Please do more coverage of local elections. Voter turnout of 30% is not news, but what is happening in local government because of low voter turnout is! People need to dig those Aug 7 ballots out of the recycle bin.
If you look at the Renton Reporter story “Library Price Tags” from last week, you might see what seems to be a good example of facts driving a voter decision, … but look more closely. The Mayor of the City of Renton is telling voters that if KCLS fixes the Renton Public Library building over the Cedar River, it will cost $13M dollars, but if the City fixes it, it won’t cost anything.
Don’t believe me? Read on. I’m just a Renton businessman, but I feel like we are getting the short end of the hard truth, and I think the truth makes for a good read. I hope your viewers agree.
Renton is voting this week on Prop 1, a proposition to chose either the Cedar River library site or a new library sited at the Piazza downtown. It is beginning to look like City leaders could have to come up with another $10M to pay for renovations to the Cedar River site if the city goes for the new library at the Piazza. That $10M is on top of the $18M in library construction money they have said they will spend on the Piazza and Highland sites (i.e., a grand total of $28M). And that can be documented if you talk to Peter Renner, Facilities Director for the City of Renton since 2002.
I’m not sure if you are familiar with the issues, but what makes this interesting is that Bill Ptacek of KCLS got involved in the election and came up with numbers that disputed the City’s cost estimates, and last week Mayor Denis Law came out supporting Bill Ptacek’s numbers over the City’s numbers. The $13M price tag estimated by Ptacek for renovating the Cedar River site could seem to persuade voters to select the Piazza site (see coverstory Renton Reporter 20 Jul). The vote for annexation in 2010 was decided by a 53 vote margin, so the Ptacek letter and the Mayor’s comments could swing it this time, déjà vu.
What makes this really interesting is that Ptacek is almost certainly wrong about the total costs for moving the library; they are much, much higher.
There is a guy named Peter Renner, who is Facilities Director for the City of Renton, and he has looked at the option of “repurposing” the old library building, which is clearly part of the library realignment. [When you buy a car, you don’t close the deal until you figure the trade-in.] In this case, Renner discovered that the assessed value of Cedar River building is $3.8M (the low assessment is because the County can’t tax it), and if the city spends more than 50% of assessed value on reconditioning it, the work will trigger a full upgrade to current codes. In testimony Bill Ptacek gave at the Apr 16 City Council meeting, Ptacek estimated it would cost $3M for an interior demo, replacement of ventilation systems, and a fix of some of the worst seismic problems, in short leaving a big empty shell, what Ptacek characterized as an absolutely rock bottom price to gut the structure. Renner, also testifying at the 16 April Council meeting, stated that as soon as they spend the first $3M, they are on the hook for the whole code upgrade (King County rules), which according to KCLS engineering budgets, would cost somewhere upwards of $5.2M at bid, maybe $8M, plus soft costs, thus easily another $10M on top of the $18M if the voter’s select the Piazza site. Add it up. The total is $28M dollars, not the $18M the Mayor apparently wants you to believe!
In my opinion, you see in the press what might give the appearance of misinformation or incomplete information on two levels simultaneously. First, the $13M price for repairs appears to be conflated with contingencies to scare the voters into voting against the Cedar River site. Second, the “zero” price for the City’s repairs is apparently put forward so that the voters don’t see the real cost if the City repurposes the building on its own nickel. Amazing, eh?
While Mayor Law is swearing on a stack of bibles that he wants voters to know he’s going to keep operating the old building if they vote his way (July 20 issue, Renton Reporter, trailer story), the numbers are saying that he has no way in blazes to pay for that.
On the other hand, the engineers are saying the existing building is good for another five decades or more if the repairs are done, and the renovations will be state of the art (Renton library update 21MB, see also Swenson Say Faget report, per Paul Faget). See also Greg Taylor's questioning at the April 16 council meeting.
So there are some real problems reconciling these two camps, in my view an objective finder of fact would probably trust the engineers more than the local politicos.
Maybe you wish you still had that ballot? Try King County Elections Headquarters at 919 SW Grady Way in Renton; they can issue new ballots on the spot for those who still haven’t voted.
—Kal Lambert, Renton Businessman