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ILWU responds to Occidental vacation recommendation

We go point by point through the ILWU response.

In a press release issued today, the ILWU Local 19 responded to Mayor Ed Murray and the SDOT's recommendation for the vacation of a section of Occidental Ave to make room for Chris Hansen's multi-purpose arena. The statement reads like a spoiled child who has not gotten their way and is filled with false rhetoric and threats. Here are some of the saltier parts, along with our response.

The recommendation really doesn't mean much more than that the mayor punting a dying Sodo arena deal to the new City Council.

This is the most juvenile part of the letter, in which ILWU basically says "psh, whatever, I don't even care." Clearly you do care, or else you wouldn't be writing this letter.

We also now know that the Seattle Center is a viable site for a new arena.

Viable? Maybe. I'm still waiting to hear from either league on that point. However, the SoDo location is not only optimal, the arena would be much better, seeing as how it's being built from the ground up, with more amenities and a larger footprint and not just shoehorned into a current location.

No council member who wants to be re-elected is going to vote for a taxpayer-subsidized SoDo arena...

This is the first threat of the letter, where they basically say that they will try and force out any council member who votes for the arena. It also erroneously calls the SoDo arena "taxpayer-subsidized." Going back to Chris Daniels's article from yesterday;

The Memorandum of Understanding, approved in 2012, calls for up to $200 million in project public financing, repaid by Hansen’s group, as long as he acquires an NBA and NHL team for the facility.

The letter continues;

This section of Occidental is a crucial traffic release valve in SoDo’s freight and rail network during all game events.

This is also erroneous, and was addressed in the letter from Murray and SDOT;

"It should also be noted that the Heavy Haul Route legislation, passed (by the council) in October 2015, only identifies Occidental Avenue South as a "Heavy Haul Route" from South Horton Street to South Holgate Street. The segment proposed to be vacated is not included in the Port's important Heavy Haul Network. This is a clear sign that Occidental is not necessary to freight movement or Port Operations."

That would be the Heavy Haul Route legislation that the Port helped craft. Maybe they should have included it in there if it's so crucial.

The recommendation re-affirms that the environmental and economic review of the proposed Sodo arena is a sham and that the SoDo location was predetermined.

Well, yeah, it was predetermined. That's why Hansen bought the land. That doesn't negate the years of research put into comparing it to other locations, including KeyArena, Memorial Stadium, and more. Speaking of which...

We are confident a court will find that the arena is a public project that needs a credible analysis of alternatives sites.

We did that. It's called the FEIS, it took two and a half years, and it's available online, herehere, and here.

To me, the arena grapes are sweet as sugar, but the ILWU seems to find them quite sour.


Matt Tucker made some excellent points in the comments section that I wanted to make sure everyone saw. First, on the "public vs. private" argument:

One of the sure-to-be-heavily-contested aspects of the environmental review is that the project was identified by SEPA law to be a "private" project. The expected argument is that, given that public financing will be used on the project creating a public-private partnership, that automatically qualifies it as a "public" project for the purposes of review.

Why is this such a big deal?

Well, it changes the requirements of review by law. In a public project, an environmental review requires a preferred location with at least two build options on that location, a minimum of one or more alternative locations to build a similar project, and a no-action alternative that studies leaving things the way they are. In a private project, the review only requires one or more alternative builds at the preferred location and the no-action alternative. As the Seattle Arena project was identified as a "private" project, it is legally only required to offer the second set conditions for review.

So, why is the project classified "private" if it is going to involve public financing and the transfer of land and arena ownership to the city? Because the project was initiated by private investment — indeed, the land set aside as the preferred location for the project is still currently privately-owned — and because the project will still be majority privately financed, it met the requirement to be classified "private" under SEPA law.

But hold on a minute, ILWU and other opposition. Before you rant and rave at the "ridiculousness" of such a thing in court, let’s pay attention to what was negotiated on behalf of the city and county in the MOU agreement. As one of the stipulations for public involvement, the city and county required that, even though the project is classified "private" under SEPA law, the environmental review be treated like that for a public project. They required that alternative locations be reviewed or it was "no dice" on their participation.

SEPA law is in place strictly to consider the environment in any construction projects. It is not designed as a deterrent to development, nor should it be used to unfairly run a project through a gauntlet as a means to dissuade a project from moving forward. The intent of environmental review is determine the potential environmental impacts, as well as what mitigation efforts need to be taken in regards to those impacts. At times, the mitigation can be found to be too costly for a project to move forward. In the case of the SoDo arena, it helped to identify those hurdles toward making the project a reality.

Explained in the methodology of the environmental review in the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued on May 7, 2015, the private investment group started with over 20 locations through the greater Seattle city area that could support such a facility and winnowed those down to the four options worthy of review: a 20,000-seat arena at the SoDo location (the preferred option), an 18,000-seat arena at the SoDo location, a 20,000-seat arena on the site of the current KeyArena, and a 20,000-seat arena on the site of the current Memorial Stadium. In addition to the no-action alternative, this went above and beyond the SEPA requirements for review. Yet, the ILWU and Port will continue to beat the drum that the review was somehow inefficient.

Sorry, guys. You are flat-out wrong.

And secondly on the viability of KeyArena:

Let’s not forget two points about KeyArena:

  • The AECOM report that has been heavily touted of late to increase support for a KeyArena remodel — which still has to be given a thumb’s up by both the NBA and NHL — found that using the Key site as a sports facility wasn’t necessarily the best use. Those in favor of this seem to conveniently neglect that point.
  • And if an arena is built outside of Seattle, it will kill the viability of KeyArena. The SoDo project is the only one that actually takes the Key into consideration and offers to provide funding and inclusion in event coordination to do something about it.
Even the AECOM report found that doing a one-sport option at KeyArena (NHL, specifically) was a money-losing proposition over the long-run. The two-sport option was found to be an absolute must, but even then, the given location and footprint of the Key site limited the amount of positive income the Key remodel would offer.

But who needs to pay attention to pesky studies. They’re all shams unless they say what we want them to say, right?