Rather than mount an aggressive campaign against a back-to-the-future monorail ballot measure critics consider less than half-baked, Seattle officials and mainstream boosters of public transit are mostly just praying that voters reject it.
The measure, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot as Seattle Citizen Petition No. 1, would create a new government entity called the City Transportation Authority (CTA) and task it with planning a 16-mile elevated monorail line between Ballard and West Seattle.
The CTA would be run by an independent board with the power to put taxpayers on the hook for bond debt and would impose a $5 citywide car-tab fee on vehicles at least a year old, raising about $2 million a year.
Construction would require a follow-up tax measure.
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Elizabeth Campbell, a Magnolia-based activist who tried to stop the Highway 99 tunnel and who ran for mayor in 2009, is the driving force behind the petition.
“It wasn’t so long ago that everybody thought this was a great way to go,” said Campbell, referring to an earlier monorail project that was scuttled in 2005.
She and her team collected more than the 4,852 signatures required to put the measure on the ballot after two years of off-and-on signature gathering.
Campbell’s team raised nearly $22,500 this spring and summer under the auspices of the Central Transportation Company Campaign, with more than $21,000 coming from Lee Rabie, a retired Seattle businessman registered to vote in Burien who also supported Campbell’s tunnel fight.
More recently, her team raised almost $2,800 as the Central Transportation Authority Campaign.
The only donors have been a Campbell-operated nonprofit and Campbell herself, Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) records show.
“We’re working on getting support. We’re reaching out to some of the sitting elected officials in Seattle. We’ve talked to the unions,” Campbell said. “We’re putting together a mailing, which is going to come out pretty quick.”
There is a campaign against Citizen Petition No. 1.
Let’s Not Repeat Past Mistakes, which registered with the SEEC on Sept. 8, has submitted a voters-guide statement ripping the measure as “wasteful and poorly considered.”
Former Seattle and Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jan Drago, former King County Executive and Sound Transit board chair Ron Sims and Seattle Transit Blog editor Martin Duke are the signators.
“The time for a monorail has passed,” Sims said. “There was a period of time when we built Seattle Center and the Space Needle and the monorail and said, ‘This is the future.’ But we’ve moved on to higher-performing technologies since then.”
This will be the sixth time that Seattle has held a monorail-related vote since the city’s one-mile line was built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
Voters approved a $6 million planning effort in 2000 and passed a car-tab tax to fund construction in 2002. The project was scrapped in 2005, after leaders released a controversial financing scheme. Taxpayers lost $124 million, all told.
“People dismiss the previous effort, but it’s amazing to remember that it was ready to be built,” Campbell said.
The opposition campaign has yet to raise a cent for action against Campbell’s measure.
That’s not because Seattle officials, who are subject to certain campaigning restrictions, and their civic allies, who aren’t, relish the prospect of voters approving the petition.
Leaders like Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, say a new monorail project would siphon attention and resources away from ongoing efforts to improve bus service and extend light rail.
Sound Transit is now weighing options for a multi-billion-dollar light-rail line between Ballard and West Seattle, the same corridor that Campbell’s monorail would serve. There could be a vote on construction funds as early as 2016.
“The mayor has said that we don’t need another transit system,” Murray spokesman Jason Kelly said in a statement. “We are successfully expanding regional light rail. We must focus on the systems we are already investing in at Metro and Sound Transit.”
Let’s Not Repeat Past Mistakes has done next to nothing partly because its backers have been focused on Proposition 1, the city measure to buy additional bus service from Metro via a Seattle-only car-tab fee and 0.1 percent sales tax increase.
“Transit advocates have been really putting all of their energy into seeking voter support for saving Metro service,” Rasmussen said.
“That’s where the focus should be, on something positive, and that’s what I’m working for as well, rather than mounting an anti-monorail campaign.”
The monorail petition might garner support among older Seattle voters who fell in love with the concept years ago.
But a greater concern for opponents are the many residents along the city’s west side who are desperate for transit options and who don’t know much about Sound Transit’s plans.
The monorail measure is “an expression of people’s frustration” with traffic and crowded buses on the west side, Rasmussen admits.
He and other opponents are counting on voters to do their homework and conclude that Citizen Petition No. 1 doesn’t check out.
Campbell says Sound Transit is moving too slowly as it grows the light-rail system. Elevated monorail lines can be built more cheaply and quickly than light-rail lines that require underground work, she said. Private properties acquired for the earlier project were sold off after it died, but she hopes prior engineering work could be repurposed.
Jonathan Hopkins, political director for the nonprofit advocacy organization Seattle Subway and a Let’s Not Repeat Past Mistakes ally, disagrees.
He describes the monorail as an outdated mode and says Sound Transit is building out a light-rail system with a methodical approach that will benefit riders for decades to come.
The agency struggled during its early years but is now “delivering projects that are early, under budget and high-quality,” Hopkins said.
“The people behind the monorail proposal are asking us to spend $2 million a year to study a corridor from Ballard to West Seattle that’s already been studied this year by Sound Transit,” he added.
The monorail line would run along the waterfront, though it wouldn’t serve downtown Seattle directly.
The ballot measure calls for the new transportation authority to be governed by an interim board of nine members, six of whom are listed in the petition and three of whom would be appointed by the listed six. The listed six are people pushing the proposal, including Campbell.
Her team was late submitting its voters-guide statement, so there will be a blank space on the guide under the heading “statement for.”
Even people involved in the previous monorail project are dubious of Campbell’s proposal. Seattle lawyer Cleve Stockmeyer, for one, doesn’t support the measure.
Stockmeyer says he does hope the petition — win or lose — nudges Sound Transit to consider building a west side line above ground and as soon as possible.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org