Prop 1 opponents file ‘meritless’ SEEC complaint against Streets for All Seattle

Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs (who I appreciate for their refreshingly non-Orwellian name) have filed a complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission claiming that Cascade Bicycle Club and Transportation Choices Coalition improperly used taxpayer funds to donate to Streets for All Seattle, the pro-Prop 1 campaign.

Anne-Marije Rook at the Ballard News Tribune has the scoop:

The group says that Transportation Choices and the Cascade Bicycle Club have received hundreds of thousands of city dollars for the Prop 1 campaign and requested an investigation of ethics violations.

Read the Streets For All Seattle SEEC List of Contributors Report, here.

In return, Cascade Bicycle Club says the investigation is “a frivolous waste of taxpayer money”.

“We are very confident that it will be dismissed shortly,” said Craig Benjamin,
Policy and Government Affairs Manager at Cascade Bicycle Club.

Cascade responded by saying that all taxpayer money they have received was for contracts to carry out things like handing out helmets and teaching bicycle safety education to children. They also claim they do independent audits and are clean.

Calling the complaint a “distracting, meritless” tactic, Cascade took the opportunity to explain why they support Streets for All and Proposition 1:

Our opposition hasn’t been careful in looking at—or don’t know about—the range of activities Cascade does. Our political work happens through our 501(c)4 organization, while our education and outreach work occurs within our 501(c)3. For tax and legal purposes, we are meticulous about getting this right. We have been independently audited, and all audits have been clean.

In other words, there is absolutely no connection between any of the contractual work we completed for the City of Seattle and our efforts to pass Proposition 1.

We are disappointed that our opposition is wasting citizen tax dollars and the city payroll’s time by filing this distracting, meritless complaint. Lacking true substance, the opposition campaign is grasping at straws. We, and the many other endorsers of Proposition 1, look forward to continuing the conversation with voters about how Prop. 1 will make our transit faster and our streets safer. Cascade Bicycle Club will continue to educate voters on how voting yes for Proposition 1 is the right choice.

Prop. 1 will invest $100 million to make transit in Seattle faster and more reliable. 95% of all Seattle residents and 96% of all the jobs in the city are within an easy walk or bike ride to the high priority transit corridors that Prop. 1 will invest in. Transit riders across the whole city will see benefits.

The transit investments Prop. 1 makes will last. They are capital, permanent, long-term improvements that will last for years. Bus lanes, transit signal priority, bus bulbs so buses don’t get stuck behind traffic when loading/unloading passengers. These are common sense things that will make our buses faster and more reliable.

Prop. 1 doubles the annual investment in new sidewalks Seattle makes today.

Prop. 1 nearly doubles the number of local, neighborhood re-paving projects Seattle can do per year.

Prop. 1 dramatically expands family-friendly bicycle infrastructure.

Prop. 1 is balanced. It makes transit faster, fixes our roads, and makes our transportation system safer for all users in Seattle. It helps the whole system across the city.

We stand behind our endorsement of Proposition 1, and we urge voters to join us in voting YES on the November ballot.

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17 Responses to Prop 1 opponents file ‘meritless’ SEEC complaint against Streets for All Seattle

  1. Another David says:

    Which roads will get the bus bulbs? What roads will be repaved with this money? Where will the sidewalks be installed? How was the dollar amount calculated without the answers to these common sense questions?

    The lack of an answer to the above is why I am probably voting no on Prop 1. We can do better.

    • Gary says:

      Ah, there are already several plans to fix things that this money would fund.

      The dollar/per vehicle amount was of course designed to be large enough to bother with, and small enough that polls would show that it would pass. And it had an upper limit of $100/vehicle set by the state legislature.

    • pqbuffington says:

      Another-David,

      Not to be flip, but the City of Seattle is the where…as for the specific block(s), do you have a list in mind that would preclude you from voting “yes” on Prop-1? Are there any dilapidated streets, missing side-walks, or absent bus-bulbs that you could not support improving and/or building? To call for a complete accounting of $204 million over the course of a 10 year period -before-the-fact of even passing the proposition- seems a bit of a straw man.

      And, we should be realistic as well…the annual $60 fee is about the price of a tank-and-a-half of gasoline. The AAA has Washington’s daily average (10/11) of Regular at $3.78; $60 will not even get you 16 gallons.

      This is certainly not my ideal legislation, for example, I would put all the proposed street-car monies into the electric-trolley spend. But to vote against Prop-1 because it does not satisfy any particular ideal misses the point.

      • Another David says:

        “To call for a complete accounting of $204 million over the course of a 10 year period -before-the-fact of even passing the proposition- seems a bit of a straw man.”

        I don’t think so. These bus bulbs and re-pavings and sidewalks are all already things that the city ought to be doing. This proposition is something the people (as in, us, not the city council) came up with to address issues they have with what the city is doing. Or not doing, as the case may be. I am asking for a list of specific issues that they will address with the money. I don’t think that is unreasonable.

        $204M is not a small amount of money, and neither is $60/year (when compared with existing license fees).

        There are specific streets that I would like to see the city repair or upgrade, but I would be far more likely to vote for a proposition that was set up to repair specific city streets that I never use than I am to vote for a generic pile of money to be handed to the city, few strings attached.

        Finally, specific project goals help us judge the effectiveness of our spending. What this proposition proposes that $204M will be collected and it will be allocated to various types of projects. So, the people behind the proposition can claim success if $204M is divvied up according to plan, even if nothing is actually done with the money. I don’t think that is right, and I think we can do better.

    • pqbuffington says:

      AD,

      $60 is a small amount of money for tabs, even as an increase to existing fees. The fact that we pay so little in license tab fees (perhaps not the best tax system) is part of the recent fiscal problem. It is somewhat bewildering that a $60 annual fee would give us such pause. Again, this is less than 16 gallons of gasoline at today’s price. Will it seem so excessive when $60 buys only 14 gallons?

      $204-million, buy any modern infrastructure measure, is not that much money. For example, the WSDOT site lists project costs. The recently completed I-5 Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station cost almost $41-million. This is but one park-&-ride station and this does not include the operational/repair costs over time; indeed, infrastructure is expensive.

      As for your argument “…that the city ought to be…” implementing the very improvements spelled out in sections of Prop-1, how? What area of the existing budget should be cut and/or transferred to implement the improvements you yourself agree are necessary?

      I am not sure I understand your concern with the yet undefined specifics of the legislation. For example, $40-million is slotted for “pavement preservation”; do you think this money will find its way to some other use? How? The electric-trolley allocation calls for $18-million; do you think this money will not be appropriated as such? Why?

      • Another David says:

        “For example, $40-million is slotted for “pavement preservation”; do you think this money will find its way to some other use? How?”

        I think that it might well be spent on something called “pavement preservation”, but that there is no guarantee that the city and the people will see eye to eye on what that actually means. But ultimately I don’t think it is sufficient to simply have a plan to spend on some vague concept.

        “The electric-trolley allocation calls for $18-million; do you think this money will not be appropriated as such? Why?”

        Again, it might be, but it might also go in to something that is tangentially related to electric trolleys, like studies in to the effect of EM fields on bus passengers, or some such rot.

        I remember watching the city replace a sidewalk in front of our building, and then only a year or two later they replaced the sidewalk again so they could install a bus bulb. Each time the county replaced the bus stop signs that were installed on the sidewalk. Then they installed another set of new signs to replace the signs they just installed only a year ago. This is not an uncommon scenario, and it’s not hard to imagine it happening with this sum of vague-concept money.

        Imagine going to the bank with a request for a $200M loan. You tell the banker you want to build a shopping center and you detail how much you want to spend on each part ($25M on parking, $75M on structures, $50M on land, so on). The bank isn’t going to just hand over a check then and there. They’re going to want to know where the mall will be, how many stores it is targeted to have, how many parking spaces there will be, etc. They’ll insist on intermediate goals between groundbreaking and the final coat of paint.

        The bank has these policies because it is lending out money that is voluntarily deposited by its members. The city, on the other hand, would be using money that is collected from people by law without the “depositors” choice. Why shouldn’t we expect a comparable level of detail before we give the city a mandate to collect and spend (with the teeth to extract a penalty of additional fines if the money is not paid)?

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        AD, if you went to the bank with plans as thick and exhaustive as the bicycle, pedestrian and transit master plans, I think you would get your loan. Are you suggesting the city does not have enough studies of their transportation infrastructure needs? This is Seattle. Amassing plans without actually doing anything is what we do for fun. Now is the chance to make them happen.

      • Another David says:

        Tom, this is not the city coming to us telling us they have a plan to do various things. This is a citizen’s proposition. They are coming to us, asking us to “give” the city $204M.

        “This is Seattle. Amassing plans without actually doing anything is what we do for fun. Now is the chance to make them happen.”

        Then this is the time to mandate that they do make these plans happen. It is not the time to hand over a nearly blank, signed contract with a $204M check attached.

        Did you know that despite what the streetsforallseattle.org site suggests, there is no mention at all of a goal of a 20% increase in bus speed, or 80 blocks of new sidewalk, or 40 miles of bike lanes? None. If they were able to count these projects in order to promote Prop 1, why couldn’t they have also included them by name in the Prop 1 text?

        I recognize that I’ll look awfully stupid if the city does manage to spend all of this $204M on actual, planned projects and none (or nearly none) of it goes to amassing yet more plans (as you point out the city is great at). But I’d put very long odds on that.

      • doug in seattle says:

        Another David, I am intrigued. Can you please refer us to some examples of the kind of profligate waste you suggest the city is guilty of?

    • pqbuffington says:

      AD,

      While I would be remiss say I share none of you cynicism, I do believe you are merely tearing down straw-men in your arguments as well as conflating intent and ability.

      Speaking of straw, I am not sure what you are grasping at with the following lines…

      “I think that it might well be spent on something called “pavement preservation”, but that there is no guarantee that the city and the people will see eye to eye on what that actually means.”

      Can you point to some example, within the context of transportation infrastructure creation and/or repair within the City of Seattle’s history, where a presumably understood term, such as “pavement preservation”, was convoluted to such a degree that malfeasance, if not criminal charges, were claimed?

      “… but it might also go in to something that is tangentially related to electric trolleys, like studies in to the effect of EM fields on bus passengers, or some such rot…”

      We already have a network or electric-trolleys and nobody has called for anything other than increasing the scope of such. To imply what you do is simply to invent an argument to substantiate your professed total lack of trust. Indeed, Prop-1 spells out its intent on “studies in relation to expansion of the street-car line (I am opposed to this provision, by the way).

      You offer no concrete proof that the STBD will not be true to the stated intent of Prop-1.

      As for your anecdote about the sidewalk, bus-bulb, and respective signage changes, I do not see how this supports your argument that Prop-1 funds will be spent only in “vague” relation to the listed goals. The example you cite is in fact the city building the very infrastructure you fear Prop-1 will never accomplish.

      Also, your telling of the side-walk anecdote is, by definition, one-sided (did you ever ask of anyone involved why the repairs/improvements seemed so redundant?). However that may be, you then make the incredible claim that “…this is not an uncommon scenario…” without offering any proof whatsoever.

      Can you offer any analysis besides your opinion? And, how is your opinion qualified? Do you, for example, have a background in civil engineering? Have you worked for the city/dot and witnessed such extreme abuses of trust, again within the context of transportation infrastructure creation and/or repair?

      You are arguing ability here and offer nothing more than laymen’s anecdote.

      As presented, these are two incredibly disingenuous arguments. Perhaps even worse, you make perfect the enemy of the good…

  2. Gary says:

    Sorry Tom, it’s not “meritless” until the judge rules it so. “Annoying”, “Irritating”, “Probably Pointless”, “Short Sighted” sure, but a lawsuit is never without merit until it’s tossed.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Meritless wasn’t my word. It was a quote from Cascade.

      Clearly, the SEEC will make the final ruling. But considering Hoglund makes claims like this on a near-annual basis, it seems doubtful this attempt is much more than a distraction. But the SEEC is looking into it, so we’ll see.

      via Publicola: http://publicola.com/2011/10/10/anti-car-tab-campaign-files-ethics-complaint/

      • Gary says:

        Yeah but you repeated this “baseless” accusation in your title. It would have been better journalism to not repeat it in the title, and then mention it as the response from Cascade’s lawyers to the effect that they believed it was meritless.

    • Chris says:

      Gary, it was baseless and that’s why it was dismissed. Anyone who looked into the details could tell it was a moronic complaint. Tom was doing his job and not manufacturing false equivalence. People don’t deserve media attention and to be taken seriously every time they take an ignorant cheap shot.

  3. Pingback: That was fast: SEEC throws out Prop 1 opponents’ ‘frivalous’ claim | Seattle Bike Blog

  4. NikkiTaMere says:

    I AM THE 96%

    The anti-car agenda continues fromt he less than 4% who commute daily in Seattle — increasing car tabs by $60 to help this bike nazis take lanes away from the 96% of the rest of us

    that’s ALL the massive increase in car tabs come to with the “creative accounting” the bike nazis and city hall uses

    • pqbuffington says:

      NikkiTaMere,

      Seriously, have you even read the Prop-1 statement of intent or just the Seattle Times editorial opinion?

      And your use of the term “nazis” shows how truly tasteless you are…there is no equivalency whatsoever, rhetorical or otherwise, between those that support a license tab tax increase to repave roads (yes, this would be for the true Americans, all 96%, such as yourself) build sidewalks, bolster bus infrastructure, stripe streets with bike lanes, etc. with one of the most heinous ideologies of the 20th century.

      So, by all means, argue for your cause, rail against any effort at civic improvement that does not directly benefit you, but skip the puerile equivlancies as it only makes you out to be a callous fool.

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