a Sheltering Summit. (Wasn’t that a novel? Or a mountaintop in Tibet?) We can just feel the crowd seething. People want to shout about how frustrating the power outages and other storm troubles were, yet have no choice but to just sit there, hands in laps, awaiting for a chance to speak.
7:50-ish: Still no JPC’s. The first panel of experts isn’t even the utility panel — it’s public health, sheriffs, Metro buses, and King County roads. Their interesting revelations: The sheriff rep noted that Nextel service sucked during the post-windstorm troubles … the Metro rep noted that their “customer communication system” has trouble keeping up with “rapidly changing conditions,” and then elicits the first real laugh of the night by mentioning “We know that sometimes it’ll snow in the North End and be perfectly dry down here and yet your [West Seattle] buses will just disappear.”
8 pm-ish: Still the first panel. The road lady echoes the sheriff rep’s complaint about Nextel, noting her staff used their personal cell phones to communicate — “Cingular!” she declares cheerily (never mind that brand has just been Borged). She also gets in a little dig against the state DOT, noting her department uses “finer sand that’s easier on your windshield.” What-ever.
Post-8 pm: First public comment. Lady from Vashon says, you folks have been talking a lot about your websites, but that doesn’t do us any good when our power’s out. (Well, we’d beg to differ, kinda.) Couple of the subsequent public comments hit on the topic of global warming. Unfortunately one guy acts a little too woo-woo and gets shouted down before he can finish his manifesto. Best comment comes at the end of this first group: A woman suggests that non-English-speaking families would be best reached with important info (such as, carbon-monoxide danger alerts) by talking to their ELL kids at school and sending info home with THEM. Word.
8:20-ish pm: FINALLY! THE UTILITY PANEL! A Metro wastewater/stormwater guy, a Puget Sound Energy guy, and — ta-daa! — a Seattle City Light guy. Of course, guess who speaks LAST. By now, less than half the original 300-400-ish crowd is left. All the same, the water guy has some disquieting recaps, about the millions of gallons of untreated “wastewater” that poured into Puget Sound when the outage took out pumping stations (like the ones by the ferry dock and Lowman Beach). The PSE guy keeps harping on the fact his utility has 10,000 miles of overhead wiring.
8:40-ish: NOW! FINALLY! THE SEATTLE CITY LIGHT GUY! Chief of Staff Sung Yang. We nickname him Slick. (And it makes sense, now that we find out he used to be a lawyer.) Maddeningly, he begins by trying to give us City Light history, after trying to win us over by asking for a show of hands (“how many of you are City Light customers? how many of you lost power for 3 days or more?”). Otherwise, a lot of numbers. 1,400 employees, with 300 of them working 24/7 (what were the other 1,100 doing?), 94 people answering phones … hike! no, wait. He pretends to explain how SCL prioritizes, and then has the gall to say SCL used the web well for updates during the outages. (Uh, no. The SCL page had so few specifics, we spent an entire week driving around WS trying to find out what was really going on.) Oh, and the 20K leaflets! (Did you get one? We never did.) Then a joke about City Light having run out of flashlight batteries, requiring runs to Home Depot. (Lucky them; we couldn’t find ’em anywhere, not even 7-11.) In closing, at least, he offered a bit of honesty: City Light needs a “functional outage management system,” to provide accurate info on when power would be restored. YA THINK????
9 pm-ish: Councilguy Dow says it’s time for an official closing statement, before more Just Plain Citizens get to ask questions and make comments, ’cause the Vashon contingent has to catch the 9:20 boat down the street. A couple of guys from “Vashon Be Prepared” get up and pat themselves on the back so hard that … well, you know how that old line goes. But seriously, sounds like they might have some tips for us all. Talk to your neighbors. Don’t just do a block watch for crime, do a block watch for helping each other out in case of disaster.
9:10-ish: Questions for the utility guys are over; now it’s time for comments from people who signed up to speak. (One woman storms out of the room ranting that she had no idea she would have to sign up to get the chance to speak. Sadly, she left before they did veer for a few minutes into “open mike” time.) The Seatac mayor has a real bone to pick about disaster preparedness and citizen involvement. Says he’s known as the “Preparedness Terrorist.” Councilmembers laugh nervously. (Google doesn’t know him by that name.)
9:30-ish: Finally the fireworks. (Unfortunately the tv crews are gone by now.) A woman identifying herself as Martha leaps up to say she’s been to the DMZ in Korea, she’s been to Czechoslovakia, and the chaos she saw in West Seattle during the post-storm days ranked right down there with everything she’d been through in those places. Her best line: “We weren’t prepared when the weather went psycho.”
And then, cue Goodspaceguy and his appropriate closing remark, mentioned in our earlier post. Us diehards (and participants’ entourage members) stagger out into the damp night. If you want to see all this for yourself, check out King County TV on-air or online later today (my advice, just scroll ahead/fast forward all the way to Martha and Goodspaceguy).