Details: First city briefing on December snow response

(2:35 PM note: Archived video of the briefing is now available online – the storm discussion begins halfway through the 2-hour clip.)

(December 21 photo by Ian)
What happened in December wasn’t the “typical” Seattle storm, two city department heads reiterated, repeatedly, this morning, while presenting City Councilmembers with the first of several briefings they have requested regarding how said storm was handled. The briefers: Office of Emergency Management director Barb Graff and Seattle Department of Transportation director Grace Crunican. What they said, and what councilmembers said, ahead:

Up first: Graff. One of her opening lines: “The city has done an excellent job of (handling) typical storms … but this is the third year I find myself up in front of you (talking about) another 100-year storm.”

She mostly handed out compliments to other departments and agencies for “responsive cooperation,” even the National Weather Service for inviting the city to a “webinar” when the pre-snow cold snap kicked in on December 11th. At the time, Graff said, “We were most worried about a wind alert. We geared up our plans for possible power outages.”

Two days later, of course, the snow began. Graff said Emergency Management “increased staffing to major incident mode” for December 20-21 and shared a lot of information along the way, with councilmembers and others. She added that her team hasn’t had time for a major debriefing because “they’re still working” — preparing now for the possibility of flooding if heavy rain and higher temperatures arrive later this week as forecast.

She also discussed stressing emergency readiness – not just for private citizens, but also for private companies (after discussing the now-notorious Greyhound terminal incident), and a hope of enlisting more “neighborhood volunteers.”

That’s where Council President Richard Conlin asked a follow-up that may have been related to a brief meeting in which we participated, with him and West Seattle neighborhood-preparedness advocate Cindi Barker, last week: “There are lots of helpful comments being posted on community blogs … Do we have a way of (harnessing that) to monitor situations we might not know about yet?”

Graff said yes, there’s a “section of (a) team” monitoring such websites and conventional news media, “so we are having a conversation.”

West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen then brought up another issue that we have called attention to here (read our 12/27 editorial) — specific, real-time information for residents. He used the example of City Light outage information in particular, and having tried to help a constituent who couldn’t get accurate information about an outage at her/his house. “Maybe there are other ways of giving real-time information,” he suggested to Graff, “so that people at least know whether to change their plans.”

Graff agreed that the city should “identify … that there are more ways of communicating more accurately with people … and how we can institutionalize (that) … But we are not even in the recovery phase yet.”

Rasmussen also offered, more to his colleagues than to the department heads, that a discussion is in order to determine the council’s most useful role during an emergency — perhaps, he suggested, monitoring what’s happening and taking calls, making sure the information that’s being received is accurate.

Segueing to her counterpart from the city Department of Transportation, Graff noted that while passable roads were a major concern during the snow situation, “In preparing for our worst emergency – in my mind, it’s a catastrophic earthquake, and the streets won’t be passable for a long, long time.”

With the road situation having drawn so much flak during the worst of the snowiness, SDOT boss Grace Crunican was on much more of a hot seat than Graff had been. She too cautioned that “this is preliminary because we’re still operating” (in storm mode).

She had some numbers – The city’s road-clearing efforts focus on “1,531 lane miles of primary and secondary arterials … along with bridges (and) streets leading to hospitals,” but that’s less than a sixth of the city’s 10,000 or so TOTAL lane miles of roadway.

“The question we’re asking ourselves,” she said, “is when we (should be going with) ‘the snow plan’ vs. ’emergency event’ … (In this case) we went to … something extraordinary.”

“HOW extraordinary?” asked Councilmember Richard McIver. Crunican was ready with more numbers, saying the average December Seattle snowfall is 2.2 inches, but these storms left more than 13 inches of snow and ice behind. That was less than the 17.9 inches of the 1996 storms, she acknowledged, but noted those happened over a shorter period of time.

“And then it rained and we had landslides,” interjected City Councilmember Jan Drago.

Crunican also said her department didn’t “feel the love” for forecasters that Graff had voiced, because the storms left behind far more snow than was forecast. (Crunican, by the way, also grimaced about how last night’s forecasts were inaccurate as well – saying they’d been told to expect from a trace to an inch, and that it would be over by 8 pm; “By 8 pm, we were measuring 4 inches in West Seattle,” she noted dryly.)

And she claimed the now-famous Seattle Times article that touched off the salt vs. no-salt uproar was not necessarily accurate. Asked about that article’s mention of the city having a policy of packing snow on streets to make them more passable, Crunican insisted, “We plow to bare pavement.”

So an SDOT official didn’t say anything about a packed-snow policy? she was asked. Her reply: “I believe it was a newspaper reporter’s rendition of what was said to the newspaper reporter. We have steel blades, they plow to the pavement, and to the center. Reading that, you’d think we were using spatulas.”) She confirmed that some salt was used, because the snow did reach at least 4 inches in some areas (see details of last night’s salt usage in this WSB post), and also reaffirmed that the city’s policy is to plow to the center of the road, not to stack up snow on the side and potentially block cars.

(December 24 WSB photo)
More numbers: In addition to the city’s 27 snowplows — up from 10 in 1996, she reminded the council — she said SDOT utilized 10 backhoes and operators from other city departments, as well as the grader lent by the Parks Department:

(December 26 photo by Creighton)

And, she said, two contracting firms were used for “about 2 days” at the height of the snow, to help plow arterials. “We met our goal of keeping arterials, bridges, and routes to hospitals open and safe. … The question arises, was that enough? People say they couldn’t get out of their residential streets. We are not set up to clear residential streets. (It would be) an extraordinary workload, to staff up for what only comes every 20 years.”

Then: The problem that compounded the street situation, the Metro trouble. “Part of our plan,” Crunican acknowledged, “is to say ‘take the bus’ … It certainly didn’t work very well this time, and we know that.”

According to Crunican, Metro director Kevin Desmond will be attending tomorrow’s storm-response briefing at a joint meeting of two Council committees. She said she worked closely with him throughout the snow event, but acknowledged the need for a further “safety net of communication.” Today, for example, she said that Metro did not have a representative at SDOT’s Charles Street dispatch location “because they didn’t feel it was a significant enough (snow) event,” which clearly raised council eyebrows.

She and Rasmussen had an energetic exchange over another issue of Metro presence, or non-presence, at a city event – Desmond not having attended a city news briefing during the peak of the weather problems. Crunican said she considered his non-presence at that “press conference” to be a “nothingburger,” and Rasmussen spiritedly disagreed.

“It’s (a function of) leadership to be present in a time of trouble …” he began. “Were all the relevant city directors here and on duty and here full time, and was the mayor?”

Graff jumped in to mention having created a “Mayor’s Emergency Executive Board” in the past year and to say it did convene. Crunican pressed the point that she believed working directly with Desmond and others was more important than having them present at a press conference.

“The point is the engagement of leadership,” Rasmussen repeated, and asked again about who was on hand during the snowiest days pre-Christmas, and who wasn’t. Crunican said the mayor and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis were in town, while saying she went to Portland “for a couple days … I was on the phone with my people the whole time. And I was here on the 22nd and the 26th.”

Talk then turned back to Metro coordination. She said, “Every year we ask them about (the snow routes SDOT plows) and say, ‘is this good for you?’ and every year they say ‘yes’.” But she agreed further discussion seems to be in order because, despite that, so many buses had trouble traveling their routes.

“Complaints about Metro are at the top of the list of what I got calls about,” noted Councilmember Tim Burgess.

A few other “getting around” issues arose at that point. If side streets aren’t plowed, Councilmember Drago asked, then how far are people expected to walk, at the most, to get to a street that IS going to be cleared? “Less than a quarter mile,” Crunican replied, “maybe three or four blocks? You should have an arterial within that distance.”

At that point, Drago said she wants to discuss “the sidewalk issue tomorrow.” Graff interjected that property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks. Drago shot back, “I don’t think everybody knew that … I think that’s a huge educational issue. I would guess a lot of people don’t even own shovels.”

Conlin added, “I heard a lot of anecdotes about people on a block sharing a single shovel.”

Over and over again during today’s meeting, councilmembers and department heads alike praised city workers for their hard work. “But,” Councilmember Rasmussen concluded, “I think they were overwhelmed by the severity of the storm — and that’s the challenge of emergency planning, to be ready for that 20-year storm.”

Tomorrow’s briefing will include utility issues, particularly the trash/recycling/yard-waste pickup challenges, and will include a public-comment period; it’s scheduled to start at 9:30 am Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall.

59 Replies to "Details: First city briefing on December snow response"

  • mike January 5, 2009 (2:28 pm)

    “And, she said, two contracting firms were used for “about 2 days” at the height of the snow, to help plow arterials. “We met our goal of keeping arterials, bridges, and routes to hospitals open and safe. … The question arises, was that enough?”

    In my opinion this statement is false. I traveled on the main arterial roads numerous times, and you definitely needed 4wheel drive. She later goes on to pass blame to Metro, but the point is how is a bus supposed to travel on a road that is tough for a four wheel drive vehicle?

  • Sue January 5, 2009 (2:36 pm)

    mike, I also question that statement. I live on Fauntleroy a few blocks south of Alaska – that’s about as “arterial” as it gets in West Seattle, being a main route to the bridge. The lack of plows was very evident. And if we consider areas outside of WS, the one day I did get to downtown I was shocked at what Third Avenue (a main bus route) looked like – it looked like it had barely been plowed (this was 12/23), and even chained buses were sliding all over it. So no, I don’t think they did a good job of keeping arterials open.

  • KSJ January 5, 2009 (2:49 pm)

    California Avenue had inches of packed snow and ice for days on end, they definitely didn’t plow to the pavement as the SDOT official claims.

  • Alvis January 5, 2009 (2:55 pm)

    Wishful thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if the City Council imposed a tax or a ban on high profile city employees — Council members included — who squander meeting time to thank each other for being city employees?

  • fiz January 5, 2009 (3:07 pm)

    So, if we had shared our shovel could WE have dug out SW Alaska Street?

  • WSCali January 5, 2009 (3:12 pm)

    California was definitely NEVER plowed.

  • KT January 5, 2009 (3:32 pm)

    (1) They are only going to plow “arterials” (definition a secret apparently) but you can’t get out of your neighborhoods to get to the “arterials”. (2) They want you to take the bus but either the bus doesn’t run or is so packed that you have to push and shove like a crazed animal or be left behind for hours more.

    Interesting that someone is finally questioning where our Mayor was during this storm. Only saw him at the end when he was giving himself a ‘B’ for his efforts. Perhaps the City Council should get serious about stepping in and assuming a vocal leadership role seeing as our Mayor is never out front of an issue until the fur flies.

  • Under_Achiever January 5, 2009 (3:33 pm)

    Remember — it’s not what actually happens it only matters how you feel about it.

  • AlkiRagdoll January 5, 2009 (3:37 pm)

    Ah… what good does it do to have the roads to hospitals open, if someone couldnt get off their neighborhood street or on an arterial to even try to get to the hospital? Guess they are enouraging us to seek an ambulance when I need to get to work or the store (as I was housebound for 5 days). Given that my very steep street was not passable for most of the time, the only option for a physically impaired individual is to walk (really slide or sled) down to Alki and pray that a bus was running? I listened to the link on my computer for about an hour…. these council members are seriously out of touch or posturing for re-election.

  • Huindekmi January 5, 2009 (3:40 pm)

    I take issue with the comments about plowing to bare pavement and keeping routes to the hospitals clear.
    On Monday 12/22, I tried to get my wife to the Swedish hospital. Foolishly, I assumed that the city would have been making an effort to keep the primary arterials and roads to the main hospitals cleared. All that I should have to do is drive the two blocks to the nearest secondary arterial (which should be mostly snow packed due to traffic volumes) and then the three blocks to a primary arterial (Admiral – which should be plowed) and I should be able to get to the hospital.
    Silly me.
    The residential and secondary arterials were as I expected, especially since the snow had mostly stopped some 12 hours earlier. But Admiral, a primary arterial, was not plowed under any stretch of the imagination. The west side of Admiral had two tire ruts and pack snow between them high enough to scrape the undercarriage of my car the whole way up the hill.
    Once to California, the road was better, but still not great. The east side of the hill was plowed, but was VERY icy and dangerous. The West Seattle Bridge was snow packed and icy as well.
    I-5 was great. Plowed clear and wet. Congrats to WSDOT. They did their job.
    Then we got off the freeway and back onto Seattle’s area of responsibility. There are three main roads to get to the emergency room at Swedish – James (closed), Cherry (closed) and Madison (unplowed, icy, rutted and scraping the bottom of my car like the west side of Admiral). We got stuck twice in our front-wheel drive car with chains. It’s not like we were the only ones, as I watched an ambulance having problems getting up the hill as well. We got there – barely. No thanks to SDOT. I lived the first 30 years of my life in snow country and know how to get around on this stuff – and these were the worst road conditions I had seen in a metropolitan area.
    Later that day, when we left the hospital, Madison was still rutted but now much icier due to the traffic. We slid down the hill back to I-5 and thanked our lucky stars that we weren’t trying to go up the hill again. Admiral hadn’t been touched in the intervening 5 hours. At the same time, SDOT was bragging about how they had “plowed” all of the primary arterials.
    I can’t fault Metro for their difficulties. They can’t drive when the roads are in such miserable shape. Same goes for the trash collection, UPS, post office, etc.
    I can’t even fault the SDOT employees charged with plowing the streets. They were doing exactly as they were instructed with the limited resources available.
    The blame lies squarely with the city leadership. Having a policy that defines “plowed” as packed snow and suitable for high ground clearance 4WD vehicles, using rubber blades on plows that assures they can’t get to clear pavement, and refusing to use de-icer to keep critical roads open and passable – this is beyond negligence. This is putting theoretical environmental concerns above the safety and welfare of the populace. That’s dereliction of duty in my book.
    The blame for this fiasco starts at the mayor’s office and goes down to the leadership at SDOT. The fact that they still claim they were able to keep primary arterials and roads to the hospitals plowed just burns my bacon. You can’t fix a problem if you deny that the problem exists.

  • Al January 5, 2009 (3:42 pm)

    …”Today, for example, she said that Metro did not have a representative at SDOT’s Charles Street dispatch location ‘because they didn’t feel it was a significant enough (snow) event,’ which clearly raised council eyebrows.

    She and Rasmussen had an energetic exchange over another issue of Metro presence, or non-presence, at a city event – Desmond not having attended a city news briefing during the peak of the weather problems. Crunican said she considered his non-presence at that ‘press conference’ to be a ‘nothingburger,’ and Rasmussen spiritedly disagreed…”

    Wow – just – wow. This is our leadership. You want to know why the city shuts down in this type of situation? It’s not the weather, it’s the leadership. Metro should be run over hot coals for this.

  • rlv January 5, 2009 (3:46 pm)

    My nearest arterials, Alki Ave. and Admiral Ave., apparently must not be arterials, then, because it took days for the pavement to be visible on Admiral, and not until the melt started was the pavement visible on Alki Ave. Perhaps we need to push them to clarify/rethink/publicly publish what streets they’re considering arterials?

    Admiral’s definitely one to anyone who lives near it, and I suspect that most beach dwellers would consider Alki an arterial as well, especially given it is a wide, flat roadway that would more easily and safely allow drivers to get to the major roadways like the West Seattle bridge if kept even moderately clean of snow.

  • Eddie January 5, 2009 (4:00 pm)

    Metro’s only fault in this debacle is not pressing SDOT to do more in clearing bus routes, and to disseminate reroute and outage information to people, namely through their website.

    SDOT’s Action Plan should have consisted of:
    1. Determining which bus routes would run through a snowstorm and maintaining the clear roadway for buses to run on schedule.
    2. Clearing roads around important buildings, like hospitals, fire stations, and police department offices.
    3. If Downtown businesses really pay more than residents do to the City, clearing Downtown streets.
    4. Making it clear through the media that residential streets would not be cleared, and reporting street closures on TV just like school closures.

    There, SDOT. I’ve showed you how to plan for the next snowstorm. You can always send me a big fat executive paycheck since I’ve done your job way better than you.

  • karen January 5, 2009 (4:04 pm)

    The comment that they were more worried about the wind event than the snow is horrible. I read the weather discussion pretty regular and I KNEW we were likely to have snow after the wind event. I took the time to call my family and friends because the local TV news was only talking about the wind. The weather service was very clear that this was going to be a significant event with a lot of low land snow possible.
    I seem to remember that the Seattle schools shut down on Wednesday because the threat of snow was very high. So I have a hard time believing that the city was surprised by this snow event. And if they were, maybe they need to find different jobs.

  • wsguy January 5, 2009 (4:12 pm)

    I watched several snow plows go over the packed ice and snow and they were NOT plowing to the pavement!!! Only when they brought in the road graders to Admiral was the pavement visible. Got to get Mayor Greg home safely!

  • Mig January 5, 2009 (4:15 pm)

    Good point, Karen. We can be critical of the Seattle School District for jumping the gun and canceling school that day, but at least they were informed and trying to be proactive about things (including SNOW!) unlike some other agencies in this city…

  • alki_2008 January 5, 2009 (4:15 pm)

    I agree…Harbor/Alki Ave needs to be considered a Primary arterial. For one thing…bus service is limited even with normal weather (much less adverse weather). When the weather is bad, then it’s a long hike (usually uphill) to get to something that is considered ‘primary’. Considering that Harbor/Alki is flat, then it shouldn’t be that difficult to run a plow through it.

    I found this map:, but not sure if this represents the same as the primary/secondary arterials mentioned in the meeting, but this map doesn’t give Alki much credit. :( Is there a better map of what the primary/secondary arterials are? Sorry, but hard to search and navigate back here on my Blackberry.

    I wonder if they consider topography when they say it shouldn’t be more than 1/4-mile to get to an arterial?

  • berge January 5, 2009 (4:20 pm)

    My frustration with the whole thing, which they only touched on in the briefing, from what I can tell, is the lack of correct, up-to-date information. Buses, where plowing was occurring, trash & recycling, etc. I read so many articles and websites that either didn’t have current information, or was just plain wrong.

  • miws January 5, 2009 (4:40 pm)

    “Crunican also said her department didn’t “feel the love” for forecasters that Graff had voiced, because the storms left behind far more snow than was forecast.”


    Well, methinks Ms Crunican is lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, if she thought she could heavily depend upon the predictions of the forecasters.


    Now, I’m not trying to be snarky towards the forecasters. It’s well known that it’s difficult to make an extremely accurate preditction in our area, what with the Convergence Zone up north, among other factors.


    Sure, it makes it more difficult for her Department and others to adequately, but not over prepare, but it seems to me that at the hint of any significant weather event, the likely to be affected Departments could have a “Plan B” to quickly switch to, if it turns out “Plan A” is not enough.



  • Lex January 5, 2009 (5:04 pm)

    Cut them some slack especially Grace Crunican who is also a West Seattle resident. Trust me she also felt the pain we did. I’m sure she had people coming from every direction yelling in her ear. The great thing is that we have a lot of lessons learned should this happen again. If we do encounter such poor conditions and SDOT and the Council fail to act swiftly and as we expect then you can yell and give your feedback. I think the media needs to do a better job of posting the SDOT numbers for the regional supervisors this way citizens can call them and tell them which areas needs to be plowed and the supervisor can make a list and triage accordingly.
    Metro should take now blame in this. its SDOT’s area of expertise to ensure the roads are cleared so the public transit can function. How does SDOT exect metro to function if the roads are not passable? what do they expect for the drivers to carry bags of sand? I know many Metro drivers and I assure you as dangerous as it was to be out there, they purchased chains for their personal vehicles so they could make it to the base to take others to work. There were many drivers who sat at the base becaus the roads were such a mess they were closed and drives could not execute their regular routes. So you tell me who is wasting tax payers SDOT for not cleaning the roads so public transportation could function or Metro who had drivers standing by with no buses (due to being stuck) or clear roads.
    I wonder why the Mayor doesn’t have best practice discussions with his peers at thos annual Mayor convention. What do they discuss? Mayor Nickles here’s a thought next convention please discuss the challanges we had this year with your peers. i highly recommend speaking to the Mayor of Chicago, they have an amazing plan and their transit system keeps on trucking…you might want to talk to them about light rail also but thats another subject for another time.

  • JW January 5, 2009 (5:07 pm)

    Passing the buck instead of the buck stops here…..
    Has anyone on Monday garbage/recycle had yardwaste picked up today – it’s only been 4 weeks since our last collection and, since we are charged for that -I want my $10.70 credit!

  • alki_2008 January 5, 2009 (5:30 pm)

    JW – I’m on a Monday schedule, but Recycling is on the “regular” schedule for this week for me, and the recycling truck came by for me this morning…although I didn’t have anything to recycle, since they just picked it up last week.

    From what I understand, they are resuming whatever the normally scheduled service is (re: yard waste vs recycling). For me, yard waste isn’t until next week…you?

    This thread seems to be the latest update on the topic:

  • 22Blades January 5, 2009 (5:30 pm)

    There was and isn’t a plan. The right hand of the SDOT, the left hand of City Hall and …hand of Metro didn’t know what each other were doing. This is after god knows how much $’s spent in the name of national security addressing this very issue.

    Not to start a neighborhood battle but if you reference the city’s Traffic Volume Map at you can get a feel for where the volumes are… ( sorry Alki ).

    Fauntleroy Way approach to the bridge; 45,000/24hr
    Adimiral Way; 25,700/24hr
    Alki – Harbor; 6000/24hr 2006

  • TS January 5, 2009 (5:32 pm)

    We had ours picked up today. Is 10.70 for one week or 3?

  • KD January 5, 2009 (5:40 pm)

    JW – my yardwaste is still curbside too (Arbor Heights).

  • JW January 5, 2009 (5:56 pm)

    Well alki_2008 is correct. No yardwaste today folks it was another recycle day according to the website. A new year a new schedule I guess but we haven’t had a pick-up in a month and we get charged 10.70 every billing period, so yeah I want a credit! I left a message on the website – what poor planning but after everything else, just another minor glitch. Maybe if everyone with yardwaste hanging around for 4 weeks complains we’ll get some action from WM.

  • MrJT January 5, 2009 (6:02 pm)

    I cannot WAIT to see the “For Sale” sign in Grace Crunicans front yard.

  • Christopher Boffoli January 5, 2009 (6:04 pm)

    I take issue with the City using the term “conventional media.” What is this 1995? Are blogs all that unconventional anymore? If you look at who was providing vital information for West Seattle during our recent storms it was the WSB that was the main source of news and the Seattle Times and others that were offering more general, macro information.

  • Scott (no, the other Scott) January 5, 2009 (6:07 pm)

    It was easy to buy the “plow to packed snow using rubber blades” when it was reported considering how the streets actually looked, but if Crunican is accurately describing the real policy in this briefing, I wonder if you have to actually cut SDOT (as an organization) some slack. It occurs to me that maybe their policy is to go to bare pavement and plow to the center… but driving a plow isn’t like mowing your lawn and I doubt the SDOT drivers get much practical experience in the mechanics of doing so in the average year.

    Once you make that first pass wrong and pack it down instead of plowing it off, you have a lot of trouble scraping it down to pavement again. And, I imagine they are cautioned to avoid tearing up too many “turtles” (unsuccessfully, from the looks of the aftermath!), an impediment which municipalities more configured for snow don’t have to worry about.

    I can verify that there were plows on many of our arterials here… they just weren’t frequent enough and didn’t do a particularly good job. But again, I wonder if you shouldn’t cut them some slack on that score. It’s hard to do a job like that right on the first try when you haven’t ever had to do it before.

    Some of the systematic problems are definitely real and should be addressed. But a lot of the complaints I read aren’t bothering to take into account a lot of the complexities of the situation here, and many others seem to be informed by a lack of familiarity with what life in a snowy land is inevitably like. There was a lot of griping still going on when the roads here improved to the point that they are at almost all winter long where I grew up in Eastern Washington. I think you have to adjust your expectations on a few different levels when you are looking at the realities of a snowstorm in this city.

  • Karen January 5, 2009 (6:12 pm)

    I wonder what West Marginal is considered? I drove my son to work days during the snow and it was HORRIBLE and dangerous. I had assumed that it would be a main road out of West Seattle without hills that would be plowed and maintained for sure.

  • WSB January 5, 2009 (6:14 pm)

    The city didn’t use the term conventional media. That’s mine – in “new media” circles (that’s not a terribly great phrase either), you will hear “conventional media,” “legacy media,” “old media” … Sorry if it’s not clear – if it was their term I would have put it in quotes.
    The direct quote was something like, they monitor “blogs” and and they monitor “news,” but it was clear to me that what was meant was they monitor neighborhood-news websites and they monitor radio/TV/newspapers.
    As you note, and as I am always campaigning to remind people, we DO “news” here, so to suggest that this type of site is separate from “the news” is indeed inaccurate.
    Even if someone used “media” as a blanket term, that wouldn’t be quite right either … as was made clearer than ever during the storm coverage, the “news” here at WSB was coming from the hundreds of people collaborating via comments, Forum posts, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc., as much as (if not more than) it was coming from anything done by your site editors here — TR

  • mellaw6565 January 5, 2009 (6:20 pm)

    I heard an absolutely horrifying story last night firsthand from a City of Bellevue employee who said that several years ago the Mayor sold 3 of our brand new snowplows (that cost the city more than $70k each) to a man in Issaquah for $1000/each. The City of Bellevue then went to the man and bought them for $2-3k/piece and now have state of the art snow equipment!

    And we wonder why they’re writing speeding tickets to raise revenue!

  • kc January 5, 2009 (6:34 pm)

    Wow, what a complaint-fest!

    I know that we all pay taxes and expect life to be perfect for what we pay, but occasionally things happen out of the norm. A storm like this happens how often…every 20, 50 or even 100 years?

    I had guests in town for the holidays from a region of the country that get A LOT more snow than that thought that it was amazing how most West Seattlites didnt even try to showel their own sidewalk, or find a way to do so. If you had troubles getting out of the driveway, move the snow yourself. Take some responsibility and not wait for someone to do everything for you.

    If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!

    How many stories did you hear about people getting together to help each other clear a street? Not nearly as many as I heard complaining that it was not done for them!

    Buses, clear roads and trash removal is a priviledge that we all pay for. Lets not take it for granted when something very rare that is out of our control makes it difficult for them to function!

  • D January 5, 2009 (6:45 pm)

    Others have mentioned it but can West Seattle Blog please find out what streets in West Seattle are arterials? Because if people are only 3-4 blocks away from an arterial and all the arterials were plowed we must be talking about some huge blocks. If we look at blocks realistically then there are huge areas of West Seattle that were more than 3-4 blocks away from plowed streets. That was true even a couple days after the snow had stopped falling and you’d think that some of the smaller arterials would have been plowed.

  • WSB January 5, 2009 (6:47 pm)

    Mel @6:20 pm, just for accuracy’s sake, that’s not exactly how the story went. This is part of the famous Charlie Chong (West Seattleite and former city council member who died in 2007) snowplow story.
    Following the 1996 snow mess here, he crusaded to get the city more snow-removal equipment. Some blades were available cheap. Seattle’s city government failed to move fast; Bellevue’s city government did. Here’s the best summary I’ve found – a Seattle Times article from 11 years ago:

  • mellaw6565 January 5, 2009 (6:52 pm)

    KC – we did shovel sidewalks, driveways and even part of my street. But once that was done – where were we supposed to go?

    And as I stated on here a few times, I HAD to be out in the storm several times per day and it was clear that even the police were not greatly prepared for what happened.

    It’s not that unusual of a situation here – look at the records and we do get these storms; besides, the issue is really one of emergency preparedness and response – which was clearly lacking during this whole mess. Not to mention the lack of communication…..

    I too lived on the East Coast for many years and I can tell you that they have the system down when it comes to getting the response out. I remember Mayor Barry in Wash. DC getting hell during one of their big snowstorms because he was in the Bahamas on vacation and didn’t bother to come back early to deal with things. I see similar attitudes here.

  • mellaw6565 January 5, 2009 (6:54 pm)

    Thanks WSB for the link:)

  • mellaw6565 January 5, 2009 (6:58 pm)

    WSB – I notice in the story that the Issaquah seller bought them from King County “surplus equipment” auction for $50/piece (a $70,000 bargain). So sounds like the City/County bought expensive equipment, sold them for a ridiculously low price, then contemplated buying their own equipment back for a higher price, but were beat out by Bellevue. Not too far off from what was told to me firsthand.

    I’m not a math teacher, but a 7th grader could figure out the wasted taxpayer dollars on that deal.

  • AlkiRagdoll January 5, 2009 (7:03 pm)

    OK – I read everyone’s comments. I’m glad to cut SDOT some slack. We are past these horrible events. However, I WANT ACTION. Here is what I would suggest:
    1 – Dont vote for Nickels (correction starts at the top). As I said before, in Chicago Mayor Belandik learned the hard way what happened when his leadership didnt get the snow cleared in the 70s (Mayor Byrne was elected on this platform). Greg needs to quit rating his staff and rate his performance (where does the buck stop?).
    2 – the City must start now to have a realisitc and workable emergency plan. One that responds to normal emerencies as well as an unexpected event. We had Snowmare ’08, but what will ’09 bring or 2010? Are we prepared? I dont mean just for weather. I strongly suspect we are NOT PREPARED. Some emergency will happen – its just a matter of time. Maybe West Seattlites should band together to create our own emergency plan (I dont think one exists — or at least I am not aware of it). I’m willing to donate my time to such a worthy effort.

    3- I am particularly concerned with our lifeline of the WSBridge. What happens when that access (upper and lower) is cut off? Yes people, it could happen. I am lucky to live and work in WS, but I am in a minority. Talk about loss of property values, our property here would be worth NOTHING if we lost that valuaable transportation link.

    The problem that I have with the Seattle mentaility is that we demand alot, but are willing to pay for nothing. The things we all are calling for have a cost. However, in the emergency perparedness area, we dont have to incur costs — The city needs a stable of contractors selected to be “on call” that have the resources (and this list should have depth and diversity of resources). We dont buy plows and sand/salt trucks- that was my origial thought, but after talking to someone that specializes in the area, he is right. Rather selecty a list of pre-qualified independent contractors who can be ready in a moments notice to fill the gap when City/County services are not up to the task (that is not a slap – but the reocognition that it is not cost effective to have resources for all types of events). I know that I would have paid $200 or more to get my street plowed so I could have gotten to an arterial (I lost 5 days of income as I couldnt really work from home).

    I agree that Alki must be designated an arterial – or be given priority (similar to 35th or Admiral) – for the reasons noted — its flat, and if nothing else, those above can get down hill (versus up hill) to a flat road. I am sure that there are other area roads that should have similar designtions. While the numbers cited show Alki is not as frequently traveled, but geography and topography say in an certain emergencies it is a lifeline.

    I’m tired of complaining. I am a volunteer and ready to help. City, ask for volunteers to help you.

  • alki_2008 January 5, 2009 (7:04 pm)

    22Blades…thanks for bursting my bubble. :p

    However, I will still purport that while the traffic volume on typical days is not comparable to Admiral…when we can’t get up hills to get to Admiral, then we need to take Alki/Harbor. We don’t have a lot of options down here. Topography during the “Snowmare” caused a lot of typical patterns to change. In any case, I still think Harbor/Alki should be considered primary…and I’m sticking to that story. :)

    By the way…we got 6600, not 6000! :p

  • wingme January 5, 2009 (7:05 pm)

    therein lies the problem…he (Vidmar) just went out and did it (bought the blades} WITHOUT consulting/clearing it through 10 layers of city govt.

  • mellaw6565 January 5, 2009 (7:07 pm)

    Get him to run for mayor – lol!

  • wingme January 5, 2009 (7:12 pm)

    there ya go!

  • JayDee January 5, 2009 (7:13 pm)

    OK, Grace’s comment about not trusting the forecasters…whose forecasts is she talking about? NWS and St. Mass called the snowstorms as accurately as they could given the rarity of these events. I anticipated many inches of snow based on the forecasts, and the storms were hyped in advance as the most snow since 1996. Sure it all didn’t fall exactly when and where they said, but 1-2 inches of snow is fantasy. The first storm dropped at least 6 in Alki, and the “creme brulee” storm followed up with another 6-8 inches. Maybe it is natural to mis-remember especially when blame is being assigned, but SDOT management didn’t have a clue.

    Downtown I saw a plow driving down Sixth Ave, which was covered in compact snow and ice laying down sand with the blade 1′ above the road plowing air apparently. Is Sixth (or any down street not closed due to snow) a minor arterial?

    As more than one poster has commented, plowing or not plowing is secondary because we only have so many plows, but mis-information (where we are plowing, how we are plowing, and if one’s bus is running/not/or what route) is the true error. Did the City tell Metro that they were relying on Metro buses to service the citizens’ needs especially if the roads were impassable due to compact snow (Oh, and ice too)? Did Metro indicate that they could offer service even on a limited number of routes? By service, every third or fourth bus, and then that bus will be jammed full of cold tired and annoyed cargo?

    Making up mis-information after the fact only provides political cover and makes it that much more likely that we will repeat these management and planning mistakes.

  • WSB January 5, 2009 (7:25 pm)

    AlkiRD@7:03 pm – there are West Seattleites working on emergency preparedness. Last year, we covered a series of events that invited – urged – local residents to become familiar with semi-official gathering places in their neighborhoods where they will want to go to get and relay information and help if something REALLY HUGE strikes. These local volunteers are gearing up for this year’s phase of the effort and you will hear a lot more about it here shortly. Here’s some of what we published last spring and summer (with some interesting preparedness links too) – soon there will be a more coordinated online place to tap into this.

  • AlkiRagdoll January 5, 2009 (7:38 pm)

    Thanks WSB — I vaguely remember the posts. Guess it was Snowmare that had to wake me up. I get it now. I will quit complaining (makes me feel better but doesnt achieve anything) and get involved. I urge others to do the same. Thanks.

  • BobLoblaw January 5, 2009 (7:46 pm)

    As has been emphasized here, leadership starts at the top. Help us by getting involved on this forum:

    and on the facebook page:

    OK, back to your regularly scheduled program…

  • JW January 5, 2009 (8:13 pm)

    I live on an “arterial” at least according to the posted signs on 55th btwn Genesee and Charleston and we never saw a plow (until 12/26 when all was melting -what a waste of effort) probably due to Metro “snow route” changes – if you don’t plow the secondary arterials on the hills then the buses will not run so why bother. We shoveled, salted and used our 4 wheel drive to get around but it wasn’t fun – given the fact that fire routinely uses this arterial I was a bit surprised at lack of attention – maybe if Mayor Greg lived close by things would have been better…………….

  • fiz January 5, 2009 (8:28 pm)

    Having lived in WS for 60 years and survived Seattle Snowmare many times while trying to get to the hospital to deliver babies or trying to get to the hospital to bring home elderly parents – this has to be the biggest fiasco of them all. Our leadership can do better.


    Also, getting my windshield replaced tomorrow due to the phantom tree on W. Marginal this a.m.

    = PS Tracey, I really need spellcheck on the site. Please?

  • rbj January 5, 2009 (9:21 pm)

    No. This is pathetic. I spent the entire snowstorm walking to work, much like I usually do. Many of my neighbors complained about the awful job the city did with such vehemence I thought Bush had nuked Italy!

    Then I realized that the same people who couldn’t be bothered to shovel their sidewalks but had to drive three blocks to the grocery store were the ones doing most of the hollering.

    If we don’t reelect Nickels it shouldn’t be on the selfish, bellyaching complaint that the he did horribly in a aberrant snowstorm. We should not reelect him because he uses the office of mayor as just a comfy job for an overpaid yuppy. His treatment of the homeless, his disdain for people who make less money than 50k a year, his catering to development corporations, his self-righteous and over-inflated passion for the environment, are all reasons to kick this schmuck out.

    But a snowstorm? You people are a bunch of crybabies.

  • HT January 5, 2009 (9:28 pm)

    I have lived all over the country, including in the dreaded “snow zone” (Chicago, Minneapolis). Given the nature of this most recent problem, Seattle’s response was by far the worst I have ever experienced.

    For the thousands in property and sales taxes that we pay, it is not too much to expect that the city would have contingency plans in place to handle what we just went through, especially given that (1) it snows here every year, and (2) in this particular case, we knew in advance the extremely cold temperatures were coming.

    It was only the city’s ignorant insistence that salt was “bad” that prevented them from dealing with the situation in a more effective fashion. For that they deserve full blame and punishment at the ballot box, not that I expect that to happen.

    Here’s the deal. When it’s about to snow and you expect cold temperatures, you start by salting the roadways BEFORE the first flakes fall. That prevents buildup in the initial phase, and buys you time to keep up with the storm by continuing to plow and salt on a real time basis. Seattle did the opposite, and wound up playing a game of catch-up that they could never win. Bad planning.

    In addition, the city’s definition of “arterials” has some serious holes in it. Just from a West Seattle perspective, there are no east-west streets that are kept clear. You might be able to get up 1st or Ambaum or 35th, but the cross streets are all impassable, especially the further west you go. Again, bad planning.

    Apologists for the knuckleheads in City Hall may try to claim that we have no right to expect the streets to remain passable, but that should actually be one of the first priorities of government, far ahead of luxuries and indulgences like automated toilets and a fancy library designed by a “cool” architect. For public safety, if nothing else.

    Yet in matters of snow management and removal, and general road conditions, Seattle’s govenment is woefully incompetent.

    My only question is this: will these people ever be called to account for their willful disregarding of the public good?

  • CB January 5, 2009 (10:00 pm)

    AlkiRagDoll, please do give me a call. Tony, our focal down on Alki, could surely use a hand. 933-6968 Cindi Barker

  • 22blades January 5, 2009 (10:22 pm)

    Good-bye Nickels. I guess you don’t remember much of your Chicago roots at 6 years old. Heard there might be an opening for governor back there… HT: well said – 2 stadiums, a SLUT & 1 dead monorail.

  • Jack Loblaw January 6, 2009 (6:30 am)

    I think that Snowmageddon 2008 is going to be remembered as Gridlock Greg’s Katrina

  • KD January 6, 2009 (6:49 am)

    This seems to be a minor side thread among this other, bigger conversation, but I double checked the calendar on the website and yardwaste at my address really was supposed to go out yesterday, but didn’t. Leaving out the container. Hopefully it disappears today.

  • KD January 6, 2009 (7:24 am)

    Aha – and there it goes. Thank you SPU. Guess they just had a backlog yesterday.

  • Iggy January 6, 2009 (10:00 am)

    Here’s an email I just sent to Licata and Rasmussen. Crunican made her comment after being quizzed on her being in Portland during the height of the storm rather than leading her department here in Seattle.
    Dear Councilmen Rasmussen and Licata, Thank you so much for the questioning of SDOT’s response to the snow storm. When I heard the comment by Grace Crunican that “I don’t drive a snowplow” I was outraged. Talk about lack of leadership and being rude to the taxpayers who pay her salary. On that comment alone (let alone her performance as a manager), she should be forced to take sensitivity training at a minimum and be fired for non-performance at a maximum. Is such a rude, disrespectful person who we want to be in a leadership position at such an important department. I shudder to think if we had had an earthquake or something even more serious. Also, under her watch, the condition of the Seattle streets in general has gotten worse and worse and worse.
    Thank you for your assistance,

  • WSratsinacage January 6, 2009 (2:25 pm)

    JW pays 10.70 per period for garbage .. does anyone else have it that good!? Is that for the mini mini mini can? :)

  • WSratsinacage January 6, 2009 (3:16 pm)

    Just curious that is all, because I think I am getting ripped off by not having garbage picked up and having to pay more than JW.

Sorry, comment time is over.