Initiative 53

For the second time in three years, Seattle voters have endorsed the concept of a citywide monorail expansion.

The pro-monorail Initiative 53 held a commanding lead last night with more than half of ballots counted. About 90,000 city absentee ballots remained to be tallied, said Julie Anne Kempf, King County elections superintendent.

I-53 author Peter Sherwin credited an all-volunteer campaign that spent less than $40,000 but garnered substantial popular support.

"This is a classic people's initiative," Sherwin said. "We won fair and square."

The initiative, also known as Seattle Proposition 2, calls for the city to spend $6 million to develop a blueprint for a citywide system.

Sherwin and other supporters have blamed City Hall for lack of progress toward expanding the existing monorail, despite passage of a 1997 pro-monorail initiative penned by cabdriver Dick Falkenbury.

"If we lose, they'll probably build it," Sherwin joked early last night.

But City Councilwoman Jan Drago last night promised the council would respond quickly by setting aside the required $6 million, by tapping higher-than-expected city tax collections and by dipping into a reserve fund.

Although some city officials have de rided the monorail, there was little organized opposition to the I-53 campaign.

Former City Councilman Paul Kraabel and Beacon Hill activist Roger Pence co-wrote a statement opposing I-53 for the state voters guide.

The hard work clearly is ahead. Supporters will have two years to come up with a realistic monorail expansion that they can sell to voters at a subsequent election.

And Pence said the disdain monorail backers have expressed for local elected officials could come back to haunt them.

"There is a lot of anti-government sentiment in this, and that's going to be their undoing if they don't get a hold of it," Pence said. "They're going to need to work with these people they've been criticizing."

I-53 requires the city to give $6 million to the Elevated Transportation Co. (ETC) to develop a blueprint for a monorail expansion, including routes and financing.

Meanwhile, the city must set aside up to $200 million in debt capacity to help pay for monorail construction.

The initiative is a follow-up to 1997's Initiative 41, which called for a 40-mile monorail expansion but guaranteed no money.

I-41 created the ETC, which was given $200,000 by the city to pursue private backers.

The monorail movement seemed to be losing steam until a lawsuit filed by local attorney David Huber accused the city of failing to abide by I-41. In June, a judge ordered the city to repeal the initiative or build a monorail expansion.

Monorail supporters filed I-53 when it became clear the City Council would not give the ETC more money to pursue a plan.