Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Local Politics: Mauled

Readers of this journal should not be surprised that I am no friend of Big-D Development. The great development wave has reached only half a block away from the house now, as a pretty horse pasture has become the hard-packed dirt lair of Caterpillar tractors and backhoes. I drive through not one but two road construction projects before I get to the highway, because More People = More Roads = Potential for More People. Even my mom-in-law, visiting from Jersey, was surprised at the population density in these new developments. And there is a likely initiative coming up on the fall ballot where the locals will have to pay the Developers if they want to enforce development laws (more on that later).

But every so often there is a case where I can get behind a developer, Case in point - The Landing in Renton. North of the downtown district was once one of the two major Boeing Plants in region. Boeing has been reducing its "footprint" over the years, and emptying its former offices. In a move that almost smacks of good planning, the local Renton government (Who I also regularly beat about the head and shoulders) has put together a plan for renovating the area with a mall, threater and condos. There was even a brief flicker of putting up a stadium for the Sonics on the site.

Now, I am no fan of development, but the land was previously manufacture and office buildings, so moving it to a residential/commerical hub is not a bad idea at all. Its not like you're ripped up farmland or an already-existing residential district or killing spotted owls to install this. Who could complain?

The answer is: The owners of a rival mall.

No kidding. I got this one from the nice guy that runs HA, but it bears mentioning again. The big sprawl at where 405 meets 5, known the locals as Southcenter but renamed by its new Australian owners as Westfield is supporting a move against the Landing. They're picking up the legal tab for a non-profit group which tries to look grass roots, but has that sick plastic smell of astroturf.

This battle is particularly interesting since the Westfield mob is cheerfully direct about funding the attempts to throttle its potential rival, not only shrugging off when the media has uncovered its involvement, and declaring that legal-bombing its competition is perfectly OK, since its shareholders must be protected (as opposed to say, its customers).

And it a bizarre twist the discussion went immediately to invoking Godwin's Law. The Renton Chamber of Commerce President played the outsider card, saying "To have some outsider try to put a jackboot on our economic throat is not going to fly,", to which the Westfield spokemen fired back that the Chamber of Commerce was making "an anti-semitic attack".

Uh-huh. The jackboot is connected with Napoleon, Nazis, and totalitarian Communists, all noted pro-semitic supporters. So this fight has just started and it is already spinning out into the whackier frontiers of reasonable discussion. And while I am more than happy to see the normally pro-business Chamber take on a big business, I think Westfield has shown a remarkable tin ear to the entire proceedings - you beat your opponents through superior service, not lawsuits and accusations.

Just say g'day, mates, and move on.

More later,