Last week, the Seattle Times featured an Op-Ed by our own Sherwin Lee, which strongly supported moving forward with East Link and attacked Bellevue’s city council for wasting money. In response, another one of Bill Hirt’s letters appeared in the newspaper. Two things are remarkable about this:1) Hirt’s letter contains a major factual inaccuracy in every paragraph, 2) Hirt has a history of somehow getting letters published that contain major factual inaccuracies in every paragraph.
In the first paragraph of his letter, Hirt implies Sherwin works for Sound Transit by calling us the “Sound Transit (ST) blog.” Hirt has commented on this blog before and should know we aren’t a government agency. In the second paragraph, Hirt claims that members of Sound Transit board are unelected. All members, save for one, are elected officials. Hirt’s point may be that these officials are not directly elected to the ST board, which is true (and good), but his use of imprecise language seems like no accident.
Hirt asks indignantly, What gave the ST Board “the authority to ignore the council in selecting the light-rail route through Bellevue?” The answer is in the Op-Ed he’s responding to: a “1999 ruling in a state growth-management case” which cited RCW 36.70A and decided that light rail is an “essential public facility.”
In Hirt’s third paragraph, he claims that while the Eastside provides “40 percent of ST funding,” “only a small part” “will ever be spent there.” Every dollar raised in the Eastside will be spent there under a rule called subarea equity and the Eastside is projected to provide 26% of Sound Transit revenue in the coming decades — much less than Hirt’s claim.
In the final paragraph of his letter, Hirt says that Sound Transit has not spent “one dime evaluating two-way bus only lanes” across I-90 instead of light rail. That has been studied, and a busway would provide a slower ride to the 10,000 fewer people who would ride it daily.
Many rely on the Seattle Times and other newspapers to give them the facts and encourage debate where appropriate. Publishing letters that get basic facts wrong doesn’t encourage debate but rather stifles it under the weight of ignorance, cynicism, and even malice. Though the average citizen is expected to make some mistakes regarding public policy, we should expect the media to provide some barrier between us and outright falsehoods.
It’s easy to think that Mr. Hirt lacks real intellectual rigor and has no sense of responsibility for what he inks, but what does that say about the Times’ staffers who choose to give him space in their paper?