June Jolt: What We Missed, Losers Edition

By Afternoon Jolt July 9, 2012

For those who've been missing PubliCola's Afternoon Jolt, our daily roundup of political winners and losers, here's a look at some losers that hit while we were on sabbatical.

Loser: The plastic bag industry.

The plastic bag ban, passed by the city council in late 2011 after the American Chemistry Council spent $1.4 million to repeal an earlier 20-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags, went into effect on Sunday.  Although single-use plastic bags are no longer available at grocery, drug, and department stores, shoppers who don’t want to bring a reusable bag (available free at many grocery stores) can pay a nickel for a paper one. According to Seattle Public Utilities, the city’s residents went through 292 million plastic bags last year.

Loser: Anti-density neighborhood crusaders in South Lake Union. 

Council members got a first look last week at a proposal to increase residential building heights in South Lake Union as high as 400 feet, or about 40 stories, if developers agree to provide incentives (like affordable housing and child care) in the neighborhood.  The plan calls for no more than one or two towers per block; the taller a building is, the skinnier it would have to be.

The meeting was surprisingly anticlimactic, with just one person signed up to speak against the proposal. Surprisingly, because South Lake Union has historically been at the epicenter of Seattle’s battles over density, gentrification, “developer giveaways.” Anti-development forces like the Seattle Dispalcement Coalition have long been suspicious of Vulcan magnate Paul Allen’s plans for the neighborhood, going back to at least 1996, when Allen pledged to put $20 million toward a 42-acre park, the Commons, in the neighborhood. Voters rejected that plan in 2003.

This time, though, the dramatic upzone seems poised to sail through with little opposition. Legislation sponsor Richard Conlin tells PubliCola he hopes to make the rezone happen in the next two months. The seeming lack of opposition may simply be a matter of fatigue---the Displacement Coalition’s John Fox says he still considers the rezone “shameless catering to one developer,” but says he’s putting his energy into other development battles, including Northgate and Yesler Terrace.

Loser: Arena backer Chris Hansen. 

Arena promoter Chris Hansen got an earful from county and city officials last month when the publicity-shy San Francisco hedge fund manager submitted to questions from the King County and Seattle City Councils.

The county council got its crack at Hansen first; their questions focused on whether the arena should go to a public vote, whether it could be funded entirely with private money, and whether the project would be risk-free. At one point, Hansen got exasperated, noting that “Al Qaeda could launch a nuclear strike” at Seattle---the point being, nothing is without risk.

The city council, which currently lacks the votes to approve the arena, got its turn with Hansen one day later. Perhaps reflecting their inveterate skepticism of anything connected to Mayor Mike McGinn, they subjected Hansen to a tough interrogation, focusing mainly on whether any city-funded project can really be risk-free. (In a reversal from his skepticism about megaprojects like the downtown tunnel, the mayor insists that the arena can be built without any public money.)

Among their questions: Does the proposal violate I-91, the 2006 initiative that prohibited sports subsidies unless they turned a profit? Is Hansen’s chosen arena site in SoDo the best location (“The location is not the best,” arena agnostic Tim Burgess told PubliCola)? Does the proposal truly eliminate all financial risk to the city? What will the impacts be on traffic and the Port? And: What will happen to KeyArena?

Loser: Mayor Mike McGinn.

The US Department of Justice proposed its own set of police reforms---reforms that, according to McGinn, could cost the city more than $40 million a year (an estimate council member Tim Burgess described as a “scare number.”) Meanwhile, the Minority Executive Directors Coalition has demanded a place at the negotiating table and a court-enforceable consent decree. The upshot is that McGinn has managed to piss off nearly every faction in the ongoing, increasingly divisive debate about how to address allegations of police brutality at the city.

Loser: Washington State liquor consumers (and, surprisingly, Costco).

On June 1, all state liquor stores closed down and hundreds of privately run new stores opened around the state. Although detractors predicted a Costco monopoly liquor sales in stores larger than 10,000 square feet), it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. In addition to new liquor megamarts like Total Wine and Spirits in Bellevue, booze is popping up in stores large and small(ish) across the state---from chains like Bartell Drugs and Target to minimarts like the Tillicum Chevron in Covington, the Stop Buy Corner Grocery in Gig Harbor, and the Olympic Highway Food Mart in Edmonds. Out of well over 1,000 applications for spirits licenses statewide, Coscto has filed for just 29.

In addition to the nonexistent Costco fiat, there’s been another surprise for liquor consumers: Prices, which many expected to drop under the private system (on the theory that competition drives prices down), have increased across the board, in some cases dramatically. According to a delightfully bitchy FAQ on the liquor control board’s web site, voters should have seen it coming before they approved I-1183, the liquor privatization initiative: “The free market, as established by Initiative 1183, is setting prices.” That information, the FAQ continues, “was posted on [the state budget office] website and was included in the Secretary of State’s 2011 Voters’ Guide.” Translation: Dear voter, it's your own stupid fault that you're paying more now for Jim Beam and Absolut.
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