…Except For The City Of SeaTac (Mea Culpa)

In my last post I made an error of fact so egregious that it demands not just a quick ‘We regret the error’ but an actual post of its own. Well… sort of.

I wrote “Except for Burien, no electeds sit on any of those Airport Committees.” Well of course, that was just plain wrong–as several people were only too happy to let me know this morning. SeaTac has had an Airport Committee with several very active council members for the past three years. And it was SeaTac that was instrumental in getting the ball rolling again on all the current airport issues. You can see the results of all their meetings here.

Now I don’t want to be one of those guys who gives an apology that isn’t an apology. You know that kind: starts of with an “I’m sorry, but here’s why…”. I don’t want to, but I kinda have a point to make. Actually two points.

The first point I want to make is the ‘why’ I made such a stupid-ass mistake. Each city’s Airport Committee seems to have a very different ethos. They not only have very different goals, they have very different philosophies and styles of working towards those goals. There’s more to say about that, but not today.

I Forgot

In the case of SeaTac, their Airport Committee was so tightly integrated into their city government I didn’t even think of it as an ‘Advisory Committee’. They had great participation from their government and accomplished a lot. If one looks at actual results? They organize opposition to the Port’s tree cutting and created the current compensation. They got the Environmental Impact Study in motion and contributed the lion’s share of the cities’ funding. The work they’ve done is real; you can see it. But frankly, they have since seemed to sort of go into hibernation since then and in the immortal words of Steve Martin, “I forgot.”

The other cities, to one degree or another, still view their Airport Committees as sort of being at the kiddies table–not quite as important as the ‘real’ parts of municipal government: economic development, public safety, etc. But that is changing, as we saw Monday night when Burien passed their four resolutions.

Working Together

Circling back. The point I was trying to make was that taken as a whole the governments of the airport communities are currently not working all that well together on airport issues. That’s just a fact which you can verify simply by visiting their city council meetings and hearing how they talk about each other behind each others backs. In public. It’s silly.

And here’s another fact: We have a number of entities working on airport issues. But we aren’t working together in a coordinated fashion with a clear set of goals. And that’s just plain daft. Because we’re not just fighting the Port Of Seattle. Or The FAA. Or the airlines. We’re fighting an entire region which benefits greatly from “The Economic Engine Of Puget Sound”.

You have each city working on their own agenda, perhaps paying lip service to one another’s ideas. You have certain individuals working on pet projects. You have a few State level politicians working on long-term ideas like siting a second airport.

And one more thing: No one is even talking about the long-term except as abstractions like the “second airport”. No one is even asking basic questions like, “What kind of monitoring will we have five years from now?” or “What kind of mitigation goals?” or “How will these things be paid for?” All the practical things that we actually want are considered so far into the realm of fantasy that it’s considered ridiculous at this point to even discuss them.

How Do We Get There

Does this sound like a battle plan that gets us to the future we all want? Does this sound like the future that includes protection of our environment? Ongoing monitoring (and enforcement) of effective pollution regulations that expands as the science becomes clearer, regardless of who wins the next election? Fair ongoing noise mitigation? Compensation for neighborhoods adversely affected by decades of airport emissions?

Our job, as activists, must be to get all the players to work together because together we are so much stronger than if we attempt to tackle these issues on our own. Frankly, our local leaders often have lacked the courage, will and vision equal to these tasks. These are not jobs that your typical city council candidate signs up for. And for our part, we often go off and take other avenues to avoid all the hassle. Or perhaps because we’re hoping for some miracle from some higher power.

But this is the job. We cannot allow our city leaders to succumb to pettiness or their own agendas. We must make them understand that this issue is bigger than what they are used to dealing with. It’s not a zoning problem or a permitting issue. It’s the entire region we’re talking about.

Because at the end of the day you can’t just ‘work around’ your city. I’ll say it again: your city government is your representative on the most critical issues involving Sea-Tac Airport. Your rights will be mediated with the Feds and the State through your city. If they aren’t all working together? You’re pretty much screwed regardless of what improvements might be made at the level of the FAA, State or County.

The best thing any activist can do right now is to encourage everyone, civilians and electeds to start planning and committing to a long-term strategy that incorporates the key ideas and talents of all the players. That’s not only the best way, it’s the only way to win this fight.

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