SEATTLE - One block. One street. One vote.
That one vote, to reject the Seattle arena street vacation, is now likely going to be heavily scrutinized.
After a 2 1/2 hour meeting, the Seattle City Council was deadlocked 4-4 on whether to approve a one-block street vacation, which is needed for Chris Hansen to build his proposed Seattle arena.
The pressure was high and the stakes huge: Approval would be the last step before the city would issue a master use permit (MUP).
Before the Monday meeting, there had been unknowns. Council members Debora Jaurez and Kshama Sawant had not shown their hands and kept their opinions close to their vest.
But after they both spoke and indicated they were voting no, all eyes went to Lorena Gonzalez.
The 38-year-old Gonzalez, considered in civic circles to be a rising political star, has been on the job for six months.
She had wavered, say multiple City Hall sources, on the issue. But by Monday afternoon, she had made up her mind. She was voting yes.
Three different City Hall sources say that Gonzalez told multiple colleagues, at 1:40 p.m., 20 minutes before the pivotal meeting, she would approve the vacation.
As the meeting dragged out, she sent conflicting signs. At first, she appeared to approve an amendment requiring an NBA team for the vacation. But Sawant asked for clarification, and when the council re-voted, Gonzalez rejected the measure. It was rejected by a vote of 6-3, and observers in attendance believed it would likely be the final tally for the vacation approval. Her amendments related to public bathrooms, protest space, and local art passed unanimously.
So, as it came time for Gonzalez to take the microphone, the drama built, and both sides of the issue were surprised at what came next.
"Over the past six months, I have received probably more than a thousand messages, and that doesn't include the social media posts that I've been getting while sitting on the dais and otherwise about this land use decision," she started, reading from a prepared statement. She acknowledged reading clerk notes, transportation summaries and studies, and additional files.
She continued, noting, "I must also be decisive. And I hope that my vote today will fall in line with my goal to be thoughtful and decisive."
She read for 3 1/2 minutes and then looked up.
"I've really struggled with this decision a lot," said Gonzalez. "I don't believe the traffic issues have been well dealt with, and today I'm am going to vote no on the street vacation."
The announcement caught both sides off guard. Sonics fans in attendance shouted "No!" Council member Sally Bagshaw, who had been urging her colleagues to vote against the vacation, was visibly surprised, and applauded from the dais, as did Port of Seattle workers who were in attendance.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman even seemed surprised.
"It was remarkably touch-and-go," he said afterward.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who hired Gonzalez as his legal counsel prior to her council run, expressed his disappointment.
“The city’s past actions contributed to the Sonics leaving Seattle. Today’s council vote makes it less likely that the NBA will return to the City of Seattle," said Murray.
Hansen took a softer tone, saying in a statement, "Today’s City Council vote was disappointing, but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment, but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal. We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options, better understand the council’s concerns and find a path forward."
So what changed for Gonzalez? She's not talking yet.
But it now is one vote for one block of one street that will be one issue that will likely continue to be discussed, at least at City Hall.