Election 2009, City Council Position 6 closeup: Nick Licata

We took a look at them all before the primary election; now, with two weeks till the general election, we’re checking back in with the finalists in five city races – mayor and council. First – Council Position 6.

By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Often on the short end of Seattle City Council votes, and often questioning matters others support, Councilmember Nick Licata gets hung with the “Councilmember No” description.

Licata rejects out of hand his opponent’s comments that he often votes against something without positive suggestions.

“My response is, show me,” he says. “My record is one of the most productive on the City Council. I was elected by my fellow members as president of the Council. While I was president of the Council we had two major initiatives. One was adding more police officers and the other was pedestrian safety when we started and finished the pedestrian master plan. I have a track record of passing legislation and affecting legislation. Everything from getting new park space in different parts of the city, support for the arts and basic transportation service including Bus Rapid Transit [RapidRide] up to West Seattle.”

Regarding the potential annexation of the northern part of the North Highline Unincorporated Area — most of White Center — Licata says his concern had been that Seattle needed enough money from the state to fund services in the area, but that problem has been addressed.

“We are very close to receiving the funds we need (from the Legislature) to incorporate that area,” he says. “The north part with White Center has more potential than the southern half [in the process of being annexed by Burien] because you have the potential for a real retail core there. It also has more problems than the southern half. You have a lower economic population there and more people in need of social services. So there is a trade off.

“There probably will be a bigger bite out of our budget for the first five years,” he says. “That is why the funding (from the state) is limited to five or six years, to carry us over that period. After that time, White Center can become an economic generator because the people in that area would benefit for a vibrant neighborhood business district,” Licata said. “I think joining Seattle would make that happen.”

(Seattle cannot annex the area without a positive vote from those who live in White Center and the rest of the potential annexation area.)

Meantime, Licata does not think West Seattle has many unique problems. “I find West Seattle has many of the same problems that other parts of the city do, sidewalks, pedestrian access and safety concerns, public safety is there including adequate police patrols.” He says there are public safety problems in many of the West Seattle neighborhoods, particularly California Avenue and The Junction and
Admiral business districts, and, he adds, Alki for summer concerns.

When told mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan wanted to immediately add 100 police officers to get the force up to community policing standards, Licata said he wrote legislation now in force to add 105

“We are adding each year 21 new police officers, above replacements for those who drop out (retire or leave), so we are not standing still. We are already adding the officers. The first time the issue came up was when I sponsored and organized a city hall forum on neighborhood crime. In April 2005, we got 200 people to attend. We got all of the precinct police commanders there. In the next budget, I got 30 additional police officers above what the mayor had recommended.”

He says the city is lacking full strength, but says Seattle has more police now than it has for the past 30 years. “We will be able to, (in 2010), to be able to institute what is called community policing, which means taking police officers and redistributing them to areas where there are the most calls and shifting them so they are working on weekends rather than Monday and Tuesday night. We had to negotiate that with the Police Guild. … Another thing that comes up is (the claim that) we have the lowest ratio of police officers per capita in the country,” but Licata says that is not true:

“There are seven cities on the West Coast that we compare ourselves to and numbers fluctuate all the time. The last time I checked, we were the second highest and that was before we started adding officers.”

He says you can’t correlate the number of police officers with a city’s crime rate.

“It is hard to get people to understand that, it is counter-intuitive, but it depends on a lot of other factors, including the makeup of the community and how police are deployed. Many east coast cities have more police officers per capita than we do because they use uniformed officers to do things we use civilians to do,” he says.

Disbanding of the department’s gang unit in 2003 was a decision of Mayor Greg Nickels and former Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, but, Licata recounts, “The City Council did (unanimously) endorse it because they are the executives and because it was modeled on (Former New York City Mayor) Rudolph Giuliani’s program where the crime rate was reduced. Giuliani took police officers that where not doing patrol work and reassigned them to patrol duties. In Seattle it was thought that each precinct would handle its gang problem with former gang unit people.

“You had roughly the same number of people doing gang work but they were not coordinated and that turned out to be a problem,” Licata says. He says he supports the return to an organized gang unit.

He said he originally supported the rehabilitation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but now supports the tunnel as well as completing the $70 million upgrade of the Spokane Street Viaduct connection to Interstate 5.

The City Council on Oct. 19 unanimously passed an agreement with the state to build the tunnel, but Licata has some amendments he wanted to make, but did not.

One would have removed the city’s responsibilities for all cost overruns, a requirement several Council member say is virtually unenforceable.

Another amendment would have required the city to “secure funds before beginning implementation” of the tunnel construction and the third to “seek funding for it project.”

The governor disagreed with the amendments.“So, in the spirit of wanting to work with the state and not fight with it on the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the seawall, I will not be bringing them forward. “I do not believe that in passing this agreement, the city of Seattle is agreeing to pay any cost overruns on the deep bore tunnel.”

Licata says the agreement commits the city only to work with the state on the viaduct and seawall replacement program; to “endeavor to open the bored tunned by the end of 2015” and to “develop additional agreements” that “will certainly be legally enforceable.”

The longer term and bigger problem is reworking I-5 itself, Licata says. The Washington Department of Transportation still needs to provide it with $500 million to as high as $2 billion in upgrades regardless of what happens downtown or to the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“It is almost at capacity now and that is why the solution to the viaduct that was not just dependent on letting traffic just go to city streets,” Licata says.

He thinks “the one thing there is agreement on is that we are tired of talking about the viaduct.” He suggests the state’s demand the city pick up the tab on any cost overruns is “not really enforceable,” because the parts of the project that the city will be responsible for “are not part of the tunnel, but auxiliary issues.”

“Of the $900 million of the project that the city is responsible for, $150 million of that is for the Mercer project,” he says. “If you add on the cost of land acquisition, Mercer is costing more than the housing levy and without any vote of the public.”

There is a view in the city that Mayor Greg Nickels’ forceful ways caused the Council to be less dominant in city affairs, but the fact that neither of the candidates for mayor have any experience in running a city means the Council will have to work more closely with the executive department.

“The Council has to have more faith in itself as a strong legislative body,” he says. “We do not have to jump when the mayor says jump. We have pushed some things. We supported the parks levy, the mayor did not; we added police, he did not; we took the lead on social services, while he did not.

“Whoever the mayor is, they need to communicate clearly to us and we need to clearly communicate with them,” Licata says. “There will have to be a good open flow of information between the two bodies. Nickels created his own problem. His departments were not providing us with information and when they did it was at the last minute so it . . . created a slowdown – we could not make a decision in a couple of weeks for something it took him six months to put together.”

“We will have to cut whomever is mayor some slack and let the mayor know he cannot ignore the Council,” he says. “We know how the city operates and we can help him.”

On housing, Licata says he worries that the city need to do more to retain its affordable housing stock and worries that many new units are intended for single occupants and not families. Pushing families out of the city exacerbates the commute problem as people must then travel back into the city for work.

“West Seattle also has concerns in an area I have always been involved in, the cultural arts,” Licata says, noting he was responsible for getting the initial funding for ArtsWest. That was precedent-setting as the city had not helped out a capital project like that before.”

Nick Licata’s page in the online city Voters’ Guide (text and video) is here. His campaign website is here.

2 Replies to "Election 2009, City Council Position 6 closeup: Nick Licata"

  • (required) October 21, 2009 (9:59 pm)

    Was against the tunnel, until he’d become for it. Whatever. His opponent is far better.

  • brandon October 21, 2009 (11:33 pm)

    Nic is irrelevant and offers no cultural value to Seattle. No one would miss him. Sound familiar? You cost the city a 41 year old project. Let the door smack you on the way out.

Sorry, comment time is over.