As Tuesday evening’s Tacoma City Council meeting was winding down, Mayor Bill Baarsma unleashed a passionate speech denouncing “implications” that planning for Sound Transit’s proposed commuter rail line through Tacoma’s Dome District has been anything but above-board.
“There have been implications that there has been a series of meetings, kind of behind-closed-doors, and there’s been very little opportunity for the public to weigh in on this particular project,” the mayor began.
“I have been on this city council for nearly 16 years and I can’t think of a single project in which we’ve had more public meetings, more sessions and more changes in a particular project.”
The speech — or rather, the mayor’s impassioned delivery of it — ultimately had Baarsma profusely apologizing for himself, and drew chuckles from his colleagues and audience members. It also led the stalwart city politician to eventually vacate the dais to compose himself and his tousled hair.
“Maybe I’ve been pent up, and this is the opportunity to express my feelings,” explained Baarsma, shortly before handing the gavel off to Deputy Mayor Julie Anderson to briefly take over council proceedings.
Anderson initially responded with a one word exclamation: “Woaahhh!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Baarsma replied.
Video of the meeting can be found here (Baarsma’s speech comes near the end of the meeting).
Baarsma’s speech emerged after the first-reading of a resolution that would set the stage for Sound Transit’s use of city right-of-ways for the project to extend commuter tracks about 1.4 miles from D to M Street for Sounder’s Lakewood line. The project has drawn controversy, as some opponents contend a more open “post and beam” construction design should replace areas where Sound Transit primarily intends to build an earthen berm to elevate and extend the tracks.
The matter before the council Tuesday was a procedural issue that has not yet reached the decision-making stage. Still, the mayor said he was “surprised” no citizens came forward with public comments.
“This is one of many public hearings. People had the opportunity to come forward this evening, in the council chambers, to express their concerns. They had that opportunity,” Baarsma said.
“… It’s a little frustrating,” he added. “The implication is there is something going on here, that we’re going back to some closed-door process. And I agree, years ago it was a closed door process. Now it is not.”