Sound Transit CEO Takes Election Vacation, Amazon’s Revisionist History, Stranger May Lease from ICE Landlord, and More

1. Tuesday night’s election was a major blow to cities like Seattle and transit agencies like King County Metro and Sound Transit, which will have to drastically cut back on long-planned capital projects and eliminate bus service if the statewide Initiative 976, which eliminated funding for transportation projects across the state, hold up in court.

The Puget Sound’s regional transit agency, Sound Transit, stands to lose up to $20 billion in future funding for light rail and other projects through 2041, forcing the agency to dramatically scale back its plans to extend light rail to West Seattle, Ballard, Tacoma and Everett.

So where was Sound Transit’s director, Peter Rogoff, as the election results rolled in?

On vacation in Provence, then at a conference on global health in Rwanda, which his wife, Washington Global Health Alliance CEO Dena Morris, is attending.

Rogoff posted on social media about his trip, which began while votes were being cast in late October and is still ongoing (Rogoff will return to work on Monday).

Screen shots from Rogoff’s Facebook page. On the right: The Sound Transit CEO displays Washington Nationals regalia in Provence.

 

Geoff Patrick, a spokesman for Sound Transit, said Rogoff took the trip to France because “he has not vacationed for a while,” and said the agency was in the “very capable” hands of deputy CEO Kimberly Farley. As for the women in health conference in Rwanda, Patrick said, “this is a conference that he wanted to attend with his wife and it’s an important conference,” adding that Rogoff was “attending the conference with every confidence that the agency is being well run” in his absence.

Asked what Farley, the deputy CEO, has done to reassure Sound Transit employees about the future of the agency in light of an election that could gut its funding, eliminating many jobs, Patrick said Farley emailed everyone on staff and told them to keep focusing on their work. “There’s no impact whatsoever [from Rogoff’s absence] to the agency’s operations,” Patrick said.

Rob Gannon, the general manager of King County Metro, reportedly visited all of Metro’s work sites in person to answer employee questions; I have a call out to Metro to confirm this.

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2. Amazon, the company that either did or did not buy Tuesday night’s election (or tried, only to have it backfire), has a sponsored article in the Seattle Times extolling the “revitalization” of South Lake Union. It began as follows:

In the late 19th century, Washington state was still largely untapped wilderness and the area surrounding Lake Union was modest and sparsely populated. Immigrants from Scandinavia, Greece and Russia, as well as East Coast Americans, traveled west to live in humble workers cottages as they sought their fortunes in coal, the new railway system, and a mill.

Amazon’s characterization of Washington as “largely untapped wilderness” waiting to be civilized by immigrants from Europe is jarring in 2019, when tribal-land acknowledgements are customary at public meetings and when most people living in Seattle are at least dimly aware that the West wasn’t actually vacant when “settlers” moved in.

I have reached out to Amazon and the Seattle Times and will update this post if I get more information about who wrote the sponsored piece.

For those who want to learn more about the past and present of the tribes that existed in what is now Washington state when Europeans arrived in the mid-19th century and are still here, here are a couple of helpful articles. One is from HistoryLink. The other is from the Seattle Times.

3. Council member Mike O’Brien, who raised his hand to co-sponsor council president Bruce Harrell’s proposal to fund an app-based homeless donation system created by a for-profit company called Samaritan, now says he’s “almost certain that [a $75,000 add to fund the company] will not be in the final budget.”

Amazon’s characterization of Washington as “largely untapped wilderness” waiting to be civilized by immigrants from Europe is jarring in 2019, when tribal-land acknowledgements are customary at public meetings and when most people living in Seattle are at least dimly aware that the West wasn’t actually vacant when “settlers” moved in.

The app equips people experiencing homelessness with Bluetooth-equipped “beacons” that send out a signal notifying people with the app where the person is. An app user can then read the person’s story—along with details of their mandatory visits with caseworkers, which may include medical and other personal information—and decide whether to “invest in” the person by adding funds to an account that can be used at a list of approved businesses. People can get “needed nutrition and goods” (tech-speak for groceries, apparently) at Grocery Outlet, for example, or “coffee and treats”  at the Chocolati Cafe in the downtown library.

O’Brien says the app sounded okay in theory, but the more he found out about the company—like the fact that it’s a for-profit business, and the fact that people must reveal personal, even private, information in exchange for “investments”—the less he liked the idea. “It’s kind of saying, ‘All you people that have been doing this for 50 years are just a bunch of uneducated bleeding-heart people, and I’m a business person, and I’ve got technology and I’m going to solve it,” O’Brien says. The Seattle Coalition on Homelessness and other advocacy groups have been lobbying the council not to fund the app, pointing out that the company’s business model creates new counseling obligations for nonprofits without funding additional case managers. The company also charges for “career counseling.” Council members Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, and Kshama Sawant also oppose funding the program.

4. Last week, the Stranger began asking readers to donate money “to support our general operating costs“—a humbling experience, no doubt, for a newspaper whose writers mocked this very website for relying on reader contributions.

In another move that could cause consternation among ideological purists in the ranks, the publication may soon be paying rent to Martin Selig, the billionaire Trump supporter Stranger writers have excoriated for donating to Republicans (and Egan Orion) and for renting office space to ICE. Sources say the Stranger has been looking at an office space at Selig’s 3131 Elliott Avenue building that has been occupied by a company called Fraxion; the Stranger would sublease the space.

Stranger publisher Laurie Saito confirmed that the paper is “in the process of looking right now” but added that “there is no agreement in place for any location.” The leasing agent for CBRE Real Estate said he couldn’t comment about potential leaseholders, and Selig did not return a call or email seeking comment.

5 thoughts on “Sound Transit CEO Takes Election Vacation, Amazon’s Revisionist History, Stranger May Lease from ICE Landlord, and More”

  1. I still read the Stranger online occasionally but making fun of The C is for Crank for taking donations to provide the only differently-biased, all city coverage that I read (and promote) on a regular basis is the most boring kind of snark you can sink to. Gah.

  2. Sometime ask Rob what led him to leave Amazon 20 years ago.

    I wonder if he ever thinks about those days during this #metoo era.

  3. Too bad the app wasn’t funded. Seems like a great technology solution to helping out homeless. Perhaps there’s a way to muddle through that satisfies all parties.

    1. The app sounds like a really bad idea. People experiencing homelessness shouldn’t have to market themselves and attempt to pander to the biases of whoever is in a position to donate. I would almost guarantee that racial and other biases would emerge right away. Instead of putting in startup money for a some hair brained crowdsourcing scheme to address the problem, city council should focus fully fund approaches that have been proven to work, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and permanent supportive housing.

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