My remarks on the Occidental Street Vacation



On May 2, 2016, the Seattle City Council voted No on granting alley vacation on Occidental Street. Please see my remarks below:

Deciding how to vote on this item was not easy for me, and my staff and I have had to dig deeply on both sides to make up our minds.

I have to say, the genuineness and sincerity of basketball and Sonics fans has been impressive. These are thousands of fans who have had their team stolen out from under them, and legitimately want an NBA basketball team back in Seattle. We also have hospitality workers and workers in the building trades who have successfully negotiated important labor agreements, which I, as a member of the labor movement, unreservedly support.

And on the other side, there are maritime and industrial workers, who have been fighting for decades to defend the industrial core of Seattle and defend our working waterfront.

And, as a member of the labor movement, please let me share that these jobs are particularly important, because the unions that represent these workers have had a history of being willing to go on strike and fight back against the attacks of their bosses, preserving some important traditions of the labor movement – fighting traditions that we, as workers, are going to have to use to reverse this spiral of economic inequality.

As a result of these battles that the labor movement has waged, the middle class jobs that we won over the last century have been lost over the last several decades, through massive deindustrialization and the loss of manufacturing.

I want to be very clear: I would never make a decision based on the claims of what is the bureaucracy of the Port of Seattle.

The Port of Seattle is an institution that former US Attorney Mike McKay described as “a cesspool of corruption.” This is:

  • a Port of Seattle that says it is against the arena to try to defend jobs, but has disgracefully fought the SeaTac workers in their efforts for a $15/hour minimum wage;
  • a Port of Seattle that has shockingly allowed the super exploitation of independent truckers, many of them independent workers; and
  • a Port of Seattle, who for a quick buck, was willing to sacrifice our planet to bring the Shell Arctic oil drilling rig to our doorstep.

But, on the other side, there are big developers who want to redevelop the industrial core of Seattle. The Port workers and their union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have been fighting again and again against these forces that have been slowly squeezing out our working waterfront. I am in solidarity with not the Port of Seattle, but the Port workers and the ILWU who are trying to stand against these forces of gentrification.

I recognize that Sonics fans will not like my No vote on this matter, and I really don’t like that vote either. I hate having to be in a position where, as an elected representative of this city, I have to pit sports against jobs, and jobs against jobs. This is not a good way to make public policy. But please always know that I vote with integrity, and my vote is never up for sale.

I do want to help bring back the Sonics, but I cannot do that on the basis of undermining our working waterfront and good paying unionized industrial jobs – not to say that other jobs are also not of value, especially if they’re unionized, living wage, and come with benefits.

Those who say that this alley vacation vote has little to do with closing down the maritime industry may have a little bit of legitimacy. But I think that the alley vacation vote is also a battle line in an ongoing war by big developers to gentrify Seattle, and I unfortunately cannot vote in favor of doing that.

I therefore do not support the building of a new arena in this location. But, again, my vote has nothing in common with those elected officials who say they’re voting No because they care about jobs after voting for the Amazon alley vacation earlier this year. Their vote in favor of that vacation completely disregarded the major concerns of security workers that are contracted by Amazon – workers who have faced massive wage theft and retaliation against them.

I was the only No vote against Amazon, and today’s vote is a similar issue for me.

I support bringing back an NBA team to Seattle, as long as it is not linked to building a stadium that potentially threatens our working waterfront.

I know that this is not an immediate alternative at this point, but I want to say that I will help in any way I can for us to demand that NBA commissioners allow for expansion and bring the Sonics back to the Key Arena. And the door to my office will always be open to help genuine efforts to do so.

Key Arena has been good enough for the Seattle Storm to play in, and it was good enough for the Sonics before the owners decided to screw over Sonics fans.

If it wasn’t for the greed of the billionaires who control pro sports, it would still have been good enough.

I am voting against this street vacation because I am concerned about Seattle’s good paying unionized industrial and maritime jobs, and I don’t want to pit jobs against jobs, but I also think we have to have a much broader conversation about how the barons who own our professional sports teams are allowed to have monopoly control over entertainment for millions of ordinary working people who are sports fans.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who helped me and my staff members learn the nuances of this issue, particularly all the Sonics fans like Adam Brown and Jason Reid, who made the important corruption-exposing documentary film called Sonicsgate, and all my sisters and brothers from the labor movement who have helped elucidate the history of SODO industry.

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