Morning Fizz

A Packed Port Hearing and a Packed Candidate Forum

Caffeinated news featuring commissioners and candidates

By Josh Feit May 13, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. After hours—literally four hours of public comment—the Port of Seattle voted to approve two motions regarding its controversial lease with Foss Maritime, the company that's hosting Shell's oil rigs. The first motion called on the Port Commission to “advise” Foss Maritime that docking Shell drilling rigs at Terminal Five would be inconsistent with the Department of Planning and Development's interpretation of permitted uses at the terminal. (DPD ruled last week that oil rigs were not a permitted use.) The second motion directed the port to appeal the DPD interpretation to the Seattle hearings examiner. Most of the commissioners portrayed the appeal motion as nonconfrontational. Commissioner Tom Albro, a skeptic of the deal, said it was “not a hostile act.” He explained: “Not only is it a means of overturning or changing [the DPD interpretation], it's a means of ratifying it,” he said at the meeting.

Neither of these motions drastically alter the circumstances of the "To-Host-Shell-or-Not" debate. The first motion simply alerts Foss about DPD’s findings, and the port’s appeal would have to be ruled on by the hearings examiner before the commission could even consider rescinding the Shell lease (though it does set that possibility in motion). If the DPD interpretation gets upheld, Foss would still have 30 days to “cure” the usage permitting violation and bring Shell (their customer) into compliance with city regulations.

Despite the usual arguments and ample pressure from both sides of the Arctic drilling debate during public comment, the commissioners were fairly united in their support of both motions. The advisory on the recent DPD ruling passed three to one. (Commissioner Bill Bryant was the sole no vote) and the second one passed unanimously. Commissioner Courtney Gregoire—another skeptic of the Foss lease—was not in attendance and could not vote on the proceedings due to a doctor’s bed rest order. (Gregoire is in the last month of her pregnancy.) As a surrogate, Albro read statements from Gregoire aloud on both motions; she wrote that she supported both, but added she would've preferred more definitive language on dropping Foss from the lease if the DPD interpretation carries the day with the hearings examiner.

Commissioners Stephanie Bowman and John Creighton, who are supportive of the lease, both cited a desire to work with the city, but also to get clarification on whether the DPD interpretation would affect other terminals and their operations. “How do we have a guarantee that [DPD cracking down on other terminals] wouldn't happen?” Bowman asked DPD director Diane Sugimura.

Sugimura assured the commission that  interpretations are site and case specific, and that DPD has no plans to go after and investigate other terminals owned by the Port of Seattle.

Yeseterday's meeting came a week after mayor Ed Murray announced the DPD interpretation—and his hopes that the port would use the potential permitting violation to “walk back their decision.”

“I do not think it is productive for the port and the city to get into a prolonged spat,” Creighton said.

But the spat was certainly in evidence yesterday as testimony poured in from both sides.

Fred Felleman from Friends of the Earth told the commissioners: "The port's decision to lease [Terminal Five] to accommodate Shell's oil exploration really flies in the face of your goals of being a green gateway. We can not afford to facilitate such destruction of our climate, no matter how much money the lease brings."

Meanwhile, Paul Fuhs, former mayor of Dutch Harbor (where Shell's Alaska terminal is), told the commissioners: "There are actually people living there [in the Arctic]. We are people, and that's why we've flown down here from Alaska to speak with you. You need to treat your customers equally. You can't pick and choose on a political whim who you want to serve. I'm asking you to stand your ground today on that great progressive principle of equal access. I look at what the mayor and the city council have said [and think] where does it stop? Once you start this [precedent of dropping tenants], there is no end to it."

Following yesterday's meeting, Mayor Murray released a statement applauding the port vote. “I now hope Shell will respect the wishes of the port, the city, and the community at large, and not bring an offshore drilling rig into Elliott Bay,” Murray said.

But despite the meetings outcome, Foss appears to be doubling down. “We're sticking to our plans. The oil rigs are coming down this week,” said Foss Maritime CEO Paul Stevens said after the meeting. “As long as we're in conformance with our lease we'll continue to operate per the lease arrangement,” he said. “We're not doing anything there at Terminal Five that we didn't tell the port [that we were going to do] when we signed the lease.”

2. The 43rd district Democrats hosted a city council debate last night for the district three candidates (I moderated the event with Erica C. Barnett). The 43rd Legislative District (from downtown to Madison Park and from Capitol Hill to the U District, plus Wallingford and Fremont) mostly includes the newly drawn third council district, just south of I-90 and north to the Montlake cut, bounded by I-5 and Lake Washington.

This was the first forum for the race starring Seattle sensation, socialist incumbent council member Kshama Sawant. Her supporters packed the standing-room-only event at Mt. Zion Baptist Church at Madison and 19th, roaring with sustained applause at everything she said.

A typical Sawant applause line came during the lightning round. The 43rd handed out boxes of waffles along with yes and no cards; candidates got 10 seconds to explain their equivocation if they opted to hold up the waffles. Sawant waffled on this one—"Is Mayor Murray doing a good job?"—and ended up getting cheers anyway. While she earnestly praised the mayor for his good work, she added: "There is a belief that you can represent big business and working people at the same time, but you cannot."

Another booming applause line came on Sawant's rent control rap: "Rent is already controlled. It's in the hands of the big developers."

Her supporters also occasionally hissed and booed for Sawant's challengers: gay rights activist Rod Hearne; Morgan Beach, a surprisingly charismatic newcomer and young women's rights advocate; Urban League leader Pamela Banks; and Lee Carter, a retiring neighborhood booster. For example, all the challengers drew boos when, during the lightning round, they were asked, "Would you end work on the tunnel now and promote a surface transit option?" They all held up no signs. Sawant held up a yes sign.

Beach was also booed by Sawant's fans for supporting "density."

And Banks, viewed as Sawant's main opponent, drew hisses for coming out against rent control. "New York shows us it doesn't work. It does not create units." Banks said the real focus should be on jobs and wages. "We need people moving up and out." Hearne and Beach were also bold enough, in the face of Sawant's supporters, to say they weren't for rent control, Sawant's latest cause. Hearne noted that liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was against it—"and he's no wilting violet."

Banks did get one set of sustained applause when she said Metro needed to bring back the ride free zone.

One set of pro-Sawant cheering provided the biggest irony of the night. Asked by an audience member about the role the city should play in Seattle Public Schools, Sawant launched into a stump speech for the "courageous" teachers union and their strike. Just two weeks ago, Sawant condemned her colleagues on the city council for appointing "establishment" applicant John Okamoto to council; Okamoto headed the teachers union for six years between 2008 and 2014, during the "ed reform" era when the union was under attack from Microsoft-backed accountability movement.

Another odd moment for Sawant; her followers seemed caught off guard (no automatic applause, nor any applause, for that matter) when she said she didn't ride the bus. (I asked her about it after the forum, and she explained that she used to ride the bus from Capitol Hill to city hall "all the time," but since she's moved to the Central District she said her route, the 27, has been cut back. She also noted: "Our bus system doesn't serve working people."

The biggest surprise of the night was that Sawant's opponents did not go with the standard "I-agree-with-her-on-policy, it's-her-style-I-don't-like" consultant-honed critique. They all stuck to their own issues (even, if at times, odd ones like Hearne's anti–Mark Sidran/pro–light rail wayback machine answer) and themes (Beach on women's pay) leaving Sawant out of it.

Long-shot candidate Lee Carter, an elderly African American and former TV and radio news reporter from the 1970s (and a lifelong resident of the CD) who spent most of the night hyping the glory days of neighborhood movement of the mid-'70s, closed by saying he'd vote for any of the candidates on the stage.


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