Vital, but aging National Archives Building on Sand Point Way NE at risk of sale by federal government



photo by Seattle Times

Since 2019, federal government agencies have been advancing the sale of this important historical asset located at 6125 Sand Point Way NE here in Northeast Seattle, which has been very disappointing to many of us. As someone who taught history, majored in history, and worked for the Clinton Administration, I recognize the value of these historic archives being located nearby. I will continue to support the efforts of our congressional delegation, tribal governments, and State Attorney General to challenge the sale due to lack of notification, transparency, and public engagement as well as unanswered questions about the fiscal impact to the federal government.

If, however, the U.S. government agencies prevail in pushing a sale of the 73-year old building, then I would expect our city government to use our authority to ensure the impacted communities and other stakeholders are more fully engaged, the priceless archives end up in the most accessible location possible, and the site is re-purposed in ways that synthesize diverse opinions and honor our local priorities.

APRIL 8, 2021 UPDATE: Another Victory!

The Biden Administration canceled the sale of the archives facility for now.

Councilmember Pedersen Statement today: “I applaud the Biden Administration’s decision today to cancel the hasty and irresponsible sale of the national archives and records building, a treasure of histories so vital to so many people in the Pacific Northwest. I am thankful for the strong leadership by our Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the many tribal leaders, our congressional delegation, researchers, nonprofits, and other stakeholders who advocated for our shared goal of protecting the histories here where they happened in the Pacific Northwest. I hope the Biden Administration and congressional leaders invest the federal dollars needed to preserve the historic archives here in the Pacific Northwest where they belong and, regardless of next steps, we look forward to a proper public process and the required tribal consultation. ”

Here’s what happened today: President Biden’s Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a letter to the Public Buildings Reform Board today stating, “I am writing to withdraw OMB’s January 24, 2020 approval of the sale of the Federal Archives and Records Center, 6125 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115…Tribal consultation is a priority for this Administration… But the process that led to the decision to approve the sale of the Federal Archives and Records Center is contrary to this Administration’s tribal-consultation policy, and I am accordingly withdrawing OMB’s approval of the sale of that facility. Any effort to sell the Federal Archives and Records Center in the future, through any available and appropriate authority, must comply with at least two substantial requirements. First, it must be preceded by meaningful and robust tribal consultation, consistent with the President’s January 26, 2021 Memorandum on Tribal Consultation. Second, it must proceed through the appropriate administrative process, based on a new factual record, and must comply with the attendant substantive and procedural safeguards of that process. I appreciate the Board’s commitment towards implementing its duties under FASTA, and I look forward to collaborating with the Board to fully implement the statute, consistent with OMB’s responsibility to ensure the risks to the government posed by the sale of any proposed properties are acceptable to the taxpayer.”

For a copy of the OMB letter to PBRB, CLICK HERE.

MARCH 24, 2021 UPDATE:

U.S. Senator Patty Murray introduced a significant bill to amend the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA). The bill states, “Before the sale or transfer of a Federal civilian real property under this Act (other than section 24 or 25), if the proposed sale or transfer would affect access to Federal agency services by a federally recognized Indian Tribe, the relevant Federal agency shall consult with all Tribal governments that may so be affected.” It also states, “A Federal civilian real property may not be sold or transferred under this Act (other than section 24 or 25) if the proposed sale or transfer would substantially reduce or eliminate access to Federal agency services by a federally recognized Indian Tribe.” The introduction of this “Archives Act” is a step in the right direction, reaffirms federal Tribal consultation rights, and could help to stop the sale of the vital historical archives. For the bill as introduced in Congress, CLICK HERE.

MARCH 11, 20201 UPDATE:

Congressional leaders from the Northwest sent a letter March 10, 2021 to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget protesting the proposed sale of the archives facility. The 25 Members of Congress (Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and six senators from the other states, plus 17 representatives) called the sale “legally flawed” and “in violation” of federal policies to consult Tribal leaders. Here is a key excerpt:

“We strongly support the decision made by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington to temporarily stop the sale of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Federal Archives and Records Center in Seattle, Washington. We ask that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) acknowledge the Court’s ruling and support the plaintiff’s position that the Seattle NARA facility cannot be sold and these vital records must remain in the Pacific Northwest. The process leading to the proposed sale of the facility under the Federal Assets and Transfer Act (FASTA) was legally flawed and importantly, OMB failed to consult with Tribal governments and organizations in violation of its own Tribal consultation policies.”

For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.

FEBRUARY 12, 2021 UPDATE:

Good news! U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour granted Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request for a preliminary injunction February 12, 2021 to pause the sale of the National Archives property in Seattle.

U.S. Government agencies originally estimated that bringing the Sand Point facility up to physical standards would cost $52 million to $71 million or it would cost $90 million to build a new facility in the Seattle area. Ferguson, the City, Tribal Nations, and others suing the federal agencies in protest of the sale hope that the new Biden Administration will recognize the benefits of keeping the facility in the area and agree that Trump Administration officials did not follow the law including the required public engagement process. As our congressional delegation already supports keeping the facility in the Northwest, ideally they can find federal resources to pay for the building upgrades to ensure the priceless documents are preserved here for generations to come in its convenient location relatively close to the University of Washington.

For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.

JANUARY 19, 2021 UPDATE:

Today I participated in the public forum hosted by our Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson regarding the Trump Administration’s attempts to sell the national archives facility located in our District 4. Dozens spoke in favor of keeping the precious archives here in the Northwest. Here’s my statement:

We must not allow the last gasps of the Trump Administration to cause any more harm and that means we must work together to save the archives by preserving these priceless historical records here in the Northwest,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents the City Council District where the National Archives facility is located. “I am proud to join Attorney General Bob Ferguson, indigenous leaders, nonprofits, and researchers protecting historical records as well as fellow public officials including Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and Councilmember Debora Juarez. Together we must stop the sale of the vital facility and demand proper public process on how best to preserve these irreplaceable regional histories.”

JANUARY 4, 2021 UPDATE:

Today Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson held a press conference to announce he is filing additional motions in court against the Trump Administration’s attempt to sell this important property and the lack of necessary public process. He was supported at the press conference by leaders of several tribal governments. I joined the press conference for support as well. I support our Washington State Attorney General’s legal actions on multiple fronts against the Trump Administration to stop this sale and to help us keep these vital historical documents here in the Northwest. For the Seattle Times article with more details, CLICK HERE.

JANUARY 1, 2021 UPDATE:

Press release excerpts: “Attorney General Bob Ferguson…announced he will host a remote public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, so the public can share their comments on plans by the federal government to sell Seattle’s National Archives building and move the records thousands of miles away.

“The federal government did not hold any meetings of its own in the Pacific Northwest, and did not consult with state, local, or tribal leaders in the region prior to announcing its decision to sell the Archives facility…

“The [AG’s] office will record the public comments and forward them to the [federal Public Buildings Reform Board] PBRB. Ferguson will also formally invite the PBRB members to attend the remote public hearing. The public meeting will be held via Zoom from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2021.

Zoom link: https://atg-wa.zoom.us/j/83852186385?pwd=amIvSHA4MHJJdzRVcDgzRSthQjdpQT09

Meeting ID: 838 5218 6385; Passcode: 426894

For AG Ferguson’s Dec 29 press release, CLICK HERE. For the MyNorthwest article on this announcement, CLICK HERE.

DECEMBER 4, 2020 UPDATE: Unfortunately, the small and little-known federal agency charged with disposing of certain properties owned by our U.S. Government has once again taken actions with insufficient transparency and input: the Public Building Reforms Board (PBRB) is bundling the Archives property with other properties across the country to offer for sale. Fortunately, our Washington State Attorney General is planning another lawsuit to try to stop them. I agree with these efforts of our State AG Bob Ferguson as well as the comments supporting the archives made by our U.S. Senators Murray and Cantwell as well as Congresswoman Jayapal (whose congressional district includes the current location of the archives on Sand Point Way NE). Recently re-elected Secretary of State Kim Wyman has also joined local efforts to help the archives remain in Washington State. For more details from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. For more details from MyNorthwest, CLICK HERE.

AUGUST 17, 2020 UPDATE: Bob Ferguson, our Washington State Attorney General, today launched lawsuits against three of the four federal agencies that have been pursuing the sale of the archives building in Northeast Seattle. The lawsuits demand that the federal agencies produce copies of documents requested months ago by Attorney General Ferguson.

Key excerpt from the article by MyNorthwest: “…the Office of Management & Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration have not responded, period, to the Attorney General’s requests. The General Services Administration, who oversees the real estate and would be responsible for selling the facility, initially responded, and told Ferguson’s office they had documents that they would begin to share, but then went silent months ago…Ferguson says he’s confident a judge will find in favor of the State of Washington and that the agencies will be forced to produce the documents, but that the timeline remains to be determined.”

I strongly support our Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s actions to compel Trump’s agencies to produce the documents underlying their problematic decision to sell the federal archives building on Sand Point Way in Northeast Seattle,” said Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen whose district includes the neighborhoods surrounding the archives building. “I was previously very clear with these federal agencies that their public engagement process was woefully inadequate, particularly for key stakeholders, including the over 200 tribes in the Northwest, researchers, and my constituents.  Having Attorney General Ferguson suing the agencies is a strong and positive step.

For the entire article by Feliks Banel of MyNorthwest, CLICK HERE.

AUGUST 2, 2020 UPDATE: For the Seattle Times update entitled, “6 months later, National Archives closure still set for Seattle” CLICK HERE.

MARCH 9, 2020 UPDATE: The Seattle Times publishes an editorial entitled “State should help save Washington’s National Archives access”: CLICK HERE.

Our State Attorney General joins efforts to try to save the National Archives on Sand Point Way

FEBRUARY 25, 2020 UPDATE: Hearing our community constituents and stakeholders throughout the region who want to preserve the priceless archives housed currently at 6125 Sand Point Way NE near the neighborhoods of Hawthorne Hills, Belvedere Terrace, Windermere, View Ridge, and Magnuson Park, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent a letter February 25, 2020 informing “federal officials that his office is prepared to sue if the move is not ‘reconsidered and reversed,'” according to a Seattle Times article today. For the full article, CLICK HERE.

National Archives building update: disappointed by the federal agencies

FEBRUARY 11, 2020 UPDATE:

CONVEYING OUR DISAPPOINTMENT WITH THE FEDERAL AGENCIES: Federal agencies involved in pushing the sale of the national archives building at 6125 Sand Point Way NE in our District 4 finally met with me today (February 11, 2020). Specifically, I met with officials from the Public Buildings Reform Board (the agency that officially recommended the sale), the National Archives and Records Administration (the agency that operates the archives building), and the General Services Administration (the agency that would sell the property — if a sale moves forward). Our City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations also attended. I conveyed my disappointment with their process and disagreement with their conclusions.

WOEFULLY INADEQUATE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: I was very clear with these federal agencies that their public engagement process was woefully inadequate, particularly for key stakeholders, including the over 200 tribes in the Northwest, researchers, and my District 4 constituents in general. To have a local meeting after they already decided to sell the property was extremely deficient. They argued, however, the law under which they are operating (the 2016 FASTA law) does not require comprehensive community engagement prior to a sale. (This is, however, in dispute; see below). The officials from the National Archives reiterated their contention that the archives are not safe in the aging facility, it is too expensive to rebuild an appropriate facility, and digitizing the records is the most economical way to preserve and expand access to these priceless documents.

SOME NEXT STEPS:

  • Congressional Delegation: Thankfully — and in contrast to the federal executive agencies pushing for a sale — our congressional delegation and the delegations of other states in the Northwest opposed the sale in a letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) dated January 24, 2020. I will continue to monitor whether they can get their questions answered about whether the agencies complied with the relevant laws.
  • State Attorney General: I look forward to seeing whether our Attorney General Bob Ferguson will succeed in delaying or blocking the sale.

MEDIA: For media coverage of the separate February 11, 2020 meeting between those federal agencies and several local tribal leaders, CLICK HERE for the Seattle Times and CLICK HERE for MyNorthwest.

Councilmember Alex Pedersen Statements on federal agencies proposing to sell archives property in NE Seattle

1/25/2020 Statement:

“I am very frustrated and disappointed with the federal agencies advancing the sale of this important historical asset here in Northeast Seattle.

As someone who taught history, majored in history, and worked for the Clinton Administration, I recognize the value of these historic archives being located nearby.

I will continue to support the efforts of our congressional delegation to challenge and question the sale due to lack of notification, transparency, and public engagement as well as unanswered questions about the fiscal impact to the federal government.

If, however, the U.S. government agencies prevail in pushing a sale, then I would expect our city government to use our authority to ensure the impacted communities and other stakeholders are more fully engaged, the priceless archives end up in the most accessible location possible, and the site is re-purposed in ways that synthesize diverse opinions and honor our local priorities.”

1/21/2020 Statement:

“Thank you to Feliks Banel at KIRO for originating this news story about a federal agency that is recommending the sale of the Federal Archives and Records Center located at 6125 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

This 73-year old building is located in the congressional district of U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal and my City Council District 4 near the neighborhoods of Hawthorne Hills, Belvedere Terrace, Windermere, and Magnuson Park.

I was contacted by the federal government for the first time on Monday, January 13, 2020, specifically by the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB). According to the PBRB, this was the first time they had reached out to local government regarding the sale of this property, though they stated they had already contacted Congresswoman Jayapal’s office as well as the staff of U.S. Senators Murray and Cantwell.

Over the past week I alerted community leaders, the University of Washington, the City of Seattle’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the Mayor’s Office and, the Mayor’s Office of Housing. I also requested a briefing by the PBRB, which they are offering to provide in mid-February. As Mr. Banel has accurately noted, this is after the January 26th deadline for which the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will decide to approve or reject the plans for this property. My office let PBRB know that this timeline is unacceptable and we are in the process of scheduling a phone call with their office before January 26th. I also told PBRB I am concerned about what appears to be a lack of public engagement for the proposed sale of the property. As I understand it, the law which is the basis for the proposed sale (the Federal Asset Sale and Transfer Act of 2016) requires public engagement as well as local public hearings sponsored by the federal agency.

My team will continue to follow this issue closely and bring much needed accountability, transparency, and public discourse to this process.”

MORE INFO: For a recent Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE. To track this story, consider following local historian Feliks Banel by CLICKING HERE.

VIEWS: For a February 2, 2020 Seattle Times editorial titled “Don’t send Seattle’s federal archives across the country,” CLICK HERE.

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