James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
The BIG questions for 2005
Like it or not, the big questions for 2005 have not gone away by the middle of January. We have a governor — she has that title legally and unequivocally until a court says...
Like it or not, the big questions for 2005 have not gone away by the middle of January.
We have a governor — she has that title legally and unequivocally until a court says otherwise — but having politicians in place does not answer questions, it only gives problems a name and a face. The real opportunities and dilemmas remain. So, let's forget about personalities and think about the big hinges for the coming year in this region, the ideas and obstacles that will swing a door open or closed. Nothing matches the fundamental questions of war and peace, and is the economy in surplus or debt, but on the local horizon, here are some things to watch:
The Port of Seattle. The Port's culmination of years of legal battles over a third runway at Sea-Tac raises the question: What's next? Commissioners have decided not to fund more cruise-line terminals for now, and trimmed back in other areas, but in an era of mega-projects, the Port's role and its money pot suddenly take on a new dimension. Is the Port the new enabler of big projects for Sound Transit and the Alaskan Way Viaduct? Some would think so, since a potential source of money is never left untapped. This year's election of Port commissioners will decide how the Port behaves in a world where its attention is no longer on securing the right to build a runway. The Port of Seattle is really the port of King County, and it is county residents who have the biggest stake in how new commissioners spend their money.
Think of the Port as now free of the fight that has encumbered it for nearly 19 years. What is the next big question it should answer? It's about the role of the Port of Commerce & Transportation and what it should become.
Seattle's core. There is a new squabble about how high and how narrow new downtown skyscrapers will be, but I suggest the bigger question is the sprawl of downtown Seattle. The latest debate is a variation on an old song: For Seattle, you can't be too rich or too thin. Taller, trendy high-rises on smaller lots are the answer to the question where new development will go.
On a lesser scale, that's the same debate that hit all over the county when in-fill buildings arrived. Development of South Lake Union is last year's story, but suddenly, revival of Seattle Center and the sprawl of high-rise buildings into neighborhoods north and south of the current city core is a big question. Downtown is not just going higher, it is getting richer and spreading, and because of the land constraints on the rest of the region, there doesn't seem to be much anybody can do about it.
How can we live both inside and outside? We have a terrible dilemma in wanting a mythologized urban and rural life without bothering with the suburbs, where most people live. A resurgent property-rights movement — call it a crusade — is fighting back. The required 10-year review of the growth-management practices kicked a moribund engine into life. That engine is the desire of small property owners to develop their land, if they wish. The big question is: How can we accommodate them to avert a property-rights rebellion without changing a region's core beliefs?
Is the place ready for a revolution in government? Last week, a roomful of folks at the University of Washington considered whether a single agency should handle all the transportation needs in four counties. No consensus emerged that I could tell, just a general longing for a simpler organization chart to clear the nostrils of the region.
But simmering for months has been the big question: Can the region do this better? "This" is the way the region makes decisions, how it brings commuters and voters to the same table, how it represents those voters toward clear priorities.
We forget the person to consider in all this will wake tomorrow morning in her home in Snohomish County — that's the closest family-priced housing — drive her car or catch a vanpool ride to a job in Bellevue or Woodinville. She needs an approachable and understanding school system. Her commute does not include living at a place on the map that is a spoke on a wheel. She loves Seattle but the cost of taking in a ballet or a ballgame is beyond her. She is the newest resident of our region, and we rarely know she is there.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: email@example.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop