Continuity (StART Meeting 12/19/18)

Often the most important, but under-appreciated form of knowledge for any government is known as “institutional knowledge”. It is the knowledge that carries forward seamlessly from one government to the next. It is typically carried in the heads of a few key long-time employees. If it is not intentionally valued it is usually lost and is never fully re-created because it is so cost prohibitive.

Imagine a town near a big river. And there were several other towns on the shore of the same river. Historically, every ten or fifteen years, this town, like all the other river towns was almost guaranteed to flood.

If you bought a house in that town, wouldn’t you kinda expect that the Mayor of that town and the rest of the government was somewhat conversant in how rivers work–including flood control? Wouldn’t you kinda expect that someone in the city would be an expert in living next to a river? In helping you prepare for the inevitable floods? In constantly working at the State and Federal levels to make sure that homeowners were protected if and when those floods occurred?

Well of course that isn’t hard to imagine because if you’ve ever lived near a big river like the Mississippi, that’s exactly how it works. Many such cities have full-time staff to deal with the special issues of life near a big river. They’ve learned that it is a matter of life or death to make certain that they know how to fight for their residents rights at every level of of government.

And this institutional knowledge has continuity. It is considered so essential to the health and well-being of its residents that these cities make certain that it carries forward regardless which electeds or staff come and go.

Now, let’s take a look at our airport communities. They live next to this big ‘thing’ that overflows its banks every ten or fifteen years. And what happens? Each government tends to try to ‘solve’ the problem a little bit on its own, a little bit by trying to work with its sisters and…. a little bit by trying to work with the, er, ‘flood’ (Port Of Seattle).

Now here’s the really nutty part: After every expansi… er ‘flood’? Everyone seems to want to forget all the stuff they learned from that last disaster about as fast as they can, many complaining that it was all a big waste of time and money!

Whenever I bring this sort of thing up I get sour looks. First, City Council-people do not want to accept any responsibility. “It didn’t happen on my watch!” (Well, yes, it probably did. The Port announced the SAMP in 2012. Why did it take you five years to start preparing for the coming flood?)

But that reflexive response ignores the larger issue: THE FUTURE. Best practice dictates that you start planning for the next crisis now. But no one wants to hear that. I see the eyes rolling as if to say, “Oh please. Can’t we get back to something ‘productive’. We’ve got real work to do now.”

Well this is an essential part of the real work. The real work is making sure that our children don’t have to go through this again. We maintain that making sure that our pattern of chaotic responses to airport expansions does not recur is the most important work we can do during this current expansion.

Apparently it hasn’t occurred to our electeds that we had a whole wealth of aviation knowledge as recently as 2006. So that means in less than ten years, the entire area squandered almost all of its collective knowledge base when it comes to fighting the Port Of Seattle? (Again, it’s more like six years since–sorry to keep bringing up unpleasant facts, but the Port did inform y’all they were starting the SAMP in 2012.) This indicates an almost wilful desire to forget anything having to do with the Third Runway. I find this inability to hold onto institutional knowledge, frankly criminal. Look at how many thousands of hours we’re all spending re-learning stuff that people in the area knew just a few short years ago!

When I tell people that our cities don’t value the airport, I’m not being figurative. Put a dollar amount on any elected’s time at all these meetings. Now add up all those hours for all those people. That is just a part of the cost we are paying now. All this time that has been spent re-learning stuff that our electeds literally ran away from over the past decade because they had zero interest in airport issues. The real cost (on top of our ignorance) is that by not keeping the pressure on over the past decade, it makes it even tougher for us to successfully fight back. The Port is now at its strongest point, politically, in decades.

In fact, until quite recently most local pols just looooved the Port and the only time they would engage with them was to obtain grants for development opportunities.. Frankly, the only reason almost any of these foresighted men and women got interested in the airport was because a guy in *Burien decided to sue when planes started flying over his deck and then a **woman in Des Moines who couldn’t sleep started a Quiet Skies group. This has never been about any fabulous statesmanship.

We currently have each town with their own ‘Aviation Committee’. And their own SAMP responses. And then there is this StART Committee. And that Highline Forum with it’s lovely donuts. And then there are the ‘Quiet Skies’ groups.


But where is overall strategy? Where are the goals? Where is the plan for continuity?

This whole ‘thing’ feels completely ad hoc to us and the furthest thing from being a negotiation with an actual endgame. In other words: Five years from now, will there be a stable system in place which monitors the air and the airport and advocates for residents on an ongoing basis? If not, regardless of whatever gains are made at all these various meetings, I will consider all of these a giant whopping FAILURE.

Because if there is no sustainable system in place. No continuity of purpose and institutional knowledge? No agreed upon region-wide plan for protecting the health of residents and the environment of the airport communities?

The exact same shit will happen again in another ten or fifteen years. Bet that.

*Larry Cripe, President of the Quiet Skies Coalition

**Sheila Brush, Founder of Quiet Skies Puget Sound

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