2016: The WTF Year in Review

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
#manintree perhaps best summarizes the overall WTF zeitgeist of 2016

No doubt, 2016 will go down as the year when the race for the nation’s highest office hit a new low and local real estate prices hit a new high. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom: It was also the year when Bertha got back to work, when an augmented-reality game got geeks out and into local parks, and when one man got an entire bustling city to stop for a moment and gaze up at a tree in wonder.

Best and Worst of 2016: The year's highs and lows

Presidential Election
High
: Seattleites feel the Bern and Sanders wins the state Low: Students erect “Trump wall” in University of Washington’s Red Square to show their support

Pokémon Go Debuts
High
: Nerds and techies head outdoors in search of Pokémon Low: Pokémon fans overwhelm parks (especially Bellevue’s Downtown Park), leaving no room for normal park activities

Homelessness Part 1
High
: Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos each donate $1 million to help the homeless Low: 2 killed in “The Jungle” under Interstate 5; sweeps of homeless camps spark controversy

Homelessness Part 2
High
: City creates RV parking locations for folks living in vehicles Low: Some Magnolia and Ballard residents have a NIMBY attitude to the homeless parking RVs in their ’hoods 

Bellevue Football Scandal
High: Investigation finds coach and booster violations; sanctions imposed by the Kingco Conference Low: Coach and boosters don’t think they did anything wrong and file lawsuit to overturn sanctions

Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole
High: Chief is invited to sit next to Michelle Obama at State of the Union address Low: O’Toole and black officers in South Precinct are the target of “outright lies” in a civil lawsuit

Proposed North Seattle Police Station “Bunker” 
High: Protesters successfully torpedo (or at least delay) construction Low: $149 million building plan with rain garden, yoga room, amphitheater, skate park, pool, boulder playground, rooftop running track 

520 Bridge Opens
High: It's a beauty! Low: Thousands of walkers at the opening celebration got stuck on the bridge because of long lines for the shuttle buses. Angie of Seattle tweets: “There’s a backup getting off 520. Nothing new there”

Link Light Rail Line, Between Husky Stadium and Downtown, Opens
High: Commuters show Link a lot of love: Passenger traffic increases dramatically within weeks Low: Roosevelt and Northgate stations won’t open until 2021; Bellevue’s Spring District, in 2023. And Ballard? Maybe not until 2035

Pam Roach, State Senator
High: No doubt her constituents are cheering that she’s still in office Low: Investigated by FBI for political fundraising and conduct, got booted off Senate’s sex-trafficking panel for belittling and verbally abusing victims

Seven Salon
High: Its Bellevue salon is still open Low: The high-end salon notified employees by text message that they were out of a job when the downtown Seattle salon unexpectedly closed

Alaskan Way Viaduct 
High: Viaduct reopens 5 days early, traffic isn’t nearly as bad as expected. Before the reopening, 75 cyclists sneak onto the carless Viaduct for a night ride. “It was like, now or never,” said one Low: It was shut down for a predicted two weeks as a precaution while Bertha dug a tunnel beneath the Viaduct

KPLU-FM
High: The station and its fans raise $7 million to remain independent of KUOW Low: Starts broadcasting with the lame-sounding call letters KNKX (pronounced “connects”)

Seattle Is Among U.S. Cities to Receive a Naked Statue of Donald Trump
High: At least his private parts are covered Low: Some say he failed to speak the naked truth

Tree Cutting
High: The City of Seattle files two lawsuits against the homeowners, seeking $1.6 million in damages and fines Low: West Seattle homeowners arrange to have 150 trees cut down with no permit, allegedly to improve views

SEXISM
Year of the Woman? Maybe Not in Seattle
Cue Tammy Wynette singing “Sometimes It’s Hard to Be a Woman.” Let’s review the year
By Elaine Porterfield


Jeers, not cheers, for this poster

>> Last spring, Redmond-based Microsoft thought it was a good idea to have a bevy of scantily clad women mingle with guests at a Game Developers Conference Xbox party. Could this type of thinking have something to do with why female coders are still in short supply? Adding insult to injury: The party took place only hours after a networking lunch for women in the industry. 

>> Five female Seattle City Council members took a tough position last May, voting against giving up part of Occidental Avenue S for the construction of a proposed sports arena in SoDo, only to be treated to a blizzard of misogynistic, racist and sexually threatening messages. Note to arena supporters: Not helping your cause.

>> An ill-conceived poster for the University of Washington cheer and dance program, made public last April, inspired a storm of attention on social media. The poster helpfully illustrated the desired look for program hopefuls with a blond, white model cooing that a “bronze, beachy glow” and a “natural tan or spray tan” are de rigueur. Women of color or athletes of any stripe apparently need not apply. 

>> And then there was the front-page Seattle Times photo that ran after Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination featuring (drum roll, please)—yes, former President Bill Clinton. Hillary was nowhere in sight. “We apologize for missing the mark,” editors said later. You think? 

POLITICS
Trumped Up


When a videotape of Donald Trump explaining his right to grope and force himself on women emerged in October, Republican leaders around the country abandoned their candidate in droves. But Susan Hutchison wasn’t one of them. Instead, the Washington State Republican Party chair noted, “Donald Trump said those comments when he was a Democrat and he is a Republican today.” No wonder he’s so much nicer now! So, how long will it take, we wonder, for the state’s Republican Party to abandon Hutchison?

WEATHER
The October Windstorm That Wasn't


WA Windstorm of the Century: We Will Rebuild

RACE
Minority Report
Race has always mattered, but this year it bubbled up all over the place
By Knute Berger

In 2016, Seattle remained a white-majority city (70 percent), but one that can no longer ignore issues of race and racism. This year we learned, for example, that former King County Executive Ron Sims, who Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote is “arguably the most successful African American politician in Seattle history,” has been stopped for little reason by the cops eight times, most recently when an officer pulled him over on Rainier Avenue only to ask, “Where are you going?” If one of the city’s top leaders can be stopped for “driving while black,” how much progress are we making in progressive Seattle?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained strength and visibility with demonstrations held throughout the year. Seattle is under court order to reform its police department to solve an ongoing problem of racial bias. The U.S. District court judge overseeing the effort, James Robart, gave heart to reformers when he stated unequivocally from the bench, “Black lives matter.” According to Slate, it’s the first time a “sitting federal judge has explicitly cited the nascent civil rights movement.…” Robart was appointed by George W. Bush, by the way.

Contrasting with the judge, the head of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, Ron Smith, resigned after tweeting about BLM that “hatred of law enforcement by a minority movement is disgusting.” (He was responding to the tragic shooting of officers in Dallas in July.) The head of the local NAACP called the tweet “stupid and totally irresponsible.”

The Seattle Police Department continued to be a flash point for racial controversy. Angry community members packed city council chambers in the summer to oppose a new North End precinct station they called “the bunker” and question how progressive politicians could support it. The project is moving forward, with a budget trimmed from $160 million to $149 million.

In another step this summer, Mayor Ed Murray announced the city was cutting ties with the neighborhood council system that has served as a connector between the nabes and city hall for three decades. One of the main issues cited was that the councils are too often dominated by white, single-family-home owners. The Stranger’s Ansel Herz lectured, “[T]he way Seattle’s current neighborhood council system works is institutional racism 101, folks.” The city, however, had no replacement plan, but promised to study how to get more inclusive input.

On a positive note, the new Seattle City Council sworn in back in January not only featured a majority of female council members—not for the first time—but the council’s first Latinas, Lorena González and Debora Juarez. Juarez is also the first enrolled Native American to sit on the City Council. It’s about time in a city named for an American Indian chief. 

In August, a sad loss to Seattle’s ongoing struggle for civil rights was noted with the passing of “Uncle” Bob Santos, one of the four legendary Seattle civil rights activists from the ’60s called the Four Amigos, which also included Larry Gossett, Bernie Whitebear and Roberto Maestas. Santos, of Filipino heritage, played a key role in saving the Chinatown/International District. The four friends are reminders that Seattle has made progress, and can continue making headway if it truly tries. 

CITY PROGRAMMER
Just Call Seattle Allenopolis
Paul Allen’s local influence keeps expanding (though he recently stepped down as CEO of his multi-faceted comapny, Vulcan). While you may not like all of his investments, let’s get real: Most of the rich guy’s projects, detailed below, are making Seattle a richer place to live


Illustration by: Kathryn Rathke 

Seattle Seahawks!
Allen purchased in 1997; since then, the team has had two Super Bowl appearances and one win.

Sounders FC
Allen joined the ownership group in 2007.

EMP (Now MoPOP)
Opened in 2000 at Seattle Center, the museum is a draw for the music and sci-fi geek. 

Cinerama 
Bought (in 1998), refurbished and renovated (several times), the vintage theater features first-run films and 70 mm festivals. 

South Lake Union
Allen presciently began buying up property in 1992. Transformed neighborhood with 5 million square feet in 24 projects (many occupied by Amazon) and 1,367 residential units. Began selling some developed properties in 2012.

Allen Institute for Brain Science
Established in 2003 to study brain health and disease; SLU headquarters also houses the Allen Institute for Cell Science and the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.

Mercer Island
Allen’s waterfront compound includes a 10,000-square-foot home, helipad, full-size basketball court, swimming pool, fitness center, guest homes, etc., etc., etc. He owns around 11 properties on the island.

Vulcan Inc.
Allen’s company, headquartered in Pioneer Square, with a mission to “solve some of the biggest global issues.”

Flying Heritage Collection
Allen’s collection of World War II combat airplanes and artifacts, located at Paine Field in Everett.

Seattle Art Fair
Our version of Miami’s Art Basel, started in 2015. In 2016, it attracted 84 U.S. galleries and lots of buzz. 

Living Computer Museum
SoDo-based computer and technology museum opened in 2012.

Allen Library
On the University of Washington campus.

Central District
In February, Allen purchased a 3.6-acre site at S Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue S; redevelopment plans call for mid-rise mixed-used buildings.

Upstream
A new South by Southwest–style music fest to debut in Pioneer Square next May.

Paul Allen and The Underthinkers
Allen plays rhythm guitar in this rock group, which released its debut album in 2013.

Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Wallingford-based; an expansion announced this year is to add square footage and employees.

Vulcan Aerospace
Its Stratolaunch, designed to carry a rocket into space, is being built in the Mojave Desert.

Microsoft
Headquarters in Redmond. Need we say more?

REAL ESTATE
Tight Quarters
In our crazy real estate market, a moldy West Seattle house, tagged by authorities as unsafe to enter, got 41 offers and sold for nearly $427,000—almost double its asking price. Here’s what else happened
By Elaine Porterfield

>> By last fall, median home value in Seattle was $588,000, up nearly 16 percent in one year. Zillow predicts it will rise another 6.9 percent within the next year. 

>> The median rental price in Seattle? About $2,450 a month. The apartment research firm Yardi Matrix says Seattle rent has risen 12 percent in the past year, the most of any city in the country and double the national average. 

>> From Tukwila to North Seattle some landlords hit tenants with increases of $1,000 a month. 

>> The old joke appears to be true: Apparently the crane is the official bird of Seattle. The Downtown Seattle Association said last summer that 65 major buildings were under construction in the downtown core, South Lake Union and surrounding neighborhoods. That’s the most since the group began tracking construction in 2005. 

>> Condo prices surged 12 percent in King County, with a median sales price of $335,000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. 

>> Seventy-five percent of Seattle homes listed for sale received multiple offers, many triggering bidding wars. 

>> Homes in King County are selling after only seven days on the market, according to Redfin, making it one of the most competitive places to buy in the country.

>> The Seattle City Council became the first in the nation to require landlords to rent to qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.

>> Some weren’t feeling the love for Airbnb. The workers’ rights group Puget Sound Sage claims property owners flipped 1,003 formerly long-term rental units—36 percent of all Seattle Airbnb listings—into short-term Airbnb listings. Sage says those units could be housing local renters rather than Airbnb visitors.

>> Demand for housing doubled, then quintupled near all Pronto Cycle Share sites, apparently so people can take advantage of the wildly popular bike rental program. OK, we made that up.

GENDER
Signs of the Times


The brilliant bathroom sign in South Lake Union’s Great State

In 2016, a “bathroom bill” didn’t refer to the cost of remodeling a bathroom. Approximately 15 states considered legislation to restrict access to bathrooms based on the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. Here in Washington, Initiative 1515, which would have done just that, failed to collect enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot. Meanwhile, local businesses responded to Seattle’s All-Gender Restroom Ordinance. We especially loved the clever signage at some of Seattle’s restaurants. 

HOMELESSNESS
Park City

Many people move to Seattle to be close to the great outdoors; the homeless, however, have no choice but to be close to the elements. Yet the Seattle City Council’s recent proposal that would allow homeless camps in some city parks, greenbelts and parking strips landed with a thud. In an editorial, The Seattle Times noted: “The city does have an obligation to confront the huge and growing homeless crisis. But officially allowing homeless camps in parks sets an appallingly low bar for what this city will tolerate.” Hear, hear (on both counts). Note: Since this issue was published, Mayor Murray has authorized four new public encampments.

 

NEIGHBORHOODS
Lemonade from Lemons: Greenwood's Recovery

The explosion in Greenwood last March, caused by a natural gas leak, destroyed buildings and businesses, but not the community’s resilience. Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help clean up the neighborhood, and the Phinney Neighborhood Association raised more than $300,000 to help businesses and affected residents get back on their feet. But perhaps the most visible sign of the neighborhood’s recovery (most businesses have now reopened) were the colorful murals, painted by dozens of artists, that sprouted on the plywood boards that covered damaged storefronts. The murals were auctioned off in May, with proceeds going to the Greenwood Relief Fund. That’s our idea of community spirit. 

On the road to recovery: Artists decorated damaged buildings (below) after the blast in Greenwood (above) 

ATHLETICS
The Year in Sports

Thumbs Up
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson marries singer Ciara in a July ceremony

Seattle Reign FC team members Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe join the campaign for equal pay for female soccer players

Former Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

UW women’s basketball team makes it to the Final Four—first time ever

Thumbs Up/Down
Sigi Schmid steps down as Sounders FC head coach

Thumbs Down
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch retires

Sounders FC star forward Clint Dempsey ends his season in September due to an irregular heartbeat

ATHLETICS
Taking a Stand

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the trend last August when he sat during the playing of the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. Then, Seahawks player Jeremy Lane took a stand by sitting during the anthem, and other NFL players soon followed suit. In September, Seattle’s Garfield High School football team kneeled during the national anthem at a game against West Seattle, something they continued at subsequent games. It raised the question: Is this the right place for protest? Some say no. On the other hand, the flag represents freedom of speech and expression. And aren’t these rights that we fiercely protect? 

FOOD TRENDS
It's What's For Dinner!
This year’s top food trends have us eating food that’s good for us on the run
By Jessica Yadegaran

Poke Power 
The first sign of ahi poke’s takeover as bowl of the year was the announcement from food truck Poke to the Max (which often has lines snaking around Westlake Park by 11:30 a.m.) of a brick-and-mortar location (Hillman City; samchoyspoke.com). Then came porcelain-plate versions at fancier sit-downs, like Super Six (Columbia City; supersixseattle.com) and finally the one that blew us all away: 45th Stop N Shop and Poke Bar (Wallingford), a convenience store making heaping bowls of fresh poke (ahi, salmon, snapper and other seafood) along with avocado, edamame and other free toppings. 

Grab-and-Go Gourmet 
Between meetings, what do you eat? In New York, you grab a slice. In Seattle—a Starbucks scone? Not anymore. This year, driven by the success of mercantile/eateries such as The London Plane and Home Remedy, countless restaurants, including those helmed by fine-dining chefs, began offering fancier grab-and-go options, from Parisian rotisserie chicken and bone broth at Poulet Galore (South Lake Union; pouletgalore.com) to house-made porchetta at Copine (Ballard; copineseattle.com) and in-house smoked salmon on crostini or Dungeness crab macaroni and cheese from East Anchor Seafood, (Madrona; eastanchorseafood.com). 


Image by: Brooke Fitts
Frankie and Jo's ice cream

Plant-based Eating 
In 2016, we learned that eating healthfully is so much more enjoyable when someone else does the hard work—chopping and roasting organic vegetables, puréeing seasonal fruits, soaking ancient grains, pressing nuts into milk for lattes and making chocolate-covered garbanzo bean treats. From Bounty Kitchen (Queen Anne; bountykitchenseattle.com) and Sweetgrass Food Co. (Denny Triangle; sweetgrassfoodco.com) to Jujubeet (Bellevue; jujubeet.com) and Frankie & Jo’s (Capitol Hill; frankieandjos.com), the plant-based revolution took over our tummies. Did we mention that last eatery makes plant-based ice cream and juice sorbets? Yup. 

TRANSPORTATION
Bertha Has Her Say
By Michael Stusser


Image by: Washington State Department of Transportation
Inside Bertha: The tunnel-digging machine made good progress this year

Despite serious delays, Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine, has been slowly digging a 2-mile tunnel under the city that will eventually replace the Viaduct (State Route 99). She recently sat down with Seattle magazine to have a frank conversation about her future.

Bertha, you got buried for a while there near Pioneer Square, causing a two-year delay. At one point they had to pull you up for air. That must have been scary! More painful than scary. I chomped into a giant steel pipe (119 feet long!)* that some idiots left over from a previous project. Damn near snapped a bunch of teeth off!

It’s been a big year for you. Weren’t you shut down again? Hey, I just needed a little dental work—it took almost four weeks for my steel cutting bits to be inspected to replace 33 of them. It wasn’t fun! And then there was that sinkhole! Thank goodness Governor Inslee was looking out for me and made sure things were safe. 

Sorry, but aren’t you kind of made for chomping through stuff? I may be big, but I’m sensitive. 

I mean no offense, Bertha, but you’re huge! Almost 7,000 tons, 57 feet wide and you move, at max, 40 feet a day. You’re not so active yourself.

Point taken. But this isn’t about me—it’s about you! Do you really think people are going to pay a toll of $1.25 to go in each direction? Make that $2.50.

What? Well the state Toll Division is studying it; could be a bit higher. But I’ll tell you something: I’ll be worth it, darling! Two gleaming lanes going in each direction along a well-lit and non-scenic 1.7-mile tunnel. 

Well, it can’t be said you’re not a big spender. You’re currently $223 million** over budget and just asked for another $60 million. In the end, what’s the whole project going to cost? We’re thinkin’ $3.1 billion. But that includes a lot! Connecting ramps, a port truck overpass, and the total demolition of the Viaduct! Of course, I’ll be long gone by then. Can’t stop Bertha from doing her thing!

People may not realize it, but you’re now making some pretty steady progress. Hey, you try tunneling over 4,000 feet and see how long it takes you! 

OK, OK, OK. Still, I saw that drone that flew inside that tunnel you’re digging. It was like watching a colonoscopy. Glad you liked it! I also have my own website in case you want to follow each and every step of the way. (wsdot.wa.gov/projects/viaduct/about/followbertha)

You are popular. I noticed your Twitter account has, like, 20,000 followers. Yep! But don’t get fooled by the fake accounts! There are a ton of ’em. Mine’s @berthadigsSR99

Despite delays, the good news is that you are scheduled to open for traffic in early 2019. We’ll throw a grand-opening party! I’d hold off on that if I were you…. 

A response from WSDOT: "While WSDOT understands that this article is a parody, we do wish to set the record straight on two important issues.

* First, WSDOT does not believe that an 8-inch wide pipe (it was a hollow steel well-casing) caused significant problems for the massive tunneling machine. This is a critical point in ongoing litigation.

** Regarding the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program’s budget: The numbers in this article are not accurate. WSDOT informed lawmakers in July 2016 that total additional program costs could go as high as $223 million (due to the nearly three year delay for repairs to Bertha). The article incorrectly suggested that number was $283 million. In December 2016, after the article was printed, WSDOT informed lawmakers that the estimated need has been lowered to $149 million. We continue working to reduce that number further. Please click here for further explanation."

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