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updated 10:27 PM CDT, Sep 8, 2016

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Arizona fatality pushes discussion on autonomous vehicles

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The unfortunate accident in Tempe, AZ, March 18 when an Uber autonomous Volvo SUV struck and killed a woman who was walking a bicycle across a darkened street has stirred a strong reaction, in this state and elsewhere, from both sides in the discussion about the national push toward a likely autonomous-vehicle future.

One the one hand, supporters who have fed the vision of that possible autonomous future point to what some see as Uber's effort to produce an autonomous fleet "on the cheap," employing too few lasers and radar sensors. They argue that the careful use of sensor-device clusters to detect objects in front of and around the autonomous vehicle is a key to the safety of the driverless cars.

On the other side are those who, for a variety of reasons, would love to slow the pace of progress of the autonomous-vehicle movement. Some are obviously concerned about safety, a group more likely to be from the older generation. But others don't want the disruption of existing transportation plans, i.e. progress on rail commute.

More than a few in the Puget Sound area, for example, are fearful that the move to autonomous vehicles could have a negative effect on their "train," the network of commuter rail lines that are part of the $54 billion ST3 transit package approved by the voters in November of 2016 as an environment-protecting alternative to increasing traffic congestion. To many of its apostles, the ST3 project is like the "Holy Rail," not merely a device to slow traffic congestion.

And thus one of the concerns among autonomous vehicle (AV) advocates is that ST3 and the Sound Transit board that oversees it will come to view autonomous vehicles as a threat to completion of the rail-based plan for the region and use its power and influence to delay or stall progress. After all, most predictions about AV's are that they could come to dominate commute-hours traffic even before ST3's projected 2041 completion date.

And in fact, national transportation officials have made it clear that if autonomous vehicles move as rapidly as anticipated toward a ubiquitous presence on streets and highways, there will be an impact on planned and existing rail-transit programs.

But at this point, Gov. Jay Inslee has put the full weight of his office behind an AV future. Inslee not only moved forcefully last summer to seek to put Washington State at the forefront of states welcoming an autonomous future and issued an executive order to allow and support testing of autonomous vehicles but reiterated that commitment last week.

Inslee told leaders of technology and business at the 20th anniversary of the Alliance of Angels investment group that "The future of transportation will be in Seattle," and he elaborated by saying the region is going to be "the autonomous vehicle center of the U.S."

Inslee seemed to be pushing back not only on those seeing the challenge for the future of autonomous travel in the Tempe fatal accident but also on an op-ed piece in that morning's Seattle Times by a think-tank "fellow" named Daniel Malarkey for an organization called Sightline Institute.


In the article, Malarkey referred to the governor's support as "ill-advised" and added, "the state gains little by allowing tech companies to test on public roads and put motorists and pedestrians at risk." He said: "The governor and state legislators should focus on developing policies to enable the rapid scaling of autonomous electric fleets as soon as we know they work."
It's frankly head-scratching to figure how Malarkey's thought process led him to his conclusions about "ill-advised."

And while I'm not a fan of putting down people you disagree with, I think the Times, in providing op-ed space for an individual to share thoughts over multiple newspaper inches, should share the background of the writer to provide reader perspective.

The Times either avoided sharing or lacked the institutional memory, to include that Malarkey's initial claim to fame in Seattle was as finance director of the ill-fated Seattle Monorail Project, from which he resigned in December of 2003 after revenues fell dramatically short of his projections and costs were underestimated. He resigned and the voters in November of 2005 said by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent that they didn't want the project to continue.

It's from among the investment community that some of the most thoughtful support for an autonomous future for this state comes.

Madrona Venture Group, Seattle's best-recognized venture firm, issued a report last September sharing the prediction that autonomous vehicles won't merely play a major role in the region's transportation future but that AVs would come to dominate travel on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver.

The report, issued by Madrona's founder and managing director Tom Alberg and Daniel Li, predicts that AV's will first share an HOV lane, then progress to having dedicated lanes and eventually be the sole mode of transportation on I-5 during major commute hours.

It's likely that the first formal program in the state will be in the City of SeaTac, the municipality that includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where the city council will be asked next month to approve a plan that would launch autonomous mini-vans on city streets.
 
The man who conceived the SeaTac program, John Niles is executive director of an organization called Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES). He is well known in the region as an opponent of Sound Transit, which he views as spending "vast sums of taxpayer money to make mobility worse," but now he wants to help SeaTac residents gain easy access to nearby light rail stations after 8 AM when the park-and-ride lots have no more spaces.
 
Niles, who helped produce the plan that he hopes the Sea-Tac City Council will endorse, as well as seek federal funding for, may be the most believable autonomous-vehicle proponent when he insists on safety first.
 
As a seven-year-old, he was run down in a crosswalk and almost killed. Thus when he says "slow speed is the way to go right now" with autonomous vehicle projects, he is totally credible.
 
"I'm not interested in testing but in deploying something," says Niles of the Sea-Tac project, which will involve vehicles already tested elsewhere and whose travels around the city will be at relatively slow speeds and constantly monitored in what he says will be "the most cautious first step possible."
 
In fact, Niles shared the conviction that Waymo, the Google autonomous-car development company, also has remote workers watching the on-street operation of its cars.
 
Waymo was spun out of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., and claims to have tested its autonomous vehicles in Kirkland, but more prominently in California and most recently in metro Phoenix, Arizona where more than 600 Chrysler Pacifica vans are planned to be operating by year-end in commercial robo-cab service.

One group that might be expected to be in push-back mode over the emergence of AV technology is the insurance industry as possibly expecting to lose business, but PEMCO Insurance President Stan McNaughton says he's hopeful accidents will be reduced by the AV technology.

Meanwhile, McNaughton said the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on whose board he sits, "is putting a pile of money into the various systems, with the insurance industry building its own test centers, since at some point we will be rating these systems and we have to have a good understanding of them."

Autonomous-vehicle development has some powerful support in addition to the auto industry and tech companies who would benefit. One is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which points to another Arizona accident, this one involving a Google autonomous vehicle, as particularly relevant.

It was an accident in Chandler, AZ, in which a 25-year-old driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he ran into the rear of the Google car, whose driver was treated for a concussion.

The national advocacy group said the Chandler accident shows why the group supports the development of autonomous vehicles.
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'Shock and Awe' shows Bush admin prep for Iraq War as 'fake news'

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There is an increasing sense that this country's population has come to be divided between those who think the term "fake news" describes the offerings of conventional media and those who are convinced the phrase best describes certain well-publicized tweets and texts.

So it's perhaps appropriate that a gradually increasing attention is being focused on a movie about four professional journalists who were certain, in the face of all the forces arrayed against them, that the then-president and his administration had concocted a "fake news" tale to justify a war in Iraq.

Joe GallowayJoe GallowayThe movie is Shock and Awe, the title drawn from the campaign of that name created by the leaders of the administration of George W. Bush in preparation for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a preparation built on the premise that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the term "fake news" wasn't part our culture then, especially being applied to a president.

The movie, conceived and directed by Rob Reiner, has been described as "the politically charged story" about the four reporters from the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain who first looked into the Bush Administration's attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9-11 terror attack. Thereafter their stories followed a theme that the allegations of WMD's were intentionally inaccurate.

One of the four was iconic Vietnam correspondent Joseph L. Galloway, then more than 35 years into his career covering wars and those who fight them and thus the voice of experience that the two youngest reporters turned to for help in finding their way through the fabrications formed to keep the nation focused on the need for war with Iraq.

It is because of my friendship with Galloway, both of us alums of the news service UPI, and because many in the Seattle area came to know him during his two visits to do Vietnam veterans interviews and several interviews he and I did, including the Seattle Rotary, that I decided to do a Harp about the movie. 

Regular readers of the Harp will recall that Joe Galloway has been the subject of a half-dozen Harps in recent years (Google Flynn's Harp: Joe Galloway).

Eventually, the four including Knight-Ridder bureau chief John Walcott, played by Reiner himself, came to be described as "the only ones who got it right," but before that, they had to weather immense pressure and scorn, not only from the White House but also from some editors of their own newspapers.

For example, there is the story of the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer saying bluntly that the tone of their stories doesn't "fit in." And Galloway recalled "There is a scene in the movie where Walcott confronts the Philadelphia editor for choosing to run New York Times b.s. over our story. He tells the editor 'will you be running the Times correction and apology when that comes out?'"

There is a perhaps ironic juxtaposition of the timing of the release of the critically acclaimed The Post, whose storyline about the Washington Post's publisher, Kathrine Graham deciding to confront the Nixon White House by publishing the Pentagon Papers, and Shock and Awe detailing a confrontation with a different president and more recent time.

In fact, Reiner, who says he wanted to make this film for a long time, suggests that the struggle he had to secure U.S. distribution for the movie might relate to his belief that "American audiences might not be ready to confront the subject."

I didn't think anybody in America could stomach it," Reiner said. "I don't think they can stomach it now, to be honest with you."


The start of the Iraq War in March of 2003, and how its continuation has unfolded in the years since then, may be viewed as too near to current political realities for a close scrutiny of the legitimacy the Bush Administration's campaign to go to war. In fact, the allegation that the WMD case built by key members of the Bush team was fabricated still draws outrage from some conservatives.

It's obviously much easier to take a critical look at Richard Nixon, or with Reiner's LBJ, released last year bringing a critical look at another former president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

In fact, Reiner's LBJ screenwriter, Joey Hartstone, also wrote Shock and Awe, and actor Woody Harrelson, who played LBJ. Plays one of the reporters in Shock and Awe.

The fact Reiner was greeted with two separate standing ovations last September at the Zurich International Film Festival for the world premiere of Shock and Awe may have contributed to the firming up of presentation in this country.

It will premiere June 14 in Los Angeles, followed by an exclusive 30-day DIRECT TV deal, then on July 17, it will begin showing in theaters nationwide for two or three weeks.

It will be the second time that Galloway will have the opportunity to watch an actor on the screen playing him, Tommy Lee Jones in this case.

The movie We Were Soldiers, which was released ironically in the year prior to the Iraq invasion, was the film version of Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, which detailed the battle of Ia Drang, in which Galloway swapped his camera for a machine gun and was immersed in the first battle between U.S. forces and North Vietnam regulars. He also was decorated for heroism for rescuing two wounded soldiers while under intense enemy fire.

Galloway was played by Barry Pepper in the movie in which Mel Gibson played Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who commanded the U. S. units at the battle and became Galloway's co-author of two books on that fateful battle and closest friend.
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Egil Krogh's lessons from the fall of a President have echoed down the years

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(Editor's note: In this third of four Flynn'sHarp articles reprising stories written a decade ago on the four Washington residents who gained national prominence during the 1968 presidential campaign, Watergate figure Egil (Bud) Krogh discussed the fall of a president and the lessons learned that he sought to convey for subsequent administrations. The validity of his message has echoed down the years, even into today's political scene. The original articles from a decade ago are offered now because it's the 10th anniversary of this weekly column, but also the 50th anniversary of that fateful '68 campaign.)
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The disgraced presidency of Richard Nixon is the stuff of history books. But for Egil (Bud) Krogh, the memories that remain vivid are of condemnation and redemption for the role he played and the belief that the events that led to the fall of the president need be kept ever in mind by both presidents and those who work for them.

Krogh, who had just passed the bar in 1968 after graduating from law school at the University of Washington, actually didn't have a part in Nixon's campaign, instead of being left to run the Seattle law practice of John Ehrlichman, the prominent Seattle attorney who helped engineer Nixon's eventual general-election victory in 1968.

egilKroghEgil (Bud) KroghBut after the election, Krogh was asked to join the White House team as personal attorney to the president and staff assistant to Ehrlichman, one of the handful of men who basically ran the White House and thus the country until Watergate brought them all down.

The many books on Nixon and Watergate detail how Krogh was caught up in the scandal, named by Ehrlichman to guide the "Special Investigations Unit" that came to be known as "the plumbers," whose charge was to stop the leaks to the media after the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers.

What followed was the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times had helped create a siege mentality in the Nixon White House. Krogh's role eventually led to a prison sentence after he pled guilty to criminal conspiracy for engineering the break-in.

Krogh had been an unlikely choice to head such a unit. He had a reputation as someone who scrupulously obeyed the law, with Theodore White writing later that "to put Egil Krogh in charge of a secret police operation was equivalent to making Frank Merriwellchief executive of a KGB squad."

But what the history books don't detail is "the why", which Krogh subsequently sought to explain in articles, interviews, and in his 2007 book, "Integrity. Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House." The book detailed the lessons of Krogh's lifelong effort to make amends for what he describes as a "meltdown of personal integrity" in the face of issues of loyalty to the president and to the power of the office.

The dedication is a telling reflection of that lifelong campaign: "To those who deserved better, this book is offered as an apology, an explanation, and a way to keep integrity in the forefront of decision-making."

In fact, the quality of the man is evidenced by his belief that, ultimately, it was the break-in at Fielding's office that set the stage for the eventual Watergate break-in because it created the sense that people could break the law in the name of the president, and that thus he was personally responsible for all that followed.

After he served his prison sentence, Krogh returned to Seattle and, with the help of a prominent attorney and eventual federal judge William Dwyer, regained his right to practice law.

It was in 2007 that we got to know each other and I did several interviews with him before various audiences and wrote the 2008 column.

Krogh recalled in our conversations and interviews how after Nixon's resignation, his personal path of reconciliation involved a visit with Fielding to apologize to him for Krogh's unacceptable violation of the rights of "a genuinely decent human being."

And Krogh and Ellsberg became friends, with Ellsburg writing the forward comments for Krogh's book.

Then followed a visit with Nixon in California in which Krogh recalls basically saying: "Mr. President. I apologize to you because everything that's happened was really my fault."

I asked Krogh over lunch in 2008 if he and Ehrlichman, who also went to prison for his part in the events, had ever had the opportunity to talk through what had gone wrong. "John and I had several opportunities to visit after we were in prison, about what happened and why" he said. "We concluded that so many of the mistakes were due to our not really grasping how off-base Nixon was in his demand for results that used illegal means.

Loyalty to 'the man' was the over-arching requirement for service on that staff." And it is the flaw of misguided loyalty that Krogh has remained ever convinced that presidents and their staff members must be vigilant to avoid, including his caution about "reliance on hazy, loose notions about 'national security' and 'commander in chief' and what such notions can be tortured into meaning."

Krogh left Seattle and his law practice in 2011 to join the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress as a Senior Fellow on Leadership, Ethics, and Integrity.

We last talked In 2012 as I caught up with him by phone as he was en route to a Pennsylvania speaking engagement. The time was near the anniversary of Watergate and I asked him if the book was still successful. "It's selling better now than at the beginning," he replied. "The issue of government integrity seems more relevant to people today."

By then his personal focus had become zeroing in on the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, which attracts high school students, and it was in that environment of sharing his philosophy with young people that he honed his Integrity Zone concept.

The concept of the Integrity Zone was based on a couple of fundamental considerations. The first challenges the process of thinking that precedes decisions, basically: "have I thought through all the implications?" while the second part is ethical considerations: "Is it right? Is this decision in alignment with basic values like fairness and respect?"

"We never asked any of those questions in the Nixon White House," Krogh told me. "And most of what we see in Congress today fails those tests. Instead, we see a focus on loyalty and fealty to party. You simply can't check your personal integrity at the door."

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Final fundraising underway for long-sought arts center in Bellevue

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The final push is underway to bring the 25-year quest of Eastside community leaders for their own performing arts center to groundbreaking, likely in October, representing the symbolic final pre-construction step for the $195 million Tateuchi Center in downtown Bellevue.

The Tateuchi board is expected to set the groundbreaking date at its June meeting, but there is a $52 million hill to climb to get to groundbreaking, a hill that Cathi Hatch, who has chaired the fundraising campaign and is vice chair of the board, plans to overcome with a "Topping off Major Gifts campaign."

With $127 million raised to date, achieving that pre-groundbreaking total will leave $15.8 million, which Hatch says: "We will raise that during our Community and Small Business Campaign, which begins at Groundbreaking."

Alex Smith, CEO of Kaye Smith Enterprises and Tateuchi Board chair, admits "there is a great deal of work ahead of us, but we have the tools in place and the fortitude to get it done."

Indeed the idea of the center has guided supporters to overcome a number of challenges as the plans for the facility have gathered momentum, challenges that included the economic downturn in 2008 that caused some to begin doubting that the center had a future.

Kemper Freeman, who has been a forefront and forceful supporter of the concept from the outset, noted that "We lost a lot of time to a difficult economy." That was when the Great Recession dropped its curtain on the economy and made some doubt that the vision of an Eastside performing arts facility would survive.


"In economic down times a focus on the arts is always the first thing to cool off," said Freeman. "But in good times, people want to give to the arts so it's a perfect season to finish this campaign on a high note." A major boost to re-energizing the campaign was a $20 million pledge by the Bellevue City Council in 2015.

But part of the community support for the center has come from the changing demographics and growth pressures throughout the region that have turned the Tateuchi from a competitor of Seattle arts, as once would have been the case, to a regional arts asset.

Hatch made note of that when she remarked in an email to me that successful completion of fundraising and opening of the facility in2021 "will enable Tateuchi Center to operate successfully as a first-class performing art center and arts education resource for our entire region."

"It was needed a quarter-century ago and all the growth and change not just on the Eastside but throughout the region since then have made this project even more necessary," said Peter Horvitz, immediate past chair of the Tateuchi board.

While the facility will be the venue for many Eastside performing arts groups, the collection of Seattle arts leadership on the Tateuchi advisory board is evidence that the Center is coming to be viewed by Seattle arts organizations as an asset rather than a threat.
Thus it is viewed as complementing Seattle arts venues like McCaw Hall, Benaroya Hall, the 5th Avenue and Paramount theaters while filling a regional need by providing a more convenient venue for Eastside residents while offering an Eastside platform for Seattle arts groups.

Horvitz, a longtime owner of what was the Eastside's daily newspaper who remains a key Eastside business leader and philanthropist, noted the impact traffic has had on a Seattle-centered arts community.

The changing attitude of Seattle performing arts leaders toward a Bellevue concert center is in response to an increasing reluctance of Eastsiders, who account for more than 50 percent of Seattle arts subscribers and Seattle ticketholders, to face the twin traffic challenges of Lake Washington bridges to Seattle and traffic tie-ups in downtown Seattle.

The strategy of Seattle arts organizations is to use the 2,000-seat center for the double benefit of attracting new audiences while helping retain existing ticketholders and supporters.

"It is increasingly difficult for Eastsiders to drive to Seattle for performances," Horvitz said. "As a result, Seattle-based performing arts organizations will have the opportunity to reach new audiences and retain current patrons by performing at Tateuchi Center. The addition of Sound Transit's light rail will add to the convenience of attending performances at Tateuchi."

When first envisioned, the facility that now carries the Tateuchi Family name as a result of a $20 million naming right pledge got its initial boost forward when the Kemper Freeman family committed the land on which the Center will be built. That was 15 years and keyed a $6 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pay for design and engineering.

Then came when what was viewed as a "tipping point" matching pledge of $20 million, half from the Arakawa Foundation, announced in the fall of 2016 at a festive gathering of supporters at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, next to the Tateuchi site.
The $10 million pledged by Yoko and Minoru Arakawa, to name the 2,000-seat centerpiece of the center the Arakawa Concert Hall, put the facility $122 million in cash and pledges on the way to the groundbreaking.

There's little doubt that Freeman and his wife, Betty, have been a key driving force in the growth of the central vision toward reality, although, without those who caught the vision, it would not likely have overcome the obstacles to reach the fundraising and groundbreaking stage it has.

Freeman, who with his wife will have provided more than 10 percent of the nearly $200m total when the campaign ends, likes to point out that "this project has raised more money than either of the other key performing arts centers in the region," referring to 2,900 seat McCaw Hall and the 2,500-seat Benaroya Hall.

The fact that Tateuchi represents a new performing-arts paradigm for this region is pointed up by Freeman's explaining in an interview the Center "will have more days of the year that it will be used, meaning it will be less dependent on annual fundraising to keep it open.

He also notes the acoustical versatility the center will enjoy. "We will be able to electronically tune the acoustics to fit the sound capability needed for the performing activity, whether a symphony or Broadway show."
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The Harp Turns 10! Reflections on a decade of notes on people, politics, and life

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A decade of harping, actually producing a weekly email column under the title "Flynn's Harp" most every week for the past 10 years, is cause for pause and reflection.

For nearly a quarter-century guiding the fortunes of Puget Sound Business Journal, my creative outlet from the business challenges was the weekly column that permitted me to share thoughts on people and issues with PSBJ's readers.

It was the spring of 2008, two years after my retirement from PSBJ, that my friend Pat Scanlon, whom I now refer to as my digital guru because of his background in digital media with national media companies, said to me: "You should have an online column." To that, I replied: "Why?" So he said: "Let me show you what I've put together" and lo, the layout, and format of both email and web versions, missing only a column title, was there on my computer, causing me to muse: "So what would I write about?"

Because it was a general-election year, I had already written a piece reflecting on the 1968 presidential campaign in which I had been fortunate enough, as a young political writer for UPI, to be immersed. The 1968 campaign was one that had high-visibility roles for four people from Washington State and I had put all of that into a piece without knowing where I would try to place the article.

When I began thinking of the "what would I write?" I realized that I could divide that 1968-campaign article into four parts, one for each of the four people I had included as key players in that long-ago campaign. Then, presto, I'd have a month's worth of columns! Then I'd be four weeks on the way to have time to think of a fifth and a sixth column, etc.

Thus then-Gov. Dan Evans, who was 1968 GOP convention keynoter, mountaineer Jim Whittaker, who became like a brother to Sen. Robert Kennedy, Egil (Bud) Krogh, a young Seattle attorney who became a Watergate figure, and author Kitty Kelly, a high school friend, became the first four profiles of the
Harp.

Since we are coming up on what, now that 2018 has dawned, the 50th anniversary of that campaign, detailed 40 years on in a reflective piece in a national magazine in 2008 on Robert Kennedy's quest for the presidency as "the last good campaign," I decided to revisit those four columns in this 10th year of The Harp.

So over the coming weeks, I will be inserting those columns into the flow of
Harps, repeating the recollections from a presidential campaign now half a century removed but one in which all four of those personalities I wrote about remain active today. But I will also during the coming months be reprising other columns that had particular and special meaning to me.

I figured the best way to get the column going as an e-mail offering back in 2008 was to send the first one to about 600 of my closest friends and contacts (some I hadn't touched base with for several years), hoping they would either read it or ignore it but not tag me as SPAM.

Over time, as I've met new people in my "retirement" activities and consulting, I've added another 1,000 names.

So it now goes weekly to about 1,600 recipients whom I describe as business leaders, mostly Washington State but 100 or so in California, Hawaii and a few other states, as well as current and former state and local elected officials, and four college presidents.

Doing the column regularly, with the personal requirement that it be original material, in other words, facts and information not yet brought to the public's awareness has provided a satisfaction.

But even more so have been the responses from many to the emails, some moving, some laudatory, some critical. I have specifically always acknowledged the latter.

I like to tell people the column has resulted in more friendships than I had as PSBJ publisher because then, business people who read my columns and editorials were merely part of a mostly faceless audience of readers. Now the "readers" are those who are kind enough to let me into their email box weekly and most proceed to open long enough to see if that particular one is interesting.

So over the course of 500 columns, I have come to know people and their successes and challenges, and issues that impact them, in ways that would never have been the case except for the column.

I have now become an evangelist for doing email columns, urging my friends and business associates to create columns, advising "not weekly!" and admonishing "if you do it, it needs to be not about yourself or your business but about the knowledge you can impart from your experience."

A couple of friends have taken me up on it, the first being Don Brunell, retired president of the Association of Washington Business, who recalled in an email to me this week the occasion for the launch of his column that now appears in a number of weekly newspapers.

"We were at the Coeur d' Alene Hotel for AWB's Executive Committee retreat and we were having a beer in the lobby bar in 1995, bemoaning how we got our butts kicked by Mike Lowry in 1993. The D's controlled Olympia and Lowry would chastise business:  'you mean to tell me you guys can't afford a latte a day to pay for health care for your workers.'"  

 "We were talking about getting our message out and you said:  'why don't you write a weekly column?'  So I gave it a try. That's now almost 23 years ago."

The other is Al Davis, a friend and former longtime client, who is a founder of Revitalization Partners, a noted Seattle-based business management and advisory firm. Early last year he packaged the columns he and business partner Bill Lawrence have written bi-weekly over the last three years into a book.

When Al and I met for me to get a copy of the book, he told me to open the cover and read what was printed on the facing page. There was a thank you to several people, and to me for convincing him he could write a column!

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Kindness & Caring Change The World For The Families of Granger

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If you doubt that kindness and caring can change the world, then you're not familiar with the Yakima Valley town of Granger or the tiny non-profit called Families of Granger, created by Bellevue business leader Joan Wallace, that has been world changing for the children in the mostly Hispanic community. And for their families.

The story of the birth of the little 501c3 that is sustained almost entirely by an annual holiday email ask by Joan Wallace to her giving friends began 14 years ago at a Thanksgiving dinner in Granger as Wallace listened while her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, laments one aspect of the coming Christmas season.  

Wheaton, then principal of the Granger middle school, explained her worry that when school closes for the holiday season, the children do not receive the two free meals a day that they qualify for, and there is little food at home to feed them because most of the families are crop pickers who have no wintertime jobs.

Joan WallaceJoan WallaceBecause Wallace is a woman of action, almost instantly was born the idea of the email appeal to her friends and what soon became the 501c3 has grown in impact since then, with results that couldn't have been envisioned as she conceived the ask.

Her 14th email, which now raises the $35,000 that is almost the sole of money for the non-profit's budget, goes out next Monday. "At this time each year I am very aggressive about finding friends," she jokes, while husband Bob matches her sense of humor. "He told me 'If I let you near anyone at this time of year, you'll try to pick their pocket.'"

And thus this Thanksgiving season's Harp, as has been the case for almost a decade, is offered as the annual information update on what I referred to the first time I wrote about this story of caring as a "Michelangelo Moment" for a growing number of people in the Puget Sound area and Yakima Valley.

The money raised each Thanksgiving appeal goes for Christmas gift cards and food baskets purchased locally at the grocery in Granger, and, in the spirit of the season, sent anonymously to Granger's neediest families.  

She says that last year, 125 of the poorest families in one of the poorest communities, with 86 percent of the families Hispanic, got $50 gift cards to use at Walmart and $75 food baskets purchased to use at the local Hispanic grocery.

But over the years, the money has also gone to provide emergency clothing needs through the year and a few years ago she and Wheaton and their local supporters created an annual summer camp.

Wallace will be sharing with her email recipients that a years-long effort to get a splash park for the kids is about to come to fruition, due partly to the fact the number of snow-day makeups made it impossible to have the month-long summer camp so that money was available for another use.  

"We put the funds into a match for development of a splash park since Granger doesn't have a pool, summers are hot, and pools are expensive to run," she explained.
So the community gave, the 501c3 provided some funds and the city provided the land and agreed to fund maintenance for a splash park, which she describes as "basically a tricked-up sprinkler system that will now be open in May."

In her annual email, Wallace will say the past year "had its triumphs and griefs, as on one end of the spectrum our motivational program to reduce absenteeism resulted in Granger again standing out again against all schools in the state.

"Our saddest contribution was to provide clothing for a family of eight children when their father murdered their mother," Wallace said. "Their home had become a crime scene and they were locked out.

"While doing our best to take care of the immediate needs, we also believe it is equally important to cultivate self-sufficiency and to enable these children to finish school and break the poverty barrier," Wallace explains.

And the result in terms of attitudes of the families has been manifested with the successful campaign of students, parents, and teachers at the middle school two years ago to build a program to improve attendance, using the slogan that became a mantra, "Every Child, Every desk, Every day."

Driven by the attendance-campaign slogan, the school set the state mark for best attendance record in the state, with an absentee rate of 4 percent, compared to a statewide average of 16 percent absenteeism.  

The accomplishment promoted the creation of a special award, called Innovations in Education, that was presented at a banquet in Seattle in May of 2016 with support from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle law firm Patterson Buchanan, Kemper Development Co., Q-13 Fox and Sound Publishing.


They didn't win the honor this past year, but apparently came close and are focused this year on getting back on top.
 
Oh, and as for the "Michelangelo Moment," the story of Granger and the 501c3 that Wallace and Wheaton started, and the support that sprang up to support it brought to mind the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, where the outreached finger of the almighty touches mankind.
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Marine Corp Birthday Near - Marines' Always Brothers are fundraising

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Friday's 242nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps will be a time for many of those who are or were Marines to focus on their time in "The Corps." And one of those is Maple Valley Attorney Dan Nielsen, who helped create an event called Always Brothers 100 Mile Memorial Run to raise money for families of Marines killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nielsen, a founder, and treasurer of the board of the event recalled in an interview how he and 12 fellow Marines who had all served on Presidential Guard Duty in the mid-'90s teamed in 2011 to honor the memory of one of their own by establishing the 100-mile run.

dan nielsenDan NielsenNielsen remembered that Always Brothers began its signature 100-mile honor run in August of 2011 for Capt. Tyler Swisher, a Marine Corps brother who lost his life in October 2005 and who had served on Presidential Guard duty with the Always Brothers founders and board members. Swisher was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in 2005.

That first run, called "100 Miles for Swisher," began at Camp David with a goal of finishing at Swisher's grave at Arlington. But Nielsen remembers that "we needed to run a couple of times around the national mall to be sure we actually did 100 miles and when we did the mall, a couple Marines who were then on Presidential Guard ran along with us."

The 100-mile run over the next four years became an annual event, in different locations,
to honor fallen Marines and Navy Corpsmen who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan by raising money for the education of their children.  

Two of the runs have been in Ohio. The first was to raise money families of Lima Company, 22 of whose Marines and one Navy corpsman were killed in Iraq in 2005 when the vehicle in which they were riding was blown up.

Seattle was the location for runs in 2013 and 2014 with the second done in conjunction with Marine Week.  The beneficiaries were six children who lost a parent in In Iraq and Afghanistan from areas where our board members are from.

Circumstances interrupted the run after 2015, though Nielsen promised it will resume in 2018 "somewhere, maybe Seattle, or California." 

I met Nielsen last month when we happened to sit next to each other at the annual Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation (MCSF) dinner, an event held in various states to raise money for scholarships for children of U.S. Marines. It was being held in Seattle for the fourth time. We were both there as one-time Marines, supporting the event chaired this year by retired Marine major general Tracy Garrett.

Ret. Maj. Gen. Tracy GarrettRet. Maj. Gen. Tracy GarrettThe Always Brothers board made the MCSF the beneficiary of their 100-mile event fundraising in 2015 when they established an endowed scholarship in Tyler Swisher's name.

Reflecting on the success of the 2017 dinner, retired general Garrett said the event raised about $477,000 for the national fund.

"We have raised more than $2 million since the start of the Seattle dinner," she said. "There are so many good causes to support. We are thankful that Northwesterners are choosing MCSF as a way to recognize the sacrifices made by Marines and their families in the 16 long years that we have been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan."
 
Nielsen chuckled during our interview, following the MCSF dinner, as he reflected on the first 100-mile run, telling me he wasn't a runner then or now, though he stays fit (he's now 44) with some weight lifting. So he had some physical challenges getting ready for the first event. He says he actually completed 85 miles, with some rest stops along the way.  
 
Offering a lesson in how an ordinary guy prepares for a 100-mile run, Nielsen, who grew up in Yakima, said "at first, you do a lot of running, like five to seven miles some days, sometimes 20 miles on a Saturday with the important focus on building back, core and leg strength."
 
"It took about 27 hours and I stopped at 50 miles to change socks," he said. "at about mile 60 I ate a hamburger and got the shakes so had I had to stop for several hours."
 
"One of the neat things is this is not a race," Nielsen emphasized. "We start together and end together. We have guys like me that are not really runners while some guys are really good, guys who find it just as hard to slow down as it is for us to try to speed up."

2014 Seattle run coin2014 Seattle run coinAn unusual aspect of the run is that a coin, slightly larger and thicker than a silver dollar, was created in 2013 for the Seattle run. It was intended, as Nielsen put it, "as a constant tribute to the reason why we are doing what we do with the one side showing honor to Tyler and pointing out where we served together -Marine Barracks 8th and I, WHCA (White House communications agency) and Camp David. The opposite side symbolizes the purpose and location of each run."
 
"We usually have 300 coins made each year and we give them to runners, supporters, and the people we meet along the way who inspire us or who we've inspired," Nielsen said.
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Autonomous vehicles will drive WA state's future

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There is a growing conviction among influential leaders in Washington state, ranging from the governor through local elected officials and business executives, that autonomous vehicles will play a key role in this state's transportation future.

If 2016 was the year of the train in the Puget Sound area with discussion and debate over the nation's most expensive transit ballot measure ever, the $54 billion ST-3 to build a regional rail infrastructure over the next 25 years, then 2017 could be the year of the first meaningful steps toward a future of reinvented highway vehicles.  

But the first actual, autonomous "wheels on the road" project in this state could get underway in early 2018 in the City of SeaTac, the municipality that includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

But as meaningful steps toward what I'll call - aCars, or even what's being referred to as semi-autonomous vehicles that will have a driver at the ready, begin emerging, proponents will need to develop a plan to deal with the inevitable pushback from the disruptive idea of vehicles without drivers.

Gov. Jay Inslee, whose support will be essential to overcome the objections that emerge, set the stage for a strong focus on autonomous vehicles when he issued an executive order in June to put the state behind autonomous vehicle development efforts, including allowing companies to test drive them on state roads.

A month later his office welcomed the robot vehicle from a Virginia company that was spun out from Virginia Tech after it was safely driven, as a semi-autonomous vehicle, across the country, and through Washington state without incident.

Nothing is as far along in this state as the Virginia company, called Torc Robotics, but a couple of noteworthy efforts are underway that could attract increasing attention, and not just in this state. One is in Bellevue, where a focus on autonomous vans (we can refer to them as A-vans,), paid for without public subsidy, is occurring. The other is in the City of SeaTac, which would be a project logical by the proximity of airport-related businesses and the amount of traffic they and the airport itself generate.

The focus on autonomous multi-passenger vans is the brainchild of Steve Marshall, manager of the City of Bellevue's Transportation Technology Partnership, and Charles Collins, who has been active in exploring transportation and commute issues since his days as the second director of King County Metro in the late 1970s. Collins created the King County vanpool system that has become the most successful in the country.

The transportation experience and expertise of Marshall and Collins have probably put them at the peak of the pyramid from which to envision what lies ahead for autonomous vehicles. And from that perspective, both see a van-focused future of autonomous vehicles

Before taking the Bellevue post on May 1, Marshall was executive director of the Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES). He has more than 30 years of experience working on energy and transportation issues, including serving as chief outside legal counsel to Puget Sound Power & Light as a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie.  

It is CATES, now under the executive leadership of John Niles who replaced Marshall, that is helping guide the City of SeaTac through evaluation of a program employing driverless shuttle mini-buses or vans on City of SeaTac roads, providing supplementary service between Sea-Tac Airport and hotel locations.

Another example of what could emerge City of SeaTac activities would be small, quiet, electric shuttles connecting light rail stations and transit centers with residential neighborhoods.

Niles told me he is putting together recommendations that he calls an Action Plan that, once accepted by the staff of the SeaTac City Council, likely by the end of the year, would be available for review by citizens to make it ready for action by the council, probably in January.  

The effort by the City of SeaTac, which has charted for itself the goal of becoming a Center for Municipal Excellence, has gotten advance approval by both South Transit and Metro.

Approval by the SeaTac council would, as Niles explains it, be "steps on how to proceed on automated first-last mile small vehicle, driver-less automated transit for citizens to use to reach light rail stations, employment sites within City of SeaTac, and community centers and services."

"There will probably be a phase one pilot serving only part of the City," he added. "I am aiming for deployment of proven technology already tested elsewhere and proved to be safe."

In a comment directed at those concerned about driverless vehicles, Niles offered that the way his robotic micro-transit vehicles would work in SeaTac is with a control center keeping an eye out for trouble and dispatching help when needed."

Niles' comment addressed one of the key roadblocks to be overcome by the forces arrayed on behalf of an autonomous future, the concern of many drivers about the pervasive presence of vehicles without a driver. But other hurdles are already emerging in other states, concerns that will play out here, from forces restless about lost jobs like cab or truck drivers, auto repair and service businesses who won't have cars to repair and even insurance companies fearful of providing a product eventually not needed.

Part of the pushback could come from Sound Transit's board which is bound to see the early hints of buyers' remorse on the part of voters who approved ST-3 in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties last November grow as new unexpected costs emerge while development of the autonomous van fleet takes hold.

By 2022, almost two decades before ST-3's rail network is completed, clues to its obsolescence will be offered as that's the year the first van test for 100 autonomous vehicles is scheduled, likely opening the way for thousands of such vehicles on area highways, without public cost.

And the betting is that those who can summon a van to take them where they want to go for a small fee will likely not opt to queue up for a train, thus further diminishing the modest passenger-use expectations of Sound Transit.

Those whose reaction to ST-3 was a "how can they vote for this? Do they really think it's required of those who care about the environment to vote to create a network of trains?" may well react with amusement to the cost of ST-3 beyond just dollars becomes clear.

The fact that was never shared with voters but will be shared as the reality sets in is that the greenhouse gas generated over the years of construction will never be paid back by people riding a train rather than driving or being conveyed in a vehicle.

An intriguing development for emerging use of autonomous vehicles is the fact that Kemper Freeman's Kemper Development Co. and its Bellevue Square expects to begin next year offering customers, many assumedly loaded with purchases, an autonomous-vehicle ride back to their cars parked on site.

Marshall offers a whimsical view of past as prologue to public acceptance of autonomous travel. One is the case of his grandfather who, after working his Palouse fields on horseback all day, tied the reins to the saddle horn and slumped over to sleep on the way home, confident his horse could "drive" itself back to the barn.

Plus he offers the example of elevators. When the years of people greeting the operator as they entered for the ride up began to give way to elevators without operators, there were some passengers who fought off discomfort. Then automatic elevators became universal, to the point when, if a person is operating it, some people may wonder "is something wrong with this elevator?"

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Thoughts of the president of UNLV in reflecting on nation's worst mass slaying

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Compassion and caring aren't the first words that would come to most peoples' minds when they think of Las Vegas with its glitz and glamour. But compassion, love, and unity are the words Len Jessup, President of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, used to describe the community's response to the horror of the nation's worst mass shooting.

LenJessupLen Jessup"What amazes me is how this campus and the entire community came together, so quickly, so compassionately, and with so much love and unity," Jessup said in an email to me in response to my question of how his campus, faculty, and students had fared.

"Within minutes, our Thomas and Mack arena was fully staffed and served all night long as a shelter for hundreds of victims," said Jessup, who is finishing his third year as president of UNLV "And within minutes, in the middle of the night, community members got word and brought blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, food, water, coffee, etc, for the victims."

The Thomas and Mack Center is the home of the Runnin' Rebels basketball team that once was the key to national visibility for the university, founded 60 years ago this year as a small, branch campus of Reno-based University of Nevada.

But in the future, the university and its arena may be remembered for the role both played in helping the community deal with the victims of the tragedy and the aftermath.

"Nurses and counselors showed up on their own to comfort folks, and Uber and Lyft drivers and countless community members showed up in cars to take victims wherever they needed to go for free," Jessup added. "Countless acts of love and compassion like that happened all that night and all week here in this community, showing what locals know well, that LV is truly a wonderful community."

Jessup is still dealing with the impact of the mass killings at the open-air concert on his UNLV community of students, faculty and staff. A former student was among the 58 killed in the hail of bullets fired down from an upper floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel. He reported that four students and one staff member, an assistant coach of the hockey club, were among the wounded and one student sustained an injury trying to escape.

Jessup's regard for how members of his university and the broader community responded said something about his regard for both that have developed since he arrived in January of 2015 as UNLV's 10th president.

I got to know Jessup as a member of his national advisory board when he was dean of the Washington State University College of Business before he became president of the WSU Foundation and vice president for university development in May of 2005. Jessup filled the board with CEO-level executives from around the Northwest and beyond.

We have had the opportunity to reconnect on my occasional trips to Las Vegas. 

He left WSU to become dean of the Eller College of Management at his ala mater, the University of Arizona, and was instrumental in helping to build out that university's technology transfer and commercialization program, Tech Launch Arizona.

After honing his higher-education administrative leadership skills at WSU and University of Arizona, Jessup was ready when the right opportunity for a university presidency was offered from UNLV regents and he accepted at a time of dramatic challenge and change for the university and the city of 2.2 million.

Indeed Jessup's challenge when he arrived was to grow the impact and image of a university whose major claim to fame was that it had the second most diverse student body in the nation.

Since then he has ensured that the new UNLV medical school, funding for which was approved a few months after his arrival, was on track to welcome its first students and become the focal point of a planned 214-acre medical district in Las Vegas.

"Our medical school is launched and the first cohort began this past July, all of them on full-ride, four-year scholarships from the community," Jessup e-mailed in obvious pride.  

"We had 900 applicants for the 60 spots, and there are a few vets among them, many first-generation college grads, and even some first-generation high school grads within their families"

In fact, Jessup raised in San Francisco with both mother and father of Italian descent, was the first member of his family to graduate from college, which he told me as prompted him to "devote my life to service in higher ed because of the opportunities it has given me. And also to pay back my ancestors for the sacrifices they made in coming to America to make a better life possible."


Of the UNLV medical school's first class, Jessup said: "It's a very diverse class. We went after kids with direct Las Vegas or Nevada ties so as to increase the chance that they will stay here as doctors," which would be an important development for a state that has ranked 45thnationally in the number of doctors per 100,000 population.

I asked Jessup in one of the emails what long-term impact might the events on the night of October 1st have on the community and the university.

"I don't know that what happened will deter people from visiting this great city in the future," Jessup said. "But it does mean that we'll have to rethink security for the open-air music festivals like the one this past Sunday evening that have become so incredibly popular here in town. And we will."

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Possible Seattle bid for Amazon 2nd HQ stirs some thoughts

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UPDATE: (Bellevue is planning to submit a bid to earn the role of Amazon’s HQ2, setting the stage for the possibility that the separate but equal headquarters that Amazon said lies ahead could find executives merely going back and forth across Lake Washington rather than flying cross country. Bellevue councilmember Kevin Wallace requested that the city work on a formal proposal to attract Amazon. Other councilmembers agreed that Bellevue’s business environment, ongoing infrastructure improvements and skilled workforce, make it a viable contender. Staff will return with an update on the process in the coming weeks. Responses to Amazon’s RFP are due by Oct. 19.)

Amazon's announcement that it is planning a separate but equal second headquarters has drawn enough comment, and criticism from some expected sources, that it's difficult to find an aspect that hasn't been explored or discussed. But the decision that Seattle should go after that second-city prize provides a new opportunity for thought, and perhaps some amusement.

It's interesting, and maybe amusing, to take a close look at the idea from Bruce Harrell, Seattle City Council member and five-day mayor, that Seattle should seek to persuade Amazon to put the projected 50,000 employees that the electronic commerce and cloud computing giant says will work at HQ2 here in Seattle, along with HQ1.

"Quite candidly, if there are to be an additional 50,000 jobs, they should be for our residents," said Harrell, who briefly replaced Ed Murray after his resignation in the face of multiple child sex abuse claims. Harrell said he was directing staff to "examine the city's business retention strategy and make sure employees are considered."

First thought: does Seattle really want to solidify its growing image as "the biggest company town in America" with up to another 50,000 Amazon employees?
Second: does anyone in political leadership in Seattle recall that the city's role is as a "super-regional city" with the good of the region for which it is center meant to be a part of political considerations, not merely the good of the 600,000-plus who live within its boundaries?  

And for amusement, if Seattle actually produces a plan to be headquarters city 2, might anti-business council member Kshama Sawant be willing to be part of the group of elected officials that would present the plan personally to Bezos and his executive team, letting them know the city care about their needs? 

But her presence might remind the Amazon execs of what some have suggested as one of the reasons for the company's decision to look for a second headquarters city, just in case -- the anti-business attitude of Sawant and he followers in city government. 

If the city has a business-retention strategy, to which Harrell alluded, that would likely come as a surprise to some members of the city council as well as to Murray and his predecessor, Mike McGinn, who was heard to remark to an aide at a business breakfast early in his only term "these are not my people."

It's not known what fate awaits Harrell's executive order directing Seattle's economic development officials to respond to Amazon's request for proposals to be the site for what the company says will be a headquarters that cost $5 billion to build and operate and is expected to generate as many as 50,000 jobs.  

Soon after issuing that order, Harrell stepped aside and turned the job of mayor over to Councilman Tim Burgess, who will serve until Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon is elected in November.

Amazon's stated goal of uncovering a place for a second headquarters, and as many as 100 cities and regions around the country have indicated they will be submitting bids, is expected to inject a surge of money and population into whatever region is ultimately selected.  

The company said it has added $38 billion to Seattle's economy between 2010 and 2016 and boasts approximately 40,000 staffers in more than 8 million square feet of office space.  

With respect to the "one-company town" idea, that's a designation offered recently by one real estate expert who noted that Amazon's footprint in Seattle is estimated at 19 percent of Seattle's downtown prime office space, more than twice as large as any other company in any other big U.S. city.

Of course, Seattle has long been viewed as a one-company town, first with Boeing, whose actual physical presence was dispersed across the Puget Sound area and beyond, then Microsoft, which was actually located in Redmond.

Wouldn't it be an interesting idea if officials of the city that is supposed to understand that it is a "regional city" decided not to try to win the second-headquarters for itself but rather sell Amazon on the concept of keeping that second headquarters within the region, outside of Seattle? 

Thinking only of its residents seems to have become the sole consideration of a city elected leadership whose predecessors seemed to understand that as a super-regional city, the basis of Seattle's economy and political considerations isn't just its 650,000 residents, but the 8 million to 10 million people of the region.

Tacoma hopes to be among the cities that seek to attract Amazon to consider them, and indeed Pierce County has a lot going on that doesn't get much attention from the Seattle area. So far in 2017, the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County has conducted 21 site searches for companies looking to relocate to or expand in Tacoma or Pierce County.  

And with respect to Bellevue, which hasn't indicated an intent to bid on any second headquarters, Amazon is already slated to occupy all 345,000 square feet of the new downtown Bellevue Center 425 Schnitzer West office tower when it is completed.    

I asked Bellevue Developer Kemper Freeman Jr. if he'd be interested in attracting Amazon.  

"Love to," he replied, "but we don't have any space right now," referring to the fact his new 400 Lincoln Square Office Tower and its 700,000 square feet of space is now basically all leased.

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Fate dealing losing hand to Seattle income tax advocates

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Fate seems to be dealing a losing hand to proponents of a state income tax, given events that have unfolded behind the scenes with the lawsuits filed since the Seattle City Council enacted a tax on higher-income residents as a strategy to reach the State Supreme Court with the issue.

Their best hope now to achieve their goal is to be dealt a joker wild card by those on the other side who have sued to overturn the tax on the statutory grounds that the city violated the 1984 state law that specifically prohibits cities and counties from imposing a net income tax. 

The wild card could be handed to tax advocates because some of those suing the city seem tempted to turn it into a political issue that could be the key to unintentionally attracting the state's highest court.

From the outset of a campaign flatly touted by council members and their cheering supporters as an effort to "tax the rich," the goal of tax advocates has been to get the State Supreme Court to review the 84-year-old decision that a net income tax violates the state constitution.

Whether that campaign can move ahead may well be decided on November 27, the date set yesterday by King County Superior Court Judge John R. Ruhl for him to hear the motions by attorneys representing plaintiffs in three lawsuits filed against the city.

Matched by those whose rhetoric is "we need to tax the greedy rich" is the equally heated commentary of those who oppose any tax and particularly taxes on the wealthy, who feel they are already overtaxed. The anger of the latter was evident in the comment made in private by one of the attorneys that their purpose is to "kill the income tax and drive a stake through its heart so it never comes back alive."

As Matt Davis, attorney for Seattle investment advisor Michael Kunath observed: "What was supposed to be a purely legal exercise has devolved into the latest battlefield in the fight between two groups who have no hesitation about forcing their viewpoints on everyone else."

Kunath's suit was the first of the three and thus was the one assigned Judge Ruhl by lottery and it will be Davis' motion for a summary judgement against the city tax that will be heard on November 17 with the motions by attorneys for The Freedom Foundation and the Opportunity for All Coalition to also be heard then.

The first indication of the unanticipated challenges facing the city came when Kunath's suit, filed minutes after Mayor Ed Murray signed the tax into law following City Council passage, noted that the council fouled up in its maneuver to pass a tax that wouldn't be viewed as violating state law.

The council members passed what they intended to be a tax on gross income rather than net income, but they chose the amount on Line 22 on the federal tax form as the basis for each filer's taxable income and that line is described in various IRS documents as a "net" income tax line, which Davis highlighted in his suit.

The other suits included that point in their briefs against the Seattle City Council for its passage of a tax on individuals with income over $250,000 and joint-filing income of more than $500,000, They all indicate they want Judge Ruhl to merely rule that the city violated state law.

But the attorneys, including two retired State Supreme Court justices, have been told by Judge Ruhl that they must be prepared to argue the constitutionality as well as the statutory issue, although he said at the Wednesday meeting with attorneys that he intends to rule first on the statutory question. 

What that would mean is the issue of whether the income tax violates what's known as the "Uniformity Clause," a constitutional requirement that all property be taxed equally, wouldn't come up if he rules against the city.


Thus the only way the issue of the Uniformity Clause would become part of the case is if he were to find the city income tax was legal. 

Then attorneys for the three suits could use the Uniformity Clause as a backup issue and raise it for a discussion that would reach the high court.

The sense of those who want a state income tax is that a dramatically more liberal high court than the 1933 court that ruled that income was property and thus required to be taxed equally would throw out its own rules and reverse that decision, opting to throw out its own rules and eight decades of decisions by the high court supporting the 1933 decision.

The random selection of Ruhl to preside over the superior court deliberations on the case also has to be viewed as less than ideal for the city since he is considered by attorneys in this case as the best judge for them because his qualifications make it less likely he would be influenced by the political rhetoric surrounding this case. He is rated as "exceptionally well qualified" by various organizations, including the King County Bar Association.

Finally, Ruhl's decision to separate the statutory question of whether the city broke state law from the constitutional issue will make it more difficult for Seattle to get before the Supreme Court with the constitutional question.

 "Uniformity" in this case means the city's imposition of no tax on income under $250,000 and 2.25 percent for income above that.

The concern of those who fear that it's risky to turn this into a political issue rather than a statutory one are concerned about statements like that from Matt McIlwain of Madrona Venture Partners that "In defeating the city income tax, we can help maintain a system of opportunity and job creation for innovators and workers."

In addition, the complaint from the Opportunity for All Coalition of which McIlwain is a spokesman goes to great length in its suit to provide anecdotes of people being taxed on selling their homes or their businesses who are not wealthy but merely average Seattle citizens who will be injured by the tax.

Those are all political considerations.

Davis' motion makes clear at the outset that he and Kunath don't view this as a political issue but a simple statutory question. The other suits appear tempted to want to make political statements with their suits.

A long line of decisions in the decades since that 1933 decision that income is property and thus a tax on it must thus meet the constitutional requirement that property has to be taxed equally have cited that decision to reverse ideas like calling an income tax an excise tax or imposing an income tax on real estate transactions. 

And confronting those who hope the court will merely overturn that decision is the rule known as Constitutional avoidance, which says the court must make every effort to avoid interpreting the Constitution if it can deal with the statutes. But in the end, the high court can do whatever it wants.

The concern of those who don't want to tempt a Supreme Court likely to be sensitive to the views of those who want to repair an admittedly regressive tax structure with an income tax know the court will be searching for any argument that opens the door to consider the merits and wisdom of the tax.

Anyone who argues that the tax is unfair, unneeded or unreasonable is handing the Supreme Court exactly what it needs. And should the Supreme Court take up the issue and decide in favor of income-tax advocates, it's a good bet that soon thereafter, a legislature that now needs only a simple majority and no voter support because of Supreme Court action to throw out a decades-old precedent, will enact such a tax.

And history will honor or revile, depending on which segment of the population we are looking at, the organization or individual who made that come about.
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Seattle City Council proponents of income tax need to 'come clean'

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Members of the Seattle City Council who are proposing a tax on the gross income of Seattle residents they view as "the wealthy" need to come clean with those constituents who are actually hoping for additional revenue to deal with what they perceive as pressing city problems. "Come clean" means admitting up front that this won't provide additional revenue for the city to deal with any of those issues, including the homeless problem.
 
The reason is that if the city council actually approves an income tax, suggested as 2 percent tax on the portion of gross exceeding $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a couple, it will be challenged in court, without question. The court case would then have to run its course, and the outcome be in Seattle's favor, before any tax could be imposed or revenue collected, several years at least.
 
In fact, "come clean" would also mean admitting that a court challenge is really why proponents and the City Council are seeking to pass an income tax because those in favor of such a tax have become convinced that the ruling of the state Supreme Court in 1933 that an income tax is unconstitutional might well be reversed.
 
The Seattle income tax proposal got its airing before a hearing of the City Council Finance Committee, derided by one business leader as "a pep rally for a tax on the rich," and in fact supporters attended the meeting waving "Tax the Rich" signs.
 
One friend suggested, with a chuckle, that he was surprised Kshama Sawant, one of two city council sponsors of the income tax plan, didn't have a rag doll tagged "rich guy" that she could have used to bring cheers by turning it upside down, holding the heels and shaking as if to dislodge anything in the pockets.
 
Former Gov. Dan Evans
Former governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans, who is probably this state's most visible long-term proponent of a state income tax, told me in an email "I think the Seattle income tax attempt is wrong on so many counts that it is hard to try to analyze. This is just soak-the-rich taxation by the left wing."
Evans noted that his plan, which actually made the ballot but was rejected by state voters, "was tax reform with an income tax as part of it," repeating his oft emphasized belief that a net income tax only is legitimate if it is part of a full reform of the state's tax structure.
"Trying to institute a city tax without a vote of the people is even dumber than thinking of imposing a tax on gross income," he said. "People always get a vote on issues like his. Ultimately the people of the state will decide this issue through their vote and attempts to circumvent that are recognition that they can't win a statewide vote."
Indeed The pursuit of a way to get the Supreme Court to review the eight decades old precedent is based on the realization that the voters of the state don't seem likely to approve an income tax. And those who don't want the voters to continue to have the final say on the issue are hoping to find a way around that continued outcome.
 
But the reality may be that a Seattle test of the existing constitutional ban on an income tax may leave proponents simply disappointed, rather than finding a backdoor way to undo the longtime prohibition.
 
When the Olympia City Council sought to imposed a tax on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for couples, lawmakers in the Capital City took the approach of asking the voters, rather than telling them. Voters turned it down.
 
But legal scholar Hugh Spitzer, who is generally seen as the legal expert approached for comment on the issue in this state, offered the comment before the Olympia vote that proponents of using a locally enacted income tax as the key to a court reversal of the 84 year old decision would likely be disappointed.

Spitzer, who understood the Olympia proposal was meant as a "test case" seeking to address the constitutionality of the state's ban, predicted that a court will rule that code cities such as Olympia (or Seattle) can't tax individual income, avoiding the constitutional issue.

In fact, some Republicans in the Legislature sought to remove any Supreme Court action with a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would specifically prohibit an income tax.
 
Rep. Matt Manweller, the Ellensburg Republican who was a key proponent of the proposed amendment that never even got to a vote this session, noted that while voters "have been saying 'no' to an income tax for about 80 years, the shift seems to be from ballot measures to finding a sympathetic court."
 
Voters in 2010 had an opportunity to pass Initiative 1098 that would have imposed a statewide tax on the net of high-income earners and reduced property taxes and business and occupation taxes. The measure passed in Seattle, but failed across the rest of the state.
 
The perhaps intriguing thing about the history of losses at the ballot is that the one time voters approved an income tax, and did so by a pretty healthy margin, was in 1932 with an initiative okaying a personal and corporate income tax. That was the measure that was overturned by the State Supreme Court in 1933.
 
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Seattle mayor race may offer business hope for future

Seattle mayor race may offer business hope for future
Soon after Mike McGinn took office as Seattle's new mayor in 2009, he was speaker at a business breakfast and was overheard telling an aide as he was sitting at the head table waiting to be introduced, "these are not my people."

Those in the business community soon came to understand McGinn wasn't their "people" either and sought to help support the election of Ed Murray, the longtime legislative leader who ran against and ousted McGinn in 2013.

But Murray turned out to be only marginally better for business and his only bow to the needs of the business community was a frequent refrain as his term progressed that he'd be open to help business "but business can't tell me what they need." And he spent little time reaching out to business leaders to find out.

Now Murray, driven to end his re-election bid amidst the growing furor over law suits contending he had sexually preyed on troubled young men years ago, leaves Seattle entering a time of uncertainty as the contest for a new mayor begins.

No one takes pleasure in Murray's travails. But the fact remains that as Seattle prepares to find a new mayor and business people began discussing how to seek to take advantage of the opportunity to find a business friend, a candidate that most feel at least understands both business and the political process has filed to seek the office.

That's former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, a woman of power and influence in Democratic party ranks but viewed by most business people as a throwback to a time when "liberal" included being a Democrat who understood the importance of the business community to a vibrant city.

Among those happy to see Durkan in the race is Bob Wallace, CEO of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties. When I called to talk to him about the Seattle political scene leading up to Durkan's announcement of her candidacy, he quipped: "I told Kemper (Freeman) that he should send a big bouquet to the Seattle City Council for all they are doing to make Bellevue look good to business."

Of Durkan, Wallace said "I'm pleased to see her decide to run. She is liberal, smart and pragmatic and she'd be an infinitely better mayor than any of the others in the race."

Wallace, although a conservative Bellevue business leader, has made a point over the years to also immerse himself in Seattle's business leadership, serving in key roles in both the Seattle and the Bellevue chambers of commerce.

Wallace says that although what he views as the "drift to the far left" by Seattle's elected leaders is "potentially jeopardizing our economic future," he suggests that "Seattle's major companies could care less" because Seattle represents only a small part of their business empires.

But smaller businesses do care and the growing contrast between the apparent attitudes of Seattle and Bellevue elected officials toward business needs is being increasingly noted. A friend of mine is launching a new business with offices in Seattle and Bellevue and told me that "many of the Eastside people we are hiring wouldn't be coming to work for us if we didn't have a Bellevue office because they simply don't want to have to get into Seattle each day."

It's important for Seattle business leaders enthused about Durkan's candidacy not to talk of her as pro business because that's not only possibly inaccurate but for sure potentially damaging to her candidacy in a community where that's obviously a negative for many Seattle voters.

The key is that she certainly brings an understanding of business, how it operates and its legitimate role in the success and future of Seattle.

Durkan wouldn't be the first Seattle woman mayor. That role belonged to Bertha Knight Landis, elected to a two-year term in 1927, having been the first woman elected to the Seattle City Council five years earlier and becoming president of the council when re-elected two years later.

Business became her fan, incidentally, before she won elective office when she orchestrated a weeklong Women's Educational Exhibit for Washington Manufacturers. Staffed by more than 1,000 women, that bolstered the spirits of the business community during a period of severe recession.

Landis defeated incumbent Edwin J, "Doc" Brown in 1927 in a campaign in which her theme was "municipal housecleaning" was needed in the Seattle government, an approach that could appeal to moderates on the left this year.

One issue that's already certain to be a mayoral campaign issue on which all these seeking the office will be pressed to explain their positions is the proposed city income tax on higher-income individuals. Most announced mayoral candidates at the first mayoral forum, prior to Durkan's announcement, expressed support for an income tax. In fact the idea was proposed by McGinn, who is seeking to regain the mayor's office.

Candidate positions on the effort to impose an income tax of unspecified amount on high-income individuals, with no clear indication of the definition of "high income," will be interesting to watch take shape during the campaign leading up to the August primary when the top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election.

Seattle is the second stop by the supporters of a state income tax who have embarked on a process observers have described as "city shopping," looking for a local electorate or elected body willing to impose an income tax to get the issue before the state supreme court. Olympia voters rejected the idea in November.

Only the uninformed could fail to realize no income tax is going to be imposed in Seattle for the foreseeable future so it can't provide revenue for the city that proponents say is needed now.

Rather the hope for a court test is that the 5-4 majority decision by the State's highest court in 1932 that an income tax was unconstitutional would be reversed by a far more liberal court 85 years later.

But the fact that the 1984 legislature outlawed a local income tax imposed by cities or counties means a first court test would be about state law rather than the constitutionality of an income tax.

As for Durkan's view on the issue, she quickly debunked the idea at her announcement news conference, saying a city income tax is "probably not constitutional," and in addition she thinks it's "not be the solution we need now."


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Personal reflections on Mike Lowry, passionate believer in people

Personal reflections on Mike Lowry, passionate believer in people
It would be laughable, in this era of unbridgeable political divides, to envision an elected official who nurtured his image as "liberal Democrat" while priding himself on being "the congressman from Boeing." But that was Mike Lowry, the former governor who died early Monday after suffering a stroke.

Because of our 50-year friendship, beginning when he headed the staff of the State Senate Ways & Means Committee and I was the Capital reporter for UPI, this Harp will be more of a personal reflection on Lowry than a catalogue of who he was and what he did.

He was this state's epitome of the progressive politician for 40 years. He believed in the environment and cared deeply about the needs of farm workers, causes he was still involved with at the time of his death at the age of 78.

Lowry was an urban politician proud of his rural roots, growing up in the Palouse community of St. John, and his education at Washington State University.

It was in his desire to get things done for job-creating big business that he was unusual for a Democrat. He brought his political power to work on behalf of Boeing and other large companies because he felt it was the state's role to help companies that provided high-paying jobs.

Thus while being viewed by small business as the enemy, he was generally held in high regard by big business, including Boeing, which quietly supported him in his successful bid for governor in 1992.

It was soon after the election that Lowry called me to meet for breakfast to talk about possible candidates to head the state department of trade and economic development . I thought it would be cool to meet with the governor-elect at the WAC, maybe Rainier Club or even the Four Seasons.
 
Then I learned that his favorite breakfast spot was the Denny's on I-405 north of Renton. Nothing too fancy for Lowry and thus it became the place we met regularly over the years.

Lowry wanted to know what I thought of Mike Fitzgerald as a potential director of the agency. Because Fitzgerald was a friend and a fellow Montanan who got his economic development start working personally, right out of college, for the governor, I said "he'd be great."

Fitzgerald, now president and CEO of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, worked directly for or with nine governors during his years in economic development and told me in a telephone conversation this week: "I have never worked for anyone who loved their state more than he loved Washington state and its citizens."

"He understood and could articulate the role of the triple bottom line of successfully balancing the economy, the social agenda and environmental considerations," Fitzgerald said, noting that Lowry "was personally involved in Washington landing two of the biggest tech-industry coups in the country at that time."

He was referring to Lowry ensuring the state took the steps necessary, including things like new freeway interchanges and face to face meetings, to land Taiwan Semiconductor in Clark County and an Intel plant in southern Pierce County.

The antipathy of small business, particularly small-business organizations, was cemented from the outset of Lowry's single term as the state's chief executive (he didn't seek a second term partly because of the publicity that surrounded a sexual harassment action by a former press aide, which was settled).

That antipathy was particularly true after he guided legislative enactment of a statewide system of health insurance with premiums based on ability to pay, a law that put a lot of cost pressure on small businesses.

It was the anger of small business toward Lowry over the healthcare law, in addition to is his guiding the 1993 Legislature to double the business & occupation tax for service businesses, that led to my most amusing memory of him. I had sought his partnership with The Puget Sound Business Journal to put on a Governor's Conference on Small Business.

He agreed but as small business antagonism toward Lowry intensified, I grew concerned about the kind of animosity he might face when he appeared at the conference. So I met with him the afternoon before to express my concern and urge him, when he opened the conference the following morning, to just thank the business people for being on hand and wait until the end of the day to make positive comments about things he was doing for business.

"Good advice," he said as we sat in his office going over the agenda. So I was stunned when he opened the conference doing exactly what I had advised him against.

As a result he was pummeled throughout the day by negative comments about him, directly or by innuendo, from the array of speakers from the various sessions.

I was worried when he left quickly without attending the closing-session cocktail party. And more so the next day when I received an anxious call from the person in his office assigned to work with me on the conference.

"I am very worried because he called his entire staff together this morning, expressed his anger and said 'I am going to find out who was responsible for the embarrassment I suffered,'" the staff member told me.

I contacted Lowry and asked if we could meet in his Seattle office to review the conference.

As we sat down facing each other, I said: "Governor, I get the impression you are unhappy about the conference. If there was a problem, there are only two people who could be responsible. You are looking at one, and you see the other one in the mirror."

He flipped his arm up as one of those ear-to-ear smiles spread across his face and he said: "I don't have time to worry about yesterday's irritations, so don't sweat it."

Don Brunell, retired president of Association of Washington Business who often crossed swords with Lowry and other Democratic governors on business issues, told me not holding a grudge was a Lowry trademark.

Brunell offered the comment: "Lowry never personalized anything. He could blow his stack at you one day and be genuinely smiling the next."

Lowry served 10 years as the state's 7th district congressman and twice ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to Dan Evans in a special election in 1983, and to Slade Gorton in 1988. before returning to the political wars to run for governor in 1992. He won, defeating state Attorney General Ken Eikenberry to win his lone term.

After his '88 loss to Gorton, he returned to Washington state along with Dan Evans, who had decided not to seek re-election, and the two joined together to initiate the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition (WWRC).

"Since we came from very different political backgrounds we were soon dubbed the 'Odd Couple,' Evans recalled in an email to me. "I think we both enjoyed the title and both have seen a huge result from that small beginning."

"We were competitors, but far more importantly were colleagues, partners and good friends," Evans added.

Brunell praised Lowry as an elected official with integrity. "While most of them promised not to raise taxes and sometimes wound up doing so, Lowry said he would only raise taxes as a last resort." He did raise the B&O tax dramatically in 1993 but cut back on half the increase two years later.

Said Evans: There was never any question what Mike believed and he worked tirelessly on issues, always with peace, people and progress in mind. We lost a first rate political leader, a passionate believer in people, and I lost a good friend."

Fitzgerald said Lowry's favorite personal saying, repeated half a dozen times in private meetings with him, was from Thomas Jefferson, who talked of a goal of seeking to create "an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity."
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Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few puts to rest axiom that 'nice guys finish last'

Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few puts to rest axiom that 'nice guys finish last'

One of the most noteworthy accomplishments of Gonzaga coach Mark Few in his team's inexorable march toward the NCAA National Championship game, despite falling short in the finale, may have been the destruction of the oft-quoted axiom that "nice guys finish last."

That "nice guys" comment obviously isn't a reference to the angry Bulldog mascot, Spike. But it is the agreed-on description of Few, who grew up in a small Oregon town, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and who didn't leave behind the lessons of his youth.

Despite the fierce competitiveness    of his players that has been on display for the nation to see during the past few weeks, they are described by a GU trustee who has spent an extensive amount of time with them as "selfless, disciplined, family."

Gonzaga and Few fell short of their quest for college basketball's pinnacle in their Mondaynight loss to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game and the pain will burn for a time for the coach, his players and fans.

But his nice-guy trait was on display, despite the pain of the loss, in the post-game nationally televised interview when Few declined the opportunity to blame the referees for the loss with a couple of calls generally viewed as in error, saying instead "the referees were excellent."

And as Jack McCann, a longtime GU trustee who offered me the above characteristics of the team, said to me in a phone conversation before the final game, "nothing should diminish the joy of the journey that this season represented." He meant not just for Few and his team but also for the family of supporters, fans and boosters.

Indeed McCann, a GU trustee since 1997 and founder of the prominent South King County land-development firm, the Jack McCann Co, and other trustees and close supporters have proven themselves part of the GU family over the years.

That includes hosting the coaches and players at their vacation homes, including getaways to Cabo to McCann's beach home and the neighboring Cabo home of Mike Patterson, prominent Seattle attorney and also a trustee. But Few doesn't use Cabo trips as a recruiting tool!

And McCann was quick to sign off in the early 2000s on the idea the players should travel on charter rather than commercial flights before that idea was on the radar screen of most schools.

As John Stone, a successful Spokane developer who came up with the idea of offering his private plane and convinced two others to offer theirs on away-game trips, explained to me in our phone conversation "it became a way to make sure the players were back home in their beds that night and in their classrooms the next day. They are student athletes of course, not just athletes."

McCann was among the trustees and friends who over the years that followed that first private-plane travel year put up the $100,000 apiece to both pay for the flights and allow the supporters to travel on the plane with the team and have seats near the bench for those away games. By the mid-2000s, that was the routine for travel.

And it was Stone who pointed out the importance of the "family" role played by the Greater Spokane community in chipping in $6 million of the $26 million it took to build McCarthey Athletic Center, the 6,000-seat facility on the campus, competed in 2004, that opposing teams dread visiting. 

The community involvement was in the form of a "seat license" plan where members of the Spokane community committed to $4,000 to $5,000 a year to license certain seats in "the kennel" where the seats come right down to the floor.

Few's Oregon upbringing in Creswell a stone's throw from Eugene and the fact he graduated from the University of Oregon created one of the untold human-interest stories that media usually thrive on but someone missed this time.

With Gonzaga and Oregon in the Final Four, I was surprised there wasn't a lot of focus, at least some focus, on the possibility that if the Bulldogs and Ducks each won the first game, Few would have been trying to beat his alma mater.

In fact, another story is the possibility that Few might have been coaching Oregon rather than Gonzaga in this Final Four, but that story is known only in a close circle.

The conversation in basketball circles, and among Gonzaga supporters, over the years of NCAA tournament appearances, has been when would Few be attracted to a bigger opportunity.

After all, having been at Gonzaga since joining the coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1989, becoming full-time assistant a year later and becoming head coach after the school's Cinderella 1999 drive to the Elite Eight, Few's tenure has been an unprecedented loyalty to what has been viewed as a mid-level program.

The fact is that McCann, sharing the story with surprising candor, was personally aware of a full-court press Oregon's athletic director and famous alum Phil Knight put on Few several years ago to return to his alma mater. But the effort was unsuccessful in attracting him away from Gonzaga.

Supporters are aware the time may come when Few is attracted to a new challenge at another university, but everyone now knows it won't be the lure of a more respected basketball program.

Only nine schools have matched Gonzaga's 2017 record of 37 victories in a season. And Few is one of a handful of coaches to achieve 500 victories, all at the once lightly regarded Spokane school.

Few and his wife, Marcy, have three boys and a girl and in perhaps the most significant example of the importance of family to him is the story of when Few was once asked by a sports writer if the start and end of each basketball season represented the most exciting and most downer times each year.

He replied that the most exciting time each year was when his kids got out of school and he had a whole summer to spend with them and the most disappointing time was when they returned to school in the fall. So much for the appeal of fame and glory.

Gonzaga's desire for sports recognition actually dates back almost a century to 1920 when the Spokane school, with fewer than 200 students, embarked on a quixotic quest for football fame by hiring a big-time coach, Gus Dorais, who had teamed with Knute Rockne at Notre Dame to perfect the forward pass.

It was a quest, I once referred to it in a Harp some years ago, as an "Ozymandian delusion," that brought Gonzaga an improbable post-season appearance two years later against West Virginia in a 21-13 Christmas Day 1922 loss that earned Gonzaga top visibility in the next day's New York Times sports section.

That was the only moment of national football glory for Gonzaga, though the program continued until the outbreak of World War II in 1941 when it was discontinued and never brought back. During its 20-year run, Gonzaga football produced some players who became nationally prominent and one, Ray Flaherty, went on to become, for a time, the most successful coach in the National Football League in the late '30s with the Washington Redskins.

Gonzaga basketball, however, is secure now as a program nationally respected. And the "Nice Guy" and "family" characteristics engendered by Few, the school and the supporters may well become the most envied part of what Gonzaga has brought to college basketball.

McCann refers to it as "a magic carpet ride" for all the segments of the "family."
                            ----------- 

 (The above column is a personal column since my wife and I are graduates of Gonzaga and some of those I quote, Stone and Patterson, are not only friends but attended the same high school, Gonzaga Prep, and same grade school, St. Aloysius, where Few's sister is law is now principal. It doesn't get any more incestuous than that!) 

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An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

Unaccountability on the part of a public entity, no matter how well cloaked in good intentions or alleged importance of mission, inevitably leads to arrogance when there is no requirement to answer directly to anyone for decisions.

That, not surprisingly, leads to the kind of decisions that create a demand for accountability. Thus hangs the tale of Sound Transit, in the view a growing chorus of critics.

The sense is that the transportation agency officially known as the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority may suddenly be caught with its arrogance on display and feeling the pushback from a public and from lawmakers who are coming to sense a possible need to recast the organization.  

The goal of legislation that has now passed the Republican-controlled state Senate and is awaiting action in House would replace the 18 Sound Transit board members, now local elected officials from one of the three Sound Transit counties with 11 directors directly elected by voters in districts that would be created by the legislature.

The first broad perception of Sound Transit arrogance surfaced with the outcry from motor vehicle owners about the leap in the cost to renew their vehicle license after the excise tax this year had climbed dramatically, due in part to the vehicle valuation chart used by Sound Transit.

Geoff Patrick, who handles media relations and public information for Sound Transit, explained that part of the reason for the large jump in MVET fees was that, in approving ST-3, the $54 billion long-term transit package in November, voters said ok to a major increase in vehicle excise tax. 

The outcry would suggest that many voters weren't really aware of that.

Patrick was quoted earlier, as the MVET flap emerged, to the extent that Sound Transit could have used a vehicle depreciation schedule that would have meant a less expensive renewal fee but chose not to "for simplicity sake," to bring transportation relief quicker.

Then came the visibility surrounding Sound Transit's legal battle with Mercer Island over its effort to end the ability of solo drivers from the island to access I-90 high-occupancy-vehicle lanes when the existing HOV lanes are closed this summer for construction of light rail. That solo-driver access was part of an arrangement that amounted to a pledge from state transportation officials to Mercer Island residents in exchange for letting the state cut the trench for I90 across the island.

And finally, and perhaps defining for any battle to avoid accountability, came the flap over a political fundraiser for King County Executive Dow Constantine at the home of Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff for his boss and benefactor. As the flap unfolded, it became known that the planned event hosted at Rogoff's home for his boss might breach two clauses in the transit agency's own code of ethics, though it wouldn't violate any state fundraising laws, so it was moved elsewhere. But Rogoff made it clear he would still be one of the sponsors.

It might seem strange to many political observers that Constantine, who holds the most powerful position on the Sound Transit board and is seeking reelection, would stand silently in the wings, awaiting the outcome of a key fundraiser flap rather then step forward and say, "This is an inappropriate issue. I am cancelling this fundraiser."

Attendees for the party at its new location, it turns out, had to first RSVP online to learn the address. 

The disappointing thing about that is I was beginning to hope some newspaper photographer or television camera team would be on hand to document how many representatives of companies with multi-million-dollar contracts with Sound Transit would be on hand to pass some of the dollars back to the leader of the team.

A focus on those companies with multi-million contracts may soon provide more negative publicity for Sound Transit when all the details of documents detailing the breadth and depth of the value of contacts Sound Transit has signed with nearly 550 companies to provide a wide array of services begins getting close media scrutiny.

The documents were received by former King County Council member Maggie Fimia from Sound Transit in 2015 and detail all payments over $100,000 made to all entities, public and private, from 2007.

When I talked with Fimia to get copies of the array of contract documents and inquired of her thoughts upon digesting them, she said of the array of contracts: "The breadth of the take was unbelievable."

Touching on only one of the contract categories, Fimia offered "why do you need to spend $37 million on marketing and advertising if you have such a tremendous product?" And that didn't include any marketing costs for ST3.

Sound Transit's Patrick told me that a rigorous competitive-bidding process is in place for contracts with the agency, other than services like legal, accounting, marketing and others where expertise and reputation come into play, since you don't low-bid legal services, but may negotiate with the selected supplier for best price.

Fimia's 2001 defeat was allegedly aided by Sound Transit officials upset at her constant questioning of the agency's manner of operating and its dealing with the communities, questioning that clearly didn't end with her departure from the council.

Charles Collins, whose impeccable credentials as a critic of Sound Transit are even grudgingly acknowledged by the agency's board, told me Sound Transit went after Fimia because "she was a continuing thorn in their side."

"They are the 500-gorilla that no one wants to mess with and she kept messing with them, so they helped oust her," he said. She lost her reelection bid in 2001.

Collins has been a constant critic of Sound Transit's focus on high-cost rail service because all statistics, including the agency's own environmental impact statement, indicate trains won't come close to attracting enough riders to relieve congestion. More like attracting maybe 2 percent of riders.

Collins once told me that he and two former governors, Republican John Spellman and a Democrat, the late Booth Gardner, went to Sound Transit in the late '90s before the first vote embarking on rail as the key transportation underpinning with a novel new plan to provide a vehicles alternative that would carry far more passengers at far less cost.

"But they didn't even want to hear our idea because they were about building a train, not focusing on easing congestion," he said, except for Rob McKenna, then King County councilman and later the two-term Republican attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

McKenna, incidentally, also lost his role on the Sound Transit board, bounced by then-King County Executive Ron Sims for his routine questioning of board decisions and priorities.

Collins, Fimia and McKenna are among those, a list which now obviously includes some legislators, who have urged that spending and policy decisions in the future should relate to relieving congestion rather than focusing only on building a rail network.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning. 

Indeed while Sound Transit operates some of the nation's most successful express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system. 

And the fact that the mode of transportation in the region's future has unfortunately become ideological, or maybe was from the start, is the reaction of a liberal commentator on Senate passage of SB5001 and that four Democrats joined the Republican majority in passing the measure to the House.

The columnist said the four Democrats" betrayed Sound Transit and the progressive movement," and urged that "every activist and every organization who was involved in helping to pass Sound Transit 3 last year needs to pitch in to ensure that this bill gets a burial in the House of Representatives."

Rogoff is an intriguing case, having been a strong supporter of bus rapid transit and critic of the "enormous expense to build and maintain rail" while head of the Federal Transit Administration. "Busways are cheap."

Almost amusingly, now that he heads an agency dedicated to rail, he said in a speech back in 2010 that riders often want rails, "but you can entice diehard rail riders onto a 'special' bus sometimes by just painting the bus a different color than the rest of the fleet."

He hasn't yet explained at what point between then and his joining Sound Transit that he changed his position of bus over rail, which he viewed as enormously expensive to build and maintain.

If the idea of an elected board to replace the current appointed board is approved by the legislature, a new board might find it could dramatically reduce current and future expenditures by focusing on bus rapid transit and a much more zealous process of contract oversight for other than actual infrastructure expenses.

Only contracts specifically relating to construction bond covenants have been held by the court as illegal to change. That doesn't likely apply to things like contracts with law and accounting firms and advertising and marketing agencies. or construction contracts that won't have been signed when an elected board might replace the current board. 

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Baird enjoying growing fuss over his STOCK Act

Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.

But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.

Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.

Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.

Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.

And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.

Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?

And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”

But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.

Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.

He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”

Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump:  “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”

But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.

“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.

The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”

The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.

The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.

But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.

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Why preclude future voter revisit for ST-3?

When American poet John Greenleaf Whittier penned his memorable couplet "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" it was an ode to the maiden in the field and the nobleman who rode by, noticed her, but decided not to stop. It was an ode to lost love but has become a reference point to remind individuals or groups about lost opportunity.
 
Thus ever since Puget Sound voters, almost a half century ago, briefly met at the ballot a light rail package from which they turned away, the "might have been" has been dangled like a badge of shame whenever a new rail-based transportation package is discussed.

After all, Atlanta got our federal funds and built a light-rail system.

 

 

The might-have-been lament is being played again this year in the Puget Sound area, among other arguments put forth by proponents of $54 billion ST-3, a proposal that would provide a 25-year basically blank check to Sound Transit to create a system that will connect an array of communities across three counties.

 

As posed at the start of his op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, my friend Charles Collins, whose background as a civic leader and transportation expert provide impeccable credentials for the integrity of his comments: "$54 billion. Really? The sheer size of Sound Transit 3 staggers the imagination. A Google search yields nothing remotely comparable ever asked of local voters...anywhere."

 

Collins went on to point out that Sound Transit's own statistics show it won't reduce congestion, despite its election-season claims. "Buried in Sound Transit's original Environmental Impact Statement is a very different story: their own analysis indicated that there would be no difference in congestion whether the rail system were built or not built."

 

One story for an environmental impact statement and another for the voters might seem dishonest. But the fact is, I and most citizens have a respect for the integrity of individual members of the board, each a local elected official in one of three counties.

 

But I'm equally convinced that as a board, the members' candor tends to give way to the group reality that commitment of major public dollars means major income to an array of contractors, architects, professional firms, and so on. And each makes campaign contributions to those board members when they run for re-election to their local offices, which is obviously the main function of each of those elected officials, with Sound Transit board membership a secondary, or supportive, duty.

 

That's why there should be no surprise in the story this week in the Seattle Times that 62 percent of the money for the campaign on behalf of ST-3 has come from contractors, engineers, suppliers, unions and others for whom the $54 billion would be an income and jobs windfall.

 

There are many who have made the points Collins made but I quote him primarily because his views were so cogently stated in his Times' op-ed piece and because, while others may be assailed for having vested interested in opposing ST-3, even proponents of the plan would concede there's not much way to try to question his credentials.

 

Collins, incidentally, was being a little generous in saying nothing similar has been asked of local voters. The fact is that the amount local voters here are being asked to approve with ST-3 is 25 percent greater than voters in the entire state of California approved in 1968 so 800 miles of high-speed rail lines connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco could be built. So the three-county proposal is greater than even the pricetag on the most costly plan put forward in the nation's largest state.

 

The California plan, naturally described to voters in 2008 as "visionary," is to whoosh riders from Southern California to San Fran in an unheard-of two hours and 40 minutes. The trains would reduce air pollution and ease congestion on the state's famously clogged freeways and construction would create tens of thousands of new jobs. So the voters approved $9.95 billion in bonds of the $43 billion plan to usher in a new era of transit for the Golden State.

 

But times have changed, and the recent past has been a rough time for the project. The latest poll shows that 59 percent of Californians would vote against the bonds if they could do it again. Cost estimates have grown from $43 billion to at least $98 billion, and the completion date of the first phase has been pushed back 13 years.

 

If ST-3 is approved and in a few years it becomes obvious that $54 billion and 25 years are dramatic underestimates, which would parallel what is happening in California, the same inability of the voters in this region to rethink what would have become a very bad idea will amount to the same unfulfillable wish to do it over.

 

In fact, there's a double down on the logic of a voter review somewhere, ideally as stages of the project are completed, and that's what Collins and others point to as it being obvious "that we are at the threshold of the most fundamental transportation revolution since the combustion engine."

 

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles may provide a chuckle to some, but to companies ranging from Ford to Google, there's full speed ahead with the knowledge that autonomous vehicles will be here with a prominent if not dominant transportation role.

And, as Collins notes in his op-ed piece, "Opinions vary on when self-driving (autonomous) vehicles will arrive in large numbers on American streets, some say in as little as five years, some say as many as 15. No one says 2040, the year ST3 is complete."

 

"What public policies and investments will be required to take advantage of self-driving technology?" Collins questions. "New lanes? Publicly owned fleets? Contracted services with the Googles, Fords and Ubers? But whatever makes sense, it is clear that approval of ST3 rail system will commandeer all reasonably available local transportation funds for a generation and preclude any chance to advance new technology."

 

That's why I find it intriguing, in a most troubling way, to have people I basically respect being absolutely adamant in insisting there's no reason that voters should have an opportunity to review the progress of a $54 billion quarter-century plan at various intervals.

Never mind that it might be an outdated transportation mode in a quarter century.

 

To echo the most compelling of Collins' comments: "Really?"
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Key questions to ponder in education-funding battle

 

As legislators and their paid consultants struggle with how to answer the State Supreme Court’s latest education-funding question about determining “competitive market rates” for educators, a couple of thoughts press themselves to the fore as the drama moves toward a final act.

 

First, there’s an unfortunate sense that, in the press by the justices to make it clear to legislators which branch of government is ultimately in charge, what’s emerged is an effort to ensure that financial support of educators becomes the answer to education quality woes. No consideration is given to support for education in a broader sense.

 

Second, the well-worn phrase “You can’t just throw money at a problem” is one that seems to have eluded the state high court in its on-going education-funding struggle with the legislature over how much is enough.

 

At issue is the court’s January 2012 ruling, in what is now known as the McCleary case, that the legislature violated the state constitution by failing to amply fund basic education. Since then the court has found the lawmakers in contempt for not providing sufficient funding and has even threatened to take over the budgeting process (presenting what would seem to an amazing cartoonists’ opportunity).

 

Now the court has told the lawmakers to determine “competitive market rates” in terms of teacher salaries across the state and a final report on that point is due from a legislative consultant in November.

 

After that, lawmakers will try to find common ground on the sum of money required for salaries and where it is going to come from. The Legislature is supposed to take votes in 2017, or in the view of lawmakers in 2018, to put those final pieces in place in what has come to be known as the McCleary case.

 

Comes now the observation of Donald Nielsen, whom I best describe as an education “change agent,” whose views are dramatically suspect and irritating to those who disagree with him because he has no hidden agenda. He’s merely a business executive who made his fortune and decided nearly a quarter century ago to spend his time and money in the next phase of life seeking to make basic education better.

 

Nielsen is not an educator. But he is someone who is passionate about public education and has focused much of his attention on it since the early ‘90s, first traveling the country in search of education ideas that are working, then serving eight years on the Seattle School Board and a final year as president. His book, “Every School,” has brought his thoughts on education reform to the fore over the past couple of years in radio talk shows and newspaper interviews around the country.

 

“Schools do not have a funding problem, they have a regulatory problem,” Nielsen suggests. “If school administrators could spend their existing money as they believe is needed, they would spend it quite differently, and we would get better results.”   

 

His most in-your-face message is that “teachers are not underpaid, they are underemployed. This is not a compensation issue, it’s an employment issues.”

 

“The average teacher in Seattle, in 2013, was making $70,000 a year, employed  for 1320 hours,” he said. “All normal jobs employ people for 2080 hours a year so If that same teacher were employed for a normal year, his or her compensation would $110,300 a year on that 2080 basis.”

 

“Even beginning teachers who start at $40,000 a year are being paid the equivalent of $63,000 year,” he added. “In both cases, the teacher gets a benefit package that no private employer could afford to replicate.”  

 

Neither of these compensations is low,” Nielsen added.  “They are very competitive, and in rural areas, teachers are already among the best paid people in the community.”   

 

Discussion by the justices has never touched on suggesting the lawmakers focus on how the money is being spent, only how much is being spent, which makes another suggestion from Nielsen the kind of thing that at least might be in the discussion hopper.

 

“We need are variable contracts for teachers:  A nine month contract, a ten month contract and an eleven month contract, meaning the latter would make the $110,000 and the former would make the $70,000,” he said.  “Let the teachers decide what contract they want and let the district decide who gets each type of contract,” suggesting that approach could allow for some education options for different students.  

 

Unfortunately, it’s still uncertain whether the final act in this drama will be played out on the judicial or legislative stages since the nine justices of the state’s highest court have pressed the lawmakers, including with a contempt funding, to spend more dollars on education. At issue is the state’s constitutional mandate for adequate funding of basic education.

 

The justices, as far as I can tell, have never mentioned that lawmakers should also consider how the education dollars are being spent and could better education result from more insightful use of the dollars the lawmakers appropriate.

 

Maybe there’s still time, as the lines for the final act are just now being written in Olympia, for the idea of quality of expenditure rather than just quantity of expenditure to be raised.

 

In a case replete with issues relating to powerful education forces focused only on dollars, it might be worth combatants who finally seem hopeful of averting a real constitutional crisis to be aware of an unsettling statistic that Nielsen has included in his book.

In summing up the details of the chart in his book, Nielsen notes: “We now spend three times as much per child in inflation-adjusted dollars as we did in 1970 and we also have four times as many adults in our schools with only eight percent more children. And we’ve had no measurable improvement in academic achievement.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sound Transit ballot plan faces emerging challenge

As Sound Transit marks its 20th birthday, it faces the biggest-ever threat to its future in the form of an emerging transportation alternative that may well cause voters in the three Central Puget Sound counties to reject the agency's $54 billion transportation package to allow the alternative time to develop.

Not even in their darkest nightmare would Sound Transit's board and the proponents of its megabillion-dollar ballot measure likely have envisioned the emergence of a growing fervor over a new transportation innovation just as the time for a November voter decision on dramatically extending the rail-based package nears.

The transportation innovation that's attracting increasing attention is autonomous vehicles, previously referred to as self-driving cars, with both automobile and truck manufacturers projecting emergence of fully autonomous vehicles within five years. And the Seattle area is being talked up as the nation's launch region for this development because companies like Google, Car2Go and ReachNow have committed to bring that about.

The challenge facing Sound Transit is that its proposal would put a lock on the region's transportation future for the next quarter century, tying it to a system for which rail is the keystone. By then autonomous vehicles and the congestion-easing result of their emergence might well render rail the transportation innovation of yesterday.

And the uncertainty surrounding the transportation future has created a growing sense, expressed not just by Sound Transit critics but also some longtime supporters, that rather than a full-blown package committing the region to a 25-year plan, a series of packages should be placed before the voters. The most recent example of growing concern over the measure called ST-3 was the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce board's decision Tuesday to oppose it.

Those pressing the idea of sending Sound Transit back to the drawing board would seek ballot proposals in staged packages, with a vote to provide funding for one segment, which would be followed by another vote when that project was completed, and so on. Then at any point, the voters could decide times have indeed changed and no more Sound Transit rail construction is desired.

As one of those longtime supporter put it when I called to get his candid thoughts: "If you are saying the voters should be offered segments of the total plan over a period of years as each prior segment is completed, of course that's logical."

But Sound Transit, officially the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, formed in 1996 by the county councils of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, is looking to corral all 25 years' worth of funding from voters. There is a clear Sound Transit reluctance to even contemplate going back to the drawing board.

As longtime Sound Transit critic, Bellevue developer and business leader Kemper Freeman Jr., sees it, Sound Transit realizes that ST-3 is likely the last time voters might be willing to consider a mega transportation package with taxes that will hit every property owner in the three counties. Too many things, including transportation alternatives and other uses for that massive property tax amount, are certain to emerge in future years.

Intriguingly, this is the second time in its 20 years that an alternative to Sound Transit's rail focus has been offered. Despite the business and political credentials of the five people who teamed up, a year after Sound Transit began operation, to suggest a lower-cost and more efficient idea than the then-planned $1.6 billion Link Light Rail, the idea was basically brushed aside back in 2000.

The plan was called Ride Free Express, offered by two former governors John Spellman, a Republican, and Democrat Booth Gardner, along with John Runstad and Matt Griffin, two well-regarded business leaders, and Charles Collins, one of the region's long-respected transportation experts.

The plan would have eliminated fares for existing as well an expanded express bus fleet and created vanpools, reducing peak congestion by 5 percent at a price a sixth of the cost of new riders on Sound Transit's Link Light Rail, "even assuming they could build, LINK for the original $1.6 billion," Collins said. A recent Seattle Times analysis showed that in the end LINK wasn't built for that price, actually exceeding its budget by 87 percent.

"All of our projections, including that our plan would attract six times the number of new riders, flowed from well-established and independent market studies or actual transit experience," Collins notes. "Not a single board member except Rob McKenna thought that the issues we raised were even slightly interesting."

"They were committed to a project whereas we wanted to reduce congestion," Collins summarized pointly.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning.

Indeed while Sound Transit operates express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system.

Sound Transit and its proponents have routinely tried to picture the opposition as primarily Kemper Freeman., since a wealthy Eastside businessman makes an easy target for those Seattlites who view rail as something approaching Holy Grail. 

Collins, with impeccable credentials for public service, business success and transportation expertise, as well as being a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired Army Reserve Brigadier General, makes an opponent who many Sound Transit believers will find it uncomfortable to attack.

"If we are committed for 25 years and a good idea like autonomous van pools takes shape, good luck since the bond attorneys have made sure the money can't be diverted," Collins told me. "And autonomous van pools would be a good idea and could also be an energy answer."

Freeman sought this year to boost his years-long campaign for roads over rails with report he funded called Mobility 21 that outlined a fact-based alternative to the existing long-range plans. He has presented Mobility 21 at an array of speaking engagements around the region. 
Freeman told me the first presentation on the Mobility 21 study was made to officials of the Puget Sound Regional Council, which oversees dispensing federal dollars to the four counties.

"They admitted to us that the idea of autonomous cars had never been envisioned in their 25-year plan," freeman said.

Will autonomous vehicles become an ubiquitous presence on the region's roadways soon? Of course not. But technological advancements, including accident-avoidance devices, in vehicles before that happens will enhance congestion-reductions efforts. And some such technological advances could require commitment of dollars from the public, which would be more difficult to draw out if $54 billion in taxes is still being imposed.

And it's interesting that Daimler Trucks North America CEO Martin Daum talked recently about how he allowed a robotic truck to drive him nearly 25 miles, without his ever touching the steering wheel or brakes. He said his digital pilot used a combination of GPS, map data and sensors to drive the autonomous truck across highways and two-way streets.

And Freeman admitted to me, in one interview, that he has taken a half dozen trips, logging up to 125 miles, both freeway and city streets, with his autonomous Tesla. He said his hands were poised beneath the steering wheel in case his intervention was needed, bur that he never actually had his hands on the wheel.

Freeman and other ST-3 opponents haven't yet been seeking slogans for the final months of their campaign, but given the new realities facing the $54 billion plan, it could be referred at this time as "not a sound plan."
 
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