A Letter To The Port Of Seattle Commissioners

At today’s general meeting you got not one, but two doses of my fantastic eloquence. Lucky you. There were two points I wanted to make to flesh out what I said. It’s always hard (at least for me) to be that brief and actually make sense on such complex issues. Hopefully I’ll better make the first point in this letter and for clarity make the other point under separate cover.

The entire framework of your (cough) relationship with the airport communities is based on an adversarial approach. This has been disastrous for us and immensely wasteful for both parties. The only reason you may not notice it is because, frankly, the Port Of Seattle is not subject to a great deal of critical pressure when it comes to cost control. Unlike a public corporation you don’t have to deal with those pesky shareholder conference calls. And when it comes to us voters and the press? I dunno if you’ve noticed, but I’m literally the only person still present at most meetings after the Public Comment portion of the floor show.

Specifically, do you have any idea how much money both sides spent, just in legal fees, fighting over the 3rd Runway? Does $30 million sound outrageous? It does to me. Now try thirty five. Because that’s more likely the accurate number. The communities gave up after about $14 million. But the Port’s costs were necessarily much higher and based on the financials I’ve looked at they were most likely at least $20 million.

By making legal action the only form of dialog for serious negotiation, you not only behave in an immoral manner (none of the cities can hope to compete with your legal budget), you waste a whole lot of time, energy and money on both sides. And again as a taxpayer, I object to my taxes being used to fight the airport communities when a more cost-effective manner of resolving issues could be found. (Des Moines sure could have used a few million dollars of those legal fees ten years ago.)

In my second smash, hit soliloquy I said that the primary benefit of the last minute change to the 2019 Tax Levy was that it was (finally) an admission that the Port can provide direct mitigation dollars for the airport communities. The only problem was that it was, in typical Port fashion, a miniscule amount wrapped in layer upon layer of complex and vague packaging. Specifically, you’re offering $375,000 in direct mitigation money out of a five year $25 million package. How it looks to us? You wanted a $25 million press release. But you only wanted to actually pay $375,000 cash for it. Not cool. (Yes, there were other jobs programs in there, fine, but you didn’t call it a ‘jobs’ program, you called it an ‘airport communities’ program’.)

The solutions to so many problems with the airport communities are very easy:

1. Stop making litigation the only way to obtain meaningful relief in a timely fashion. There are no issues that cannot be worked out very quickly if you stop making every issue like pulling teeth. It’s not merely immoral, but it should offend every taxpayer that the Port, which is, after all, a construct of the State, wastes so much money that could be easily worked out through simple negotiation.

2. Stop fighting the notion that you should pay a fairly negotiated price to residents for operating the airport in our back yards. We don’t want the moon. But the notion that you’re “doing all you can” as is implied in your Legislative Agendas is offensive. And when you pay us? Keep the deals plain. We are a simple folk and unaccustomed to the ways of the big city.

In fact, you’re operating from a position of unnatural power–a power unlike that of any other airport operator in the nation. This has given you the ability to do great things economically for the region, but it has also allowed you to get away with terrible insults to the airport communities and the attendant environment. What has not been discussed much is that this power also gives you the ability to do far more to help heal these communities than any other major U.S. airport operator.

And that is the subject of my second letter.



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