City Hall

May Seawall Vote? No Way, Says Council

By Erica C. Barnett March 2, 2010

Mayor Mike McGinn sent the city council legislation this morning to replace the downtown waterfront seawall that was substantively identical to the proposal he rolled out back in January—$243 million in bonds to be funded by an average property-tax increase of $50 a year. "I trust that the citizens of Seattle, when we make the case to them about a critical safety need, will respond," McGinn said this morning, briefing reporters on the balcony outside his seventh-floor office at City Hall.

The council would have to vote to put the measure on the ballot by April 2.

But City Council members, already skeptical about the prospect of a May special election (which would cost about $1 million), said today that they're unlikely to put the measure on an August or November ballot without significantly more information from McGinn.

"There's nothing wrong with the idea of doing a ballot measure, but we want it to be part of a comprehensive waterfront planning process," said council president Richard Conlin. "When you come up with these big projects, you can't just say one day, 'Hey, we're going to do this,' then the next day say, 'No, wait, now we're going to do something else. Our voters have been very willing to vote for things in the past, but we think that's been the case because we've prepared the groundwork first."

Sally Bagshaw, head of the council's central waterfront planning committee, said she wants the seawall to remain part of a comprehensive waterfront planning process. "I want the waterfront to be designed, where appropriate, to have beaches, places where you can touch the water. You can't do that if you're just going to slam up a concrete wall," Bagshaw said.

McGinn said he would be "willing to work with the council" on "counterproposals," but said the seawall was too urgent to get hung up on specifics like the exact cost of the project, which has not been designed. "We built in a very large contingency," he said this morning. "We have a fair degree of confidence in [the $243 million estimate]. When we get further down on design work, it's possible that the costs [will be] different, but this is a critical public safety need and we need to finance it no matter what."

However, Conlin said that even an August vote is "pretty unlikely," given how complicated a project like the seawall is. "Even with the renewal of the parks levy, we took six months to lay the groundwork. We need a lot more time than that for this proposal. It's a matter of respect, in my mind, for the voters."

"The earliest I can see [a ballot measure] is November," Conlin said.
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