By Jack Mayne

SeaTac now has its second African immigrant City Councilmember. The first – Amina Ahmed – was tragically killed in a vehicle accident earlier in the year, shortly after being appointed to fill a vacancy.

At the Tuesday (Nov. 26) regular SeaTac Council meeting, members discussed and approved the mayor signing a new letter to the Washington State Department of Commerce to express the Council’s concerns regarding the process by which the Sea-Tac Airport Study is being conducted under its management.

The Council session began as newly-elected Takele Gobena replaced Stanley Tombs Jr., who had been appointed to fill Position No. 5 after Councilmember Ahmed died in an automobile accident. Gobena was elected to the position in the recent election, so by state law he immediately assumed the Council position, then will begin his regular four-year term in January.

Takele Gobena

New SeaTac Councilmember Takele Gobena.

Received much information
“Over the last few months, I have been talking to the community … people from all walks of life, migrants, seniors, new residents and heard a lot of concern from them and we sat down and we had a lot of communication on their concerns.” He noted that he wasn’t born nor grew up in SeaTac, but has called the city home for many years, and said it “doesn’t matter” if people didn’t vote for him, “it is time to work together.”

“Very exciting, thank you all,” he said to fellow Councilmembers.

One man said he was “thrilled because this is what democracy truly looks like. SeaTac is truly an example of what America is, a diverse place, a place of people who fled war, a place of people who, quite frankly dug in their feet and pulled themselves up with their boot straps,” he said.

But he added that “people who this assembly has ignored for years and the last time I was actually in this room, you had over 3,000 concerned members of this community escorted out by police, chanting for you, for all of you to listen to them. So what they did was they decided to dig in their feet and and they went to a ballot box and they replaced one of your friends.”

Immigrants not heard
He said the non-white immigrants in the city were “ignored, condescended to” and he said he heard a “gamut of slurs and insults at people in this city, yet now it’s clear that, well, guite frankly, for all of you who watched as immigrant businesses and community members are displaced and gleefully, gleefully support that displacement … “Joel, Peter, your seats are next,” referring to Councilmembers Joel Wachtel, whose term ends in 2021, and Peter Kwon who was just reelected to a four year term.

Several others in the immigrant community who are now SeaTac residents made supportive comments for Gobena. One said she was very proud of Gobena for becoming a Councilmember, “he is very hard working, very dedicated and as a union organizer he brings a lot of experience to your team and it is a breath of fresh air to see someone who looks like myself reflected on the City Council.” She added the community of immigrants is “very supportive” of him on the Council.

A councilmember said that six of the 10 people who addressed the Council Tuesday night were in support of Gobena and disparaged the City Council and those public speakers were not SeaTac residents and “represent special interest groups, political committees and unions.” The city was unable to give The SeaTac Blog a copy of the commenter sign-up sheet unless we submitted a public disclosure form, a normally time consuming affair.

Airport study questioned
A letter, lengthily discussed by the Council Tuesday night, was signed by Mayor Erin Sitterley because the Council wants to “express its concerns regarding the process by which the Sea-Tac Airport Study is being conducted under the management” of the state Department of Commerce. Burien and Des Moines have not expressed that concern.

SeaTac demands a response by Dec. 10.

SeaTac is paying 50 percent of the participating cities’ share of the study and 25 percent of the overall project cost.

“This amounts to $150,000,” wrote Sitterley. “As elected officials, it is our responsibility to ensure the city’s financial resources are being spent wisely.”

Legislation passed in 2018
Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6032 passed in the 2018 session. “It clearly defines the study to be delivered to the legislature on December 1, 2019,” but the study deadline has already been extended to June 1, 2020.

The city letter (download PDF here) says that based on the information presented at a Nov. 6, public meeting and “current additional interviews the project consultant is proposing, the City of SeaTac is concerned that Commerce will not be able to deliver the requested detailed analysis as specified in the scope of work and directed by the Legislature by June 1, 2020.”

SeaTac’s letter says the city wants “full assurances from Commerce that the study will be completed on time with the degree of thoroughness as defined.”

The city’s letter adds “we also understand the consultant project lead is located in Dallas and therefore, officials fly out for each advisory committee and public meeting. It is reasonable to assume these trips are not inexpensive. Minimizing those costs should be a goal moving forward, another reason to stick to the original proposal of having public review of a draft document, rather than inviting input prior to completion of work.”

Not enough money
Further, the SeaTac City Council letter says “it is our understanding that at the outset, the Technical Advisory Committee recognized the total $600,000 of funding would likely not be sufficient to provide the degree of thoroughness that would be desired for a study of this nature. The City of SeaTac shares that concern.

“Please provide a report of the project’s current budget status, a complete list of how funds have been expended to date and the amount of funds remaining to complete the study. Included in this report, the city would like a full accounting of all travel related expenses for … consultants to fly from Dallas to the SeaTac area.”

Burien meeting
Sitterley said several SeaTac City Council members and citizens attended a Nov. 6, 2019 public meeting in Burien.

“The councilmembers and citizens were frustrated with how the information was presented,” the mayor wrote. “More importantly, there are serious questions about (consultant) Stantec’s data gathering and questions about its relevancy to the airport, given the location of monitoring stations which lie outside of the clearly defined study area,” said the letter.

“The City of SeaTac is concerned Stantec has strayed from the original scope of work which is a technical study on the impacts of airport operations,” said the SeaTac letter. “One noted concern is we understand Commerce and the consultant are planning to meet with certain “expert” community members in early January, prior to publication of a draft report.”

The letter adds that SeaTac “requests a response from Commerce to our requests in this letter by 2 p.m. December 10.

“In summary, we are concerned this study is not going in the right direction and we want to redirect it before further taxpayer funds are expended,” concluded the letter.