Last summer, we were promised the next City Hall proposal would be modest if only we passed a levy lid lift funding Interim City Hall rent. A citizen committee charged with working toward a ballot proposition to build that city hall was empaneled in January 2017. All the fanfare initiating this process indicated the sole priority was to once and for all get our city administration out of the expensive rental space which has cratered our budget. Reportage about the introductory meeting of the Committee said they would have the power “to determine how much space various departments will receive.”
As it now stands, it is not true that what the Committee is pursuing is merely a City Hall. It is also obvious from watching their process that City Hall means whatever the “city” says it is, which in this iteration still includes a police component that accounts for $3.8 million (23 percent) of a still-inflated $16.6 million initial estimate for Civic Center lite. What the citizen committee is asked to bring is not expertise, but patience. When challenged at an early meeting about already moving away from the City Hall priority, the chair of the Committee was clear, saying “the scope of the project is not really open to discussion.” Translation: the earlier promises were hollow. The City expects to get what they want by putting fresh faces on a powerless committee.
Their justification for once again ladling on a separate cost structure is they would have to go to voters separately on that issue. They seem to miss that voters have memories and they remember. If you confuse and mislead enough people once again, you are going to have to go to voters once again anyway. Both the 2013 measure asking for $25 million and the levy lid lift only received 53 percent of the vote, and the lid lift needed the sweetener of support for our popular Recreation programs. The measure this committee will recommend needs 60 percent voter support.
Neither Council, staff nor the citizen committee seems to have internalized the “Taj Mahal” message. Expensive isn’t modest just because they say it is. After the April 6 meeting at which the $16.6 million estimate was presented, another citizen wondered out loud if the committee understood the risk of starting with such a big number which would naturally be circulated in the community? Great question. The point she so accurately gleaned is that voters are totally fed up with fluff and puff. The Committee needs to do their homework on other city hall projects, start asking the tough questions on costs and remember their charter.
Looking through past meeting exhibits, April 6’s numbers and the limited sources of support for them, it is easy to see where a sharp pencil and a commitment to last summer’s promise could still make the proposition frugal and modest like the community it serves. The clock is ticking.
Mountlake Terrace, Washington
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