Light Rail is Supposed to Get People Out of Their Cars

By Morning Fizz January 12, 2010


1. The lead story on this morning—about toxic parking lots—is by Robert McClure from Investigate West, the non-profit investigative news operation started by a group of former-PI reporters.

McClure's lead:
Chemicals in a cancer-causing substance used to seal pavement, parking lots and driveways across the U.S. are showing up at alarming levels in dust in homes, prompting concerns about the potential health effects of long-term exposure, a new study shows.

The substance is coal tar sealant, a waste product of steel manufacturing that is used to protect pavement and asphalt against cracking and water damage, and to impart a nice dark sheen. It is applied most heavily east of the Rockies but is used in all 50 states.

But scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say the sealant — one of two types commonly used in the U.S. — doesn’t stay put. It slowly wears off and is tracked into homes on the shoes of residents.

2. Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Mike McGinn suspended enforcement of a law that prohibits private park-and-rides near light-rail stations—effectively overturning a longstanding policy banning park and ride lots in the city of Seattle.

Last week, we broke the news that the city has been issuing cease-and-desist orders against private park-and-rides since last year; this week, the Seattle Times, KING-5, and others picked up on the story.

(The only officially sanctioned park and rides in the city are in North Seattle—one at 65th and Roosevelt and one at Northgate).

The idea behind banning park-and-rides is twofold: First, light rail is supposed to get people out of their cars; having commuters drive into neighborhoods from elsewhere defeats the purpose. Second, the parking lots that are operating as park-and-rides are actually zoned for mixed-use development (condos, shops, and apartments). If a six-story apartment building with retail on the ground floor is the highest and best use, a parking lot could be seen as the lowest and worst use.

In a statement, McGinn cited the lousy economy as a reason for the policy shift. “It’s good for local businesses and commuters to be more flexible now."

3. We picked up a bunch of Fizz-worthy news on opening day in Olympia yesterday, including word that the Democrats are not going to  run a "Retro Reform" bill this year.  "Retro Reform" would stop workers comp money from being used for political campaigns, something Democrats have accused the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington of doing.

The Democrats ran a "Retro Reform" bill last year.  It passed the senate but stalled in the house.

4. Given that Gov. Chris Gregoire is slated to review her latest budget today, it's worth repeating two other items from yesterday afternoon's batch of Olympia Fizz.

govbudgetPhoto by Josh Feit

•Gov. Chris Gregoire will unveil her second budget .... where she will reportedly identify many of the $700 million in programs she wants to restore; list some tax exemption loopholes she plans to close (we posted a list here); and give a shout out to the feds and Sen. Maria Cantwell in particular, whose amendments to the U.S. Senate health care reform bill may—if they make it through reconciliation with the house bill—allow Gregoire to fund the state’s $160 million Basic Health Plan for low-income people.

•Watch for liberal groups (unions, low-income advocates) to complain that $700 million in buy backs isn’t enough (there’s still another $1 billion in programs on the chopping block). If there’s surprise money from the feds, they’ll say, (like Cantwell’s Medicaid money) use that to up the buy backs not as an excuse to forgo raising taxes herself.

Seizing on one-time federal money could compound the problem. Tony Lee, Advocacy Director at Solid Ground, says: “We’re concerned that she’s not committed to solving the long-term financial problems of the state. We are going to need tax increases because at some point the one-time federal money is going to run out. We’re concerned that she’s going to back away from her pledge to increase taxes if she’s tempted by federal money.”

5. And a budget update: Even if Sen. Maria Cantwell's federal money for the Basic Health Plan makes it into the final federal bill, there's still a hurdle at the state level:  Medicaid isn't allowed to turn away anyone who's eligible for the program. But the BHP has an enrollment cap (there's a waiting list). Washington state would have to get a waiver from the feds in order to use Medicaid money for our state's capped program. Gov. Gregoire's office is currently in negotiations about this with the feds.

6. Yesterday, the city council voted 7-1 (with Bruce Harrell recusing himself) to increase building heights to 125 feet for a piece of Vulcan-owned property being developed by the University of Washington in South Lake Union.

In a strongly worded council report published in late December, Council Members Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen said the upzone for Vulcan "violat[es] our commitment to the people in the South Lake Union neighborhood who have worked hundreds of volunteer hours on the neighborhood plan and rezone proposal.  When property owners can go directly to the Council to seek zoning changes, the impression is given that property owners or developers will be allowed to bypass the planning steps others must follow."

Ultimately, however, only Licata (whose opposition to special treatment for Vulcan is well established) voted against the upzone.

7. Chalk this one up to total gossip, since we haven't been able to confirm it with McGinn's office, but there's a rumor going around that the mayor plans to push for a ballot measure this fall to help pay for the crumbling waterfront seawall.

Such an initiative would seem to conflict with McGinn's stated opposition to putting voters on the hook for any viaduct-replacement costs.

Asked about the rumor, McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said "We haven't made an announcement about anything like that."
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