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Seattle Arena: Smiling through Port-induced sea sickness

OPINION - The Port of Seattle's opposition to the SoDo arena proposal has been baseless, disingenuous, and sickening to the stomach.

A familiar ring to it.
A familiar ring to it.
Sonics Arena

It was the day I discovered it possible to smile and projectile vomit at the same time, though I have zero desire to repeat the experiment.

Stricken by my worst case of stomach flu in years, I was glued to the couch with a bucket in my lap and a laptop on the coffee table. The bucket was my target. A live stream on the laptop caused my smile.

Dave "Softy" Mahler was doing a special broadcast on KJR to celebrate a long-negotiated arena deal between Chris Hansen and the Seattle City Council, and I gleefully listened to every second. It was the best day for fans of the Seattle Supersonics since the team's last playoff run in 2006.

Not long after that broadcast, Washington State Representative Judy Clibborn, who had previously been skeptical of the deal, fully embraced it, as documented by an article in the Seattle Times.

The revised agreement did satisfy state Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, who had previously joined other state transportation leaders in opposing the original deal negotiated by Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, and announced to the public in February.

Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, called the Port's business critical to the state economy and said even more important to her than the transportation fund was another provision of the revised deal — creation of a Port Overlay District aimed at identifying and protecting manufacturing and industrial lands from gentrification.

"This long-range look is the deal changer for me," Clibborn said.

Even the Port of Seattle seemed ready to play ball.

"I think it addresses a number of the Port's concerns. I personally am very heartened by it," said Commissioner John Creighton.

Commissioner Gael Tarleton also said she was encouraged by the terms of the new agreement.

"I feel that [the City Council] listened. We asked them to do an environmental-impact study, and they are. We asked them to look at alternative sites, and they are. I think that builds confidence and trust."

As I write this today, I don't have the flu. Heck, I don't even have the sniffles, but reading those statements makes me want to blow chunks all over again.

As Mike Baker so eloquently penned, the only hard data on the arena proposal to surface since that day has been a Full Environmental Impact Statement and an endorsement from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. Sure, there was also a report indicating potential for a $285 million renovation of KeyArena for the NBA and NHL, but the FEIS raised serious traffic concerns and there are no credible investors to pay for it.

Regardless, in spite of the fact that the FEIS revealed no significant negative impact on the Port of Seattle, that organization and those in league with it continue to oppose the project with no basis in fact.

It's even worse in Clibborn's case. She went from full embrace of the original MOU to throwing it under the bus for the maritime industry that funds her campaigns. Last week, she sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray:

I believe this decision advances the proposal for a new sporting arena before the full impact on our region and state has been fully assessed. The impacts to businesses and commuters with the existing stadiums is already quite
significant when games occur during the workweek. Such events would become more frequent and more debilitating with a new arena. ...I see a future for both sports and ports, but we must be thoughtful and thorough in building toward that future.

In what world does two and a half years of environmental study not qualify as "thoughtful and thorough"? How many more years will be required for Clibborn to dub the project as "fully assessed"? When she said "This long-range look is the deal changer for me" in 2012, she must have meant for the look itself to last a really long time.

If State Representative Tarleton were to honestly revisit her statement from three years ago, she would say something like "The City Council didn't just listen. They acted. When we asked them to do an environmental-impact study, they worked on one for over two years and got it done. When we asked them to look at alternative sites, they did so. To my surprise, SoDo was found to be the best location after all. They justified my confidence and trust."

Instead of saying those things, she's trying to set sail on the good ship M.T. Phoenix, which is guaranteed to run aground again.

It's clear that the only FEIS these people would accept is one that agrees with the Port on all counts, and that forces the arena to be built elsewhere. I don't know why they truly oppose this and I no longer care, but "confidence and trust" is a two-way street. Unfortunately, it's the only street they are interested in vacating.

Yet, in the midst of my Port-induced sea sickness, we are a month or so away from a street vacation vote. The mayor seems committed to making it happen, and our position seems none the worse for wear as we near the end of the election saga. With the majority of decision makers, the Port has placed itself permanently in the margins on this issue.

I find myself smiling once again.