First Came Initiative 41
The ETC was created by Initiative 41, a voter-approved mandate that called for the establishment of a public development authority company to seek private capital and management to create a 40-mile elevated transit system to link Seattle’s four corners via downtown Seattle. Initiative 41 did not, however, include any City budget appropriations or levies to pay for its immediate funding. It stated that the company (ETC) would seek “non-government monies to carry out its purpose and goals before turning to government sources” (text of I-41), and if that money could not be found, then City government would step in to fund it with Revenue Bonds or by raising the City’s Business and Occupation (B&O) Tax.
After an initial $200,000 grant for office expenses from City emergency funds, Mayor Paul Schell and the Seattle City Council tried to amend Initiative 41 (a process that is legal two years after an initiative’s passage). Lawsuits and public anger influenced the Council and mayor to discuss granting ETC more operating money, but the City Council finally repealed I-41 at the end of July 2000, by passing the Heidi Wills/Richard Conlin-sponsored Amendment No. 113304. This amendment effectively disbanded the ETC by turning it into an advisory committee to Paul Schell’s Strategic Transportation Initiative (STI), a partnership of area groups with interests in developing a regional transportation plan. The five remaining ETC board members (of 12 original) could only make recommendations to the STI, which was interested in basing the regional plan on Sound Transit’s Light Rail plan, not the monorail.
Then came Initiative 53
Monorail activists Peter Sherwin and Cleve Stockmeyer had begun drafting another initiative during ETC’s funding difficulties with the City Council. They collected more than 20,000 signatures in order to get it on the November ballot as Proposition 2. It passed by a 56 percent majority on November 7, 2000. This initiative repealed the Wills/Conlin Amendment, gave the ETC $6 million and two years time to create a new monorail plan, and reserved $200 million in public borrowing capacity to fund possible implementation of the project.
ETC regrouped and reorganized, chose a first route corridor in May 2001, and gained the necessary state legislation (ESSB 6464) that would allow voters to create an “Independent Municipal Authority” to “plan, construct and operate” a monorail system on June 13, 2002.
On November 5, 2002, Seattle voters approved Proposition 1 by a scant 877 votes. It created the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA) to replace the ETC, and gave it the authority to design, build and operate the 14-mile Green Line monorail as the first line in a city-wide monorail system. The Proposition specified funding for the system’s design and construction from a 1.4 percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). This was expected to raise $1.75 million -- the estimated price of planning, designing, building, and the operating start-up costs of the Green Line -- the first route of an expandable elevated transit system first approved by Seattle voters in 1997.
In 2005, following cost overruns and revenue shortfalls, Seattle voters killed the Seattle monorail project and its Green Line.