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June 20, 2005

Opinion: Benefits for domestic partners have pitfalls

I'm writing because I am concerned about the article in your June 16 issue, "Port eyes domestic benefits for contractors."

Members of Associated Builders & Contractors oppose domestic partner benefits because the unintended consequence is to discriminate against the majority of construction workers in the area in job opportunities.

In 2003, King County adopted an ordinance that required contractors to offer domestic benefits, with one exception: union contractors are exempt because unions only re-negotiate their benefit plans when the collective bargaining agreement expires. They will continue to be exempt if the new agreement doesn't include domestic partner coverage. On the other hand, the county expected that open shop contractors could make immediate adjustments to their benefit plans.

The result was an even greater exclusion of open shop workers (more than 80 percent of the local construction workforce) from King County projects, as their employers couldn't afford or couldn't access these benefits. Furthermore, union companies were given a financial advantage in bidding; since they don't have to supply domestic partner benefits, their labor costs are lower.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington opposes this proposal for a number of reasons:

1. In today's insurance and economic climates small and mid-sized contractors have difficulty finding affordable benefits for their employees, let alone any dependents. This is especially true for women and minority-owned businesses, who tend to be smaller.

2. This ordinance would increase the cost of doing business with the port, and, in the long run, raise the price tag of port projects for local taxpayers because fewer contractors will be able to afford to bid port projects.

3. This ordinance may discourage many companies from offering any dependent coverage or eliminate existing coverage, rather than incurring the cost of additional mandated coverage.

While we understand that this was a well-intentioned proposal, the unintended consequences will outnumber the benefits.

Kathleen Garrity Associated Builders & Contractors of Western Washington

Second Avenue idea needs more details

A bit more in-depth reporting in regard to your June 8 article about the declaration/resolution to close a portion of Second Avenue to cars would have been appreciated. Why Second Avenue? What part(s) of Second Avenue? Without the benefit of the underlying criteria/assumptions/constraints, I say: Dedicate Third Avenue as a foot/bicycle street. Certainly, the "Regrade" portion of Third Avenue could use a little help. Furthermore, in a few years, Third Avenue will be sitting atop a light rail tunnel (current bus tunnel) and all the station entrances are on Third Avenue (or Pine Street).

I think a pedestrian "mall" will certainly work in the 21st century whereas the early experiments in the 1960's and 1970's didn't (due to America's relatively late embrace of the "cafe culture"). Make Fourth and Second primary north/south bus streets (two dedicated lanes each in the current flow configuration — and get buses off First Avenue!), keep Fifth and First for cars, and allow cars in the non-bus lanes of Second and Fourth. Parking constraints are fine.

Yes, Second Ave is wider and more open/airy than Third Avenue (which might make it more people-pleasing), but again, a couple of paragraphs detailing key elements of Mr. Steinbrueck's resolution as well as Jan Gehl's rationale for tapping Second Avenue as "it" would have given the reader a better perspective — especially for something this important.

You also have to remember also that the bulk of the bicyclists in Europe are generally more "pedestrian" than here in the US, where folks who opt for bicycling as a mode of commuting transport tend to be more "hard-core" and suited-up in spandex (with riding speeds to match), which might not mix too well with pedestrians on a "mall" unless there is dedicated ROW or other means to ensure safety and peaceful co-existence.

By the time downtown Seattle is "where we want it" (including a fully-constructed solution for Alaskan Way and the waterfront seawall), it will be 2020 at the earliest. And by then, who knows...

J.E. Frantzen

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