Who Has The Time?

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. As a bit of a status report, I think that so far we’ve done a pretty good job of uploading a bunch of content. There’s still a of indexing to do so if you can’t find something, please write! The thing that we’ve definitely been remiss about is providing context. Just one example I ran across this morning, there’s a comment by Port Commissioner Friedlander in Seattle PI article where he expresses concern that the airport is reaching capacity. The article is dated 1981. 😀 The fact that everyone doesn’t know that is the reason we keep having problems with the Port Of Seattle over and over and over again.

We also haven’t done much to explain all the various groups. There are sooooo many groups! As they say, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” So it’s hard for me to talk about today’s Highline Forum meeting where PSRC spokesman Josh Brown talked about why there was no siting of a second airport. That’s number 327 on my list of things still to do. 😀

Down to business. What I wanted to mention today was that before today’s Highline Forum meeting began, current Port Commissioner Fred Felleman and I chatted for a minute and I mentioned (again) that I was pretty sure he was not always getting good information from the people he oversees; particularly at the airport. And his response, like all the Commissioners I’ve spoken with is like so, “I have no doubt that what you say is true. What should we do about it?” So I do what I do and I suggest that it would be a good idea to have a small group of well-informed citizens to speak directly to the Commissioners about various airport problems. And he moaned, “Not another group. We already have too many groups! If you have a problem. Get me some hard evidence and bring it to me through the existing channels and I promise I’ll really look at it.” And I was about to protest, but in a crazy-mixed-up way, the guy is 100% right. The guy is totally meeting’d out. From his point of view, absolutely the last thing he needs is another ‘group’. (What I should’ve said is “Fuck all these groups. They’re all useless shite.” But that would’ve been selfish and I’m trying to work on that. 🙂 )

In the bizarro-world of the Port Of Seattle, the Commissioners have their hands full with literally billions of dollars of capital projects. (Whether or not they should have their hands full of billions of dollars of capital projects is another matter, but I digress.) Commissioner Felleman is being extraordinarily generous with his time in indulging the Highline Forum, the StART Committee and all the other public events he involves himself with. Remember: a Port Commissioner’s job is a part-time gig paying only 45k per annum and has almost no public visibility. So you have to ask yourself why do people want to be Port Commissioners? I’ll tell you why they don’t sign up to be Port Commissioners. They don’t sign up to run an airport or a seaport. 😀

Look, the public corporation ‘Port Of Seattle’, is not a ‘Port’ per sé. The name is something of a misnomer. It’s like General Electric. Yeah they still make light bulbs but they make most of their money in jet engines and submarines and so on. The Port Of Seattle has an air-port and a sea-port, but you should think of those as mainly revenue streams which provide operating capital to what they really enjoy doing. Which is….


They’re not kidding when they say that. Over and over and over they say that. It’s like a nail in my forehead.

The Port Of Seattle exists to create new buildings and sources of employment for people in the region. Full stop. Again, they use the ongoing revenue from the airport and the seaport to give them the money to keep buying and selling properties and building new buildings. That is what they do. That is where the majority of their attention is placed. Don’t buy it? Read their financial documents. Their fancy coffee table model (called the CAFR) is light on info, but filled with pretty pictures and it’s easy to follow. Basically? One third of the Port’s revenue every year comes from selling Bonds. Half from the airport. And the rest from the Maritime biz and the tax levy and pennyante stuff like parking and rental cars. Now why does an airport/seaport need to sell so many bonds every year? Only if they want to build, Build, BUILD!

And business is booming. Despite protestations that they are not ‘profit driven’ every year they make at least a couple hundred million. So where does that money go? Why most of it goes into more building projects! The Circle Of Liiiiiiiiiife! Oh, and some of it goes into pet projects that various lawmakers want (Can you say Deep Bore Tunnel, sure I knew you could–any relation between former Governor and current Commission President is strictly coincidental.)

If you haven’t snoozed off or clicked away to some Amazon advert, I wrote the above because I want you to understand why it’s so hard to reform the Port from a behavioural economics point of view. A lot of people think of the Port as, well, ‘a Port’. They think of the Commissioners as overseeing the corporation, like a conventional Board Of Directors. But that is simply not true. Although they are required to provide oversight on paper, in practice, they would be the first to admit that they know very little about the intricacies of aviation, noise, pollution or any of the junk we’re so pissed off about. They have an incredibly high level of trust in the Aviation team and that team has stayed largely the same for over twenty years (the same basic players have been in place since the Third Runway was built.)

So the odds that you, or any citizen or even any elected can obtain reform by directly working with the Port Commissioners are almost zero simply because they are not prepared to provide oversight and offer correction. They have neither the skill or the inclination but most importantly, the do not have the time to do so. And so long as the corporation keeps the planes in the air and flying on time, the complaints of us residents are just not relevant to their primary job as GENERAL CONTRACTORS AND DEVELOPERS. In short: They loooove to build things. (And who wouldn’t. To actually re-make the waterfront of Seattle, etc. That’s heady stuff, right?)

To sum up, I should give at least one specific. We’ve talked a number of times about how much misinformation there is about ANCA and Title 14 Law. In fact, the Operator of the airport (the Port Of Seattle) could in fact, file at least five types of appeals on behalf of the community to provide various types of relief for residents (noise mitigation, route changes, curfews, etc.) But as we’ve discussed, it is only the Operator who can do this; not the citizens. So the Port Commission would need to adopt a resolution directing their legal team to begin one of the various appeal processes. The catch is that us residents have no way to coerce or otherwise incentivize the Port Commission to get the ball rolling. We’d have to find a way to convince them to learn all about the wonders of Title 14, knowing that their own legal team would be arguing against the notion all the way (not to mention their tenant airlines, of course.) Even though the Commissioners may be sympathetic to our plight, the time-suck this would create for them would be so heavy that it would prevent them from working on all their myriad building projects. And that ain’t gonna happen.

So it’s not so much that they don’t care. It’s that their job description is different from what you probably thought it was. They have a part time job and lots of building to do. It’s sad, but that’s how it is. And as four out of five of them have told me over the years, “If you want the Port to pay more attention to the airport residents, you’ll have to take it up with the State.”


And one last thing. Because the Port Of Seattle exists to build, they will never stop building. Remember back to Commissioner Friedlander’s quip about Sea-Tac being at capacity in 1981? The SAMP is not the end of expansion at Sea-Tac. Until they invent teleportation devices, the Port Of Seattle will keep finding ways to expand and ‘improve’ Sea-Tac Airport. Because that is what the Port Of Seattle does. So we should finally get it through our thick skulls that we need to work to reform the Port once and for all.

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