It’s my annual holiday tradition, but a first for Real Change: A list of last year’s underreported and overhyped local stories in mainstream media. As usual, there was no shortage of candidates.
Real estate enhancements that masqueraded as transportation initiatives continued to dominate local budget priorities. Almost all of Seattle’s discretionary transportation money went to a streetcar folly that will simply move existing transit riders into a new mode, at much higher costs per mile. Just like the Mercer Mess and the downtown tunnel, it’s all about increasing property values.
Speaking of the downtown tunnel, it was only at year’s end, as Murray’s Fault opened up under Pioneer Square, that the general public (and local media) began to understand what anyone paying attention knew at the start of the year: That the downtown tunnel project is in deep, deep trouble.
Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure was a mess. Bus ridership was at record levels, but Metro narrowly avoided draconian cuts. While the city built streetcars, there was a 10-year backlog of repairs to city roads. The Magnolia Bridge damaged in the Nisqually earthquake — 14 years ago — and other bridges are in real danger of collapsing. Local leaders’ disinterest in addressing critically needed infrastructure investment was a complete non-story.
Seattle rent increases were the highest in the country. Again. Last year was the fifth consecutive year that Seattle had the highest increases among the 50 largest U.S. cities, with much of this money going to out-of-town property owners. These sky-high rents were the result of intentional public policies (density!) that use an environmental veneer to mask a faith in free-market principles that would make Ayn Rand blush. Except, of course, public money heavily subsidized all this expensive new property development, which far outpaced the city’s infrastructure in transportation, schools and sewage.
Meanwhile, working class residents were forced to flee to the suburbs in search of somewhat less expensive housing, which created more sprawl and also intentionally remade Seattle into a wealthier, whiter, less diverse city.
Local homeless population exploded: One side effect of tearing down existing affordable housing stock to build all those shiny new buildings was that the number of people sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars, and in tent cities increased dramatically. Last year’s One Night Count was up 14 percent in 2014, which likely undercounted the homeless population. Welcome to the New Gilded Age.
State and local governments sabotaged pot legalization: While Colorado had its system up and running early in 2014, our state’s Liquor Control Board, dominated by drug warriors, issued a mere 21 retail permits for the entire state (far less than demand) and repeatedly delayed even those permits. Local governments tried at every turn to block implementation as well. And to think that without Costco’s liquor privatization initiative, the state would have had a ready-made network of retail stores.
State Republicans were just as unhinged as their national counterparts, doing exactly what their colleagues in the U.S. Congress did: They manufactured a crisis to force passage of a terrible budget. In addition, they blocked almost everything else, including, for the second year in a row, adequate education funding (in defiance of a Washington Supreme Court order) and a transportation budget.
Seattle Public Schools leadership was as bad as ever, with another superintendent driven off by senior staff and the school board. Then there was a relentless campaign to teach to meaningless tests and defund programs and alternative schools that don’t conform to standardization. The feds are now investigating Seattle for its disproportionate discipline rates of both African-American and Native-American students.
One word: Seahawks. If you overlook the Seattle Storm’s two recent best-team trophies in women’s basketball, yeah, Seattle hasn’t had a sports championship roughly since they discovered gold in the Yukon. It’s a big deal. But that’s a sports and cultural story. Instead, Paul Allen’s football toy dominated local news headlines and, especially, newscasts all year.
Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon are not local companies. For them, the Puget Sound is another pushpin on a world map. Each company is a global empire that’s been outsourcing jobs for years. Stories that assumed we should root for their success because they’re “ours” were laughably provincial.
Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather events, heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy news.
And on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2015. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.