By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
They’ve got their strategy rolling.
Now – the West Seattle Transportation Coalition is opening the door for more people to get on board to turn goals into reality.
WSTC – an all-volunteer, grass-roots group with members and endorsees from all over the peninsula – published this invitation to volunteers today, hours after its board meeting drew more than 30 people to Neighborhood House’s High Point Center last night.
The heart of the event was organizing committees around four key aspects of changing ideas into action: Outreach, Communications, Research/Solutions, and of course – Action.
For this group, launched less than two months ago, inaction is not an option.
“We’re here to act. We’re here to do things. We’re here to make changes!” declared Amanda Kay Helmick, WSTC interim board member (and leader of the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council), as last night’s meeting began.
She stood in front of three maps – one, a vision for what transit should be in this area; one, the Metro outline of possible cuts as first announced last April; the other, what Metro unveiled last Thursday (WSB coverage here), for a stark post-cuts future if funding isn’t found.
“It’s not good,” she said – understatement of the night.
WSTC is operating on the assumption there will be yet another special session of the state legislature next week, to focus on the mega-problem left unsolved when legislators went home last weekend after a special session that dealt only with maybe-moot-now tax breaks to keep Boeing from fleeing – but it should be noted, Governor Inslee has not yet officially called for the session. (And when State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon spoke with a group of West Seattle Chamber of Commerce members hours before the WSTC meeting, as reported here, he was less than optimistic about the chances a deal would be reached by then.)
Regardless of the audience – legislators or others – it’s time to make West Seattle heard, said WSTC board member Mat McBride. WSTC “desires to be representative of the entire peninsula.” But to accomplish things, “we need to create silos to work in,” he noted.
(At that point, the map of a possible stripped-down West Seattle future for Metro fell off the wall, as if to underscore his point.)
Board member Joe Szilagyi explained a big flow chart that was projected onto the screen on the north side of the room. “We’re not going to worry about if there’s a traffic circle in your neighborhood – that’s for your neighborhood council … we’re going to (tackle) things that affect multiple neighborhoods.” And the priorities will be rated by whether they’re urgent, for example.
Helmick talked about the letter that they sent to elected officials asking them to bring their West Seattle transportation vision/solution to the WSTC in January.
The board was asked: “Did you get any responses?”
They did. But no commitments for the January meeting, yet – they’re cutting the officials a bit of slack, given that we’re just coming out of an election.
Board member Kevin Broveleit pointed out that Councilmember Richard Conlin (now trailing in his re-election bid) was one of the electeds who came to the launch meeting for the coalition in September.
Helmick noted that North Highline (White Center and environs) is counted as part of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (those at the launch meeting included North Highline Unincorporated Area Council president Barbara Dobkin) for advocacy purposes. South Park, too.
For taking action, they talked about quantification – via a peninsula-wide listening tour to get specific stories from people, how long you were stuck on the bus, how traffic affected you picking up your child at school, etc. Maybe a presence at the West Seattle Farmers’ Market, suggested board member Deb Barker from Morgan Junction. But that requires participation – sitting and listening. And listening to “what’s right, what’s working,” not just traffic beefing – raves as well as rants … “gathering ideas, figuring out what’s great, what’s not great.”
Perhaps they could rally during the possible special session next week – legislators are scheduled to be in Olympia anyway – it was suggested. Or, what about a rally in West Seattle? Deb Barker wondered aloud. Strategy was discussed – what’s the best way to conduct yourself in Olympia, for example.
“Know that (the Legislature) is not our only angle,” McBride qualified. They have “specific requests” for other governments, other agencies, in the “if/then” format – covering all options, and how to handle the needs that “don’t stop” even if leaders fail to reach agreement. “There’s more than one solution … if we can partner to get that one solution that works for everyone, fantastic … but (if not),” they’ll work it out.
Kevin noted that the support and the “appetite” for WSTC’s work is amazing already.
But then came the talk of the Legislature’s failure to act so far – what’s the solution to that?
Helmick said WSTC had been advised by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen – who chairs the council Transportation Committee and arrived at last night’s WSTC meeting after that mention – to put pressure on state senators. “Does it behoove (our group) to contact (even non-local senators)?”
Board member Michael Taylor-Judd from North Delridge suggested pressuring friends and relatives who are constituents of those other senators – four in particular who are said to be holding the vote hostage, including Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom of Medina – to let them know they’ll be affected. That idea caught some traction. It then was pointed out that the four are from “moderate” districts, and that inaction is worse for them than taking action, so they might just “need cover.”
When Councilmember Tom Rasmussen arrived, he said he has spoken to Mayor-Elect Murray, has spoken to legislators, since “right now we’re at the point of crisis … it’s totally unacceptable, makes no sense to me at all.” But “we can be better than Washington, D.C. … and get the votes in the Senate because it’s right for the entire state …” is his hope, yet “it’s not looking that good” right now. He listed the aforementioned four senators who “need to listen to their constituents” – they’ve heard from all sorts of other people. He reiterated, get friends and relatives to contact those senators.
“This is rapid-fire, this is a special session, you’re going to have to be concise, you’re going to have to be quick” – if you know anybody on the Eastside, have them get to these four senators, he said. “If you don’t vote for this, we’ll remember this on Election Day” is the message they have to get to those senators. 34th District legislators are already on board. “Conventional wisdom is even less likely that a transportation package would be passed in an election year”next year – so “this is it. … It’s up to the citizens now to let their senators know, this is important.”
If somehow that falls through, the city/county will work together and come up with something – but first, he has high hopes that “we can do better than Washington, D.C.”
(Tonight, West Seattle Bike Connections – whose Don Brubeck and Kathy Dunn were part of last night’s meeting – published a specific call to action attributed to Councilmember Rasmussen.)
Now, as to WSTC organization: details are still being worked out. The board, by the way, remains an interim board (its members are listed here) – finalizing it will be worked out within a few months. They outlined the committee responsibility in four parts as noted above, before the meeting broke into those four groups.
After about half an hour of small-group discussion, the groups reported back in. One thing that you’ll hear more about tomorrow – the Communications group plans to organize a media-geared event for next week, to speak out loudly and boldly about West Seattle’s needs. The Outreach group talked about ways to get the message out beyond the area, to let people in the not-convinced senators’ districts know that a transportation crisis will affect them too – the highways they use, the buses they ride, the economic solvency of companies they own or work for or deal with, trying to get freight through the area. The Research/Solutions group will fact-find at next week’s Sound Transit Long-Term Planning meeting. And there will be more.
What can you do? Answer the call for volunteers – here it is again. Speak out however, whenever, and wherever; earlier in the meeting, Szilagyi reiterated the importance of gathering opinions from myriad sources – including the Facebook group he set up for West Seattle’s new identity as City Council District 1 (almost 200 people are part of it as of this writing – you can join it here). Be mindful that while the Legislature and Metro situation is atop the priority list at this moment, WSTC is hoping eventually to come up with a neighborhood-by-neighborhood way to outline West Seattle priorities – specifics, not generalities.