SEATTLE SOUNDINGS | The stories we aren’t hearing about

Each year since 1996, I’ve published a list of the year’s most overhyped and underreported local stories. As we move into 2015, here are some stories we didn’t hear enough about in 2014 and are likely to want to know more about in the new year.


The recipients

Real estate prospects masquerading as transportation initiatives continue to dominate local budget priorities. Almost all of Seattle’s discretionary transportation money goes to a streetcar folly that simply moves 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.

Expect this, in 2015, to become a crisis that absolutely nobody could have foreseen — except, you know, the critics who opposed the tunnel plan five years ago.

Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure is a mess: Bus ridership is at record levels, but Metro, in 2014, narrowly avoided draconian cuts. While the city builds streetcars, there’s a 10-year backlog of repairs to city roads. Some bridges — like the Magnolia Bridge, damaged in the Nisqually earthquake 14 years ago — are in real danger of collapsing. Local leaders’ disinterest in addressing critically needed infrastructure investment continues to be a complete non-story.

Seattle rent increases are the highest in the country — still. 2014 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 are 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, that public money heavily subsidizes all this expensive, new property development, which is far outpacing the city’s infrastructure in transportation, schools, sewage and much more.

Meanwhile, working-class residents are forced to flee to the suburbs in search of somewhat-less-insanely-expensive housing, which has both created more sprawl and intentionally remade Seattle into a wealthier, whiter, less-diverse city.

The local homeless population explodes: One side effect of tearing down existing affordable-housing stock to build all those shiny, new buildings is that the number of people sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars and in tent cities has gone up dramatically. The annual One Night Count was up 14 percent in 2014 and is likely to be higher still this winter. Welcome to the new Gilded Age.


It all starts at the top

State and local governments have sabotaged pot legalization: While Colorado, which passed a legalization initiative on the same day as Washington state, had its retail weed system up and running in early 2014, our state’s drug-warrior-dominated Liquor Control Board issued just 21 retail permits for the entire state — vastly 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 instead.

State Republicans are just as unhinged as their national counterparts, doing exactly what their colleagues in Congress did: manufacturing crises to force passage of a terrible budget and blocking almost everything else — including, for the last two years, adequate education funding (in defiance of a state Supreme Court order) and any transportation budget at all.

As this year’s state legislative session opens, partisan bickering over inadequate funding for education continues to mask two major problems: Almost everything else in state government is also inadequately funded, and that’s going to keep getting worse until the state’s antiquated, grossly regressive, 19th-cenury tax structure is completely overhauled.

Seattle Public Schools leadership is as bad as ever, with yet another new superintendent — the fifth in 10 years — after the latest one was driven off by insular senior staff, a clueless school board and 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.

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 what’s left of local newsrooms to cover issues adequately, investigate abuses, push for change or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll need to do all that ourselves.

GEOV PARRISH is cofounder of Eat the State! He also reviews news of the week on “Mind Over Matters” on KEXP 90.3 FM. To comment on this column, write to