1. Mayor Ed Murray gave the Stranger a curious quote about the Bertha tunnel fiasco last week, telling the paper that his biggest concern about Bertha was that the mess could "kill any opportunity" for a new Sound Transit tunnel in downtown Seattle.
The Stranger is still scratching its head about Murray's artless comment which seemed like an overly calculated Murray move to sidestep the tunnel debacle (Murray was a proponent of the Bertha project as a state senator in Olympia) while simultaneously using it to win over transit fans.
Murray's tunnel gymnastics were even cringier a few weeks earlier, though. The Mayor formally brought up the idea of a Sound Transit tunnel at a Sound Transit Board vote in late December. The display left most of the board scratching their heads, and worse, left Murray's pro-light rail tunnel allies on the board in the lurch to defend his awkward amendment as he hustled out of the meeting to another event.
On December 18, the Sound Transit board, of which Murray's a member, voted to update its long range plan—a master wish list of "general travel corridors and not specific streets or alignments" that the board uses to fashion the boundaries of a route it eventually takes to voters. For example, the board approved the following "potential expansions": "light rail service from Downtown Seattle to West Seattle/Burien; from Everett to North Everett; from Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Mall to DuPont; ... from Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Community College; to the Southwest Everett Industrial Center/Paine Field area; and from Issaquah to Issaquah Highlands."
However, Murray tried to force specific language into the plan for "tunneling for future core system capacity (through Downtown Seattle)" to the general goals. The motion, which certainly undercut Murray's penchant for regionalism, brought a torrent of criticism. A sampling:
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy: "Tunneling is a very expensive endeavor as we know. To put this as almost a future criteria, I'm struggling with this one folks. It's something I can't vote for."
Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler: "I'm not sure the timing is right for this. I understand the intent, but it opens it up for everyone. I'm not sure ST 3 is the proper time for that rather than spend money on something way out in the future. I'm having a difficult time supporting this also."
Redmond Mayor John Marchione: "I'm aware that [the future route] requires a tunnel through downtown Seattle, but likewise I'm not pushing for light rail across 520 at this time. This is getting ahead of ourselves, and causes a distraction for voter in 2016 that we don't need."
Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling: "I'm a bit cautious on when we put together a planning document, it creates expectations within certain groups or within certain places within the region. And when it pops out the other end, it will become an intense conversation. I want Tacoma to Everett to Redmond, and I hate to cloud that issue. [It is] not time to create that suggestion. I will be voting no."
Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow: "Wouldn't this establish that regionwide everyone would pay regardless of sub-area equity? Why is this the time to decide that we don't want to use sub-area equity? [Sub-area equity is the governing ST concept that money for specific ST projects come from the sub-area the project is built in]. As part of implementing a regional transit system, that means the funding [for this] will be spread across all subareas."
Left to defend the amendment, Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien addressed the subarea equity issue, acknowledging that the amendment "certainly Ts that up," while also noting that it was proper to put the tunnel idea in the shared plan because: "This facility is critical not just to the people of Seattle, but frankly to the folks that are coming from either end of the spine and need that capacity too, and so we're asking to put it on the table this time."
Simultaneously, he was forced to assuage his suburban colleagues: "I want to reassure everyone, our commitment is equally to completing the spine. This discussion is in no way meant to change the priority."
Ultimately, the six urbanist board members present for the vote—O'Brien, Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, King County Executive Dow Constantine, WSDOT director Lynn Peterson, King County Council member Larry Phillips, and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickand—did vote for the losing amendment.
Clearly, Murray is on to some compelling policy, but his clunky politics—a misread of both the ST process and current tunnel headlines—unnecessarily soured the discussion rather than deftly cuing it up.
2. The SPD is looking at brand new technology for its body camera pilot program that has potential to solve the seemingly intractable tension between privacy laws and public disclosure laws that have forced other jurisdictions to put body cameras on hold.
The new software would solve the seemingly impossible burden of meeting the public’s demand for video footage and state law privacy mandates.
Last month, the Seattle Police Department hosted it’s first ever Hackathon, a novel attempt at trying to mitigate the burden imposed by the often contradictory state legislative requirements on privacy and public records requests. The requirements slow the already difficult redaction process; it takes the SPD seven to eight hours to redact just one hour of sensitive information found in police footage, they say.
The event brought together programmers from all over the state, including employees of Evidence.com and Microsoft. Also present was Timothy Clemans, the former anonymous programmer who requested all of SPD’s previous footage (over 365 terabytes of data), who has since t been approached by SPD to improve their redaction program.
Clemans recently began developing a program that will allow the SPD to automatically redact video footage taken by car cameras and the newly minted body cams pilot program. The new software would solve the seemingly impossible burden of meeting the public’s demand for video footage and state law privacy mandates.
The technology applies a grey-scale filter across each video, and can be done in such a way to to blur and obscure the facial features of the people caught on cam—essentially over redaction. SPD spokesman Drew Fowler called this a “nuclear bomb approach,” one the SPD hopes will allow it to someday move into full automation of the redaction process.
Though this doesn’t entirely remove the human element. Fowler points out: “The human factor will never go away, especially for redacting video for things like court cases.”
If accomplished The SPD will be the first department in the country to automate a redaction process. “This is the future of police work,” says Fowler.
3. Union activist John Persak announced yesterday that he's running against City Council member Tim Burgess for one of the two at-large positions on the recently districted city council.
Incumbents Tim Burgess and Sally Clark have opted to run for reelection in the at-large seats—positions 8 and 9, respectively—rather than in their neighborhood turf.
The longshoresman—Persak was elected to a regional union council for ILWU local 19—describes himself as "a fellow traveler in the activist left of Seattle’s political scene,"
He is also, according to his press release, on Seattle’s Freight Mobility Plan Advisory Board, and is project manager for Livable, Workable Georgetown, a Department of Neighborhoods funded neighborhood self-assessment.
“I understand this will be a tough battle. City Hall is entrenched, well-funded, and resists fighting for our progressive values. We need a real working person there who understands the issues facing our city: traffic, jobs, affordability, equity, and policing reform,” he said in his statement.
Burgess is viewed as a conservative on the ultra liberal Seattle council, but to counter that, he's likely to run on the progressive pre-school funding measure that passed in November, which he pushed through the council and stumped for on the campaign trail last year.
Bernard Ellouk contributed to this report.