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[Note: one minor typo correction from the original]
Mayor Verner and City Council,
Re: Proposed STA Downtown Electric Trolley (Proposed Council Resolution – RES 11-55)
Former Council member Cherie Rodgers was prescience when she warned of this grand design scheme several years ago! This plan is now unfolding. Please read Mr. X’s excellent analysis of what’s in play now regarding this trolley project. This is another pie in the sky project destined to use OPM (Other people’s money) that will require huge public subsidies in the future. In the end this will only benefit a select few in Downtown at great expense to the peons who live in this feudal fiefdom. While Rome is burning the STA has the audacity to push this project! The STA’s Transit Center project comes immediately to my mind as to their stewardship of the people’s money.
Spokane has much more pressing needs where this expense in staff time and money would be better spent than on this project. Read Mr. X’s previous posts on suggested public policy directives that will facilitate bringing REAL JOBS and diversify our economy instead of continuing to pour concrete in Downtown that only brings marginal service sector jobs while increasing the property value of the elite. Also be sure to read Mr. X’s shocking analysis of Spokane’s median wage.
See my comment below that the Spokane Police Department is closing its Crimes Against Property Investigation Unit due to lack of funding. If we can’t fund the investigation of residential burglaries, in my mind a very serious felony, are we sending conflicting messages to the public e.g., the tragic Creach OIS in the Valley? If the police can’t deliver and perform an essential public service, this debate is the equivalent of Nero playing the violin when Rome was burning.
I would strongly encourage a NO VOTE on this resolution. The voters of this City may eventually see the light and retaliate against those who have perpetually robbed them with these pie in the sky projects.
RES 11-55 –
Adopting a Locally Preferred Alternative for High Performance
Transit in Central City Spokane of Modern Electric Trolley along a
general alignment extending between Browne’s Addition and
Gonzaga University by way of Downtown Spokane and WSU
Spokane Campus at Riverpoint.
The initiative next moves at hyper speed to the Spokane City Council on Monday night (it is probably the last item on the agenda as RES 11-55), presumably so opponents will have a hard time mustering opposition speakers.
The STA is in process of cutting bus service by about 20% for the rest of us, but would seek a sales tax for all of the urban areas of Spokane County to pay for the 3 mile long, $36 million electric trolley or a cost of $2300 per foot.
Does Spokane need a 3 mile long electric trolley paid for by taxpayers to benefit downtown property owners?
Some facts about Spokane:
- Spokane ranks in the bottom 25% of metro counties nationwide for wages.
- In the rest of Washington, wage growth is twice as fast as in Spokane and has been for several decades. Which means Spokane residents are falling further behind every year.
- Household median income in Spokane County is less today than it was 20 years ago.
- Spokane ranks in the bottom 31% for GDP growth in the last decade.
- Airport passenger travel has been flat for 16 years. Spokane International has fewer passengers today than it did in 1996.
- Air traffic at general aviation airport Felts Field is 26% below last year.
- Homes sales have fallen off a cliff.
- Police department staffing is back to 1999 levels and they have eliminated the Property Crimes Unit.
- Transfer payment income to Spokane County residents now accounts for about 22% of personal income.
- The number of jobs in Spokane County is roughly the same as decade ago.
- The above are facts, not opinions. That is the ugly truth about Spokane and its failed leadership.
- Spokane is an economic disaster zone filled with empty buildings for lease, for sale or just abandoned.
- City roads are pot holed car killers as infrastructure outside downtown and South Hill falls apart.
- Sidewalks and streets are lined with weeds throughout north Spokane. The place looks like a dump.
- Spokane’s economy has failed. And its worse than it first appears.
- Spokane city and County leadership has failed. The proof is in the data.
Naturally, what this town needs is a “cool factor” electric bus in the downtown core that serves key power brokers and eventually Kendall Yards, where residents pay no property taxes for 12 years. The head of the STA said the “cool factor” is why we need this.
The actual purpose of the trolley is to take money from the taxpayers to benefit downtown power brokers.
What we need instead are initiatifes with a positive, long term return on investment. Not concrete pouring initiatives as a short term jobs program that are intended solely to benefit local power brokers.
I wrote the following in April, but did not previously publish it:
- Step 1: Local power brokers decide they want a downtown trolley. It’s the latest gimmick in urban renewing and revitalizing downtowns nationwide.
- Step 2: Propose alternative trolley lines, most of which are absurd, so the preferred route to benefit power brokers is selected.
- Step 3: Bring in “experts” from a city with a real economy to pitch how “Spokane, is taking the right steps in planning for a high-performance transit line in the downtown area” while STA is drastically cutting bus service for the rest of us. Their expert comes from Salt Lake City where ”…. the first light-rail line was inaugurated more than a decade ago, and while it exceeded ridership projections from the start, Gerry Carpenter says that didn’t result in new downtown development.“
- Step 4: Local media, which owns more downtown land than anyone else, gives free and happy news coverage to proponents. (And as of the day before the Council meeting in July, has not yet reported this important agenda item.)
- Step 5: Hand out copies of the news coverage to key decision makers at closed door meetings so decision makers know where the power brokers stand.
There is little evidence that downtown trolleys spawn economic growth but during the past year they are the rage amongst top down, centralized urban planning groups. Name a mid-sized city – Boise, Yakima, Tacoma, Cincinnati, Huntington, VA, Tucson and dozens and dozens more – all of them have built or are proposing downtown trolleys. Why? Because the Federal government will pay for up to 80% for “fixed guideway” transportation. That rules out buses but permits rail, monorail, buses on rubber wheels but with fixed overhead wires (“electric trolley”), and rail lines. This becomes an inflexible permanent transportation solution a la pouring concrete.
The Spokane downtown trolley does not bring shoppers into downtown. The primary goal is to keep the luxury housing residents of Kendall Yards, the future high density South University District housing residents, and thousands of college students from leaving the downtown core. The goal is to discourage travel to Northtown or Valley Malls and other non-downtown vendors. National and local taxpayers will fund this to create benefits to key downtown stakeholders. This will not create economic growth – it just moves spending from one place to another.
Like the $570 million sunk in the barely unused north side freeway, the $110 million waste of energy plant that makes our disposal costs twice that of a landfill (“it may turn trash into air pollution but at least it costs twice as much”), and other programs, this is another investment with a bad return to the many.
Like so many taxpayer funded investments here, the trolley will not have a good return on investment – and will divert money from projects that might actually improve our local economic situation.
I filed this story under “Crime”.
The report said the number of commissioned officers this year is at 1999 levels, forcing the department to curtail property crime investigations and increasing the risk of exposing officers to stressful situations.
They also eliminated the Property Crimes Unit because Spokane government is out of money.
But by God, we will build a pointless downtown trolley or else!
Spokane’s Median Household Income Trend
Previously, we looked at Spokane median income versus the state and nation and found that while incomes have gone up, they have gone up at half the rate of the rest of the state.
I recently had to make some inflation adjustments to some data. I was curious as to what these adjustments would do for the historical Spokane median income. The red line is median household income, after adjusting to 2010 levels (in other words, adjusting for inflation).
Data: The median income data comes from the Washington (State) Office of Financial Management. The historical median incomes were adjusted for inflation using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator.
Compare the above historical trend with that for the U.S. household median income – in other words, the whole country:(Background on the above chart is here. The data source is different and perhaps it should not be directly compared to the Spokane chart.)
Update: I have since drawn a chart for the State of Washington, as a whole. This too shows a sharp drop in median income, although not quite as far – this will be posted soon. I also sampled some BEA data on average wages per job and adjusted those for inflation. The inflation adjusted average wage per job appears to have risen over this period, while the household median income went down. While househould median income and average wage per job are not the same thing, I do not know why would go down while the other goes up. Perhaps there is a mistake in the data, the inflation adjustment, or something else. When I have time, I will post additional charts on these topics. For now, I’ve deleted the post-title “The Shocking Truth”.
My jaw dropped when I saw this. This is shocking, frightening and revealing. After inflation, as U.S. median incomes have risen, Spokane area median incomes have fallen – apparently – to 1980s levels or lower. I hope that this is all wrong and I have made mistakes. I have provided the data tables and the data sources for others to review.
The Spokane cost of living has not been going down. In the State of Washington, and at the local level, government’s are now increasing fees and tuition costs sharply. At the Federal level, taxes are likely to climb, perhaps significantly to deal with the budget blowout.
All told, Spokane residents fall further and further behind, year over year, decade over decade. This is an absolute disaster. But no one around here gives a damn.
Oh hell, let’s go pour more concrete. That’ll surely fix the problems.
I appeared and gave testimony at tonight’s Council Meeting. As Mr. X predicted this was a well orchestrated preordained event. Several citizens did appear and did question the advisability of this project. No one was objecting to the concept of a Downtown Circulator that would move people to and from the University District and Browne’s Addition to the Downtown Core.
The objections largely were the decision to lock into the electric trolley system as the designated transportation mode at a projected cost of $36M instead of a more economical mode of using a conventional bus system with special enhancements. These upgrades/enhancements were not defined but I’m assuming smaller buses that could maneuver in Browne’s Addition with hybrid power systems e.g., LPG and or hybrid fuel electric vehicles et al and whose routes could be easily changed based upon ridership. Some pointed out previous electric trolleys were removed from cities in the past because of issues of maintenance and esthetics , “Back to the future.” Council member Apple pointed out there was no US manufacturer currently making these electric trolleys.
Much was extolled on the economic benefit it would bring to the Downtown Core. My testimony was essentially an excerpt of my above email. Council President Shogan warned me when I brought up the issue of the disbanding of the SPD Crimes Against Property Unit as being not relevant. I disagreed. I said this was all about making public policy choices. The fact that SPD could no longer provide an essential public service was quite relevant to the citizens when deciding future funding priorities. I was ruled out of order when I brought up the conflicting message regarding the Creach case. The point I was not allowed to make, is that we are telling to public to call 911 not to handle these situations by themselves. If we defund crimes against property investigations this will only facilitate independent or in some cases vigilante actions by citizens.
The Council with the exception of Bob Apple voted in favor of the resolution.