by Cliff Cawthon, columnist
Most everyone I know woke up in shock this morning to the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential race. Last night, most left leaning election night parties across Seattle and King County held a cloud of fear and bewilderment over them. One of the few bright spots, for supporters of mass transit at least, was the victory of the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package.
Initiative supporters, politicians, King County and Seattle City Hall Staff, and transit enthusiasts all packed into the Crocodile in Belltown. As party-goers crammed into the concert space, they booed and cheered at the national election results as returns came in. The mood quickly alternated and the attention of most at the party shifted from ST3 to what was going on with the presidential race that senior campaign staff had to personally go into the crowd and inform people it had passed.
The victory of the ballot initiative indeed served as a bright spot away from the national election for those in attendance at the party. Regional Proposition 1 (as ST3 was known on the ballot) is expected to transform transportation in the metropolitan area for generations to come with this planned expansion that will extend the system further in South King County and deliver South Seattle’s much awaited Graham Street station.
It will bring light rail to Ballard, West Seattle, and Snohomish County. The Emerald City is scheduled to have 29 light rail stations upon the initiatives full implementation; it will also connect Tacoma’s truncated streetcar with the rest of the transportation system.
The campaign staff all applauded the results onstage alongside County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Executive Director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, Shefali Ranganathan.
This package was hailed as an achievement that set Seattle apart from the rest of the country. In a statement, Seattle City Councilmember and Sound Transit Board Member Rob Johnson said, “ST3 is about so much more than light rail. It’s about realizing the vision of the kind of region we want to be as we grow and the values we will embrace” and according to Mayor Murray, that meant equity and opportunity, “because of what we’re focusing on, transportation is about being able from getting from A to B, it’s also about focusing on housing, having an affordable place to live and work”.
Murray’s counterpart in Tacoma, Mayor Marilyn Strickland agreed it was a “game changer”. Tacoma and the Southern suburbs of Seattle are often left behind and feel that there’s a class antagonism with their northern neighbors, however, Strickland described the victory as giving Tacomans an opportunity to improve their lot alongside Seattleites as “[ST3] will benefit the local economy through job creation, tourism and more transit options for our residents”.
The transit expansion has been both criticized, and built in relation to what policy wonks call the ‘suburbanization of poverty’, which is the process by which many have been pushed out of Seattle and the metro area, a grim reality for many former South End residents.
One of the main drivers of this impoverishment is the lack of access to affordable housing and gainful employment. For equity focused community organizations that were a part of this effort, in additions to unions such as IBEW, they hope that the programs springing from the implementation of this package, such as the priority hiring of local workers in the South King County and around all the light rail stations, can address the rising suburban wealth inequity.
Shaunie Wheeler, the Political Action Director of IBEW 77 explained that “as we’ve seen in the implementation of the ST2 project that there’s no doubt that the implementation of the project initiated gentrification, yet with labor we see the opportunity to create good jobs which counters that process. With Trump in the oval office, we’ve seen that in addition to being a racist and sexist, he’s also against collective bargaining. As a young woman of color, collective bargaining gives me the opportunity to support my family with a living wage job”.
She then went on to generalize the whole labor movement’s desire to broaden its movement to intentionally include communities of color, “When we take up this projects, we look at how we can avoid creating a recession in those communities and instead how we can bring them into our movement and empower them”.
In the package, there is also a housing affordability component that ST3’s more institutional designers say would encourage affordable housing at the stations. The package’ language includes Right of First Refusal – affordable housing developers will be the first ones allowed to bid on 80 percent of unused land surrounding each new light rail station.
Despite ST3’s promise, the announcement of a vile white supremacist in the White House seemed to make the event fizzle out with only about half of the initiative’s supporters remaining towards the end of the party. Those who did remain seemed encouraged by the prospect of a connected region, yet discouraged at how that region could be isolated politically from the national scene as the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate fell firmly into Republican control.
After the party ended, many party-goers, me included ventured to the Westin where the Washington State Democrats were hosting a watch-party open to the public. When I entered the ground floor, many of the staff and attendees were outside talking, contemplating and consoling concerned attendees.
As I left, one thing seemed apparent: Trump and white supremacy won yesterday. For our little bubble of progressivism in Seattle, the metro area and not necessarily all of Washington (as many state races show) it was rattling to say the least.
Before I ended the night, I spoke with ST3’s Campaign manager and Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC’s) Advocacy Director, Abagail Doerr. She welcomed people to engage TCC and other stakeholders in early February at a community meeting designed to begin the implementation process with the community, instead of on top of it.