Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other Seattle elected officials sharply questioned Sound Transit officials at a public meeting about the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions yesterday.
Sound Transit convened the meetings to address the Chinatown/International District (CID) and Delridge stations. The agency probably hoped to lower heat on simmering discontent about the Seattle extensions’ most controversial segments.
Instead, residents of both neighborhoods offered more criticism—and demonstrated that they are organizing and have the ears of elected officials. In public comments, CID residents and activists continued to voice concerns about construction impacts on the neighborhood’s businesses and unique culture. Delridge residents objected to proposed residential demolitions, and accused Sound Transit of lowballing the number of households who would be displaced by Link construction.
Troublingly for Sound Transit, the Mayor and City Councilmembers shared similar concerns. Durkan said that Sound Transit would do well to build consensus before committing to a preferred alignment, pointing out that a failure to do so would bring litigation and delay project delivery.
“I’m reminded of the phrase ‘measure twice, cut once.’ …If we push forward too quickly on this phase, we will get resistance at all other phases. And I think that that could jeopardize the project more. …If you think about the number of condemnation acts we will have to do, both in Chinatown/International District and in Delridge, each one of those could slow those down if we don’t get them right at the front end,” Durkan said.
In extended comments, Durkan took the side of CID activists, citing a long history of segregation and institutional racism. Durkan suggested the planning process for East Link in Bellevue could be a model for controversial planning segments.
“I’m reminded that when we were in Bellevue we studied, before I was on the Board, but there were dozens of alternatives studied for various segments of Bellevue, and you ended up synthesizing to get the best whole,” Durkan said.
It’s an odd comparison. The ranking of Bellevue alignments came about in bad faith. Light rail opponents funded by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman attempted to stop light rail altogether through electioneering, while also availing themselves of every possible veto point. That episode delayed Link construction by several years.
By contrast, Delridge and CID criticisms of Sound Transit aren’t about the project itself. Members of both communities frequently say that they are in favor of light rail, or at least resigned to it. Complainants in both neighborhoods worry—reasonably—that their businesses or homes might be condemned or damaged, and have lots of questions.
Comparisons aside, CID residents applauded at the end of Durkan’s comments. CID residents made up about three quarters of the attendees, and filed out en masse when the Delridge segment began. Meanwhile, Durkan huddled with CID community leaders outside the meeting room, as Alex Tsimerman spewed his ubiquitous, offensive bile during Delridge’s public comment period.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents Delridge and the rest of West Seattle, took Sound Transit to task about displacement estimates, following up on public comments. Delridge residents accused Sound Transit of underestimating the number of families the West Seattle extension would displace.
“For the residential property effects, you are identifying that Delridge households displaced are pretty much the same across all alternatives. And the number that you’re using is less than 40. The number that we’ve heard from community members is more than 90 households,” Herbold said to Cathal Ridge, the project’s director.
“Right now—and, again, to point out this is a very early stage of analysis—but as we look at the alternatives right now, based on how they’re defined, we believe the property displacements, residential impacts are fairly similar across the alternatives. We will learn more as we go through this process and flesh this out,” Ridge said.
“Any thoughts as to the disparity between the 40 households and the 90 households, in the community estimates?” Herbold asked again.
“I don’t know—I know of where our number came from. I can’t really say where the other number came from,” Ridge said.
City Councilmember Mike O’Brien then asked Ridge to meet with residents and account for the gap.
Durkan’s comments about Bellevue are ironic. Sound Transit started planning for the West Seattle segment, which is slated to open in 2030, in an attempt to avoid a similar, process- and litigation-spawned delay. A sequel in Seattle became a little more likely yesterday.