Tag: Peter Rogoff

Financial Crisis Forces Sound Transit to Consider Tough, Complicated Choices

By Erica C. Barnett

Over the past few months, Sound Transit, the regional agency tasked with building light rail to Ballard and West Seattle lines as well as extending the main light-rail “spine” to Everett and Tacoma, has been dealt a double blow of bad news. Last June, agency staff estimated that total revenues could fall short by $8 billion to $12 billion by 2041, the original end date of the Sound Transit 3 program voters approved in 2016. (More recent projections have adjusted that projection down slightly, to a range of $6.1 billion to $11.5 billion, but the numbers remain grim).

Then, earlier this month, Sound Transit announced that the cost to build the ST3 package, which includes elevated lines to West Seattle and Ballard, had increased by about $8 billion. The combination of the shortfall and cost inflation has created an “affordability gap” of about $11.5 billion.

Referring to the chart above, which shows a green line marked “ending balance” plummeting below zero beginning in 2029, Sound Transit board chair Kent Keel said last week, “I’ve never seen a chart where the budget dropped off the chart … so that’s pretty sobering for me.”

Keel made his comments during a board workshop on Sound Transit 3 “realignment” last Thursday, where the general outlines of two broad options emerged.

The first, which staff have dubbed the “expanded capacity” approach, would involve finding additional resources, such as grants, federal dollars, or new taxes, to boost Sound Transit’s revenues and make the newly inflated project possible. The second, called the “plan-required” approach, would involve some combination of delaying elements of the project, permanently reducing the scope of projects, and eliminating some projects altogether. According to a lengthy report on the options, this alternative would only come into play “in the event that new financial resources are not secured.”

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Presented with these conflicting options, several board members insisted that the solution was doing “both.” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, for example, said, “We have to be working hard at what the resources we have, but [we also] have to look at what are other potential sources of revenues,” she said, adding, “Every time we pull the covers over ourselves, we fail ourselves. We have to be thinking of the future.”

To that end, the options Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff presented last week included: New federal funding; direct grants from the state; increasing the agency’s debt capacity; raising the rental car tax rate; purchasing lower-cost debt through federal loan programs; and increasing fares.

Most of these options come with significant caveats and downsides. For example, Sound Transit is already the nation’s largest Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act borrower, making it less likely the agency will be approved for additional debt. Rental-car tax revenues are currently negligible because of the COVID-related decline in travel. And any increase to the agency’s debt capacity would require either 60 percent voter approval or a change to the Washington State Constitution (and would lower the agency’s credit rating, resulting in higher interest payments.)

Finally, Rogoff said, the likelihood of more federal grant funding is dampened somewhat by the fact that Sound Transit already receives one-tenth of the Federal Transit Agency’s grant funding nationwide; “We would certainly love to get a higher percentage of that program, and we certainly would love to get an additional program funded, but there is certainly a limit to what one transit agency can call on from that program, or at least there has been to date,” Rogoff said on Thursday.

Complicating matters are some of the six factors the board will use to decide how to prioritize voter-approved projects in light of the budget gap. For Seattle residents, two factors could end up working against the city’s projects, including light rail to Ballard and West Seattle.

The first is whether a project serves to “complete the spine” of regional light rail, meaning the central line that will eventually extend from Tacoma to Everett.  This portion of the plan requires the construction of a second downtown transit tunnel, but Sound Transit does not consider that tunnel part of the “spine.” Instead, the tunnel—which will also connect downtown to West Seattle and Ballard—is considered a Seattle-only project for planning purposes. (Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said the tunnel is funded regionally, the costs split between the three “subareas” within the Sound Transit taxing district). The upshot could be that when Sound Transit gets around to picking projects to delay or cut, West Seattle and Ballard could be first in line because Seattle already got a “Seattle” project in the form of a second downtown tunnel.

The second issue is equity—defined, for Sound Transit’s purposes, as how well a project serves low-income people, people of color, and people with disabilities within a one-mile radius of a project, such as a station. Although many ST3 projects scored low on equity, some of the worst were in Seattle. They included the West Seattle line (which scored medium-low), the downtown tunnel (medium-low) and the Ballard extension (low). This could bump these projects lower down the priority list.

Some board members argued that the definition of “equity” Sound Transit uses is narrow and self-defeating, since stations tend to raise property values (and prompt gentrification) in their immediate vicinity, driving down their equity scores even if they serve people from less-affluent, more diverse parts of town. For example, an infill station at NE 130th Street, in board member Debora Juarez’s Seattle City Council district, ranked low on the list, despite the fact that the station will serve people commuting into the area from elsewhere.

“I have a real problem with the equity” metric, because of the way it narrowly defines a station’s service area, Juarez said. “The whole point of having these stations is to get people to work, to the hospital,” Juarez said, referring to the UW Medical Center hospital near the station. “Taking three buses to get to the north end is ridiculous.”

The board isn’t expected to adopt a realignment plan until next summer, at the soonest. Although board chair Keel began a blue-sky discussion last week about how Sound Transit could cut costs or raise money—beginning with the rental-car tax, which would raise a negligible amount—board member Claudia Balducci, a King County Council member from Bellevue, cautioned against coming up with lists of cuts or new taxes before a thorough discussion.

“When we did this ten-plus years ago”—in the wake of the 2008-2010 recession—”we had a very deeply researched piece of documentation that was given to us with a lot of backup behind it,” Balducci, who first joined the Sound Transit board as Bellevue mayor in 2020, said. “I feel like we’re at that early stage of maybe trying to provide high-level feedback about the parameters around additional study that we want to see. … It feels like we’re rushing toward a solution when we haven’t identified the problems.”

 

Spike In Cost Estimates Raises Questions About Future of West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail

By Erica C. Barnett

The estimated cost of extending Seattle’s light rail system to Ballard and West Seattle, as well as several other components of the Sound Transit 3 plan adopted by voters in 2015, has risen dramatically since last year, Sound Transit staffers told the agency’s executive committee Wednesday. The main factors driving the increase, according to the agency, are higher than anticipated property acquisition costs, higher costs for labor and materials, and unanticipated “soft costs,” including additional funding for contingencies.

Overall, according to the staff presentation, the estimated cost to build the West Seattle-Ballard line and other aspects of the planned expansion, including a planned Tacoma Dome extension and a new operations and maintenance facility in South King County has increased by $7.9 billion, with the bulk of that—around $4.4 billion at the midrange of Sound Transit’s new estimates—coming from increased costs to build light rail between West Seattle and Ballard.

Sound Transit provided PubliCola a more detailed breakdown of the West Seattle-to-Ballard cost increases. The chart below represents the best-case (lowest-cost) scenario from the range Sound Transit released yesterday. The most dramatic percentage increase is in the elevated West Seattle to downtown segment, which Sound Transit attributed to the higher cost of property in quickly densifying West Seattle.

The main reason for the cost increases in general, Sound Transit deputy CEO Kimberly Farley said, was the cost of buying up property along the line. Property values have continued to skyrocket in Seattle and across the region despite the recession. Exacerbating that problem, Sound Transit will have to buy back an undisclosed number of buildings that are either currently under development or that have been developed since the ballot measure passed in 2015.

One of these is the Legacy at Fauntleroy mixed-use building, which will include more than 300 apartments and ground-floor commercial space. That building, and likely others, is on land that was upzoned in 2019 under Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program. The upzone, to 95 feet, went into effect in April 2019, making the seven-story project possible, and construction began three months later. The building is still under construction. PubliCola has a call out to the owner of the property.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

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During Wednesday’s meeting, board members and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff hastened to emphasize that these huge unanticipated costs should be viewed as a challenge, not a disaster. “While these numbers are sobering, they’re not catastrophic,” Rogoff said. King County executive Dow Constantine added that the one certainty is that light rail will only get more, not less, expensive to build in the future. “This system would have been a lot easier to build 50 years ago,” he said—an allusion to the frequently referenced Forward Thrust plan that Puget Sound region voters rejected in 1968 and again in 1970.

Staffers noted Wednesday that it was possible to make some “protective acquisitions” of property to prevent huge spikes in property values along the line, but agency spokesman Geoff Patrick told PubliCola their power to do so is limited. “While public agencies can secure federal approval for protective acquisitions in some cases, most property acquisition must occur after environmental review processes are completed and the Board has adopted the final project to be built,” he said. “This occurs after completion of the draft and final environmental impact statements that are required for most major projects.” Continue reading “Spike In Cost Estimates Raises Questions About Future of West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail”

Sound Transit Keeps Punitive Fare Enforcement Options on the Table

Sound Transit board member Joe McDermott, legislating from his basement bunker

by Erica C. Barnett

A committee of the Sound Transit board passed a proposal to temporarily suspend citations for fare nonpayment while it conducts a “fare enforcement ambassador pilot” program, but rejected a proposal to decriminalize nonpayment completely after board chair Kent Keel argued that without criminal charges as a deterrent, some miscreants will avoid paying fares as a way to “get one over” on Sound Transit.

The proposed change was part of a motion from Sound Transit board member Joe McDermott directing Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff to recommend improvements to the agency’s fare enforcement policies by 2022. McDermott’s original motion would have said that the agency “must” recommend some of those changes, which also included lower fines and more warnings before fare officers issue a citation; Keel’s amendment changed the language to say that staff “should” include those recommendations in a list that may also include “alternate approaches resulting from community engagement and pilot program findings.”

Keel’s arguments came out of his own personal experience, but they also echoed an unusual memo Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff wrote at Keel’s request last week, laying out the “staff” case against taking fare nonpayment out of the criminal justice system. The memo reads, in part: “Most importantly, the staff is concerned with directives in section 3 that seek to predetermine the outcome of our community engagement and pilot program by dictating the measures staff “must” recommend to the Board at the conclusion of the process. Rather than specifying details that the future recommended policy must include, staff suggests in section 3 to replace “must” with “should consider.” 

This is extremely similar to the language Keel added to the suggesting close coordination between the Sound Transit board chair and the agency’s director—who has frequently raised objections to proposals that would reduce penalties for nonpayment—on a matter of contentious, hotly disputed policy.

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter. Earlier this month, we took a look back at just some of the work we’ve been able to do thanks to generous contributions from our readers, but those pieces represent just a handful of the hundreds of stories we’ve published this year.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

McDermott told PubliCola he saw the memo over the weekend, but was blindsided by Keel’s introduction of an amendment adopting Rogoff’s recommendations. “I wasn’t surprised to hear [Keel oppose decriminalization]. I understand that he believes civil infractions and possible court involvement are central elements of fare enforcement,” McDermott said yesterday, but “the language, and that it was written as an amendment—I didn’t know about that until today.”

Before the committee voted, Keel said that his own experience “as a young Black male” made him understand that a lot of people will try to “get over” on the system if there are no penalties for doing so. “There is a growing group of people that are just trying to get over,” he said, and other people who would ordinarily pay their fare see that behavior and follow suit. Judges and juries, he continued, could tell the difference between people who truly couldn’t afford to pay and those who are “just trying to get over.” Continue reading “Sound Transit Keeps Punitive Fare Enforcement Options on the Table”

Morning Fizz: Some Good Budget News, a Durkan Departure, and Putting Fare Evasion in Context

1. Last month, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff scoffed at the suggestion that the regional transit agency should stop sending riders to court over unpaid fines for fare evasion, arguing that efforts by King County Metro to offer alternative dispute resolution options have been a failure. “Within King County, some 90 percent of [alternative resolution participants] never show up for their appointment and then nothing becomes of those cases, which is to say that there is no consequence for persistent violators in that circumstance,” Rogoff said.

Rogoff’s number is correct—of the 4,039 fare violations Metro recorded in 2019, 403 were resolved (meaning that the person either paid a fine directly to Metro, added money to their ORCA card in lieu of a fine, or used another alternative resolution route), according to Metro’s latest fare violation report, issued last April. However, that statement is missing some important context about the mission and purpose of transit. And it ignores the fact that a 10 percent resolution rate actually represents a significant improvement over the previous resolution rate of just 3 percent under the previous, punitive system, in which all unpaid fines went to court and collections.

Fare enforcement has been a contentious issue for Sound Transit, where failure to provide proof of payment to fare inspection officers can result in a $124 fine plus late fees, damage to credit, and even misdemeanor charges if a rider fails to pay their fine. The agency has agreed to make some changes to its policies, including new uniforms, clearer signage, additional warnings, and lower fines.

But they have resisted adopting alternative resolution options for people who can’t pay, arguing that this concession would reduce revenues as people realized there was no real penalty for nonpayment, raising costs to taxpayers and potentially impacting future capital projects or service. (For perspective, fare evasion cost Sound Transit, on net, around $550,000 last year.)

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The debate over fare evasion is really about the purpose of transit and the mission of transit agencies.

Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the agency’s fare enforcement policy isn’t primarily about fare revenue at all. In taking fare enforcement out of the court system and offering alternatives to fines, “Our goal was to decriminalize fare evasion and work to get fare resources into riders’ hands,” while “reducing and minimizing harm to people and not involving law enforcement,” he said. This goal is reflected in Metro’s fare enforcement mission statement: “to help minimize King County Metro Fare Enforcement Program’s contribution to negative outcomes for some of King County Metro’s most vulnerable riders.”

“Our goal was to decriminalize fare evasion and work to get fare resources into riders’ hands,” while “reducing and minimizing harm to people and not involving law enforcement.” — Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer

But even Sound Transit’s more conventional fare enforcement mission—”to understand the impacts of our current program and develop recommendations that provide an equitable and customer-focused experience, including safety for all riders and integrity of decision making, while ensuring strong financial stewardship of taxpayer dollars—is still compatible with adopting a more lenient fare enforcement policy. That’s because in reality, few riders on either system actually fail to pay their fare.

Historically, Metro has set a fare evasion target of no more than 5 percent; in 2019, actual fare evasion on routes where Metro deploys fare enforcement officers averaged 4 percent, down from 5 percent the previous year. If the argument for sending people to court for failure to pay a $3 fare rests on the argument that not doing so will lead to rampant fare evasion, Metro’s example is showing that, so far at least, this worst-case scenario has not come to pass.

2. The city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan got some good budget news for once on Monday, when the city budget office issued a new revenue forecast for 2020 and 2021 that adds $36 million to the city’s general fund in 2020 and $32.5 million in 2021. The CBO attributed the new, higher projections to increased sales and business and occupation (B&O) taxes between July and September, “driven by significant improvement in the national and regional economic forecasts, particularly employment, personal income and personal outlays.” Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Some Good Budget News, a Durkan Departure, and Putting Fare Evasion in Context”

Morning Fizz: What Is Transit For?

Mockup of new, clearer signage Sound Transit has proposed to reduce fare evasion and errors

1. Sound Transit board members had some pointed questions for agency CEO Peter Rogoff on Thursday, when staffers presented the agency’s plan to address concerns about fare enforcement to the board.

The proposed changes, which come after months of community outreach and both onboard and online surveys, include new signage that will indicate more clearly that people must pay fare in order to enter light rail stations; reduced fines for people who still fail to pay their fare; more warnings before a rider receives a fine; and new, in-house “fare education ambassadors” who will replace the private security guards who currently check fares and issue citation.

Board members, including Joe McDermott (West Seattle), Claudia Balducci (Bellevue), Victoria Woodards (Tacoma), Dave Upthegrove (Federal Way), and Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, wanted to know why Sound Transit staff have not proposed taking fare evasion and fines out of the court system, as King County Metro has done. Failure to pay fare on Sound Transit’s system, which includes Link Light Rail as well as express buses and Sounder trains, can result in a $124 fine plus late payments and potential criminal penalties if a rider does not pay the penalty. Unpaid fines can end up in collections and can damage a rider’s credit for years.

What would it take, Balducci asked, to get the staff to take requests from board members seriously and come up with a plan that didn’t expose riders to financial hardship and a potential criminal record for failing to pay a $3 fare?

“The challenge we have is figuring out for those folks who are persistent fare violators and are not among those classes that I just cited—people who clearly are economically distressed or are drug-addicted or homeless—what, then, do we do, if not the courts?” Rogoff said.

It’s unclear exactly how many people fit into the category of “persistent fare violators” that Rogoff described. According to Sound Transit spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham, about 7.6 percent of riders did not pay their fares in October. (Sound Transit has been charging fares since July, after making rides free for several months in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Currently, fare enforcement officers do not scan riders’ cards individually to see if they’ve paid their fare; instead, they ask riders to show that they have a card or a ticket.)

“Fares are critical to pay for transit services, and Peter’s comments referenced concerns about the potential level of non-compliance that could result if penalties were reduced to the point that it became known over time that there was little or no consequence for fare evasion,” Cunningham said. “The result of that would be increased costs for taxpayers and potential impacts on projects and services. It can be reasonably assumed that some segment of riders, potentially increasing over time, would respond with chronic fare evasion.”

But there may be an additional reason Sound Transit is so reluctant to bring fare evasion penalties in-house. “State law vests the District Court with exclusive jurisdiction to impose fines for fare evasion infractions,” Cunningham says. In other words: The state legislation that created the agency establishes that failing to pay fare is a civil infraction that must go through district court. Taking fare enforcement out of the jurisdiction of local courts might require a change in state law. Historically, Sound Transit has tried to avoid reopening its authorizing legislation, since Republican legislators have tried to change it in the past to, for example, make Sound Transit’s board an elected body.

“Difficult” is not the same thing as “impossible.” But any major changes to Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policy would require a significant shift in thinking at the agency about its mission as well as the reasons people don’t pay fares. Rogoff’s response indicated that his longstanding position on “fare evasion”—a concept that implies conscious ill intent, if not outright criminality—has not changed, even as the political environment in Seattle and across the country undergoes a seismic shift.

At a time when agencies at all levels of government are working to undo and prevent future harm to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, Rogoff is still drawing distinct lines between the people who don’t deserve to get caught up in the criminal justice system—”someone who’s poor… someone who’s homeless, someone who’s drug-addicted”—and the modern-day turnstile jumpers who will keep robbing the system unless there are harsh consequences when they do.

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During yesterday’s meeting, Rogoff suggested that King County’s alternative fine resolution program, which is intended for people who can’t pay that agency’s $50 maximum fine, has been something of a failure. “Within King County, some 90 percent of [alternative resolution participants] never show up for their appointment and then nothing becomes of those cases, which is to say that there is no consequence for persistent violators in that circumstance,” Rogoff said. “We need a better mousetrap, and we’re trying to figure that out with the community and with King County Metro.” Continue reading “Morning Fizz: What Is Transit For?”

Sound Transit Emails Show Agency Scrambling to Spin September Fare Enforcement Controversy

Last September, after activist and schoolteacher Jesse Hagopian posted a photo that appeared to show Sound Transit fare enforcement officers ticketing kids on the first day school, the transit agency went on the defensive. First, Sound Transit’s social media manager, Bruce Gray (who is white), issued a tone-deaf tweet suggesting that his kids had no issues with fare enforcement because they used the one-day paper passes distributed to parents before school started. (The passes gave every student a free ride to school, where they would pick up free ORCA transit passes through the new ORCA for All program.)

As the blowback continued, Sound Transit kept tweeting, explaining first that the agency’s fare enforcement officers were “not issuing formal warnings or citations,” then adding, in a more exasperated tone, that although “[n]o riders of any age are ever ticketed without getting a warning within the previous 12 months[,] today we are not even issuing the formal warnings to students.” The next day, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff went further, saying in a statement that fare officers had been told to issue only “informal warnings,” which “were not recorded and will not affect the student’s enforcement record in the future.”

After a day of negative press, it’s understandable that the agency would want to set the record straight: No tickets, no warnings, no documentation.

However, documents obtained through a records request reveal that fare enforcement officers actually did issue more than a dozen formal warnings to school-aged kids throughout the day, including nine during and immediately before and after school hours. Moreover, there was considerable internal debate at Sound Transit over what “informal warnings” were (staffers appeared to be hearing the term for the first time as the story blew up), as well as pushback over Rogoff’s public response, which some within the agency appeared to regard as tone-deaf to concerns about the racial impact of fare enforcement.

Sound Transit issued more than a dozen formal warnings to kids on the first day of school despite insisting that fare enforcement officers were told to give only “informal warnings.” Formal warnings are the precursor to citations, which come with a $124 fine and the potential for a criminal record if the fine isn’t paid.

Sound Transit says a verbal notice went out to officers in the morning that they should not ticket or give warnings to students on the first day of school. However, it wasn’t until almost 2:30 in the afternoon‚ shortly before school let out, that fare enforcement manager Michael Patricelli sent an email to fare enforcement officers directing them to “simply educate … juveniles [without fare] and move on” rather than recording their information in Sound Transit’s system. “If you documented a warning or infraction for a juvenile today during school times (0600-1800/Sept. 4th) I need you to submit at void form stating ‘voiding juvenile contact per management,” Patricelli wrote.

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And it wasn’t until seven hours later, at 9:30 on the night of the September 4, that a Sound Transit staffer, Ann Snell McNeil, suggested that the agency start using the term “informal warning” to describe the warnings students received from fare fare enforcement officers that day. “[I] suggest adding reference to ‘informal warning’ when talking about the education effort and that the informal warning might have been mistaken for a formal warning [by riders]….since the same steps were taken by the FOE (ie, photographing the ID which could result in the perception by students of being entered into our tracking system),” McNeil wrote. The term elicited a confused response from Office of Equal Employment Opportunity director Jackie Martinez-Vasquez, who responded, “As I stated earlier, this is the first time I [have] hear[d] of this term/process.” Continue reading “Sound Transit Emails Show Agency Scrambling to Spin September Fare Enforcement Controversy”

Light Rail Riders Will Have to Switch Trains to Get Through Downtown Tunnel During East Link Construction

Sound Transit light rail riders traveling through the downtown Seattle transit tunnel will have to switch trains on a new, temporary center platform at the Pioneer Square station for ten weeks in early 2020 to accommodate construction to move tracks and install switches for the new East Link train line, which opens in 2023, into the existing rail system. During those ten weeks, people traveling through the tunnel in either direction will stop at Pioneer Square, deboard on a 14-foot-wide platform in the middle of the tunnel, and switch to the train that has just arrived from the opposite direction. After two minutes—an amount of time Sound Transit planners say is necessary to allow passengers on each train to get across the platform and reboard, and for train drivers to get from one end of the train to the other—the trains will continue in the same direction from which they came.

Sound Transit staffers said train doors will not open until another train has arrived from the opposite direction, to prevent riders from succumbing to the “temptation” to rush across the open trackway to the opposite station platform. The temporary center platform will be staffed with security and Sound Transit wayfinding staff during all hours when trains are running.

“This is a necessary inconvenience so we can enjoy the massive convenience of having access to 10 stations on the Eastside in 2023.” – Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff

If you have trouble visualizing how this would work, Sound Transit has created a couple of animations that I found extremely helpful. Essentially, trains that go to the University District station will be traveling to Pioneer Square and turning back, and trains coming from Angle Lake and the airport will be doing the same thing from the south. Four stations will operate with only one platform at a time during construction—Stadium, Chinatown/ID, University, and Westlake.

Additionally, the tunnel will be shut down altogether for three weekends during the construction period; during that time, riders will have to transfer to street-level buses between the Westlake and SoDo stations.

While construction is going on, four-car trains will operate at 12-minute frequencies all day (currently, Sound Transit runs three-car trains more frequently during rush hour and less often when demand is lower.) The result will be more crowding during busy periods—trains will have about 23 percent less capacity during the weekday peak—and less crowding during off hours, when there will be 11 percent more room for riders to spread out. Sound Transit staffers say they’re working on a plan to accommodate bikes and luggage when trains are more crowded than usual.

At a meeting of Sound Transit’s newly christened Rider Experience and Operations Committee meeting Thursday, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff called the 10-week partial closure “a necessary inconvenience so we can enjoy the massive convenience of having access to 10 stations on the Eastside in 2023,” and predicted that riders would “scarcely remember the inconvenience of the 10 weeks in 2020, given the benefits that the whole region will get when East Link is done.”

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Morning Crank: “Unacceptable By Any Measure”

Image result for escalator broken temporarily stairs

1. At Sound Transit’s board meeting Thursday, agency CEO Peter Rogoff said the 40-minute waits many commuters experiencing when escalators at the University of Washington light rail station stopped working last Friday were “unacceptable by any measure.” Sound Transit wouldn’t let commuters use the stalled escalators as stairs—a common practice in other transit systems across the country—because they said the variable stair height on the escalators could result in people tripping. “This resulted in painfully long lines for our customers and rightly resulted in numerous customer complaints,” Rogoff summarized, adding that Sound Transit staff would come back to the board’s operations and administration committee with a set of “remedies” on April 5.

At the same meeting, board members also approved a set of performance objectives for Rogoff, including the development of a “Leadership Development Plan” for Rogoff in collaboration with a panel consisting of board members Nancy Backus, Paul Roberts, and Ron Lucas—the mayor of Auburn, mayor pro tem of Everett, and mayor of Steilacoom, respectively. The board mandated the plan at its last meeting, after (mildly) chiding Rogoff for his alleged behavior toward agency employees, which included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, shoving chairs, and yelling and swearing at employees. At that meeting, the board declined to give Rogoff a $30,000 bonus but did grant him a five-percent “cost-of-living” raise, bringing his salary to more than $328,000.

Several board members, including Seattle city council member Rob Johnson, expressed concern about a potential lack of transparency around the development of the plan, but no one raised any objections over the adequacy of the guidelines themselves, which include vague directives such as “Continue to enhance leadership skills, including the areas of active listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” and “develop specific action plans, performance expectation targets, and measurements to improve leadership abilities in these areas.” Last month, Johnson and Mayor Jenny Durkan were the only votes against the plan for Rogoff’s rehabilitation, which they both deemed inadequate given the seriousness of the allegations against him.

2. A petition to begin the process of removing Bailey Stober as chair of the King County Democrats has enough signatures to move the process to the next step: Holding a meeting of all the precinct committee officers (PCOs) in the county to vote on whether to remove Stober, who is under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct. However, dozens of PCOs who have been appointed but not yet approved by Stober may be unable to vote, including nearly a dozen “pending” PCOs who have signed an open letter calling on Stober to resign.

On Monday, the group’s executive board agreed to hold a meeting to discuss the financial misconduct allegations against Stober; the petition will be presented at that meeting. On Tuesday, Stober said he planned to make an “announcement pertinent to our organization” during his report at the beginning of the meeting. Some in the group have speculated that he may attempt to present “evidence” in a separate harassment case against him that would cast his alleged victim—a former employee whom Stober fired—and her supporters in an unflattering light, and then resign.

One hundred twenty-two appointed PCOs remain in “pending” status waiting for Stober to sign off on their appointments, which is one of the duties of the King County party chair. Some have been waiting for more than a year for Stober’s approval.

3. Meanwhile, Stober has lost his legal representation in a separate case stemming from alleged campaign-finance violations in his 2015 run for Kent City Council.  The firm that was representing him, Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzen & Lavitt, filed a petition formally removing themselves from the case on March 8. The state Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has been attempting to get documents from Stober for nearly a year in a case related to two citizen actions filed by conservative activist Glen Morgan; the first accuses Stober of using campaign funds for personal use and other campaign-finance violations, and the second alleges that Stober campaigned for other candidates on public time (in his role as King County Dems chair) while on the clock as spokesman for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson. Last June, the AGO issued a press release announcing it was seeking an order forcing Stober to hand over the documents; although that request was granted, subsequent court records reveal that the AGO was (at least initially) unable to serve Stober at his home (where the lights were on and a car was in the driveway but no one answered) or his office (where the process server was told Stober was on vacation.)

Dmitri Iglitzen, a partner at the firm, declined to comment on why his firm decided to stop representing Stober, citing attorney-client privilege, but did say that the firm has “at no time billed King County Democrats (or any other entity) for legal services related to our representation of Mr. Stober” and “at no time has provided legal services to Mr. Stober on a pro bono basis.” In other words, Stober was (or was supposed to be) paying them for their services. Iglitzen declined to say whether nonpayment was an issue in his firm’s decision to cut ties with Stober.

Stober, who ran for the Kent Council three times, has already been fined $4,000 for campaign disclosure violations related to his 2011 and 2013 campaigns for the position.

4. On Wednesday, the city council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee finally approved legislation that will lift parking mandates, require more bike parking at new buildings, and require developers of large buildings to “unbundle” the cost of parking and rent by charging separately for each, on Wednesday, although one controversial provision will be back on the docket at Monday’s full council meeting.

Council member Lisa Herbold raised objections to several changes made by the legislation, including the unbundling provision (she worried that renters would choose not to rent parking and just park on the street); a new definition of “frequent transit service” that allows apartments without parking within a quarter-mile of bus routes that run, on average, every 15 minutes; and a provision removing parking mandates for affordable housing and one lowering the mandate for senior housing.

Most of Herbold’s amendments were unsuccessful, although she did manage to pass one that will impose a special parking mandate on new buildings near the Fauntleroy ferry dock. (Council member Mike O’Brien voted against that proposal, arguing that that there were ways to prevent ferry riders from parking in the neighborhood that did not involve requiring developers to build one parking space for every unit so close to a frequent bus line, the RapidRide C). When the full council takes up the legislation Monday, Herbold said she plans to reintroduce just one amendment: A proposal that would allow the city to impose “mitigation” requirements under the State Environmental Policy Act on new developments in neighborhoods where more than 85 percent of parking spaces are routinely occupied. Those measures could include site-specific parking mandates or provisions barring renters at a new development from obtaining residential parking zone permits to park on the street (currently, RPZ permits are available to all city residents.)

Both Johnson and O’Brien objected that the purpose of environmental mitigation under SEPA is to mitigate against the negative environmental impacts of projects, not build new parking lots for cars. O’Brien pointed to the well-documented phenomenon of induced demand—the principle that adding more parking spaces or highway lanes simply leads people to drive more. Herbold countered that driving around searching for parking has an environmental impact, an argument that equates the minuscule climate impact of circling the block for a minute to that of purchasing and driving a car because your neighborhood has plenty of free parking. “We should be reverse engineering” our existing urban landscape, Johnson argued, “and requiring more green space instead of more asphalt.”

The council will take up the parking reform legislation, and Herbold’s amendment, on Monday at 2pm.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Sound Transit Is Not Felt To Be a Safe Workplace”

1. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff escaped serious reprimand on Wednesday for alleged behavior toward agency employees that included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, swearing at employees, and using an abrasive style that both the public memo on the investigation into his behavior and King County Executive Dow Constantine described as “East Coast” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). With only Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson dissenting (because they believed Rogoff’s punishment was insufficient), the board voted to require Rogoff to create a “leadership development plan” to improve his listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” skills and to  assign a three-member panel, made up of Sound Transit board members, to monitor his progress on the plan for six months.

Durkan skipped the launch of an NHL season ticket drive and the raising of the NHL flag over the Space Needle to be at today’s board meeting, an indication of how seriously she took the charges. Before voting, Durkan read the following statement:

“The issues raised and on which we were briefed led me to believe the conclusion that these [performance] factors cannot be met, and so I will be voting against this motion. I think the facts that we have been briefed on and the conclusions reached by our Counsel demonstrate that Sound Transit is not felt to be a safe workplace for all employees, that they do not feel that they can act without repercussions, and that there are many who feel that their work is not valued. I am also concerned that the statements that were alleged to have been made by the CEO, and the actions that were raised – raised the issue of racial bias and insensitivity, as well as other workplace harassment issues. I do not believe that these issues have been resolved as completely as indicated by Counsel, and that having three Board Members oversee the daily work of this CEO is not the resolution, and so I will be voting against this motion.”

Neither Durkan nor Johnson had any further comment after the meeting.

The memo on the investigation lays out a few specific examples of behaviors that the investigation deemed inappropriate, including a Black History Month event in 2016 at which Rogoff “reportedly made comments condescending toward persons of color” and a 2017 incident in which he dismissively told a female employee, “Honey, that ain’t ever going to happen” in response to a question. But the memo, and most of the Sound Transit board, is also quick to chalk much of Rogoff’s reported behavior up to difficulty navigating the politeness of Pacific Northwest culture and the fact that the previous CEO, Joni Earl, was so beloved that Rogoff faced built-in challenges from the time he was hired, in late 2015. To wit:

In the meeting, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was chair of the Sound Transit board when Rogoff was hired, said he talked to Rogoff when he applied for the position and “cautioned him that his directness was going to run up against a very different way of interacting  to which we are accustomed here in the Pacific Northwest, and that he was going to have to modify his manner and understand the local culture if we were going to be successful.” Constantine also described Rogoff as “bracingly direct” before praising his effectiveness.

Rogoff echoed Constantine’s complimentary assessment of his style in his own memo responding to the allegations. In the memo, Rogoff acknowledges (using language that reads a bit like a job applicant saying that his worst flaw is his “relentless attention to detail”) that his “directness and unvarnished clarity did not sit well with some staff” and that he was, at times, “overly intense in articulating my expectations for performance.” Rogoff goes on to explicitly deny some of the allegations,” calling some of the claims made during the investigation “misquoted, misunderstood, mischaracterized or false. I don’t yell at people.  I don’t disparage small city mayors and I don’t shove chairs to make a point,” two incidents that were detailed in the documents released today. “I was shocked to read some of the characterizations on this list.”

A document labeled “Peter Rogoff, CEO ST: Note to file” describes some of those alleged incidents. They include: Directing a staffer to tell Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom to “go fuck himself”; yelling over the phone at a staffer in a conversation that lasted from 11pm to 1am; standing up at a meeting and saying “When I give direction, it’s for action, not rumination” and shoving a chair; saying that he “couldn’t give a flying fuck about how things were when Joni [Earl] was here, because she’s not here anymore”; using the term “flying fuck” constantly “to everyone”; and the aforementioned incidents in which he allegedly looked women up and down and gave them “elevator eyes.”

King County Council member and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci said after the meeting that she has “seen a lot of improvement” in Rogoff’s behavior. “I think that at least shows that it’s possible, and therefore that we could have a successful CEO. If he can manage people with respect and dignity then I felt he deserves the opportunity.” Balducci disagreed that Rogoff’s management style could be explained away by “regional” differences. “I’m from New York,” she said, and “I think everybody, no matter where they’re from, knows how to be respectful. The things that we were talking about were more than just style.”

Although Rogoff did not receive a bonus this year, he did receive a five percent cost of living adjustment, which puts his salary at just over $328,000.

2. The city’s progressive revenue task force held its final meeting on Wednesday morning, adopting a report (final version to come) that recommends new taxes that could bring in as much as $150 million a year for housing and services for homeless and low-income people in Seattle. Half of that total, $75 million, would come from some version of an employee hours tax; the variables include what size business will pay the tax ($8 million vs. $10 million in gross revenues), the tax rate and whether it will be a flat per-employee fee or a percentage of revenues; and whether businesses that don’t hit the threshold for the tax will have to pay a so-called “skin in the game” fee for doing business in the city. The task force also talked about making the tax graduated based on employer size, but noted that such a tax may not be legal and would almost certainly be subject to immediate legal challenges.

The original memo on the head tax proposals suggests that the “skin in the game” fee should be $200 and that the fee would kick in once a business makes gross revenues—not net profits—of $500,000. During the conversation Wednesday morning, some task force members floated the idea of lowering that threshold to just $100,000, a level that would require many small businesses, such as street-level retailers, to pay the fee, regardless of what their actual profit margins are. However, after council member and task force chair Lorena Gonzalez pointed out that the city has not done a racial equity analysis to see how any of the head tax proposals would impact minority business owners, the group decided to keep the trigger at $500,000 in gross revenues. Additionally, they decided to raise the recommended fee to $395—a number that was thrown out, seemingly at random, by a task force member who called it “psychological pricing” (on the theory that $395 feels like significantly less than $400).

The other $75 million would come, in theory, from a combination of other taxes, some of them untested in Seattle and likely to face legal challenges, including a local excise tax, an excess compensation tax, a tax on “speculative real estate investment activity,” and an increase in the real estate excise tax. Legal challenges could delay implementation of new taxes months or years, and—although no one brought it up at yesterday’s meeting—REET revenues always take a nosedive during economic downturns, making them a fairly volatile revenue source.

3. The Teamsters Local 174 confirmed yesterday that they will no longer allow the King County Democrats to hold meetings at their building in Tukwila, after a contentious meeting Tuesday night that lasted until nearly midnight. My report on that meeting, at which the group decided to extend and expand the investigation into sexual harassment and financial misconduct claims against the group’s chairman, Bailey Stober, is here.

According to Teamsters senior business agent Tim Allen, the decision wasn’t directly related to the allegations against Stober, but had to do with the behavior of some of the group’s members and their treatment of a custodial worker who had to clean up after the group, who may have been drinking alcohol on the premises. “We have standards of conduct that people are supposed to live up to” around how guests treat the building and whether they “treat our [staffers] properly,” Allen said. “They had the whole building to clean, and usually we expect [groups that use the building] to clean up after themselves. Stober, contacted by email, said “I’ve heard varying degrees of that story” (that people were drinking, continued to do so after they were asked to stop, and left a mess), “but I can’t confirm that because I was sitting in the front of the room and have no knowledge of what was happening outside of the room.” Many other local progressive groups, including some legislative Democratic groups, have alcohol at their meetings (many provide beer or wine for a suggested donation), but some venues do not allow alcohol without a banquet license.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Debt Is Still Debt.”

Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan at last night’s League of Women Voters forum, which I livetweeted at twitter.com/ericacbarnett.

Editor’s note/correction: I’ve been informed that the Mike O’Brien who commented on Sightline’s website about impact fees is not city council member Mike O’Brien but a different Mike O’Brien. I regret the error and have removed the item referring to the comment, which made an analogy between development and guns.

1. The conventional narrative in the mayor’s race is that former US Attorney Jenny Durkan is the “big money candidate,” backed by big corporate contributions, and that urban planner Cary Moon is running a people-powered, grassroots campaign backed primarily by small contributions from individual donors.

It’s undeniable that Durkan has the support of business (the Chamber) and much of labor (SEIU 775, the King County Labor Council). However, a look at contributions to the two candidates calls the rest of the conventional narrative into question.

According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Durkan has received $727,689 in contributions from 3,120 contributors, for an average donation of $234.50. (Contributions are capped at $500). Moon, in contrast, has received just 599 contributions—2,503 fewer than Durkan—for a total of $119,810. Her average contribution is only slightly smaller than Durkan’s, at $200.02. What this means is that not only has Durkan raised about six times as much as Moon, it has been largely in modest (non-maxed-out) contributions, although Moon does have a slightly higher percentage of small (under $99) contributions (about 6.8 percent of donor contributions, compared to Durkan’s 4.5 percent).

Yesterday, Moon’s campaign sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “3 to 1,” indicating that that’s how much Durkan has outspent the underdog candidate by. terms of supporter contributions, though, it’s more like 6 to 1, because Moon has self-financed with $111,521 of her own money. So far, Durkan has contributed $400 to her own campaign.

Durkan’s contributions.
And Moon’s.

2. Moon has proposed speeding up delivery of Sound Transit light rail to Ballard and West Seattle—approved by voters last year as part of the Sound Transit 3 tax package—by using the city’s excess bonding capacity to “help fund Sound Transit 3 (ST3) construction sooner (in other words we will loan Sound Transit the money to move this forward and Sound Transit will pay us back).” That commitment, along with a commitment to find  the money to bury light rail in a tunnel under the Ship Canal and add a (King County Metro) bus rapid transit line linking Ballard and the University of Washington, helped win Moon the support of folks like the Stranger and Seattle Subway, which gushed, “she had us at ‘Speed up design and planning of ST3 to maximize available construction funding,’ accelerate ‘delivery of Seattle projects with City money’ and/or combine that funding with bonding measures” in their endorsement statement.

But Sound Transit has rejected the kind of Seattle-backed bonding proposal Moon is proposing, noting that even if Sound Transit were to borrow money from the city, they would still have to pay that money back, and the revenue package voters just approved does not include the funds to finance the kind of additional debt the agency would need to speed up service in Seattle. In a statement, Sound Transit director Peter Rogoff said that “while Sound Transit can accept funding from third parties, debt that we have to repay is still debt and would count against our agency debt limits.”

“If there is to be any possibility of speeding up light rail to Ballard, two things must happen.  The city must work with Sound Transit and effected communities to identify a preferred alternative alignment no later than early 2019, and the city must eliminate the multiple layers of bureaucratic red tape that slows the delivery of new transit services to Seattle citizens. Sound Transit wrote to the Seattle City Council back in May of 2016  detailing 27 concrete steps the City could take to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative processes to save taxpayer money and deliver projects more quickly. Adopting these reforms is how we can create the potential to expedite the project.”

Most of the steps Sound Transit has proposed involve expedited permitting processes—using the existing environmental impact statement instead of requiring additional environmental reviews, fast-tracking master use permits, and exempting light rail stations from design review during the permitting process, for example.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.