This morning, we continue our city-candidate closeups; we took a look at them all before the primary election, and this week, with the general election nearing, we’re checking back in with the finalists in five city races – mayor and council – one race (two candidates) per day. Since tonight (Wednesday), the Seattle Times (WSB partner) co-sponsors the next live TV debate in the mayor’s race – 7 pm, KING5 – we’re publishing our mayoral candidate interviews this morning. (Editor’s note, 9:31 am – The Mallahan interview that also was published early this morning has disappeared from our database but will be republished by afternoon.).
By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
One big issue has just taken a new turn in the race for Seattle Mayor: Mike McGinn had made a big deal out of his deep objection to a deep-bored tunnel to replace the Central Waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct – until Monday – when the City Council unanimously voted to authorize Mayor Greg Nickels to sign an agreement with the state committing Seattle to the tunnel plan.
“I disagree with the decision. I disagree with the timing,” McGinn wrote. “But the reality is, Mayor Nickels and the Council have entered into an agreement, and the city is now committed to the tunnel plan.”
He says that if he is elected, it will be his job to “uphold and execute this agreement” and not his job to “withhold the cooperation of city government in executing this agreement.” He makes it clear he will not quietly go along on the project. He says he will ask the “tough questions” because the city still does not know how much the project will cost.
Another big question he shares with several City Council veterans is who pays for any cost overruns. There is a state mandate that the city pays, but the city wants that renegotiated.
“Where will the money come from, and who will bear the burden?” McGinn asks. “Will we have to cut police, fire, library, or services for the poor?”
He says he will not stop asking the tough questions even though he claims “my opponent has refused to ask any hard questions about the tunnel.”
McGinn clams that when asked about the Legislature approval of the amendment passing overrun costs to the city, Mallahan said, “If I were mayor, rather than taking potshots at Democratic leadership who put that (amendment) on, I’d express disappointment and say, “OK, we can live with this.”
Earlier, McGinn was adamant against the tunnel and seemed implacable on the subject.
“The question of the tunnel and is it a done deal? Yes, the governor, the mayor and the Council say they support it,” he told West Seattle Blog in an interview. “But they actually have to raise the money for it. The monorail was a done deal for a long time.” “The reason the monorail fell apart was on the financing. The difference with the monorail was that it has really significant public support. The tunnel does not have significant public support. Instead of a tunnel, he said a short time ago, he has a plan to bring light rail to the western part of the city.
“I have made a commitment to put in front of voters a plan within two years to extend light rail to neighborhoods that are not currently served, like West Seattle and Ballard.”
He says the city can do this as a Seattle measure, keeping costs down by using city rights of way. It would not be a “Cadillac system” but a more local system using local taxing authority and still transit ways separated from traffic “as much as possible.”
“If we do it that way, we are not going to have to wait 20 or 30 years for Sound Transit to bring light rail in the west side.” But he was until this week adamant about stopping the tunnel. “Let’s look at the financing for a minute. They are going to have to raise almost a billion from the City of Seattle.” Some of the money would come from property tax increases and local improvement districts. It is going to cost an increase in the parking tax, he says.
“Maybe the Council will do it on their own or put out a bond proposal, but even then it is going to cost an increase in utility rates. “It is one thing for the Council to say today that we’ve agreed, but they haven’t taken the tax vote yet nor have they given the public the bill for a local improvement district. All of this for people to take a 1.7-mile ride (past downtown).”
In addition, McGinn says there is a requirement from the state to raise $400 million from tolls, which will divert traffic to other city streets and I-5. He says the irony is that the city will not be investing in transit and I-5 improvements that would help deal with redeployed traffic.
Besides city money, the Port has to come up with $300 million – and the county is supposed to come up with $100 million, though it is in dire financial straits.
“So (the tunnel) is not funded, nor do we know what the ultimate cost will be because the engineering is not complete,” he says. “And, what if there are cost overruns? The state says the city must pay all cost overruns.”
McGinn says contractors will want to know specifically where the money for overruns will come from.
“All of this means the Legislature is going to have to reopen that provision if the project is going to proceed,” he says. “The Legislature says it is giving $2.4 billion and no more.”
So what happens in the Legislature when that issue gets opened up? “When we look at all of these things, the funding isn’t in place, the cost is unknown nor do we have any understanding of how we will deal with risk if there are overruns.
“If you were a business person handed all of this would you say, ‘hey, let’s green light it’? No, of course you wouldn’t. You would want to be sure you had all those things dealt with.” McGinn says, “Much like the monorail” city leaders are not being practical on the issue.
“The practical thing is to find something that will fit inside the city, county, port and state budgets and that actually meets our transportation needs,” he says.
But the candidate says he does not say to reject the tunnel means we have to start from scratch to replace the viaduct.
“We know how to get things done in the city,” he says. “We have built parks, we have repaired school building and fire stations, we have approved a Bridging the Gap levy,” he says. “We did get to a vote on light rail.
“Where we get in trouble is where you do not align public investments with public expectations. When it came to the Roads and Transit ballot measure, the elected officials thought you could not get light rail without roads. But the public wasn’t there,” he says. “So we came back with light rail and the public agreed.”
On the subject of the city’s besieged transportation department, McGinn was cautious.
“You have to get in there and get your hands on it to determine what needs to be done,” he says. “I think that SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) has been pretty progressive in a number of areas, including implementing the Bicycle Master Plan, the Pedestrian Master Plan, looking at options for better bus service.”
He says streetcar service will be folded into his proposal for additional light rail on the west side of the city, not just continuing to add streetcars. “I am for the First Hill streetcar line because the voters have approved it and we have the funding and ‘let’s get ‘er done’,” he says, but his emphasis would be on extending light rail.
He rates as “very poor” SDOT’s handling of the snowstorm last winter. That is a management issue, he says, that the mayor will have to go into, to find out what is going on.
Finding a new police chief is a “very big issue” to McGinn. He supports financing the department to allow community policing, which means roughly a patrol force of 605 officers. “The choice of police chief is critical because you will want someone respected by the (officers) on the force and by the public,” McGinn says. “The person (the chief) will have to also be able to work well with the rest of city government.”
McGinn deflected a question that some have raised about the lack of focus of mayoral candidates on issues of racial tensions in the city. “There are some neighborhoods that have a lot of distress with the police department and the absence of trust (makes it) hard to get police to be effective,” he says.
He noted that some programs dedicated to youth intervention have been changed or dropped leading to what he says is an increase in gang violence.
“There are lots of things we can do to support children, families and to support education,” he says.
After noting the reality of budget difficulties, McGinn said there were “efficiencies” that can be found, such as decreasing the number of political appointees in the mayor’s office, or multiple city departments that have their own public relations and technology staffs. “But if we don’t see an upturn in the economy, we will have to have more cuts that will have to be made,” he says. “I do not support repealing the head tax,” he says, a proposal by opponent Joe Mallahan.
“I think we will do more for the city’s finances by having that $5.2 million to help provide essential services,” he says.