Sibling Rivalry

Last night the Burien City Council passed the four resolutions created by their Airport Committee. We’ve discussed them a bit before and likely will do so again as they are well-crafted and cover most of the main issues that all the sister-cities will need to address if the region is to successfully confront the Port Of Seattle.

Last week the City Of Des Moines voted by acclamation to write a letter, a letter mind you (sorry I can’t help it) in support of these resolutions!

And as we reported, Karen Keiser has started her bill 5370 to site a second airport and with a most ambitious target date of 2040. Let the pigeons loose!

Ooh, ooh! I can feel it. The wheels are turnin’, baby. Things are really in motion. And. And…

Er… So now what?

Well first off, a quick time out: Kudos to the City Of Burien for calling their Airport Committee an ‘Airport Committee’ and not an ‘Aviation Committee’. This whole issue has about as much to do with ‘aviation’ as a model airplane. ‘Aviation’ connotes the wonders of flight, exhibits at the Boeing Museum and all that good stuff. ‘Airports’? We all know what airports are about: Taking yer shoes off at the end of a really long line. And oh yeah: a shit load of noise and pollution if one happens to live near by. Perhaps it seems like semantics, but messaging matters. From this day forth, all such committees shall be signified as “Airport Committees”. Because our problem is with Sea-Tac Airport and not with some high-falootin’ concept like ‘Aviation’. And now back to our regularly scheduled show…

Here’s what I want you to think about (After 200 words, he finally gets to the point): Think about all the ways people are talking to one another about Sea=Tac Airport these days. Now think about the directions in which they talk.

You, the activist, probably talk to your city council. Both of you somehow engage with the StART committee or your newly renamed Airport Committee and maybe even the Port Of Seattle and your State Reps. Everybody seems to be talking to everybody up and down the various chains of command. This communication is fantastic. 

OK but notice how I wrote ‘up and down’. Notice too that there really is very little of what I call ‘sibling’ communication–meaning communication side to side between interested parties from each of the cities. Currently, electeds from the various cities actually have very little to do with the entire Airport issue. Except for Burien, no electeds sit on any of those Airport Committees. And advocates from the various Quiet Skies groups have very little group presence at most city functions.

The only regular sibling communication that city council members tend to have regarding the airport is at get-togethers like the bi-monthly Highline Forum or the SCATbd. And at both you also have the Port Of Seattle and strict rules of order so aside from some before or after schmoozing, there isn’t even much interaction there either. Those venues are almost always about information gathering.

In fact, by far the greatest amount of sibling communication regarding Sea-Tac Airport occurs in private between City Managers at functions like the WashDot Impact Study and that doesn’t particularly wow me because those people, as fine as they are, are often also wearing the Economic Development or some other functional hat. And in most cases, they are not the most informed person on airport issues (a fact they would be the first to admit; they all realize that they need backup.) If you’re only going to have one guy talking between cities, that is probably not the one guy you want doing the talking.

So the councils of the six airport communities operate in a mostly passive mode when it comes to airport issues. They take reports from their ‘advisory’ committees and City Managers (if they have a weak mayoral system) but they don’t put the airport anywhere near the top of their priority list and, just as importantly, they don’t perceive that they need to work together to solve these problems. In fact, they may not really want to work together.

But there are certain problems and tasks that require group cooperation in order to tackle. An obvious example is SCORE, the jail that most of our cities share and jointly manage. It would be nice to report that this is an example of how well our cities can work together when they put their heads together. But if you want to sit in a room full of tension, you can either a) go to couples therapy or b) audit a SCORE meeting. And public safety is an issue that every participant should be able to agree upon. So that probably means that an issue like Sea-Tac Airport which is far less straightforward, will be even harder to find consensus.

In other words: the fact is that airport communities do not have a terrific track record of working well together in the past decade or so. Several councilors have taken a certain pride in not being told what to do by their neighbors which, to my mind seems ludicrous given how tiny we all are.

Let’s be frank: Most area activists have done their level best to avoid depending on the city councils for any number of reasons. Perhaps because they know how disengaged most council members are. Or perhaps there is this hope that one catches more flies with honey than… (however that expression goes.) But sadly you can’t work around this. You reach a place where your city, all the cities, must step up and actively support the fight. Whether they’re thrilled about the notion or not. They must become literate on the issues. They must be willing to get off the sidelines and take Sea-Tac Airport as seriously as an issue like public safety. And it’s our job to push them to do what they need to do because the clock is ticking and we simply can’t wait for them to grow into the task. Because at the end of the day, no State or County or even Federal official can help if the cities aren’t fully on board. In one sentence:

You can’t expect the State or the Courts to do what city leaders lack the will to do for themselves.

So the question really becomes: how can you get your city council engaged? May I suggest that that might not be the right question. Perhaps a better approach would be not to engage with the city council you know, but with the city council you don’t.

I believe that activists from around the entire region should be visiting each other’s city council meetings and doing a bit of consciousness raising. I witnessed a certain amount of this at the beginning of the Quiet Skies movement, but it petered out when most people saw that this fight was going to take years and years. Totally understandable. But it’s time to try again.

Now some people show up at other area meetings (eg. Port Of Seattle, Highline Forum, SCATbd) and I would contend that those people’s time would be better spent–at least right now, by talking to council members in foreign lands and letting them know how things are going where they live. (Of course showing up everywhere all the time is great, if you’re insane enough to try. I can tell you it hasn’t done wonders for my mental health. 😀 )

The thing I want to close with: sharing a bit of information really is important given the lack of sibling communication.

Never underestimate how much your local electeds don’t know. I say this over and over and either people don’t believe it or they’re offended or they just don’t appreciate how much this matters: Almost everyone in power regarding the airport is a part-time employee! Your city council. The Port Of Seattle commissioner. Your State Rep. Your State Senator. They simply don’t have time to bone up on everything they need to know to give a shit about this issue. You are their lobbyist! They’re depending on someone to tell them what’s going on and convince them why they should care. So long as you have your facts straight, don’t ramble and you’re at least 1% nicer than I am you have a decent chance of changing one or two hearts and minds.

Recognise that each city is like its own silo of information. That’s just the current reality You cannot assume that what you and your city knows is the same as what they know over the next hill. Your job is partly to educate, but also to lay the groundwork for making greater sibling cooperation on airport issues normative.

What we’re really talking about is TEAM BUILDING. Our goal should be to get all the city councils talking, planning, strategizing together. And away from the orbit of The Port Of Seattle.

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