By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The 34th District Democrats are now officially on the record as against the proposed SODO arena.
That’s the result of a resolution approved following an hour and a half-long forum in which three supporters and three opponents participated.
Many stressed this wasn’t an anti-bring-back-the-Sonics vote, but rather a vote reflecting serious concerns about the location, as have been voiced by organizations including the Port of Seattle and the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce (here’s their July 25th letter).
The pro-SODO arena speakers:
County Councilmember Joe McDermott
Southwest Youth and Family Services director Steve Daschle
Labor organizer Jermaine Smiley
The anti-SODO arena speakers
Justin Hirsch, ILWU member
Dave Montoure, restaurateur
Peter Goldman, environmental lawyer
Leading off, Goldman advocated for rewriting the stadium agreement, saying he believes he represents a “strong majority of citizens who are shocked … at the way the arena has been railroaded … A full-court press is the only way to describe what’s gone on around here. … Opposing this arena isn’t about whether or not to bring the Sonics back. … And it’s not about whether we should have public-private partnerships … many times it’s the only way to bring things forward.” He said instead it’s about whether private investors should dictate where to build arenas with (the help of) taxpayer money, and whether a vision by “our forefathers” to maintain “a vibrant industrial area” (the port) would be “jeopardized.” He says the potential impacts, such as environmental, have not yet been analyzed; “the MOU that (the county) has approved already designates this as the site.” He says that’s a violation of the State Environmental Policy Act. He wants elected officials to “put the brakes” on the project and study it before finalizing anything.
Next, Councilmember McDermott argued that the proposal already had been thoroughly vetted, with meetings, hearings, an independent panel, and that what the County Council approved last week was a stronger document than the one that King County Executive Dow Constantine had sent to them. “We know that transportation issues exist in SODO,” he said, adding that they had existed long before this issue arose. He also stressed that the proposal uses only a small percentage of the county’s bonding capacity.
Dave Montoure spoke next, in opposition to the SODO location for the arena. He stressed, however, that he was not speaking on behalf of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which he chairs, and which sent a Montoure-signed letter to the City and County Councils. He took issue with Executive Constantine for calling SODO arena opponents people who find excuses not to get things done, and listed panels and organizations that had come out against it and didn’t seem to be excuse-finding types. He also voiced concern for industrial jobs.
Steve Daschle then spoke, in favor of the arena. His board supports it, he said, seeing it as relevant to their agency’s mission of helping youth, who often build relationships with professional athletes – like Brandon Roy, who was involved with bringing a new basketball court to the play yard outside the SWYFS building in 2008 (WSB coverage here). The kids SWYFS serves are “often without hope,” he noted. “Often sports is the key that can unlock the inner motivation.”
Longshore worker Justin Hirsch followed him. He said ILWU is not necessarily “opposed to an arena per se, but (this location) will ultimately prove disastrous to the economy of our region … (it) would create a substitution effect on consumer spending,” with “minimal” economic benefit to the region “at best,” and a displacement of maritime uses for land in the area. “At a time when our country is recovering from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, it is (a bad decision) to displace (that type of economic activity).” He said that negotiations over Terminal 46 have been “negatively effected” by the discussion of another potential arena. “The risk to jobs and the economy is not vague and distant, but clear and immediate.” He noted that “no comprehensive mitigation plan exists” and “it remains unclear who would pay” for one.
Jermaine Smiley spoke last. He said, “I hate to be against my union brother but … the port infrastructure problems have (long) existed.” He suggested that other municipalities might be happy to make room for the arena – like Kent. “I don’t want to see the Kent SuperSonics, I want to see the Seattle SuperSonics. … The port has not offered alternatives.”
Before the resolutions were brought up for consideration, the floor was opened to Q/A. The first question asked whether arena proponent Chris Hansen was “hedging” it. Speaking in his defense was Councilmember McDermott, who pointed out that Hansen is a hedge-fund manager, but also pointed out that prominent local businesspeople were backing it too.
Second question came from Susan Harmon, asking for a show of hands regarding who on the panel supports bringing back the Sonics – all six raised their hands – and saying therefore the sports issue should be taken out, to talk about “what it’s really about.” Eventually Councilmember McDermott retorted that while “it’s important to look at alternatives … there is only one option on the table right now,” with no one else offering to put up money to build at another location.
The third person to ask a question wondered how much SODO land Chris Hansen owns now. Montoure said six acres, but mentioned that a Florida sports complex, for example, had 20 acres. “How many acres is it going to take?” asked the questioner.
Marcee Stone next brought up an independent study that was supposed to be done, paid for by Hansen – “Is that true?” McDermott replied, “That’s the way the agreement currently reads, yes.” “So,” Stone went on, “what is independent about the study?”
Next person: “Aren’t we afraid that if this can’t be done, that (Hansen) will go away?” McDermott: “We have only one proposal on the table. Do we have to take this one? No … In time, certainly other proposals would come forward. We have only one proposal on the table … so (the community must decide) whether this works for us or not.”
Goldman jumped in to say that the MOU approval now would create “unstoppable momentum” for the proposal.
Another audience member voiced concern about “gentrification” and a threat to “blue-collar working-class jobs.” Goldman replied, noting that Lake Union has industrially zoned land that certainly would be more valuable if condos were allowed “but we’ve made a deliberate decision to make Seattle affordable … which is why this is such a surprise to me, that we might do something to risk that.”
Next person brought up the number of people games would bring to the stadium zone. Montoure said, “Any day game displaces economic activity in SODO – if you’re going to add 44 more games, you’re going to rob (those businesses) of economic activity.”
McDermott observed that some recent and in-progress transportation improvements such as the East Marginal Way Grade Separation, Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project and Atlantic Street overpass will provide some relief from traffic trouble.
Hirsch subsequently disputed the traffic study’s validity. He talked about one project – the 509 flyover – having been changed for construction of the Silver Cloud Hotel next to the existing stadiums.
McDermott agreed that it wasn’t ideal for the traffic study to have included part of Friday as a weekend day.
There also were questions about financial projections and taxpayers’ commitments. McDermott said the city’s financial projections – more conservative, as he described them – showed a funding gap, but that handling it would not affect general-fund expenses for the city like fire or police.
“The assumption here is that everything is gonna work,” said Goldman, who contended that this would exhaust “the city’s councilmanic bond authority – the bonds that it can approve without going to the voters. … I guess what I’m saying is that we are using a lot of our debt for this.”
As the meeting approached the hour and a half mark, though many hands were still in the air, two final questions were allowed. One was a question about what kind of projects were coming up that might also draw on the city’s bonding authority. Maybe a road measure, suggested Goldman, pointing out the maintenance problems on local roads: “We’re like a third-world country.” Smiley retorted that the pothole problem had been around for 20 years – “the arena’s not going to take away pothole money or paving money, they don’t spend it as it is.”
Daschle had mentioned the shortfall in human-services funding; McDermott said he wished the county could use its bonding capacity to fund that, but currently, it cannot.
The final questioner from the audience suggested that it all looks like a “win-win” situation to her regarding dealing with traffic issues, especially considering these types of agreements didn’t exist when the two previous stadiums were built. McDermott reiterated that a variety of studies have been called for to get all that information particularly regarding the Port’s concerns. Montoure then asked, “Why hasn’t the port been at the table all along, then?”
Goldman said, “We already have great sites – why would we want to build it (here)?”
“Where are those sites?” someone called out.
“Bellevue,” he said, drawing a hiss, then drawing applause when for one, he suggested, “Rainier Valley.”
Smiley said he didn’t see Rainier Valley as a realistic option. And he simply didn’t want to see it in Bellevue.
Is the arena a done deal?
“As we learned from the monorail and Seattle Commons,” said Daschle, wryly. “Nothing is inevitable.” With that … around 8:30 … the meeting moved into:
ARENA RESOLUTIONS: The anti-arena resolution was introduced first. Marcee Stone, speaking for it, talked about port workers in her family: “These kids are doing their very best (to get economically stable). I do not want to see something that is there to benefit the wealthiest people in this area … that will harm the workers in that area … I have to say too that I am disappointed about the process (in which) this has come about.” She also brought up the transportation challenges she experiences in the area every day, “sitting on a bus on 3rd Avenue,” and she mentioned the story we reported earlier today, that Columbia Street is in the lead for a post-Viaduct transit pathway off Alaskan Way into downtown, another piece of a tangled traffic puzzle for West Seattleites.
Councilmember McDermott then spoke against the resolution, saying he wanted the organization “not to close the door” on a process that he said had at least five more decision points ahead.
The anti-SODO arena resolution then passed, 50 to 23. (Read the text here.)
The pro-SODO arena resolution (text here) was not considered, because no one made a motion to consider it.
A third resolution, supporting KeyArena – not as an NBA location, but to say it deserves funding for modernization (read the text here) – passed, 55-6.
Other notes from tonight’s meeting:
POST-PRIMARY: The meeting began with a round of celebratory applause for the results from Tuesday’s election, which has the Democratic candidates leading for key offices such as governor and attorney general.
GARDEN PARTY: The 34th Dems’ big fundraiser of the year is coming up on August 17th at West Seattle Nursery, with attractions including food from The Swinery, ice cream from Full Tilt, live music, and “sweet deals” – as chair Tim Nuse put it – in the silent and live auctions.
OFFICERS ELECTED: The 34th DDs lost two vice chairs recently; elected tonight to replace them were Marcee Stone and Ted Barker.
The 34th District Democrats usually meet on the second Wednesday of the month, 7 pm, at The Hall at Fauntleroy; info at 34dems.org.