More Governance Scheming

Jim Vesely has a silly editorial in the Times today about the future of transportation in the area. Of course he is for the Rice-Stanton Governence machine, seemily for the sole reason that the current system is a “flop” and we don’t know who’s in charge.

We know the current system is a flop. It grows from county councils and executives and local mayors and city councils named to a federated board. Maybe it works in theory, but it leads to the most damning of conclusions about government: Who is in charge?

Maybe it works in theory? Who’s in charge? Is that anymore than we know about the Rice-Stanton plan? Does it work in theory? I’m not even sure. The most similar agency to what Rice-Stanton perscribes is the Port of Seattle: an unaccountable agency that is the most corrupt in the region. It wastes money like no other. But I guess at least we know who’s in charge. Right?

Vesely devolves from vague concerns about creating unaccountability into smearing Sound Transit: “Certainly, the current politically inbred structure of Sound Transit will oppose the most radical changes in its governing body.” Yikes.

This quote is the one that bothers me the most:

Meanwhile, there are ideas about deep tunnels under downtown Seattle; questions of a five-year boring-and-tunneling task right next to UW’s Husky Stadium and the havoc it would bring; the now-uncertain funding of the most distant Sound Transit rail lines; and the near-collapse of the Washington ferry system.

What havoc is that? He doesn’t describe it at all, or give any indication of what it would be. Vesely just brings up the fear, uncertainty and doubt that is destroying the public discourse today. The havoc? It’s tunnel boring. A few buildings will be razed, some dirt will be taken out of the staging area on Broadway, and part of the parking lot at the UW is going to be destroyed, but that’s hardly havoc. The construction of new condos all over town is a similar “havoc” but on a much larger scale.

It’s not obvious that voters want any governance scheme, and it’s not obvious that implementing Rice-Stanton is going to lead to faster improvements in infrastructure. What we’d get is more bureaucracy, more elected political positions without any accountability but to the voters, and yet another agency in the region, this one seemingly modelled after our region’s worst example.

This governance scheme is a terrible idea and hugely premature. Voters should get the chance to approve or reject rail by itself before a new agency is crated to build roads. If Olympia wants us to build more roads, they have the power to tax us and build them, using the gas tax or the nickel tax we approved in 2005. Creating a brand new agency in charge of transportation is not the answer to any question but “how can we add more politics and prostering to our transportation debate?”

Friday Transit Round Up

Gregoire promises to remove the viaduct whether Seattle likes it or not:

With or without Seattle’s approval, the state will tear down the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2012, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday.

“It’s coming down in 2012. I’m taking it down — the middle,” she said, referring to the elevated portion of the span that runs roughly from Battery Street Tunnel to Pioneer Square, which has been the most vexing and controversial piece of the transportation puzzle.

“That’s the timeline. I’m not going to fudge on it. And if we don’t have some alternative by then, boy are we going to have a mess on our hands because it’s coming down.”

Great. Bring it down no one will miss it, that’s been my position for ever.

The Daily Journal of Commerce ran a great piece by Claire Enlow about how we are reaching “peak pavement” (best quote so far of 2008).

You’ve heard of peak oil. That’s the point when oil production is at its maximum and begins to decline. We don’t know when it’s coming, or if it has already passed. Some would argue that oil is a kind of renewable resource. The earth makes it and we use it, like teenagers on an allowance.

But by the time we know how much oil is left it may be too late. The impacts of oil and the cost of our dependence on it may overwhelm anything we can do to reverse the damage. That would include global warming, massive pollution and distorted international relations.

She talks about how great the streetcar is. The streetcar is okay, real rail is awesome.

Apparently, the 306 and 312 have terrible service and sometimes they are so crowded that they stop picking up passengers at some of the last few stops. Yikes. I’ve seen the same problem on the 545 where the bus doesn’t even stop at Montlake sometimes when it’s really crowded. The scary thing: sadly, trunk route service will degrade as traffic gets worse.

Finally, Tim Eyman has a rediculous transportation initiative for next year.

Here comes governance reform

At one of the News Tribune blogs, David Seago reports on Gov. Gregoire’s visit to the editorial board. There’s good news and bad news.

The bad news:

The governor said she was prepared to introduce her own RTG [Regional Transportation Governance] legislation for the 2008 session, but she agreed to let state Sens. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, take the lead in crafting a proposal…

RTG means no more Sound Transit, no more Regional Transportation Improvement District – bodies comprised of elected city and county officials from Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

Daimajin has discussed at length why this is a bad idea. Briefly, I oppose it strongly because (1) new agencies tend to be paralyzed by indecision and incompetence for several years, while Sound Transit is now operating smoothly; (2) Any new entity is likely to both dilute the vote of pro-transit Seattle and lose most of its rail transit focus; and (3) an elected board is unlikely to approve the taxes necessary to build a good rail system.

By the way, Ed Murray is the one you can thank for the ST2/RTID marriage in the last election, in spite of representing one of the most liberal districts in the state.

I was led to this blog entry via David Brewster on Crosscut, who adds:

The first political showdown will be Sound Transit’s decision next February whether to go back to the ballot in 2008, this time with no roads component. House Speaker Frank Chopp opposes the 2008 submission, fearing that some of his Democratic candidates in the suburbs will be forced to take a stand on a tax increase. Olympia has threatened Sound Transit that if they go ahead with the 2008 vote, they can expect to be punished by enactment of a regional governance entity that will weaken Sound Transit’s autonomy and its dedicated taxes. Waiting to 2010 for the Sound Transit II vote may also give enough time for the regional governance entity to be enacted.

How far back has the Prop. 1 failure set us? A generation?

A wee bit of good news via Seago:

And the notion of “sub-area equity,” Gregoire said emphatically, has got to go. That gave us a little shudder, because the principle that the money raised in each county should be spent each county is pretty much Holy Writ in Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Sub-area equity prevents us from building a system that serves the most riders. If key leaders are starting to recognize that, it’s a good thing.

Still, in state races I’m pretty much a single-issue voter on transit, and the Governor has yet to give me a reason she’d be better than Dino Rossi, which is pathetic.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has a fair response in the comments, that you should read. It is certainly true that he renounced his support for the ST2/RTID marriage quite some time ago, which is something I should have pointed out in the original post.

As for his claims about opposing RTID from the start, he sponsored this bill about RTID, and Section 8 (an amendment added by the Senate) is where the linkage is established. Judge for yourself (I’m no journalist), but to me that’s ancient history. I’m glad to see our Seattle delegation standing up for a 2008 ST2.1 vote, and that’s what matters.

Sierra Club’s Exit Poll is Bogus, Roads are being built anyway

At Slog, Erica “Party Crasher” Barnett, who showed up to the Yes party just as things got ugly (not meant as a comment on her looks), points to some Sierra Club rubbish that “proves” that Pro-Rail lefties somehow swung the vote.

But the Sierra Club’s sample is way off.

  • They counted 1,250 Seattlites of their 5,004 voters. That counts Seattle as 25% of the region instead of 20% as it is. And, in turnouts, Seattle performed worse than other areas.
  • Their “rest of King County” did not show where they came up with those 1,998 voters. Were they all in Federal Way or Bothel? It’s a big county.
  • They only counted 646 Snohomish County voters, half as many as Seattle voters, when far more Snohomish County folks voted than Seattle folks.

I’m not sure whether ST2 could have passed on its own. It would have been a smaller tax increase, which would have made voters more receptive, and some pro-environment voters could have voted for it. I am sure a lot of pro-roads folks would have voted no, though. This exit poll, however, was performed poorly, and is not statistically accurate. It does not give us that answer conclusively.

What we do know, though, is that they are going to build many of those roads projects anyway, just as we said they would. Pierce County may write their own roads package, which would suck because Pierce County Executive John “boots” Ladenburg gave the best speech of the night Tuesday at the Yes Party. And we know the 520 rebuild is critical, and will be done anyway. That Lindblom piece does bring up the possibility of a rail only package, but notes the legistlature in Olympia might stop it.

On the other hand, our Governor spoke thusly:

Gregoire said the defeat of the initiative was a “significant” blow for Sound Transit and the transit agency now has to decide whether to proceed with plans to extend light rail first to Tacoma or Everett.

When it came to Sound Transit, Gregoire said some of the voters sounded like they were from Missouri, where the state motto is “show me.”

Good job Sierra Club of swinging the 11% away from rail and onto roads!

There’s someone running around the internet slandering my math, I already wrote this in the comments, but I want to put it at the top here in case anyone is looking.

You can’t compare the numbers from the Washington State site and the counties’ sites, they are not the same thing.

In an apples-to-apples comparison on Washington State’s election site, there were 103914 Yes + 129151 No votes in King totalling 233065, and 38780 + 51939 totalling 90719 in Snohomish.

Then go to King County’s site, they say that in total 286607 people voted in King County. That’s 53,000 MORE people than the state says. In that context, the 90,000+ Seattle voters makes sense, Seattle being about a third of the county’s population. The County has about 25% more voters listed than the state does. So if you compare the King County number for Seattle against the State number for the whole region like they were the same, then the number looks 25% higher for Seattle. Seattle is really 20% of the voters, and 25% (the factor by which the County’s number is higher)of 20% (Seattle’s portion of the region’s vote) is 5% which shows why it looks like Seattle was 25% of the vote when you compare across the sites. Sorry if it’s a bit technical.

Moral: you can’t compare the two numbers like that slanderer is. They are completely different. The same goes for the Snohomish County number.

I’m not arguing that ST2 can’t win on it’s own. I’m sure it can’t and it will some day. I’m just not sure I buy that study.

Two Pro-Prop 1 Articles, One Anti-Prop 1 post

There are two new interesting Pro-Prop 1 pieces out. The first one is a rather more enthusiastic piece from Hubert G. Locke, an elderly man who is actually for prop. 1, he calls voters to bring pragmatism and live ideology at home. The second is a less enthusiastic, but self-possessed pragmatic endorsement from Crosscut’s publisher, David Brewster.

First Locke:

A decade ago, Sound Transit was considered a disaster. Currently, it is hailed as a public enterprise that gets things done. Much of the credit, even Sound Transit critics acknowledge, goes to Joni Earl, Sound Transit’s CEO, who took over an agency with “a lousy reputation” and is credited with its near complete turnaround. Earl happens to be a public servant who turned down a raise five years ago based on her exceptional performance because Sound Transit had not achieved two major milestones it had set for itself. That kind of integrity, combined with the fact that she lives with public transportation issues every working day, makes Earl a voice I take seriously. So I asked her what advice she has for voters on Nov. 6.

True to her reputation for integrity, she was careful not to indicate how she thinks voters should cast their ballots. She points out, however, the two unarguable facts in all of this: Droves of people continue to move into our midst every year and we’ve delayed coming to grips with our transportation needs for far too long. No plan is perfect but now is the time, she says, to get on with it; “It’s only going to get more expensive if we delay.”

That’s sage counsel about a problem that won’t go away.

He knows what he is talking about. The transportation problem here just keeps coming up again and again, and as people keep moving here it gets worse and worse. This ballot measure seems to cover many of the points we care about: solutions to choke points that are broken only for lack of better infrastructure and a transit system to finally give people an alternative to driving.

On to Brewster. I was surprised he endorsed Prop 1, since he has written a number of pieces about how expensive light rail is on his site. His position is basically:

  • This ballot isn’t perfect, but it is good enough to deserve support.
  • The local elected officials who put the measure together will likely be the same ones who will draft the next ballot if we do make one. So defeat is not very likely to bring us something better. It’s a compromise now or a compromise later.
  • Passing the ballot will lift a huge burden off the voters and the politicians, where they will be allowed to work toward the more simple and small-scale solutions that will serve their consistencies. Basically, we only need one large scale ballot measure like this over the long time.

I agree with Mr Brewser, on the last two points, but I actually think Prop. 1 is pretty good. I love any and all transit and think that many of the roads portions of RTID are actually very good, that only the 405 and “Cross-Base” parts of the roads parts are bad roads.

Mr Brewster makes some other interesting points:

It’s hard to imagine that our politics, after such a monumental defeat, would move to the sunny uplands. One reason is that the same folks who brought us Proposition 1, with all its lumps and compromises, will be the folks who would fashion Proposition 2. The political realities won’t change (except for the worse). The highways folks, steaming in traffic jams, still have a veto over the transit folks, dueling over their technologies — and vice versa. The Legislature still has the last say over authorizing taxes, and they still are as gunshy as ever about tax-revolt figures such as Tim Eyman (doubtless more so after the taxpayers say no). So these are the folks who will suddenly have the courage and statesmanship to start imposing tolls, slicing off service to Pierce and Snohomish counties, and gambling on a surface solution for the Viaduct?

Well said. This idea is also very valuable:

Fixing the choke points on our highways and bridges may seem immoral because it lets drivers keep driving their evil cars. But it also helps fight sprawl, by keeping major employers closer inside the urban boundaries rather than throwing up their hands and moving to Moses Lake or Spanaway. A basic cause of sprawl is companies moving far out, to avoid congestion and to get cheaper land and the ability to move their trucks.

If you keep making congestion worse, you get a few people who move close to a job or switch to transit but a lot more people who vote with their feet. The way to get people to use transit is not to torture them, but to build good transit that is safe, frequent, fairly fast, and cheap. And you can’t build transit by not building transit.

Emphasis added. A lot of greens think that we can simply do nothing and people will pick up transit because they love it or will have little choice. As long as there are places like Spanaway, Duvall and Moses Lake, people will move there to avoid congestion. That’s sprawl, and that’s all that we’ll get if we don’t fix the obvious choke points, such as the 405/520 interchange and the so-called “Mercer Mess” and build transit.

Both writers make the point that this is a lot of non-Seattle politicians making decisions for their own voters, as they should. Locke writes:

Prop. 1 is a regional transportation issue on which the good people of Pierce and Snohomish counties, as well as King, get a chance to be heard. Their votes will serve, it is hoped, as a counterbalance to those local voices that pontificate about transportation as if only Seattle has a stake in its outcome. They might serve also as a corrective to the cycling enthusiasts in our midst who often sound as though our transportation problems could be solved if we just all took to two-wheelers. Prop. 1 is challenging us to think like the region that we are, rather than trying to behave as if Mill Creek and Federal Way didn’t exist.

Sounds almost like he’s writing against the Sierra Club and the Stranger. Erica Barnett and Josh Feit at the Stranger both complained about the idea of running transit through now low-dense South King County, as did the Sierra Club’s Mike O’Brien. They even said that it could cause sprawl, how transit causes sprawl in places people already live, I don’t know. But the only way to turn Federal Way into something like Fremont, California or Mill Creek into something like San Bruno, is to build light rail there. ECB or Feit could never understand that, probably because neither has ever been to any of the four places I mentioned. And Brewster writes:

It’s been interesting to watch a new generation of political leadership emerge, figures like Julia Patterson of the King County Council, a resident of SeaTac who was raised on a small farm in South King County; Pierce County Council member Shawn Bunney, chair of the Regional Transportation Investment District; and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, chair of the Sound Transit board.

None is from Seattle, you notice. In fact, the one clear Seattle leader, King County Executive Ron Sims, having led the effort on Sound Transit and perhaps sensing how un-Seattlecentric it was becoming, jumped ship. At any rate, we’re way past due for some effective regional politics to come to maturity and not just defer to Seattle’s wishes, and this is Act I. Nor can Seattle expect, in the wake of a defeat of Proposition 1, to have any more clout, as its percentage of the regional population shrinks each year and its clout in Olympia keeps diminishing.

I don’t actually think that Sims jumped ship because it’s non-Seattle centric, and I don’t think that think that this ballot measure is overly anti-Seattle. But the fact is that it is a region plan, and it has a region purpose, and it serves the whole region reasonably well. Seattle gets a pretty good deal out of it too.

So we should vote for it.

Oh and the anti-Prop. 1 post? Ms Barnett of the Stranger in her usual form. Not much analysis there other than assuming it will fail without much evidence, and calling anyone who endorses Prop. 1 a “defeatist”. Nice. I wonder which of the three here actually thought this issue through more seriously?

What specifically do you need?

Notice how close the train is to the platform.
Photo by Chris

James Vesely, the man with the confusing title “Times editorial page editor”, in his editorial today argues that he cannot support the Roads and Transit ballot because it’s difficult to find a responsibility chain among bureaucracy

It’s tough for anyone, even those immersed n the public process, to tick off the names of all the seated members of the Sound Transit board, or the board of directors of the Regional Transportation Investment District. It’s easier to remember the names of the county executives of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but their direct responsibility for a successful roads-and-transit program is limited.

Certainly true. But the problem here is not with the package, but with the way we raise money in this state. Our leaders have no way to create the locally, and the legislature in Olympia is not willing to fork over the whole state’s cash for transportation projects in our area, even if we are more than half the state’s totally population. While Sound Transit is actually a regional government organization, Prop. 1 (aka Roads and Transit), is a funding mechanism to pay for capital projects. Who’s responsible for the package? For the transit side it’s obvious: Sound Transit, and ultimately its CEO Joni Earl, and its Board of Directors, 17 elected officials and the Washington Secretary of Transportation.

… That doesn’t mean the voters won’t accept the tax burden — but I think we are entitled to focus the responsibility on a few individuals and hold them accountable. Accountability eventually shattered the Seattle Monorail. Those who were accountable were discovered to have an overly optimistic financial plan. Accountability made a mess of the political decision over the viaduct. People knew the mayor, the governor and the speaker of the House were sometimes together, more often at odds about what to do next. They were accountable and we knew who they were. No one seems to be accountable for ST2/RTID. Even the name doesn’t conjure a face. It is a vote for bureaucracy.

Maybe it’s public relations that’s missing, maybe it’s hype, maybe it is the personalization of the political process. But, I have yet to find anyone who can tell me specifically who is in charge.

I’m not exactly sure what Veseley wants. A directly-elected regional transportation officer? I think that would just serve to expand the politicking surrounding the process. We already have enough politics when it comes to transportation and I don’t see the value in that sort of position. Having the board made up of elected members from within the region helps ensure that everyone’s needs are at least heard and considered, and having the board’s chair rotate from the county executives seems fair. Transportation is one of the most important local issues and part of the jobs of our elected officials. Setting up some sort of transportation czar would be passing the buck away from those who have it as part of their job already. So much for accountability.

It’s almost a Bush Administration type argument that we need some person responsible for the bill; “Brownie’s doing a heckuva job”. I certainly hope Joni Earl is doing a heckuva job, I’d rather than Sound Transit as a whole were.

Sierra Club tries to split up Roads and Transit

Update: Will at horse’s ass sums up the if-we-vote-down-this-we’ll-get-transit-only-next-year argument:

I respect the Sierra Club guys. I don’t disagree with them on most of the facts, it’s their political judgment I question. Most of the people I talked to are convinced that if the Roads and Transit package fails, our elected officials will learn their lesson and give us a transit-only package in ‘08.

In an election year.

With Gov. Gregoire on the ballot.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I find it much more likely that if this package fails, Gov. Gregoire will take care of business. Her business. And that’s SR-520, not Sound Transit. Olympia politicians don’t care about rail, only roads. They’re waiting for an excuse to enact “governance reform,” which will “reform” Sound Transit, alright.

Right out of existence, come next year, if this package goes down

Emphasis theirs.

Original post: I was writing a post about this article when I got a call from my friend at the Sierra club. Basically, she made the same point TroyJMorris made in his comment.

The Sierra Club really doesn’t want it’s name associated with the No on Prop1 campaign, because they agree on essentially nothing other than that neither supports this ballot. And they don’t support it for different reasons, No on Prop1 is a Tim Eyman-style anti-tax agency, especially anti-light rail, while the Sierra Club is actually very pro-light rail and anti-roads.

So the Sierra Club wants to split the ballot up into two proposals, one roads, one transit, so they can endorse the one they actually support, and then there’s a chance that the rail ballot could pass while the roads wouldn’t.

Even if the ballot does get split, I very much doubt that will happen. The roads ballot is almost a sure thing, and splitting them up only weakens rail’s chance.