1. WSDOT updated the city council on the tunnel project yesterday.
City Council member Kshama Sawant cut through all the technical updates and WSDOT tunnel manager Todd Trepanier's frustrating acknowledgement that "there's no way for us to verify their [tunnel contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners'] timeline with a basic question:
Sawant: "What are the cost overruns going to be? You must be developing some kind of cost estimates. What are tax payers supposed to be thinking at this moment? At this moment, any rational taxpayer should be thinking, 'Well, it looks like I'm going to be on the hook for this, and I don't know how much.'"
Trepanier: "I'll try to answer that in a way that we've answered it previously. This contract was intended to be set up to try and minimize risk to the taxpayers of Washington, and that's been the way that we've been managing the contract. So, it's really a fixed price contract, so it really has a lot more responsibility for absorbing those costs from the contractor side than from the owners' side, but with that said, the contractor does a have a right, if they believe that they should have entitlement under their current contract, but this is a very tight design build contract. But with that, the contractor does have the right to ask for potential reconsideration. They have done that on a number of issues. Some of those have been evaluated and denied and that has resolved has the issue. Some have been evaluated and denied and the contractor is using contract mechanisms on how you resolve an issue that is unresolved. And so those are still taking place. And it would be total speculation to assume what type of costs or budget impacts could be for any of these decisions. This project had a set amount of allocated contingencies that would go to specific activities and then it had an amount of unallocated contingencies. This project still has roughly around $140 million plus dollars in allocated and unallocated contingencies to address issues where if it was decided if the contractor was due entitlement."
"At this moment, any rational taxpayer should be thinking, 'Well, it looks like I'm going to be on the hook for this, and I don't know how much.'"—Kshama Sawant
Sawant: "So, I won't prolong this point, but I do think this in an important enough point that I think the council should have a separate briefing on that. I hear what you're saying, and I know you keep going back to the design build comment each time this sort of question comes up, but just going by previous cases of megaprojects—the Boston big dig, $20 billion cost overruns. So, we're talking about a completely different scale where it would hugely impact the city, and I just don't see that this would be some minor thing given the problems the tunnel has had. And also STP is a shell corporation. They're set up to protect their members from any liability. So, I would appreciate a more detailed follow up on this."
Council member Tim Burgess: "Thank you. It's clear that the city of Seattle doesn't bear those costs, though. Let's shift to [the next item] please."
2. Sawant was also critical yesterday (along with the rest of council) during and update from the mayor's office about the progress of the setting up and hiring a director to oversee the office of labor standards enforcement to monitor implementation (and any violations) of the $15 minimum wage law.
Burgess, for example, wanted to know why no one been hired yet—and wasn't expected to be hired until April—even though council had authorized the gig back in November. And Council Member Nick Licata wanted to know council could have input in the hiring.
For Sawant's part, she was frustrated that the selection committee was split between labor and business.
"It is not balanced to put a representative of the chamber of commerce [chamber leader Maud Daudon] on this [selection] panel. It's like saying it'll make the committee for the selection of the police chief balanced if you put somebody on who's been arrested for breaking and entering. I mean that doesn't make sense. [It kind of does make sense actually to have accused people giving input into police oversight issues, but Sawant continued ...]
"It should be people who are only advocating for a higher minimum wage who are overseeing this body of work because ultimately enforcement is going to decide whether the law [the $15 minimum wage] is going to be effective or not."
Sawant went on, making a far more legit point, that she was "really surprised" to see that an enforcement letter was included as the primary tool of enforcement in the first year of implementation of the $15 minimum wage oversight. Sawant reminded the committee that the council had taken that tool out of the legislation because a U.W. study showed it was "completely ineffective" citing a company that had been sent eight letters about violating the paid sick leave ordinance, but continued to flout it.
"I'm not even sure why the advisory letter even made it in here." Sawant pointed out that law said the first violation would be met with a $500 fine.
The director of the office of civil rights Patricia Lally, who was presenting for the mayor, said the advisory letter would only be in play for the first year as businesses got up to speed.
3. In other Sawant news. She'll be in Minneapolis this weekend.