By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two days remain until Sound Transit closes the “scoping” period – the last round of official public comment before a decision on which light rail routing/station locations to send into environmental study.
The West Seattle-to-Ballard project’s Elected Leadership Group met Friday for a bonus briefing/discussion on the Delridge and Chinatown/International District station options. This is the group that will meet in four weeks to decide on what to recommend to the Sound Transit Board, which has the final say on everything from what to study to what to build.
And members expressed concern on Friday that it’s a rush to the finish line – with Stakeholder Advisory Group members (all community volunteers) scheduled to make their recommendation to the ELG two days after getting an outline of “themes” from the scoping comments, and the ELG itself getting a full report on those comments two days before its own decision is due. Here’s the timeline:
More on the time concerns ahead. First:
Much of the information from the meeting was the same as that provided to the SAG when it met last week (here’s our coverage). But the format and atmosphere differed in a big way. The ELG – which has fewer members – sits in the seats usually used by the ST Board in the same room, and all information is presented to them in one group. They also take public comment. That’s not the case with the SAG, whose members are seated at round tables and while a presentation usually starts the meeting, some information is presented informally at the tables, with discussion following.
While the SAG’s members are all considered equal, the ELG has co-chairs, County Councilmember Joe McDermott and City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.
After a brief welcome from ST CEO Peter Rogoff, facilitator Diane Adams reinforced that decisions were not being sought, that this was a special informational meeting. Project executive Cathal Ridge then provided a quick overview of where the process stands – though planning and discussion has been under way for a year, it’s still “the very start.”
In particular, both these stations are being reviewed through the Racial Equity Toolkit. Key slides from the presentation:
While we were there for the Delridge station discussion, we listened in on the Chinatown/ID discussion that preceded it, and noted two public commenters who identified themselves as SAG members from the Chinatown/ID area. One said she feels they’ve been asked to make decisions beyond the scope of their volunteer role, so they are asking ELG members to reach out to their community. “It’s difficult for SAG members to compare benefits and impacts … The SAG has not received enough information about budget and project costs.” Low confidence was voiced regarding the numbers provided so far.
Later, O’Brien asked a followup question related to that comment, and Adams said SAG members’ perspectives have “helped shape” things along the way but “we have a very robust engagement process outside the (SAG)” so it’s not entirely on their shoulders.
O’Brien then made the morning’s first ELG comment that the process feels “so rushed right now” and that there are so many decisions to be made but this group, for example, is not scheduled to stay together after next month.
Yet Ridge reiterated that this is “only the start of the environmental process” and described the past year and a half as a “preamble to get things going. … We’ve learned a lot over the past year about how to better engage the community.”
Another speaker pointed out that many immigrants need more accommodation – materials available in their languages – in order to participate. Then came a suggestion that a meeting be held in the Chinatown-ID. “When (the project) is done, it’s going to be super,” but people should be able to get an explanation that they understand.
City Councilmember Lorena González asked for clarification about how the choices might affect the “delivery timeline for the overall process.” Some options currently on the table for the Chinatown-ID section could add time, Ridge confirmed.
Then the current process’s time constraints resurfaced: City Councilmember Lisa Herbold points out the short amount of time that the committees will have for review of scoping comments. Can the SAG in particular get a little more time? she wondered. They’re only getting “the essence,” not even the full report. Ridge said they’ll do what they can.
Mayor Jenny Durkan said it’s imperative “to get this segment right … because we won’t get a second chance.” She mentioned the condemnation situations that could “slow this thing down … so we have to get it right.”
DELRIDGE STATION DISCUSSION: The meeting’s three-hour window was more than half over when this began at 10:45 am with public comment.
A commenter describing himself as a 30-year North Delridge resident, said he appreciated the mayor’s earlier comment along the lines of “measure twice and cut once.” He said all three options for Delridge would cause “disproportionate impact,” on green spaces as well as neighborhoods. “I strongly urge you to consider putting back on the table the Yancy Street/West Seattle Tunnel option that was eliminated in Level 1.” (You can see it in some of our 2018 coverage, including this story.)
Another resident voiced concern about displacement.
The next speaker said she’s just moved from NY and found out eight days after arrival that “we might be displaced in a few years … we weren’t part of Level 1 and Level 2 because we weren’t in Seattle yet.” She also noted that the recent West Seattle community meeting was disproportionately missing the presence of people of color, which she estimates make up one-third to one-half of the North Delridge neighborhood (herself included).
Displacement concerns were voiced by the next resident of the neighborhood to speak, too. She was followed by a resident wh said that if his property is taken, he needs to know how they’ll be compensated. O’Brien and McDermott promised to connect him with that information.
(WSB photo from recent Youngstown walking tour organized by Dennis Noland, center. At left is Stakeholder Advisory Group member Deb Barker; at right, Elected Leadership Group member Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman)
Dennis Noland, the Youngstown property owner who has organized neighbors and connected them with information, said “It’s a neighborhood that should be served by light rail, not destroyed by light rail.” He said a lack of postal-mail notification earlier in the process means they’re desperately trying to fight back. He also asked for transparency on how the scoping comments will be processed ad evaluated so that they will be thoroughly considered.
Another Delridge resident said he “got out of work to come here – we know light rail’s coming to the neighborhood and there’s going to be winners and losers.” he said he has not seen any other light-rail project that has displaced people “Delridge doesn’t need more coffee shops – we go over to each other’s houses to have coffee.” He urged that the blue-line option get thrown out. “I ask you to think about our neighborhood carefully.”
Next commenter was Deb Barker, a Morgan Junction resident who’s on the Stakeholder Advisory Group. She suggested a one-hour tour of West Seattle before the ELG decides. “Only in West Seattle are there proposed impacts to actual residential areas .. all the other impacts within the alignment are going to be to business, industrial commercial areas … so West Seattle is an anomaly.” She noted that Commissioner Bowman already had visited (as shown above).
Tighe Urelius from the West Seattle Junction area observed that “outside technical analysis” might be valuable to “interface directly with the community” as these decisions are being made.
And one final commenter returned to the big-picture displacement issue, including how many residences might be in the line’s path of future expansion depending on what route/station locations are chosen now.
After Ridge went through a recap of the Delridge-station alternatives (abave), Herbold noted that one slide shows that ST projects “fewer than 40” residential displacements in all options currently on the table, lower than other cited figures:
Ridge wasn’t sure about the reason for the discrepancy. Herbold also wondered about the differences in the amounts of projected business displacements. And she inquired about peninsula-access effects of the Duwamish River crossing options. Ridge said it was too soon to tell which might affect things less.
Sloan Dawson, ST station speialist, zoomed in on the Delridge neighborhood characteristics including “the green spaces that form the heart of this neighborhood.” He recapped some of the elements that had been presented to the SAG last week. He also noted that residential use in the immediate area is two-thirds single family or lowrise.
After Dawson;s recap of the three alternatives, Herbold returned to the point that the Youngstown station still seemed to have the likelihood of affecting more than 40 properties suggested on the overview slide.
Some key points from the March 12th Delridge community workshop (WSB coverage here) were recapped:
ELG members also were provided with these notes from the workshop:
McDermott – a West Seattleite – opened ELG questions/comments. He talked about visiting North Delridge, “a pretty vibrant, dense neighborhood.” He asked if a ST alignment had gone through this type of neighborhood in the past. Ridge couldn’t think of any specific examples off the top of his head. McDermott also wondered about further study of the “purple line” – a two-tunnel Level 2 alternative that has gained some favor in West Seattle community discussion, despite being discarded by the ELG last fall – and whether better cost estimates might be available.
Ridge said there was a “lot going on” beyond cost such as relocating transmission lines at one point, an unstable slope tunneling in the Duwamish Greenbelt, crossing the Duwamish River at its widest spot. Even with a re-evaluation “it’s still likely to be a very costly alternative.”
Herbold followed up by saying “the purple line best addresses the concerns that we’ve heard … I do understand the cost and engineering constraints are concerning … I want to speak to the fact that, whereas the purple line was judged largely on costs … one of the things people did not fully consider is that it contained the $700 million tunnel for The Junction so (the rest of it) should be considered a $500 million (addition).”
CityCouncilmember Rob Johnson said he was reminded of a Roosevelt neighborhood discussion in 2004, long before its station was scheduled to open. He hopes that people will keep in mind that the station will fundamentally change the economics of the area, that redevelopment of the area might mitigate the displacement .. he also said he was surprised feedback didn’t bring up the SODO five-year transferring situation (a gap between completion of the West Seattle extension and a new downtown tunnel).
O’Brien wondered what West Seattle’s Nucor steel mill has had to say recently since the Delridge station location would profoundly affect them. ST pointed out that Nucor has a rep on the SAG but said it hadn’t head anything directly from them lately. O’Brien also pointed out that “significant upzones” are likely in the area no matter what, “to significantly increase capacity there …” though he acknowledged upzoning isn’t exactly the same thing as total demolition.
Herbold mentioned that 25th has a lot of dense infill already.
McDermott asked about the station locations and bus integration. He also wanted a little more discussion of Delridge context and the RapidRide H Line (the conversion of Metro Route 120 is scheduled to happen in 2021, nine years before light rail) – possible shifts to that route once the station comes online are already being discussed with Metro, said Dawson.
Whatever the ELG recommends on April 26th, the final say on what goes into environmental study is in the hands of the ST Board, with a committee meeting May 9th and full board meeting May 23rd.
COMMENTED YET? As mentioned, the deadline for comments to become an official part of the “scoping” record is Tuesday. Here are the multiple ways to do it.
P.S. Friday’s meeting was recorded by Seattle Channel; the video’s not available yet but we’ll add it to this story when it is.