Tunnel Takes City Council Step Forward, Referendum Step Back
This morning, “amid hoots and hollers,” the City Council overrode Mayor McGinn’s veto of agreements between the city and state to proceed on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project. The vote was the anticipated 8-1, with hold-out Mike O’Brien saying, “I know I’m not going to convince any of you to change your vote…(but) the people of Seattle have a right to vote on it,” according to Seattlepi.com
To that end, O’Brien has asked the City Council to refer the agreements between the State of Washington and the City of Seattle to the ballot for a public vote in the August 2011 primary. He’s introducing this legislation at 2 p.m. this afternoon, and at around 2:01, there should be another 8-1 vote counted. UPDATE: It took ’til after 3 p.m., but it was 8-1 against O’Brien.
Meanwhile, two anti-tunnel groups have joined forces to put a referendum on the ballot. Protect Seattle Now will have 30 days, reports Dominic Holden, to gather 16,000 signatures. At the Council meeting, public comment ran two-to-one against the tunnel, and Nick Licata seemed to lose his temper. Reliably great commenter Baconcat provides this testimony:
And you know what set Licata off the most?
He started in on “we don’t have anyone taking the lead –” and got interrupted by a shout of “then we’ll elect them!”
He went beet red and said “THEN DO IT! THEN DO IT!”
Richard Conlin’s use of photos from the Loma Prieta quake, in a closing call for haste, reminded me that I’ve long meant to look more closely into the resistance to replacing the Embarcadero Freeway with a surface boulevard. Certain arguments for and against sound startlingly familiar. 480, as it was also known, carried about “60,000 cars and trucks per day to and from downtown” along its 1.7-mile length.
It may surprise you to learn that San Francisco had decided to raze such an important roadway years prior to the 1989 earthquake. Here, there’s impatience after ten years of process, but in San Francisco, “The idea of razing the double-decker highway has been kicked around for most of its 26 years…,” ran an AP story in the Spokesman-Review in 1985. The Supervisors voted 8-2 to “refurbish” the whole waterfront, and included $10 million for demolition of the elevated freeway.
But the demolition was opposed by a wide range of interests, including the Chamber of Commerce, Chinatown merchants, and even neighboring counties, who were concerned about the effects on business and “already bad traffic congestion downtown.” The city was facing a possible deficit of $76 million at the time, and no one knew where the money was going to come from. In 1986, voters, told it would create gridlock, rejected the plan.
The Board of Supervisors voted on the very same thing in 1990, one year after the quake had cracked the elevated roadway’s columns. This time the vote was 6-5. Merchants whose businesses had been hit hard by the freeway’s closure were still bitterly opposed to its razing. Then-Mayor Art Agnos was determined to talk an extra $70 million in emergency earthquake relief out of the federal government. ($30 million had been initially offered for repair.) His plan to run a portion of the road underground was eventually scrapped.
In 1999, when the New York Times published “Freeway Gone, San Francisco Reclaims Waterfront,” a 6-lane boulevard was in place, split into two 3-lane segments with a trolley running between:
The 1989 earthquake ”was a tragedy, but it also opened up the whole city,” said Ms. Sobol, the port official, adding that it ”allowed us to connect the waterfront with the city again.” The removal of the freeway ”opens up the view of the water,” she said, ”and has reactivated interest in the waterfront.”
In 2000, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, “A decade later, it’s hard to find anyone who thinks ripping down the freeway was a bad idea.”