It’s been a week of good news.
First, on the local scene: the National Labor Relations Board found grounds to issue a complaint against T-Max Construction, Silver Streak Construction, and Gary McCann Construction for illegally firing dump truck drivers who wanted to join a union–in this case Teamsters Local 174. The Board found that Silver Streak and T-Max had illegally locked out their workers on March 20, while McCann had threatened to shut down in retaliation against union organizing. All three companies violated labor laws by threatening to replace the locked out drivers with scab labor. The NLRB’s ruling–although it came three months after the fact (hardly a speedy decision, when locked-out workers need to feed their families)–is an affirmation of the right to join a union without retaliation.
Another good piece of local news: U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled that the state’s 62-year-old law regulating live music and dancing in nightclubs is vague and unconstitutional. This puts a crimp in City Attorney Mark Sidran’s and the Seattle Police Department’s efforts to shut down live music venues–especially ones catering to people of color. It also means that clubs no longer have to apply for a permit from the SPD to serve booze and provide live music in the same place. The statute prohibited “any music, dancing or entertainment whatsoever” at clubs serving alcohol without first getting permission from the local or city government. Coughenour stated: “It is hard to conceive of a more blatant prior restraint on speech.” Nevertheless, expect state and local politicians to craft another law soon. But, in the interim, let’s party!
In other news, a 47-member group called the Trans Lake Study Committee–composed of academics, engineers, and business owners in Kirkland and North Seattle–have agreed that building a third bridge across Lake Washington would be a really stupid thing to do. It would cost an estimated $4.3 billion–double the state’s current two-year budget for transportation construction–and, more importantly, it would be futile. “Traffic would move quickly across the lake only to reach backups on I-5 and I-405,” the study reads. No, really? The solution is not more traffic lanes for more cars; it’s to get more people out of their cars. Happily, the Trans Lake Study Committee recognizes this, too: they recommended that the state should focus on adding rail, transit, and carpool lanes instead. When a group of handpicked people naturally interested in building still more freeways can’t bring themselves to endorse another bridge, you know it’s an idiotic idea that deserves to die and be replaced with something sane … like mass transit.
But is anyone listening? Sound Transit officials are scrambling to cut back on the budget for the voter-approved, long-awaited, perhaps-never-to-be-built light rail system. Some of the proposed cuts include dropping the $50 million development fund that was promised to Rainier Valley residents in lieu of a tunnel under MLK Way. Another proposed cut is to pare MLK Way from four lanes down to two. In fact, most of the proposed cuts are for the line running south of downtown, proving that Sound Transit is even more racist than Save Our Valley folks claimed.
The proposed cuts–none of which have been approved yet–would save $281 million on a budget that continues to escalate as real estate values rise and construction schedules are pushed further and further into the future. One group responsible for the continuing delays is the Downtown Seattle Association, which represents business owners in the city’s core. The DSA wants to do its own review of the light rail plan prior to construction, because it has objections to rerouting tunnel buses back onto downtown streets. This would cause traffic congestion, they claim. Well, sure … as if downtown streets are not already jammed with too many cars. The solution is not to further delay light rail construction, but to do what some European and Asian cities have done: ban automobile traffic from the downtown core. International visitors to our “world class city” are often appalled at how difficult it is to get around in the U.S. You either rent a car or you have someone drive you.
Obviously, we need more public transportation. We also need more political representatives who use public transportation. Then maybe a few of them would make it a priority to find that extra $281 million instead of slashing it from the Sound Transit budget. The money is out there. It could come from the federal government (which wants to give rich folks a $1 trillion tax cut because of a big budget surplus) or from surplus revenues collected in stadium taxes, or from a higher RTA tax (the current tax is a pittance compared to the stadium taxes). Commuter rail is not a luxury; it’s something we need.
Now, one more piece of good news: last Thursday, construction workers breached Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine. The river, released after 162 years, will now be free to provide spawning grounds for nine species of fish, including Atlantic salmon and the endangered shortnose sturgeon. It also is a historic first: Edwards Dam marks the first time a federal agency has ordered the removal of a dam for the sake of migrating fish.
The Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula should have been the first. Congress voted in 1992 to buy the dam and remove it, and the owners–James River Corp. and Daishowa–had agreed to the deal, but the funds were lacking. Our own Senator Slade Gorton, who is the Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in blocking funding for the removal of the Elwha Dam by linking it to a bill that would make it much more difficult to remove dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers–a move that killed the bill. Currently, Slade is balking at the purchase and removal of the Glines Canyon Dam, also on the Olympic Peninsula. He gloats that his stalling tactics have made it impossible for dam removal to proceed on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, and he’s right. It’ll be at least another two years until the subject is revisited in Congress.
Slade is up for reelection this fall; anyone who runs against him should make salmon restoration a major issue. So far, the democrats have fallen down on the job. According to Patty Murray: “This debate is irrelevant, when we ought to be saying many species have been listed as endangered, and what do we need to do to get them unlisted. We’re spending a lot of time debating whether the Snake dams should come down, and not enough time putting our energy into other ways to save salmon.” Such as? Patty has no clue, and her environmental record is atrocious. Deborah Senn is currently running against Slade; her background as the state’s pit-bull Insurance Commissioner is a hopeful one, but her environmental qualifications are nil.
So, here’s an opportunity for environmental activists, and maybe also the Green Party: get a coalition of environmental groups together to meet with Deborah Senn to talk about state environmental issues. The outcome could be very fruitful, and certainly a lot less damaging than having Slade holding the purse strings for another term.
Sources: Press release from Gretchen B. Donart of Seattle Union Now, AFL-CIO, 6/25/99; “Dance, music regulations too vague, judge says,” P-I 6/30/99, A1; “No new cross-lake bridge, advisory committee says” and “$281 million in cuts for light rail studied as projections rise,” P-I, 7/1/99, B1; “Group worries light-rail plan hurts downtown,” P-I 6/30/99, B1; “One dam down; others in line” and “This might be the year for action on the Elwha Dam,” P-I 7/2/99, A1 and A13.