By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One thing is clear, after two nights of standing-room-only meetings about the South Park Bridge‘s scheduled June 30 closure – if the residents and businesspeople of South Park could build the unfunded replacement bridge themselves, they would.
The second meeting, organized by South Park Action Agenda at the SP Community Center last night, ended with an attendee pleading with County Councilmember Jan Drago, “Tell us what to do.”
Drago was one of three elected officials in attendance last night – triple that turnout from the night before, at the official county-publicized briefing during the South Park Neighborhood Association‘s regular monthly meeting (WSB coverage here).
She arrived late in the SPAA meeting, taking the chair that her staffer Mike Heavey had occupied on the front-and-center panel. Ironically, her arrival was pointed out by one of the other two, port commission Gael Tarleton, speaking from the sidelines as she had at the SPNA meeting the night before. The third elected official in attendance last night was Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who acknowledged she hadn’t been invited, but had heard about the Tuesday night meeting’s emotion and frustration.
Though translators (for Spanish and Vietnamese) were present for the first meeting, this meeting not only offered Spanish translation, but was virtually a dual-language meeting. Some speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish, translated into English by Paulina Lopez from South Park Action Agenda, who in turn offered Spanish translation over a microphone/headset system when English was spoken to the group.
Lopez also had opened the meeting with the theme of taking action: “We are a strong community – we need to know, how did we get here, and what things we can do as a community … so we can brainstorm all together.”
The meeting began with statements from the panel – which this time also included a federal representative, Sergio Cueva-Flores from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s district staff, as well as repeat appearances (from the night before) by King County Transportation Department Roads Division director Linda Dougherty and, County Executive transportation expert Chris Arkills, and a second city rep in addition to Bagshaw – Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith.
His opening statement was the most electrifying. He paused a moment, almost as if to get emotions in check, and then began. “We’re going to work with you to get this solved. You have every right to be pissed off about this. I’m pissed off too. … I’m not here to tell you NOT to be upset.”
Smith said he has been “on the phone with (SDOT)” to tell them to come up with a “mobility plan as soon as possible” regarding traffic flow when the bridge closes, working in tandem with the county. He promised that the city will keep this on a front burner: “We’ll be with you all the time.”
A similar promise came from Councilmember Bagshaw: “I’ll be here with you.” She said the Puget Sound Regional Council will be committing to supporting $18 million for the project today (we’re checking on that; Drago mentioned it too) and she promised to work with “the mayor’s office, the council, the Port, the city of Tukwila … we’ll make (a new bridge) happen.”
Cueva-Flores, speaking in Spanish and English, said he was there “to listen, to see what the county and city and community action plan is, so I can communicate that to the senator.”
As for the county, Dougherty recapped the situation, on behalf of those who hadn’t been at the preceding night’s meeting. Regarding that meeting, she said, “I learned some things – such as, this is not an arterial bridge, it’s an ARTERY bridge.” She stressed again that the county must “have $108 million in the bank” for the actual replacement bridge before any contract is signed to build it. She also reiterated that the county will proceed to work with every potential jurisdiction involved, including Seattle Public Schools and Metro, as well as with the city and county Economic Development offices, to come up with the “what happens when the bridge closes?” plan. She mentioned that there would be separate meetings for businesses “to talk about what we might be able to do to help with your situation … to understand your business, and where the people who patronize your business come from.”
Dougherty also promised additional general public meetings “to apprise everybody of the planning work we’re doing.”
She was asked about a small bridge “south of Henderson,” and what its role might be in a South Park Bridge-less time; she replied that the city of Tukwila owns it, and “we are going to be taking a look at (it).”
Also from the county, Executive Dow Constantine‘s representative Arkills described the ongoing attempts to get bridge money as a “long, frustrating process,” and insisted that Constantine ” has been and is committed” to solving the problem.
Again at this meeting, the frustration was most clearly expressed by those who spoke about their businesses and families, and what life without a bridge would mean. There was again a sense that South Park is getting the short end of the stick, because of its lack of political and economic clout.
Meeting moderator Juan Jose Bocanegra said, “We can’t wait around to see who’s supportive and who’s not. We’ve got to find out who pulls the purse strings and pull some money down into this community so we can get that bridge, open, safe, for everybody to use … (But) this is an example of what happens to immigrant communities all over – they are neglected, not focused on, everybody cares about them and worries over them, but nobody does anything about them.”
The community itself has work to do as well, he admonished … “There are a lot of divisions in this community; maybe we should be coming together, instead of having two meetings in one week.”
And South Park is not alone in facing major ramifications of the closure. From the sidelines, Georgetown activist Holly Krejci said her neighborhood will be most dramatically affected by the 20,000 vehicles that currently use the SP Bridge. (Krejci noted that she works now for County Councilmember Drago, saying that while she was “disappointed” in Drago’s stance regarding the bridge during the councilmember’s city days, “[Drago] has been an amazing representative for the county and got right on the bridge (situation).”)
From there, more of the South Park voices:
“It is ridiculous to be waiting till the last minute,” chided a man who’d also spoken the night before.
“Why are you investing more money in a (bridge) study?” was the question one woman directed at Dougherty. “It’s a a waste of taxpayers’ money. I take pride in paying taxes because I enjoy the benefits – and the bridge is a benefit.”
Then, an anguished story from a gas-station owner who said that until the meeting the night before, he had been under the impression the South Park Bridge would not close until a new one was ready: “Then they threw that Skylab on us – ‘we’re going to close the bridge’ – not even asking us, how are you guys going to feel? My two kids are ready to go to college, and the bridge is going to close, and my gas station is going to shut down. What are the plans, just shut the bridge and let us die here? I have all my receipts for all the taxes I have paid – where has my tax money gone, if not spent on (South Park)? It’s been spent somewhere – every breath I take is taxed. I’m totally pissed off and sorry and I don’t know what to say. I built the Subway (store) next to my gas station. I have 10 employees. They are going to (be out of work) too. For many other businesses, the same thing – we are crying for a reason, we want to know the plans.”
Another entrepreneur with a similar story – Judy Herrera, the owner of the popular Muy Macho Mexican Grill. “I have invested everything in the business … what am I going to do? You are killing me with the news that you are going to close the bridge.”
A sense of betrayal was expressed by Larry Brown from the Machinists’ Union: “This community has worked hard to build itself up. I was surprised by the closure date – would have thought we’d have had more than a few months’ notice. … To have this fall on us in this fashion feels like a knife in the neck from people we thought of as our friends. … I ask the people who are here, go back to your groups, your bosses, your colleagues, and commit to making sure we have a path forward for this community … now. We cannot wait; this has to happen now. We have to know, how are we going to survive in South Park? The Machinists’ Union will be part of the solution.”
Shortly afterward, it was noted that no one was at the meeting representing state government. “The heck with (the Viaduct) tunnel!” said a woman from the audience, suggesting the money could be better spent on this project.
“Amen to that,” said deputy mayor Smith from the front of the room.
Again, the theme: What specific action will be taken? South Park activist Alma Rivera posed that question to the panelists: “When you go back to your office tomorrow, what will you be doing?” Arkills repeated that his office “has been working on it, we are working on it – we’ve been meeting almost daily.” Smith repeated that he called SDOT earlier in the day and will call them again (today), regarding the mobility plan.
But the clearest voice again rang as port commissioner Tarleton spoke,not from the panel, but from the side of the room. “I love South Park – I didn’t know till I was elected how crucial this community and the Lower Duwamish are AS a community. A place where people live, work, play, bring grandparents to meet kids, participate in Duwamish cleanup day. It’s an amazing place. The most extraordinary part of what we have in front of us is to have the courage to say – THERE WILL BE A BRIDGE.”
As she had done the night before, Tarleton noted that her day job (at UW) is to “write proposals and win money to do work.” She proposed both an interim plan to somehow keep the bridge open – “whatever use is possible, whether there’s a way to use it for emergency vehicles, for bikes and pedestrians, and limited truck access” – and finding the funding plan for the replacement. “We do not have the right to make citizens unable to live in their community. … If we break this bridge, we break this community and break this economy. That will not happen on our watch. That will not happen.”
That drew a long round of applause. Tarleton continued, “Tell your elected officials, City Council, state, whatever, every port commissioner, tell all of us to keep you safe … make them produce the money. .. We are going to fix this this year. We are going to fix this problem.”
By then, Drago (at right with Bocanegra) had arrived, and she had the last words. She mentioned that two Burien City Council members are in D.C. right now and advocating for the bridge; she also said she had written to her former Seattle City Council colleagues and Mayor McGinn.
That is when another voice came from the audience: “Tell US what to do.”
For one, Drago said, when the application goes in for a $30 million federal grant – similar to the $99 million proposal recently rejected – “We will need many, many letters of support.”
But a decision on that funding – which still would be only a fourth of the project’s $120 million-plus cost – is not due until late September, by which time, if the current schedule holds, the South Park Bridge will have been closed for three months. That clearly remains unimaginable for many; as Adrian Moroles had said toward the meeting’s start, “Not having a bridge is not an option.”