It was fascinating to read that the creators of the “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights” billboard are having a “serious discussion” about bringing it back. This came up after iron workers who opposed the city’s head tax hearkened back to the original sign, which was put up in 1971 during the “Boeing Bust,” saying the City Council “wants to turn out the lights again.”
“The employee head tax proposed by a number of our elected officials, will put many jobs and our community’s long-term economic viability at risk,” read the statement from the Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest. “Since the 1971, ‘Will the last person leaving Seattle, turn out the lights.’ billboard appeared, our community (business, labor, government and education) has been hard at work making sure those conditions don’t exist again.”
Of course, the situation is much more complicated than that. One person’s economic viability is another’s economic crisis. The region’s growth, fueled largely by the tech industry, has created an enormous housing affordability problem that has led to rising homelessness, which is what the head tax will seek to address.
In the meantime, this modern-day boomtown continues to be divided.
Big companies in the city are fighting the head tax, and coming under criticism for not putting that money toward chipping away at the larger problem. Those companies, including Amazon, Starbucks and Vulcan, are working on initiatives to address homelessness, but I continue to believe that there’s a chance for a bigger solution, if big companies, specifically Amazon, dedicate more of their time, money and ingenuity to the problem. (Read more in my previous commentary.) There’s also a strong case for zoning changes to create more density.
But after reading about the potential revival of the iconic billboard, I couldn’t help but think about what a new version would look like. So I dusted off my Microsoft Paint skills, such as they are, and updated the sign, at top. I hereby give the creators of the original billboard, Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren, permission to use this idea — but in reality I hope it doesn’t come to that.