Republican Backed Bill to Change Sound Transit’s Board Has Rep. Tomiko Santos’ Support

by Cliff Cawthon

Longtime South Seattle state representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-37) was called out by transit supporters two weeks ago for signing onto a Republican bill (currently in committees in the House and Senate) that would make the Sound Transit Board of Directors an elected board.

Currently, the 18-member board consists of elected officials from cities and counties within the Sound Transit service area, along with the secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. Cities like Seattle are represented on the board through their elected officials; the new system would replace officials like Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine with board members elected separately from much smaller geographic districts.

HB 1029 (and its Senate Companion SB 5001) would transform the Sound Transit Board of Directors into an elected non-partisan board chosen from nineteen districts subject to taxation by Sound Transit (here’s the map) and would include the Secretary of State as a non-voting member.

This is not necessarily a revolutionary proposition, however, as voters do have a say in who represents them on the Board when they vote for local and county officials.

Rep. Tomiko Santos had a scheduling conflict and could not respond immediately to a request from the Emerald for comment on the bill. However, a staffer said Tomiko Santos supports the bill because she believes the 37th District (which includes the Rainier Valley, Central District, and the International District), has “not been well served by the status quo.”

The bill itself has been proposed on and off for the last four years by more conservative legislators from South King County and aggrieved legislators from Seattle’s South End; particularly, the 11th Legislative District (Beacon Hill, Georgetown South Park, Tukwila and Renton).

Sen. Steve O’Ban (R- 28, Lakewood/University Place) is no fan of Sound Transit. O’Ban’s office responded to questions by the Emerald, and clarified why he has reintroduced this bill:

“The answer is accountability. ‘No taxation without representation’ is an established, bipartisan principle of American government. Elections would make board members directly accountable—and they’d be accountable specifically for their decisions on Sound Transit issues.”

O’Ban also argues that the makeup of the board leaves larger suburban cities in South King County without direct representation. However, of the 18 Sound Transit Board members mayors, city council members, and county executives from each of the transportation district’s various areas provide indirect representation. 

Transportation Choices Coalition policy director Ricardo Gotla, whose organization spearheaded the ST3 campaign, says, “We acknowledge that Sound Transit isn’t perfect, but we don’t think that this bill would add transparency.”As local elected officials, Gotla says the board members can serve as a“bridge [between] the local community, planning departments, and engineers to Sound Transit…thus reducing time for project development and saving the agency money and bringing light rail sooner.”

As local elected officials, Gotla says the board members can serve as a“bridge [between] the local community, planning departments, and engineers to Sound Transit…thus reducing time for project development and saving the agency money and bringing light rail sooner” to areas currently without any service.

One particular future project that Gotla was referring to is the Graham Street Infill station in the heart of Tomiko Santos’ district.

Velma Veloria, the chair of the Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Communities of Color, and an advocate for the Graham infill station says that “without [the station] it leaves a two-mile gap that makes it really hard for people in the neighborhood, especially the elderly to access sound transit”.

On Monday, February 13 a petition to advocate for Sound Transit fast-tracking the project was updated by Karen Uffelman, a resident in the 37th Legislative District, to reference Tomiko Santos’ support of the bill.

Uffelman says that “we need experienced leadership for Sound Transit by people who understand transportation systems, and the stipulations of Tomiko Santos’ co-sponsored bill look to put that in serious jeopardy.”

img_20160320_180015Cliff Cawthon is a Seattle-based writer originally from New York’s queen city, Buffalo. Clifford has been civically engaged since he was a teenager in Buffalo and his advocacy work taking him to places as far away as Cuba.  He’s also an alumnus of the University of Manchester, in the UK, where he graduated with an M.A. in Human Rights and Political Science.



10 thoughts on “Republican Backed Bill to Change Sound Transit’s Board Has Rep. Tomiko Santos’ Support”

  1. My message emailed to Santos (also Pettigrew & Saldana):

    ” District Elections of Sound Transit Board members (bill # 1029 / 5001) is a really bad idea, especially from the point of view of public accountability. Sound Transit projects are regional, so they require regional cooperation, especially among the various cities and counties.

    District board representatives would often be beholden to special interests. They would not necessarily be in tune with local governments, let alone regional priorities or transportation technologies.

    Then there is the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. As the recent vote on ST3 demonstrates, Sound Transit is doing remarkably well.

    Not that some decisions could not have been better from a long range and regional point of view. After all, who on the ST Board represents the full region or future generations? – No one. So why not 4 new board members? – 3 at large (by proportional representation) and 1 under 40 (elected by voters under 40)?”

    Rainier Valley, of course, has been extremely well served by Sound Transit. And now that the financial situation is better, and that major growth is occurring in Rainier Valley, the postponed Graham Street Station will be added as well.

  2. I talked to an aide to the Representative and getting the other side of the story is really critical here. It’s not about not supporting Mass Transit, but about holding S.T. accountable. As you know, they have made some very bad decisions about mass transit in the Rainier Valley, going at grade (rather than tunneling, as they did north of I-90 and through Beacon Hill) and having the largest gap between stations in the RV. I am sure Representative Santos has some good reasons to be upset at Sound Transit. It’d be nice to get their side.

    1. You need to know the name of the campaign against Sound Transit (and the city and county) 15+ years ago now: “Tunnel or Nothing”. That is, they wanted light rail in a tunnel or not at all (over by the airport). In fact, we almost lost the light rail due to this campaign (Mayor Paul Schell offered us a SLU type street car instead).

      You also need to know that the voters had turned down a Metro type system in 1995, so a cheaper and more versatile light rail system was proposed in 1996 and passed. Less expensive meant that it would go on the surface in some locations, like other light rails around the country. Especially it meant that tunneling, which is very expensive, would only be done where it could really be justified (a hill to go through or under, inadequate surface right of way, high degree of development, etc).

      Rainier Valley did not fit any of the tunneling criteria, and the locals didn’t want elevated. This was fortunate from my point of view, as the major benefits of tunneling or elevated are for outsiders who want to speed through, not for locals. For us, it has had the neighborhood friendliness of a street car, plus a complete rebuiding of MLK, now a far safer street and much easier to cross – less of a barrier. I love our light rail just the way it is.

      So Santos has her reasons, but they are certainly not good reasons, or well thought out. And this is not an isolated example.

      1. Dick, all good background but no response to the substantive nature of her support of this bill. You write: “So Santos has her reasons, but they are certainly not good reasons, or well thought out. And this is not an isolated example…” Can you elaborate? Are you aware this bill has little chance of getting a hearing, much less passing and becoming law and is a way to rattle the cage of Sound Transit, or do you favor giving Sound Transit a blank check?

      2. Sound Transit has never had a blank check and never will. In fact, in my judgement it has often lacked the power to say No to local factions that are embedded in the past. Formerly it was people in Tukwila who did not want light rail to sully their beloved suburban environment along 99. Now it is people who want the light rail to go along I-5 (iike a commuter rail), bypassing many good places for future transit oriented development. Finally now ST is attempting to stand up to the rich people on Mercer Island who demand special privileges (their own I-90 lanes).

        And, as I said, if Santos and friends had had their way, we wouldn’t have light rail in Rainier Valley today (precisely because ST did not have a blank check). Note also, the basic “Save Our Valley” argument was that since tunneling was much more expensive, it must be better, so Rainier Valley was being slighted when it wasn’t tunneled like Capitol Hill was. Pretty adolescent, as even big city metro systems don’t tunnel outside their dense areas unless there are geographic or similar speical circumstances.

      3. That’s not what Ray Akers reports. He says the FTA strongly recommended against at grade. Also, did you ask Representative Santos about her reasons for co-sponsoring the bill?

      4. Ray Akers was one of the leaders of “Save Our Valley”, and continues as the premier NYMBY in Rainier Valley. You can not trust what he says – he has a long history of misrepresentation and intimidation. It would have been relatively easy to do elevated in Rainier Valley, definitely cheaper than tunneling but more than at-grade and most people opposed it.

        Note: When about 15 of us from the Faith Action Network were in Olympia last week to meet with our reps, Santos once again found a reason not to meet with us, as she has for many years now (Pettigrew met with us, as he always has, eager to explain the sorry state of politics in Olympia to us, waving his staff away for an extra 15 minutes). Santos has not responded to my email.

    2. They did at-grade through Rainier Valley because the tunnels were part of a separate project, and ST had already been blocked from funding for a tunnel or above-grade system. The voters basically left them with no alternative. The other advantage to at-grade is easy access to shops etc along the way.

      If Santos was so concerned, maybe she would have found funding for tunnels instead of worrying so much about de-regulating payday lending (and accepting their bribes).

  3. Hello Paul,

    Please read the fifth paragraph down from the top. We did reach out to the Representative’s office. We were unfortunately unable to get an extensive comment but, we spoke to an aide and reference it there. Thanks.