Amazon Alley

The City Council today considered the vacation of right-of-way for an alley in a block of south Lake Union where Amazon is building a new office tower.  Council member Rasmussen gave a lengthy summary of the project, its history, and the public benefits to city will receive.

Council member Licata reiterated his objection to the proliferation of privately owned public space (POPS) which often is not public — the property owners often restrict who can be present on the property and what activities may happen there – and in fact kick people off at their discretion, for example protesters exercising their free speech rights.  Licata moved that the bill be referred back to the Transportation Committee for further discussion of the rules around POPS. Rasmussen argued against referring it back, reiterating his argument from last week’s transportation committee meeting that the Council needs to be consistent in how site vacations are reviewed and approved. Rasmussen is in favor of reviewing the Council’s policies, but doesn’t want to do it one-off in the interest of fairness. He pointed out that the Council verbally agreed to revisit those policies last year, but didn’t do it.

Council member Sawant agreed with Rasmussen that the definition of public benefit need to be revisited, and argued that the bill should be sent back to committee precisely to force that discussion.

Council member O’Brien asserted that the issue around free speech rights on POPS is an important issue and also supported Licata’s motion to re-refer it.

Council member also argued in favor of being thoughtful and deliberate — and pushed Licata to set a specific date for the discussion in committee.

Council President Burgess opposed re-referring it, as a matter of fairness; he said that the project has gone through the entire review and approval process and passed every stage. But, he argued, to say to an applicant that at this step to change the rules and apply a different standard is very unfair to the application. The motion to refer it back to committee by a 4-4 split: Gonzalez, Licata, O’Brien and Sawant voted to refer it, Harrell, Rasmussen, Burgess and Godden voted against.

which raised an issue for Rasmussen, since a 4-4 vote on the bill itself would also cause it to fail. So he proposed an amendment which incorporated language from a memo that Licata circulated that specifically protected free access and free speech on the property.  This required suspending their rules which require amendments to be circulated before noon, which they did 5-4 (Gonzalez flipped from the earlier vote). O’Brien and Sawant voted against suspending the rules because they wanted a chance to carefully review the text. O’Brien suggested (as a friendly amendment) that there be signage explaining the public’s first amendment rights be displayed on the property. Rasmussen appreciated the point, and pointed out that the agreement already requires appropriate signage. Nevertheless, O’Brien wanted the language in there. O’Brien also pointed out that the Council waived its rules to expedite the time from passing out of committee with a divided report to a full Council vote (2 weeks are normally required) — Rasmussen justified it because of the long holiday recess.

Gonzalez reiterated that the fact that they are rushing around during the meeting trying to craft language to support first amendment protections emphasizes the importance of referring it back to committee.

Council President Burgess was informed by staff that a motion to suspend the rules requires a 2/3 vote, which they didn’t get, so they can’t consider Rasmussen’s amendment. (if you’re having trouble following along at this point — you’re in good company — the Council was too)

President Burgess noted that with a 4-4 split, they were at a bit of an impasse. Council member Harrell proposed that the bill be held until the January 11 full Council meeting (which Burgess had proposed 5 minutes earlier and received zero support). That succeeded — Gonzalez voted for it, Sawant, O’Brien and Licata against.

So a new Council will take it up again in the new year.