Have you ever been in a relationship that you knew was bad for you? And not just you, I mean for both of you? But for any number of reasons, you just keep slugging it out, year after year. You (or they) keep telling yourself all the reasons it’s good for you. Or maybe it’s not even you doing the talking. Maybe it’s your friends, your family, people you work with. Everyone else is telling you how you should find a way to make this work. And yet… you’re miserable.
At today’s public comment in Olympia, city council members from SeaTac and Des Moines showed up in support of Karen Keiser’s bill SB5370 to site a second airport. They all pointed out the recent rapid growth in enplaned passengers and the small physical size of Sea-Tac Airport. Those factors alone would be sufficient in most regions to consider siting another airport. But Senator Keiser took great pains to tactfully say, without actually saying itm that our region has not exactly behaved like other regions. Because, hey, we never like to say things too directly here now do we?
In talks with Port Commissioners, municipal, county and state leaders over the past two years I’ve come to see our situation as very much like the sad co-dependent relationship I opened with.
And the reason I’m bringing up all this melodramatic shtick is because I’m pretty sure that Senator Keiser’s bill is going to pass. (Hell, even the Port Of Seattle showed up, claiming they were in support of the bill–more on that in a quick sec.) That is not the problem. What I am worried about is that, because this will be such a looooooooooooooong slog, the Port Of Seattle will find ways to inject itself into this process and prevent the establishment of a truly independent and competitive second regional airport. They can’t help themselves. Because, like I keep trying to tell ya, institutionally, they stopped being a ‘Port’ long ago. They’re an ‘economic engine’ that uses that juicy Port money to fuel development. And they will never let go of any drop of possible revenue.
It’s not about the capacity
So my public comment (57:00) said what the electeds could not or would not say: a second airport is not about reducing traffic at Sea-Tac. Any person knowledgeable on capacity planning will tell you that we can’t build our way out of our problems, any more than we can build our way out of roadway capacity issues. Instead, this second airport needs to happen in order to provide some real competition for the Port Of Seattle. We need another airport in order to break the almost pathological co-dependency between the Port and the rest of the region when it comes to handling the region’s insatiable need to grow! Grow! GROW!
Because both sides have been so obsessed with one another that they have simply refused to even consider other reasonable alternatives for decades! We need a second airport simply to show cities like Seattle and Bellevue: You don’t need the Port Of Seattle in order to thrive. By freeing the region from their nightmare dependency issues, we help ourselves. By offering businesses on the North and East sides a real alternative to Sea-Tac, we can begin to have more rational discussions about impacts here even before that second airport comes on-line. And a Port that is less obsessed about meeting everyone else’s needs is a Port that should be easier to negotiate with about our needs.
Now back to that ‘support’ from the Port lobbying team .
So literally one minute after I get done with my mini-Jeremiad warning against the Port’s many decades of weaselly lobbying efforts against a second airport two entirely predictable things happened: First, a conservative elected feels that he just has to mention that, although there may be some noise and pollution at Sea-Tac, the airport generates a great deal of value for Seattle. That reflexive action could’ve occurred in any county or city hall I’ve been in over the years. Somebody always feels it is their duty to speak up on behalf of commerce! (As if it were some under-valued part of society.) Fine. But that was followed immediately by the Port lobbyist giving his support for the bill, which isn’t really support but rather a call for more study about when the region might reach full capacity and…
I want to interrupt this post for a moment to mention that, in the the twenty five years I’ve lived out here I thought I knew what ‘passive aggressive’ meant. People in this part of the world are world-class at not being direct. But watching politics as the Port Of Seattle Government Relations Staff in action always makes me realize that there are levels of attainment I still have not even dreamed of. Today’s performance was like some 24th Level Masonic Master Class.
The takeaway is that, yeah you’ll get yer second airport. But good luck getting the truly independent competition that will provide the airport communities the relief we deserve. And as I always say, the only chance we have of successfully getting the right kind of deal is to have our own Airport Professional working full-time to counter the Port’s efforts. Because remember, this is the long game. We’ll need someone who is on the case, working meetings and hearings like this relentlessly for the next twenty fucking years. Good results won’t happen without the continuity that only committed professionals can provide. The Port has their team and we’ll need ours. Duuuuuh.
If you build it. They might not come.
Oh wait, I almost forget. Here’s the really sick part. Co-dependence works both ways. That’s what puts the ‘co’ in the dependency. During the siting and construction period, while the Port Of Seattle is figuring out ways to deep six any possible alternative suitors, the rest of the region will also be having second thoughts. Cities on the SCATbd that voted to site a second airport will have second thoughts when the next recession hits. And I fully expect city councils in any of the airport communities to cave at the next whiff of financial difficulty. And of course the big players like Seattle and Bellevue? Regardless of any tentative interest in the benefits of a new airport, they’ll all feel that constant urge to want to keep as much work at Sea-Tac as possible. It is entirely possible that a new airport could be built, the doors open and… no one shows up for the dance. Because the Port Of Seattle just keeps right on building at Sea-Tac. Because no one is there to stop them from continuing to use technology to cram more operations day and night onto the same footprint and handle the logistics with all those shiny new warehouses and roadways we built for ’em along 200th in exchange for a few million in one time money. Way to go, team.
Long Game. Short Attention Span.
The thing I always fear most about this area is our short attention span. Because no matter what the Port Of Seattle does to us? Give it a few years and we always come back for more. And it’s been that way since 1962.
As I tell everyone, four of the current Port Commissioners have told me in various ways something like the following: “We understand your concerns, but we have a mandate and we can’t stop ourselves. If you want to save your area, you’ll have to go to the State and compel us to make the changes you want made.”
I would almost use those same words to describe how our local lawmakers have behaved. Frankly, many of our own leaders, not far away but in our airport communities, have not had the courage to even try to stop the Port. In fact, they actually bought into the Port’s marketing blather. Many of our leaders at the city, county, state and federal levels were on the other side of that co-dependent relationship. After the 3rd Runway, it is they who were (and are still) the enablers that have made it so hard to make any substantial change in our circumstances.
Saving Us From Ourselves
Don’t kid yourself. This co-dependency thing is real. So many of us have gotten so used to having the Port involved in our area, it’s hard to imagine life without them. It’s really hard for a lot of us to even admit that they were not good for us all these years. And that’s why it’s gonna be so damned hard to get a functional second airport. And that is why we need a pro to work this issue for us. Because frankly? Given all the emotional baggage so many of our electeds carry around about the Port? They’re just not strong enough to do it on their own. We need a system of laws and procedures in place that ensure that the environment, our health and our homes are protected–even if future lawmakers relapse into wanting to make the same bad decisions that got us to where we are now.
We’re all part of decades of that co-dependence. So this tension will never end. Not when they begin construction of a second airport. Not when they open the gates on a second airport. Not as long as Sea-Tac is being run by the Port Of Seattle. We will always need dedicated professionals to manage our relationship with the Port Of Seattle.