The saga of East Link has been long. Originally voted down as part of the Forward Thrust plan in 1968 (a familiar map), the I-90 floating bridge was designed to handle rail in the future. In Sound Transit’s 2008 Proposition 1, we funded cross-lake rail, and since then, planning and dependent construction work has been chugging along, even in the face of all sorts of legal and activist opposition (that clearly doesn’t represent the voters).
Eventually, the Bellevue City Council worked with Sound Transit to demand (and partially fund) grade separation through downtown Bellevue. Unfortunately, Bellevue doesn’t really have the money to make up the full difference between surface rail and a tunnel.
Sound Transit and Bellevue are working together on cost savings options to get there. Sound Transit staff presented (PDF) to the Sound Transit board last week, and came up with some interesting ideas – some new, and some that look like they’ve been brought back from much earlier planning now that cost is a larger factor.
Right now, Bellevue is on the hook for about $60 million in savings, and it looks like these options could cut those costs by as much as $20 million. Unfortunately for Sound Transit, the agreement they have with Bellevue gives any savings back to the city.
You should really look at the whole presentation if you’re interested in seeing all of the alternatives, but there will be another way to learn more. Sound Transit will be having an open house to answer questions on June 5th, at Bellevue City Hall, from 4-7pm.
Another quarter, another set of double-digit gains over the same time last year. The system as whole was up 12%. ST Express boardings rose 14%, Sounder 11% (15% on weekdays), and both Link lines, 10%, 8% on weekdays.
Although routes 540 and 560 took hits after service cuts, the big winner is the 513, up 39%, and the 542, up 28%. The 511, 545, and 555/556 were all up by over 25%. Cost per boarding was up to $7.19, a trend ST spokesman Andrew Schmid attributes to fuel costs.
Sounder had no special trains, but more than made up for it with skyrocketing ridership. North Sounder was up 34% on weekdays, partially thanks to fewer mudslides, and is about 10% of the total. Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $12.45.
Central Link carried 22,585 souls per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding is below the bus at $6.98 and is falling.
Of course, comparing cost per boarding over the different modes is problematic, as they cover different distances, charge different fares, serve transit markets of varying quality, and have different spans of service. But the broad trend towards lower per-rider subsidy is a positive one.
Photo by Atomic Taco
One of the most cherished realms of contemporary planning is the allowance for public participation, a tool often embraced for fostering democratic processes at the most local level of civic engagement. It also happens to be one of the most contentious aspects that planners and policymakers face. Borne out of a certain necessity in reaction against the top-down planning fiascoes of urban renewal, public participation has yielded issues of its own, often wielded as a tool for obstructionism and calling into question the distribution of citizen power.
Will Doig at Salon has an excellent article on how the public participation has been misused and abused over the years, allowing a disproportionate amount of power to be consolidated into the hands of a few:
These rules, designed to check the power of city officials, now perversely consolidate immense power in the hands of a few outspoken “concerned citizens.” By dragging out the building process indefinitely, these people can make it so expensive that deep-pocketed luxury developers have a better chance of surviving it than anyone actually building affordable housing. Worst of all, these rules have created a new norm in which individual residents just assume that their personal opinions should carry great weight in routine planning decisions.
More below the jump.
Northgate Integrated Bus-Rail
On Monday I posted about the major players who have been pushing for a 600-900 stall shared use garage. Today I’ll post specifically about why King County likes the idea, and the fundmental policy discussion we should be having.
King County TOD
Northgate is slated to become the region’s premier transit-oriented development (TOD) center, and King County’s current P&R is at the center of the plan. Northgate TOD has been in the work for several years, but as I wrote on Monday, through the Growing Transit Communities partnership, the publicly funded part of TOD is in high gear. The City is anticipating 2,500 new households and 4,200 new jobs in Northgate, and King County wants to use its current surface parking lots to catalyze other development at Northgate and finance the reconstruction of the Transit Center.
King County sees an off-site structured parking garage, which would be achieved with the 600-900 stall shared use garage, as an important first step in giving the county flexibility in moving forward with TOD. Ron Posthuma said the 600-900 garage would allow the county to move forward with its first 414 units during station construction, allowing TOD to be on the ground when North Link opens. Following this King County could continue to move forward with redeveloping its remaining surface parking lots.
Past examples of King County P&R “TOD” has historically been a mix of affordable housing and market rate housing plopped on top of ugly structured parking, killing activity around the buildings and and leading to conflicts between bus movements and P&R or resident access to parking. Ron Posthuma said that King County see a shared use parking garage as a win for King County because this removed the need to accommodate replacement parking on County owned land, and relocation of P&R access away from transit center will give Metro more flexibility in building a high quality bus-rail transit center.
Access and P&R Replacement Policy
While most of the debate around parking at Northgate is about the number of stalls, it’s really is a proxy policy debate about how to prioritize access improvements to transit, how to best manage P&R supply, and whether or not P&R supply must be maintained when TOD is built on a agency’s property. All of these questions are, in my opinion, far from settled, with the status quo essentially lining up with what Sound Transit has thus far proposed at Northgate.
WSDOT has added a flickr set containing illustrations of the design alternatives of the Portage Bay section of the 520 bridge replacement. They’ve also put up the meeting materials from last week’s Seattle Design Meeting. WSDOT is exploring cable-stayed and typical viaduct-style replacements. The Seattle Times has a write-up on the different designs and the obvious community reaction.
What do you think?
Mike and Mike: Help O'Brien out of "the Gap"
Last week Councilmember Mike O’Brien fell into the Sustainability Gap, that wide chasm between what politicians say and what they actually do. O’Brien voted against a carefully considered and vetted proposal (read more about it here), more than a year in the making, to allow some commercial uses in multifamily zones.
Here’s what O’Brien says about his vision for Seattle:
My vision of Seattle is one of made up of the incredible and growing diversity of our communities, where amid this diversity, all communities are safe, healthy and thriving. I see a Seattle that is a model of economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and political transparency.
But O’Brien, along with Sally Clark, Richard Conlin, and Jean Godden, opposed a proposal that would have helped move Seattle’s land use code toward a more innovative way of doing things, allowing diverse uses to be closer together in denser, more populated neighborhoods. The proposal that O’Brien helped to kill (which he earlier supported) was to allow, essentially, corner store like uses in neighborhoods that are already zoned multifamily. This is the kind of mix that makes transit, biking, and walking work because as uses are closer together the car becomes less necessary. It also promotes economic vitality by allowing new businesses to form.
Why did O’Brien do it?
People who live in vibrant, walkable urban centers like Capitol Hill are the people we need on board to guide the future development of the city. We clearly don’t have them on board today.
Based on the comments of a few dozen people in Capitol Hill who claim they have all the walkability they need, thank you very much, O’Brien chose to oppose the same thing for other neighborhoods.
The gap between what O’Brien says on his campaign website and how he votes is clear. Rather than support an expansion of the kind of diverse and thriving use of land on Capitol Hill, he chose to listen to a small group of neighbors getting help from insiders working for the City Council and live on Capitol Hill who opposed the idea (two members of City Council Central staff opposed the measure, and one, Rebecca Herzfeld helped opponents craft letters to Council).
That’s not sustainable, and it’s not transparent. It’s hard enough to convince Councilmembers to make a bold move on land use, but when one of the members of Council who is supposed to be a reliable ally can be persuaded to oppose something he once supported by a small group of neighbors, we’re in trouble.
Closing the Sustainability Gap means holding our elected friends accountable when they make bad decisions. It’s not a pleasant comfortable thing to do, but it’s necessary. If you think O’Brien made the wrong choice by changing his mind on the proposal call him or e-mail him. He needs to know you’re paying attention.
You can e-mail Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author was a member of the panel, called the Regulatory Reform Roundtable, that recommended these changes to the code.
What do you do when you’re a traffic engineer hired to come up with a plan to accommodate 2,500 additional cars entering the heart of Brooklyn on a semi-regular basis? Well, if you’re Samuel Schwartz, you don’t add fuel to the fire by building a ton of parking:
Mr. Schwartz, a traffic commissioner during the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, said the strategy unveiled on Tuesday — counterintuitive as it might seem — was to provide fewer, not more parking spaces for the 2,500 cars expected, according to surveys, in a “worst case scenario.”
Earlier sketches of Atlantic Yards included 1,100 spaces on its grounds, but Mr. Schwartz recommended half that number.
Here’s the money quote:
“We will scare drivers away from the arena,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview. “My message to New Yorkers is, Don’t even think of driving to the Barclays arena.”
Will it work? Some Brooklyn Councilmembers were skeptical. Despite New York City’s generally excellent transit coverage, there are some significant gaps in train coverage for riders attempting to travel between the outer boroughs. Kudos to Schwartz for coming up with a plan that tries to address parking from the demand side, not the supply side.
Over the last week there’s been a lot of conflicting information with regards to the 900-stall parking garage at Northgate. It started with Cascade’s blog post accusing Sound Transit (ST) of making a backroom deal to build 900 parking stalls, which ST initially denied but later recanted. This could be a reflection of the complex and evolving planning story of Northgate, but it certainly indicates that it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community.
Northgate is, in my opinion, the single most complex station in all of ST2, if not the system. While there is disagreement about how much parking is the prudent choice, from a legal, short-term, and long-term perspective, everyone involved wants to make Northgate a shinning success of Transit Oriented Development, bus-rail integration, and non-motorized access.
Thursday’s ST Board briefing slides are above. Below are highlights of my talk with Ron Posthuma, Assistant Director of KCDOT, who is King County’s lead on the Northgate TOD effort.
Through the Growing Transit Communities (GTC) program, of which STB is a member organization, King County (KC), ST and the City of Seattle DPD have been working on creating a “catalyst project” at Northgate. The idea is to open the station with a bang, bringing a critical mass to the station area so private development follows. These discussions have been occurring within the GTC program and in parallel with ST Northgate station area planning. Those not following both could certainly get the wrong impression because of this.
Additionally, according to Ron Posthuma, Simon Properties, which owns Nortghate Mall, has been a part of the discussion. Simon Properties, which will lose 451 stalls during construction and 64 permanently, is interested in the idea of a 600-900 stall shared-use garage, much like the current “SPG” (ie JCPenney) parking garage. KC Metro currently leases 280 of these stalls.
Construction of the SPG parking garage was necessary for the mall to meet its lease agreements with long term tenants. Ron said that without the SPG garage the recent expansion of the Mall to the west would have violated the lease agreements. Likewise if the Mall wants to further redevelop parking lots with shopping and TOD, additional structured parking will be required to comply with lease agreements. A shared use garage would make redevelopment of surface parking a more likely option.
Tomorrow I’ll post about King County’s take on the garage
I signed the recent letter to Sound Transit, letting them know that they were steaming ahead with the analysis of options for Northgate without sufficient public review. Many of these options seem to be in conflict with the neighborhood and Seattle’s goals to create a walkable, livable city, especially around Link, where it’s easily possible to walk, bike, and ride transit to all your needs. They agreed that there hasn’t been enough public involvement, and scheduled a public meeting to get feedback (information below). It’s very likely that a parking garage will happen here, but we can and should improve it.
As someone who’s a big fan of center platforms in general, I asked Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray what the prospects were for East Link to add a center platform where it meets the Central line:
A center platform at IDS was not studied as part of the EIS plans and isn’t in the works for final design. As I understand it, there was discussion of this early on but the following issues are the main ones that precluded moving forward with it:
- Difficulties having enough space to add elevators/escalators for a center platform given the space constraints in IDS
- Fire/life/safety codes make it difficult to fit a wide enough center platform that could accommodate the crush loads we see at rush hours, much less game days
- Potential need for a turnback (pocket) track at IDS
- Our long-term ridership projections put Eastside > Airport travel at about 3% of daily ridership – not enough to warrant the costs/risks associated with what it may take to do a center platform
This may be one of those things where I can’t be moved by any arguments weaker than “this absolutely cannot be done,” which is not what I’m hearing. This is a minor project in the scheme of things, but it’s another example of the system punishing transfers as much as possible. If you have luggage, a stroller, or a wheelchair, it’s no small thing to take two elevators instead of simply walking across the platform. Even if you’re an able-bodied youth, it’s frustrating to see the train on the other track as you pull in, knowing you’re never going to make it.
It may be primarily inattention to detail by Sound Transit, or astonishing lack of foresight by the designers of the DSTT. In either case, it’s one more item where decades from now, riders will wonder “what were they thinking?”
TransLink's new frequent transit network map
For those of you who missed Jarrett Walker’s hat tip, TransLink has finally unveiled an excellent system-wide frequency map (PDF), a vast improvement over its predecessor (PDF), which bears several similarities to Metro’s current system map. The map uses both color and line weight (thickness) to denote frequency while basic and limited services are deemphasized. Frequent services include the three SkyTrain lines, the two B-Lines (BRT-style), and other routes that run at least 15 minutes during the day.
Unlike Spokane’s new frequency schematic and Oran’s own design for Seattle, TransLink managed to use a geographically-accurate map base, aided in part by Vancouver’s very clear and regular grid. The best part of the map is the ability to see the viability of anywhere-to-anywhere travel within Vancouver supported by frequent connections. It’s also much easier on the eye than the old system map.
While Metro has yet to follow suit, they are beginning to the catch on to the frequency map palooza, with an excellent Eastside map that was released along with last October’s restructure. However, as the agency aims to continue restructuring its system in accordance to the new service guidelines (PDF), what better way to educate the public than to do the same for the entire system?
The Summer 2012 Sound Transit schedule book is now available; new timetables take effect Saturday, June 9th. There are no changes to Link. Sounder is unchanged, although maintenance in the South Corridor might aggravate drivers and pedestrians. Below are the bus revisions, especially big changes in Pierce County:
- Route 542: Revised stops at Redmond Transit Center
- Route 550: Trips added and minor evening schedule changes
- Route 554: Minor weekend schedule changes
- Route 560: Major nighttime schedule changes
- Route 566: Minor schedule changes
- Route 577: New weekday morning northbound trip; minor schedule changes
- Route 578: Route no longer runs between Puyallup and Tacoma; significant schedule changes; new Sunday service between Seattle and Puyallup; new evening trips
- Route 586: Two morning northbound and two afternoon southbound trips discontinued until October 2012.
- Route 596: New route between Bonney Lake and Sumner weekdays only. [The story behind this change is here.]
King Tut Street Station, photo by Gorden Werner
This is an open thread.
Seattle City Council Member (and Sound Transit Board Member) Richard Conlin was cited as a source in the comments on my last post about the currently-circulating rumors of a “back room deal” for a 900-stall parking garage at Northgate. I asked him for comment about this, and here’s what he had to say:
ST has not made a decision on this, there are several options under consideration. Not sure why I was cited as a source! There are some 900 spaces being displaced, half from Metro and half from the Mall, the question is what is the right approach to mitigating this. ST is required to provide mitigation, but exactly what mix of parking and other access options is still under discussion.
Let’s zoom in a little bit on what Conlin is saying, because I’ve covered this all at great length, but it’s evident from the comments on my previous post that many people are sounding off before they have bothered to educate themselves about what’s going on here; perhaps a summary will help. There are four pieces to the parking puzzle at Northgate:
- Temporary Displacement of Private Parking: 462 stalls. For several years during construction, ST will need to use a substantial part of the Northgate Mall property for construction of North Link. ST is legally required to provide compensation to the owners for loss of those parking spaces, compensation which could take the form of replacement parking, or cash — potentially lots of cash, while still incurring legal hazards. This has nothing to do with the Federal Transit Administration or the North Link Record of Decision, or whether you or anyone else thinks there ought to be parking structures at Northgate, this is a consequence of widely-applicable law related to the power of eminent domain. See this post for all the details.
- Permanent Displacement of Private Parking: 64 spaces. Some of the tail track and other supports for the North Link guideway will be located on private property, resulting a permanent loss of spaces. For exactly the same reason as in (1), ST needs a permanent solution for this displaced parking.
- Temporary Displacement of Transit P&R capacity: 428 spaces. Under the terms of the North Link ROD, ST must provide “best effort” mitigation for P&R capacity lost during construction. This could be improved bus service (either direct to downtown, or connecting service to Northgate), pedestrian and bike infrastructure improvements, satellite parking lots with shuttles, or (theoretically) more structure parking. I personally think it’s highly unlikely ST would choose to build additional structure parking to meet this requirement, because such parking is around $30,000 a space for ST to construct, making other potential options rather cheaper, in addition to much more politically palatable.
- Permanent Displacement of Transit P&R capacity: 117 spaces. Under the same ROD, ST has committed to the FTA to provide one-for-one replacement of all P&R stalls permanently displaced by the project; if the ST board were so inclined, it could petition FTA to remove this requirement*. This is the only place where policy arguments about pedestrian vs. car infrastructure at Northgate could reasonably be put in play, but is somewhat moot due to the much more stringent constraints imposed by the requirements in (1), which militate much more strongly towards building a larger structure. In other words, if ST just builds a 460 space garage to mitigate temporary parking loss at the Northgate Mall, that same structure would more than suffice to offset the permanent loss in P&R capacity after construction is complete.
The “900-stall garage” rumor presumably arises from the belief – which, to my knowledge, nobody has provided evidence for, and which Conlin and ST Spokesman Bruce Gray have explicitly denied — that a fix is in for ST to solve both problems (1) and (3) by building structure parking (462 + 428 = 890).
Whatever you think about the future of Northgate; even if, like me, you are horrified to see scarce transit dollars spent on “free” structure parking, and you think those millions could be spent in any number of better ways, if your comments fail to acknowledge and attempt to address the reality of Sound Transit’s legal obligations (as I’ve summarized above, as best I understand them), they are pointless, irrelevant, and a waste of everyone’s time.
* There would be a pretty good factual basis for such a petition, as the North Link ROD predates the ST2 ballot measure that extended the formal scope of the North Link project to Northgate; the initial scope under the Sound Move measure was only to 45th St, and had no P&R displacement.
UPDATE 5/26: Shortly after I published this, Spokesman Bruce Gray and Board Member Richard Conlin wrote to me with clarifications.
This is a good article. One nuance that I would clarify. While no decision has been made a 900 stall garage is one of the options in the mix. With st serving 15000 riders compared to metros current 5000 there is a rationale which includes replacing mall parking that can be used for tod and or supporting future tod on metro property that will want some parking. Of course if it is supporting other development it would not be solely financed by st. And I have never seen the 40 million dollar figure and don’t know where that came from.
Just saw your latest post about Northgate. Good stuff. Staff will have all the details for the Board tomorrow. A 600-900 stall shared use/cost (with Northgate mall) garage is an option they will be discussing as part of an idea approach to turn about seven acres of parking into about an acre of parking – freeing up the other six for TOD. Costs are a big unknown but it’s safe to say the $40M number that’s been tossed about would be a non starter. Also interesting ideas about long-term use of the garage as transit’s share of getting people to the station increases exponentially. Tomorrow will be a good starting point for an informed discussion over the next month or so.
Photo by Andrew Smith
I’ve finally made it through Puget Sound Sage’s much-hyped report “Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green, and Just.” I read it warily, but was pleasantly surprised by many of the conclusions, even as I had issues with some important omissions. As it happens, the argument the report makes is largely orthogonal to the apartment-tower-vs.-single family home debate that rages on the internet, and in that sense it’s quite refreshing.
For those of you who are interested in this issue, the sixty pages are totally worth your time. The executive summary is pretty good too, but for the extra-lazy here’s my summary:
- Gentrification (an influx of higher-income residents) is happening in the Rainier Valley, encouraged by light rail and other factors.
- Through a variety of mechanisms, gentrification is likely to lead to displacement of the poor into South King County, with various moral, social, and environmental consequences.
- The set of policies usually grouped under “affordable housing” must expand to more directly consider the obstacles to disadvantaged people remaining in place.
There’s a lot to agree with here, although I think the report applies a much more negative tone to the idea of gentrification than I would. In particular, I find the emphasis on the relative proportion of various racial groups as opposed to their absolute numbers to go well beyond avoiding displacement. (In fact, the report shows that the population of color has continued to increase, although not as much as other areas and perhaps not sustainably.) Gentrification is essentially inevitable in an improving neighborhood, so we should either resolve to not improve the neighborhood, or else look to mitigate some of gentrification’s less attractive consequences.
Brooklyn Access Plan
On Wednesday evening, 6-8:30 PM in the Neptune Theatre, Sound Transit is hosting an open house to present, and obtain public feedback on, the 60% design of Brooklyn Station. ST staff tell me there is “nothing earth-shattering” in the changes to the station itself since 30% design. Long-time readers will recall that due to very strong public feedback about ST’s initial choice to use a single entrance, ST revised the design to provide two entrances while maintaining minimal cost and construction risk. With no pitched battles about parking (there won’t be any) or overbuilding (it’ll be designed for at least 65′ overbuild), the public has been reduced to arguing over the station name.
There is a fairly significant change to the construction process. Sound Transit has decided to add a one-lane access road around the University Manor Apartments, from Brooklyn Ave to 43rd St, supported by a deck overhanging the construction pit, as shown on the map above. This strikes me as a not-inexpensive addition to the project, but the neighboring businesses and residents apparently made a compelling case to ST that this vehicular connection was extremely important to the neighborhood; ST staff declined to make public the cost, citing the preliminary nature of cost estimates at this point. ST also floated the possibility of a pedestrian path around the southwest corner of the site, also shown on the map above.
Dan Bertolet has an interesting post up about the “fourth wave of planning”.
I have thought for a while that each generation of environmentalists is shaped in response to the differing environmental challenges of their time. While older generations of environmentalists were shaped by the back-to-the-land movement, one that believed in an essentially rural solution to environmental problems, young environmentalists are exactly the opposite, believing that dense cities are the primary solution to the problems we face.
Call it Vashion Island environmentalism vs Capitol Hill environmentalism. I find these underlying beliefs to be a helpful organizing structure when talking about density, tree preservation, parking requirements or other issues facing infill development. Dan’s post is a perfect example of these two ideas playing out.
Last year in Seattle, the Bullitt Foundation’s proposed Living Building was subjected to a costly legal challenge based on Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Opponents argued that an environmental impact statement (EIS) should be required because the building would block views. Given that it’s on track to being one of the greenest commercial buildings ever constructed in the United States, and is also located in a dense, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, the fact that environmental regulations could be exploited to oppose the project suggests something is amiss, to put it mildly.
Following on the heels of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Washington’s SEPA was created during an era in which the planning culture was dominated by concerns over ecological degradation and responded with strict limits on growth -– planning’s so-called first wave. In the mid-1970s planning entered its second wave, focused on comprehensive planning and infrastructure, followed by a third wave defined by “smart growth” that began around the turn of the century and is still the prevailing approach today.
And now a fourth wave of planning is emerging, with a perspective that will hopefully put an end to perverse contradictions such as what happened with the Bullitt Foundation Living Building. The formative influences on planning’s fourth wave are the “new normal” economy, climate change, energy, food systems, and regional sustainable development.
Full post here.
Cascade Bicycle Club is currently running a blog post under the title “A backroom deal for Northgate that’s bad for bicycling“, which reads in part:
What we do know is that Sound Transit reached a backroom deal to build a parking garage without any public involvement, none. A backroom deal that a prominent neighborhood leader described as “repulsive and offensive,” because it was reached without any consultation with the community and does not align with anyone’s vision for the future of the neighborhood
The total cost and size of the garage is, with even more vague sourcing, claimed to be $40 million and 900 stalls. I asked Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray for comment on this:
Much of the discussion and information swirling about future Northgate station area plans appears unencumbered by facts. We look forward to hosting a robust, well-informed discussion about all of the options at Thursday’s Board meeting.
As I’ve documented at great length, Sound Transit will probably end up building a parking structure of some size at Northgate, to mitigate temporary parking displacement on adjacent commercial property. That temporary displacement amounts to about 460 spaces. I have no idea where “900 stalls” came from.
There is a Sound Transit board meeting scheduled to discuss this issue at 1:30 PM Thursday in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom at Union Station. We expect to get more facts on this situation then, if not before.
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Two interesting opportunities for the public to comment this week:
- Sound Transit is holding a public hearing on Ride Free Area elimination. It’s at Union Station this Thursday from 12:30 to 1pm. The stated purpose of this meeting is to receive comment from the public.
- The Puget Sound Regional Council is doling out $2.3m in federal funds, for operating subsidies to Community Transit as well as transit facility construction in Kitsap County. The deadline to submit comments is May 31st, but May 24th is the deadline to get your comment in the agenda packet.