The pleas to save the Lora Lake Apartments were impassioned. So were the demands to tear down the affordable housing complex to make way for an air cargo warehouse and SeaTac International Airport's third runway.
But, for both sides, last week's hearing at the Port of Seattle was all for show: After hours of testimony on Aug. 9, the Port's board voted as expected, 3-2, to reject a proposal put forward by Commissioner Bob Edwards to leave 162 of the 234 Burien apartments standing for at least 10 days. The Port, which owns the property, must raze the rest to create a buffer zone for its new runway.
The next day, a Superior Court judge granted an injunction that stops the demolition until at least March, when a trial is set to determine whether the King County Housing Authority -- which had operated the units as moderate- and low-income housing for the Port for seven years-- can take the property under eminent domain.
While that's good news for affordable housing, the emotion and legal drama could have been avoided, say two of Edwards' opponents in the upcoming Aug. 21 primary, if Edwards and the Port Commission had simply thought ahead.
"I would have voted in 2004 to show the leadership that the Port should have shown, then recognized that it was not enough to demolish the units, they should have started a plan for replacing them," says Gael Tarleton, a fund-raiser for the University of Washington's Office of Global Affairs and former defense industry executive who is running for Edwards' Position 2 seat.
Working toward that goal today, she says, could include the Port providing some funding, assistance or even real estate to replace the 162 units -- an idea that challenger Tom McCann, a former restaurant owner who was once a tenant of the Port's, endorses if the current apartments cannot be saved.
"The King County Housing Authority and the Port should have identified a place to build more inventory if they're going to be taking inventory off the market," McCann says. "I think that was the real problem."
Position 2 candidate The-Anh Nguyen, a Seattle Parks Department attendant who also runs a computer repair business, agrees, but says it would be better and cheaper if the existing units remained in use.
The Port bought Lora Lake's 21 buildings from a private owner in 1998, paying to relocate tenants from what originally was a high-end apartment complex with a big gym, two pools, and a playground. But, in the wake of delays with the third runway, the Port agreed in 2000 to let the housing authority lease and operate the complex for five years.
In 2004, the lease was extended to June 30, when the last of Lora Lake's latest tenants were forced to move out. In July, the housing authority and King County Executive Ron Sims offered to buy the 162 units for $18 million. When the Port refused, the housing authority sued.
In the vote taken on Aug. 9, Commissioners John Creighton, Pat Davis and Lloyd Hara voted down Edwards and Alec Fisken, saying it was more important for the Port to keep its commitment to the City of Burien, which plans commercial redevelopment in the area where Lora Lake stands.
Edwards, who wants to see the Port sell the 162 units to the housing authority, says it didn't occur to him to advocate for replacement housing in 2004 because the City of Burien was still in the midst of revising its comprehensive plan two years ago.
But 2004 "was the exact time the City of Seattle had been working with King County in looking at increasing population densities," Tarleton says. "There was a commitment made in 2004 to look at affordable housing across the Puget Sound area under the Puget Sound Regional Council, and the Port was supposedly a key player in that."
"I think everyone should remember that the Port is a major King County citizen in and of itself," she adds. But, "it did not show the kind of leadership that it should have shown, that it could have influenced a way of thinking about its responsibility to the cities of King County."
Today, Tarleton says, she would recommend all the parties, including the Port, county and mayor and city council of Burien, sit down and work out a deal -- before Lora Lake is lost.
"[They can] decide 'We are going to have 162 affordable housing units when Lora Lake comes down,'" she says, "and stop talking about who should have done what when."
Other candidates for Position 2 and Commissioner Alec Fisken's Postion 5 seat did not return messages or could not be reached.