#10 The Matrix

Last time we talked about having a real strategy and being intentional in everything you do. This time, I want to mention sort of the elephant in the room when people wonder whether or not we can succeed. Namely, that we’ve been here before–more than once.

What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that we are now at the fourth expansion of the airport since the 70’s. The FOURTH. Most people seem to think that ‘the trouble’ with the Port goes back to the 90’s. Negatory, Good Buddy. The Seventies. And before.

You have to understand that we are now going through a process that the Port has gone through several times. A lot of the people working at the Port have been through one or more of these ‘processes’. So the Port has an INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY. Which you do not. You are laser-focused on now. And unfortunately that means you’re probably ignoring a MUCH bigger picture.


This process we’re going through is like that movie The Matrix. Not the good one. I mean the two crap sequels. (Revolutions or Reloaded. I forget which). But somewhere in there, Keanu learns that the fight he is engaged in has happened FIVE times before. The Machines have this huge battle with some Hero-Guy, everything gets blown to hell, and then the Machines grow a new crop of people and the whole Shebang start over again. Of course, since all the people are killed in each war, no one (except the Machines) remembers that there even was a previous war. To the new people trapped inside The Matrix, it’s all new.

That’s the deal around Sea-Tac. You probably didn’t know there was a big fight over the first expansion. Or the second. Maybe you know a little about the 3rd Runway, but not all that much. Why is that? Well for one thing, most of the people who were around during these previous conflicts have either died or moved away. They’ve been replaced with a new crop of people who have NO idea what happened before. Just like The Matrix.

The Port benefits tremendously from this. You come into this completely unprepared. But they come into it with a boat load of institutional knowledge on how to make the process go smoothly. They have learned from each iteration. Just like The Matrix.


Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Or however that *Santana quote goes. (Who knew a guitar player could be so profound, right?) A very good thing to do would be to read as much history about the previous conflicts.

I’ll tell you two things I have learned.
1) Each expansion is a total drag for the community. The residents are NOT happy with the process and a whole mess of them move away. They all felt powerless, just like you do now.

2) But a few (it’s always a relative few) find ways to make the process as painful as humanly possible for the Port. Somehow the process is always fraught with cost overruns and mismanagement.

Today, our task is to be as resilient, creative and imbued with as much grit as they were. Win or lose, I believe we must make this as painful as possible. And we must (somehow) try to pass on what we’ve gone through to the future. So that if they try it again, they will have an even worse time than before.


Now where can you learn about prior wars? I’m trying to get that together here. A lot of it has not been digitized, of course. And the Seattle PI, which was the paper that gave the most coverage has gone under. Also, the Des Moines local paper has been folded into West Side Seattle Weekly and a lot of that coverage was never scanned in either. So a lot of my research has been (shock) reading newsprint.

But more than that, what really needs to happen is to collate all that stuff into some digestible summaries. Again, I’m workin’ on it. It’s slow work, but I’m a gettin’ there, Bessie.


Another real problem is that, if you don’t have access to history, you can’t research history. In other words, you have to know that a certain court case occurred in order to do research on it, right? You don’t know what you don’t know. There are a lot of pieces of information, especially when it comes to studies of environmental impacts, that the Port and other agencies actually have on file. But you have to know they were done, and you have to know where they are located, in order to request them from whatever agency they may be filed away in.

That may seem like bad news, but it’s actually got a huge silver lining: once you find some of these things, you start to realize that a lot of the environmental impacts have already been studied. The Port already knew about them and local governments already knew about them. So with some studying, we can see a pattern of bad practices by the Port which span decades.


Now you’re probably wondering about ‘lessons learned’. What can we actually do with knowing about the previous expansions. First of all, I take comfort in knowing how things are going to go. Even if I had been diagnosed with some terrible disease, I’d want to know what the likely game plan is going to be, so that I can prepare.

1) A lot of people are going to move away. We currently see this.

2) Relatively few people will do the fighting. Again, we currently see this. The people who fight must be incredibly resilient.

3) The expansion is not going to go smoothly for the Port. Take some comfort in the fact that we locals are going to find ways to throw a monkey wrench in the system. There will be mismanagement, if not outright corruption. Many tax dollars will be wasted.


On the other hand, not everything is written in stone.

1) We may or may not be compensated. Some expansions (like the 3rd Runway) have been disastrous for the locals because the Port provided them with either nothing in return or onerous compensation. But some expansions (like the first one to lengthen the 1st Runway) gave fairly generous buyouts to impacted locals. So we are not necessarily doomed to get nothing for our pain and suffering.

2) We can learn from prior expansions! Now that we know we’ve already seen this movie a few times, we do not necessarily have the same outcome. This is HUGE in my opinion. We have all this data from prior expansions where concerned residents already studied the impacts. We can show the environmental impacts over time. Even better, we can show a pattern of bad faith dealing by the Port during each expansion. So when it comes to legislation or litigation, we can demonstrate that this repetitious behaviour is what it is: a conscious decision by the Port–acting as a proxy for the airlines and the State–to willfully place profit ahead of resident health.


Now the Port’s job is to try to avoid talking about any prior expansions. Ever. Their job is to constantly put the focus on now. Look at all the cool benefits of air travel for the region! And if they do have to refer to the past, they will say, “This time will be different!”

Your job, in contrast, is to be constantly messaging anyone who will listen: We have been here before. The Port always has and always will deal with us unfairly. They have proven that they do not value us.


What we’re doing is largely a repeat of past expansions. Which is bad, but not all bad. We can accurately predict that it will be ugly for all sides, but this time we are better armed than ever before with information about past treatment and all the nasty environmental impacts of prior expansions. We need to educate ourselves as much as we can about that past. And when we do, we can use that information to fight by constantly making our message: The Port is a serial offender. Just look at what they have done.

OK, that quote isn’t really from Carlos Santana.

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