1. The mayor’s office finally responded the question I’ve been asking for several weeks now: Why didn’t the mayor’s office, per city ethics rules, provide a letter to the ethics office disclosing Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly’s potential conflict of interest with Pronto, the bike share nonprofit? Kubly’s past work with the bike share company, Alta, was well known—Kubly talked about it prior to taking the job as SDOT director in July 2014 (he was Alta’s contract CEO immediately before taking the job at SDOT), and Murray’s office even boasted about Kubly’s bike share experience at Alta when they announced that they’d hired him. However, since Alta contracted for Pronto and the city eventually entered into talks with Pronto to take it over in the spring of 2015, less than a year after Kubly had worked for Alta, ethics rules required that the mayor’s office provide a waiver for Kubly.
By the spring of 2015, Alta had since been taken over by a company called Motivate, and Kubly says he had no financial ties to Motivate (nor did he make any money from the Motivate/Alta deal, he tells me.) However, the waiver was still necessary. Indeed, without city council's knowledge, SDOT wrote a $305,000 check to Pronto in late 2015 so they could cover their Motivate contract.
Mayor spokesman Viet Shelton sent me a formal statement yesterday:
In July of 2014, the mayor’s legal counsel requested that Scott Kubly provide information regarding his previous employment at Alta bike share so the counsel could draft a memo to SEEC seeking a waiver for Mr. Kubly regarding potential conflicts of interests related to Mr. Kubly’s then-new duties at the city of Seattle. The waiver would allow him to participate in city matters involving an organization that employed him within the previous year.
From a review of available records, it does not appear that the Mayor’s Office received a response from Mr. Kubly and as such, no waiver request was ever formally submitted.
Asked why the mayor’s office never followed up, particularly in May of 2015 when Kubly began active discussions with Pronto for a city takeover, the mayor’s office directed me to Murray’s former legal counsel (current city council member Lorena Gonzalez); Gonzalez is the one who sent the original July 2014 request to Kubly.
Gonzalez told me:
My responsibility as legal counsel at the time was limited to notifying Mr. Kubly of his obligation to declare any conflicts of interest and to seek a waiver of those conflicts. I fulfilled that responsibility when I emailed Mr. Kubly asking him to do so. When I did not receive a response from Mr. Kubly, I assumed, perhaps erroneously, that he did not believe there were any conflicts that needed to be waived at that time.
It turns out, Kubly answered all of Gonzalez’s questions, but he only emailed them to himself. The Seattle Times has obtained a copy of that wayward email.
SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan told me he could not comment because the city is currently conducting an independent investigation into the whole matter.
If I may: while Kubly appears to have executed a major goof (by emailing himself rather than the mayor’s office), that apparent screw up was in a response to a generic request sent from the mayor’s office to Kubly in July 2014. However, when Kubly and SDOT actively began negotiating with Pronto in the Spring of 2015, it strikes me that the ball was in Murray’s court to review the record and get a specific waiver. At that point, it would have become clear that Kubly had dropped the ball and both the mayor’s office and Kubly should have corrected the situation. I am still waiting for the results of a public records request I filed with the city last month for all internal communications about Kubly and Pronto.
2. Transportation Choices Coalition held a timely discussion last night on the $50 billion Sound Transit expansion plan that’s headed to the ballot in November. Sound Transit board members mayor Ed Murray and Bellevue King County council member Claudia Balducci, along with ST CEO Peter Rogoff and TCC director Shefali Ranganathan gave overviews, defending the regional approach to the Seattle crowd, and stressed that voting no because the plan wasn’t perfect would come back to haunt the city. They also took questions from moderator Erica C. Barnett and the packed (overwhelmingly white male) audience at ST’s Union Station headquarters.
Ranganathan, whose nonprofit advocates for transit options and is heading up the ST3 campaign, made the most compelling case for the regional nature of the package (which some urbanists are antsy about because it rewards the suburbs.) Citing stats about the high percentage of low-income and minority demographics in the southern and northern reaches of the system, she noted a Harvard study that said lack of transit was an “insurmountable barrier” to lifting people out of poverty.
Barnett actually flipped the regional dynamics premise: Pointing out that suburbs like Kent, Redmond, and Issaquah all have serious upzones in place in preparation for building density around future light rail stations, she asked mayor Murray what he planned to do about Seattle neighborhoods like West Seattle that were reluctant to upzone. Murray, noting that his housing affordability and livability agenda (HALA) proposal had “already teed up those discussions and put the process in place,” said “affordability doesn’t work unless we upzone our urban villages and around our transit centers. We’ll see if council is willing to go there.”
Rogoff addressed two other Seattle concerns: Why isn’t the 130th Street station locked in to the plan and why can’t ST build the Ballard-to-Downtown line (which boasts the highest ridership with 145,000 daily riders) sooner than 2038; West Seattle, in contrast (with 36,000 projected daily riders), is slated for 2033.
Rogoff said if he had “a magic wand” he would build Ballard first, but given that the massive ridership requires ST to build a second downtown tunnel first and that the nine innercity stops along the Ballard-to-Downtown line, including Seattle Center and South Lake Union, require the most complex construction, there was no way to slate it first. However, he said there were possible tactics to speed up the process; if the permitting process with the city went smoothly, for example, they might be able to shave off some time.
As for the 130th station—Rogoff joked that North Seattle District Five city council member Debora Juarez, who’s seized the issue of the 130th Street omission, had filled out the ST3 survey several times. In all seriousness, Rogoff, who said Juarez had sent him a letter that very day demanding action on the 130th station (which was originally contemplated as an infill station as part of the ST2 line to Lynnwood, and is now only listed as a “provisional” station in ST3), explained that the feds are warming up to a $1.2 billion grant for the Northgate-to-Lynwood line. Any changes along the route, he warned, could jeopardize that major funding. Rogoff does know something about federal funding: he was the head of the Federal Transit Administration between 2009 and 2014, and he served as the undersecretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation before coming to ST.
Juarez’s letter points out that Denver was able to add a station retroactively into a plan, but Rogoff said that was only possible thanks to private funding from Panasonic.
One argument that Rogoff (and Murray) made against thwarting ST3 on the grounds that it wasn’t perfect was that the history of local ballot measures shows each time a mass transit package has been rejected, the follow-up packages were much smaller in terms of rail. That’s true, though it’s also worth noting that the second ST2 package that voters passed in 2008, after defeating a 2007 proposal, came without the controversial roads expansion proposed in the ’07 package that undermined the very expansion of mass transit.
Speaking of rejecting rail packages. Murray lamented Seattle’s original sin: when voters rejected the 1968 “Forward Thrust” mass transit package in a final 1970 vote. Seattle is still living with the consequences of that bad decision, he said. He added, joking derisively, that voters did support the Kingdome in 1968. It was hard to not to pause on Murray’s skepticism about sports stadiums, given that he’s currently putting the full court press on the council to approve the Occidental street vacation to shore up a $200 million public financing plan for a new (third!) SoDo sports arena.