Sunday, October 30, 2005

''Leaders 'out to kill' monorail''

"The mayor has flipped-flopped on the four-times voter approved monorail while other city leaders have worked to kill it says Cleve Stockmeyer, an incumbent elected member of the Seattle Monorail Authority board of directors who is seeking reelection. "The only thing wrong with the monorail is that city leaders are out to kill it," said Stockmeyer. Meanwhile, it's not often that candidates campaign to eliminate the position they seek, but that's what Beth Goldberg and Jim Nobles are campaigning to do. Both oppose construction of the monorail and are running for the monorail board of directors to oversee what they hope will be its demise.
Goldberg is running against incumbent Cindi Laws and Nobles is challenging Stockmeyer.
Nobles, who works on behalf of homeless alcoholics, is also a member of the King County Mental Health Advisory Board. Stockmeyer is unapologetic in his criticism of Mayor Nickels. "The mayor voted for the monorail in 2002 and 2004," Stockmeyer said. "Now he's against it? What a flip-flopper."

When monorail planners submitted a new financial plan that called for 38 years to pay off the monorail. But Nickels said the debt should be paid off in 30 years. Stockmeyer thinks Nickels was being arbitrary. "Why is 30 years OK but 38 years is not?" Stockmeyer asked.

Stockmeyer said Nickels went to Olympia to lobby the Washington Legislature for $200 million to pay for luxury sky boxes in Key Arena. But the mayor has not asked legislators for a rebate to the Monorail Authority for state sales tax paid for materials purchased in Washington to help build the monorail, Stockmeyer said. Such an exemption is often allowed for public projects and would save the Monorail Project about $57 million, he said. He resents the fact that Sound Transit doesn't have to pay "rent" to cross Seattle city property with its light-rail line on the east side of town. But the Monorail Project must pay the city about $26 million to cross through Seattle Center. Stockmeyer is particularly incensed that voters have to say yes a fifth time to get the monorail after they overwhelmingly turned back an effort to recall the project last year.
"The political establishment has not supported the monorail," he said. "They did not obey the people's will." Stockmeyer also thought the monorail board listened too much to the monorail staff and not enough to the public. "We need public input to help the board make decisions," he said. If Stockmeyer wins, he plans to seek chairmanship of the monorail board.

Even though Jim Nobles grew up in Southern California, he doesn't own a car but relies on the Metro bus system to get around. He said he's a former supporter of the monorail and voted against the monorail recall attempt last year. "But the Seattle Monorail Project made promises it can't keep," Nobles said. It's neither on time nor on budget, and the agency's secrecy belies its claim of "transparency." There isn't enough money to build the project and monorail staffers are being paid too much, he said. Staffers also have too much say in decision making. "It's a project that went out of control," Nobles said. If he is elected, Nobles promises to be more hands-on than Stockmeyer. "I would be a watchdog," he said. Nobles thinks monorail planners should look for more sources of revenue than just the motor vehicle excise tax. He also thinks it's a mistake not to build park-and-ride lots near monorail stations.

Instead of a monorail, Nobles recommends a bus rapid transit system, which means having more dedicated bus lanes like the one on the West Seattle Bridge. He admitted that buses would be stuck in traffic at times. Stockmeyer singled out for criticism Joel Horn, the monorail's former executive director, for not divulging project details to the board of directors. One of the most telling examples was in June when Horn gave the Seattle City Council a copy of the monorail's infamous $11 billion financing package without first getting input, much less approval, from the monorail board, according to Stockmeyer. "He didn't give us options on the financial package before he released it to the public," Stockmeyer said, critical of Horn's "sunny optimism all the time." He had asked Horn for weekly reports that would include three courses of action to give board members options for what to do. He never got them. Horn told him the plan would pay off the costs for the monorail in 38 years but instead the payment plan stretched 50 years, Stockmeyer said. The board member asked Horn for cash-flow information but didn't get it because no information was allowed out during the months monorail planners negotiated the contract with Cascadia Monorail Co., Stockmeyer was told.

Stockmeyer also was critical of the former chairman of the monorail board, Fauntleroy resident Tom Weeks. Both Stockmeyer and Weeks had been involved with the Elevated Transit Company board of directors, which preceded formation of the Seattle Monorail Project and its board of directors. The Elevated Transit Company board was involved in many details of the monorail, but from the first meeting of the new monorail board, Weeks told the group their new role was to be less involved in day-to-day matters. Instead it was supposed to set broad policies for the Seattle Monorail Project.

Stockmeyer said the monorail project is on track. There have been resignations among key people, new financial experts have sanctioned the new, lower cost financing package and, if voters agree, there could soon be a majority of elected positions on the monorail's board of directors instead of appointees.

Seattle Monorail
Position No. 8

Incumbent Cindi Laws is also critical of the ways of the board during Weeks' and Horn's tenure. She said some of the monorail's problems are due to the board being left out when decisions were being made by the monorail staff, Horn and Weeks.

One way to keep the staff under control in the future is for the monorail board to make more of the small decisions, Laws said. Board members have been too disengaged from the day-to-day work of the monorail staff, Laws said. Board members ought to get more involved in what the staff is doing to do a better job of setting policy for the agency. Laws also would like to replace Ross Macfarlane, legal counsel to the Seattle Monorail Project. She disagreed with her opponent, Beth Goldberg, who says the financial package for the monorail project doesn't pencil out. "It's not about the budget," Laws said. "It's about overseeing the staff." "We do have the money to build this," Laws added.

Goldberg disagrees. She works in the King County Budget Office and says monorail directors have been "overly optimistic" about how much revenue the monorail will receive in the future.
Besides being wrong about how much revenue to expect from the motor vehicle excise tax, monorail planners should've widened the number of income sources for the project. She pointed out that Metro receives money from sales tax, the state of Washington, the U.S. government and advertising as well as from passenger fares. Another problem for the monorail, Goldberg said, was its promise to break even financially. Most mass transit systems do not make a profit and must be subsidized by the public. But Seattle monorail advocates vowed the elevated transit system would take in as much as it spent. Goldberg accused the monorail board of "complete abdication" of its responsibilities regarding the financing plans for the project. Board members should've been keeping closer watch over the staff, she said. The board asked "tepid" questions, and only after the infamous $11 billion financial package was announced, she said.

Laws was unsparing in her criticism of former colleagues and political allies. She accused former executive director Joel Horn of lying to the monorail board, when he claimed the project would be built within acceptable costs. She also criticized Tom Weeks, former chairman of the monorail board, who Laws said withheld information from board members. Nor did Weeks want any written record of discussions about Horn's salary, she said. Both Horn and Weeks resigned in early July shortly after their $11 billion financial package was dismissed outright by the public and the monorail board. Laws also singled out Mayor Nickels for the absence of his leadership in the monorail cause. She was "appalled" at a meeting with the mayor and his staff, in which Nickels recommended the Monorail Project first build a "starter line" to see if the monorail would work. Laws pointed out that, for the past 40 years, the World's Fair monorail has been proving monorail technology works. Laws charged the city of Seattle with adding $110 million to the cost of the monorail. The city-required agreement makes monorail pay for sidewalk improvements within a quarter-mile of every monorail station. Goldberg said she voted against the monorail all four previous times the project appeared on the ballot. Although the financing of the monorail is her main objection, Goldberg admits she doesn't like the looks of the monorail either. "It's not the most pleasing from a cityscape perspective," she said. Expansion plans don't go beyond the Seattle city limits yet, she said. Nor is the monorail integrated with the city's other mass transit systems, although a monorail stop is planned at King Street Station, where Sound Transit's light-rail line will have a station too. It was a mistake not to include park-and-ride lots at each monorail station, she said.

Goldberg is not an enemy of mass transit. She rides a Metro bus to work four days a week and suggested Metro explore the possibility of expanding bus service as well as providing more water taxis to help move people around Seattle. Money devoted to the monorail means less money is available to develop other kinds of transit, Goldberg said. But Goldberg said she would not "throw bombs" at the monorail if it is approved and she is elected to the board.

Laws says there's "a civil war" going on in Seattle over transportation policy, with one side promoting cars and the other pushing mass transit. She blames the "gas and asphalt lobby," along with the Downtown Business Association, for much of the opposition to the monorail project. If voters don't approve the monorail on Nov. 8, West Seattle won't see mass transit beyond buses for decades, she said. "There is no alternative," Laws said. "If the monorail is not approved, we won't see grade-separated transit in West Seattle in our lifetimes. "This isn't about waiting for the perfect system," she added. "Perfection is the enemy of progress."

Elected monorail board.
In a separate ballot measure on Election Day, voters will decide whether to continue or end the monorail project once and for all. A "yes" or "no" vote will be taken on whether to build the monorail from the Alaska Junction to Interbay. "And if possible," states the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority's Proposition No. 1, "build the rest of the 14-mile Green Line (into Ballard)."

The Monorail Authority has another proposition on the ballot, Proposition No. 2, asking voters if they want five elected positions on the nine-member Seattle Monorail Project board of directors rather than the current two. Seven members are appointed by the mayor, City Council or the monorail board itself.-from Tim St. Clair's story in the West Seattle Herald, putting the coverage of these issues in the metro dailies to shame.

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