Metro Director Alan Gibbs resigns on February 23, 1989, in scandal over use of South African granite in bus tunnel.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2022

On February 23, 1989, amid a growing scandal triggered by the revelation that Metro Transit bought South African granite for the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, Metro Director Alan Gibbs tenders his resignation. Declaring "the buck stops with me," Gibbs takes responsibility for staff errors and misjudgments in the "Granite-gate" controversy. His resignation becomes effective in August 1989.

Like the City of Seattle and King County, the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle had adopted a policy proscribing the purchase of goods from South Africa in an effort to hasten the end of Apartheid. Despite this, Metro Transit staff revealed on August 31, 1987, that the agency had "inadvertently" purchased South African steel, which was promptly returned.

Late in 1988, African American activist Eddie Rye Jr. discovered that Metro was using South African granite, shipped via Italy, in the tunnel project. After a formal inquiry, Metro Director Alan Gibbs confirmed the purchase on January 5, 1989, explaining that granite was dressed in Italy and might not fall under the ban. Seattle City Council member (later mayor) Norm Rice and King County Council member (later County Executive) Ron Sims, both African Americans, expressed outrage at the apparent flouting of official policy in what the press dubbed "Granite-gate."

At the same time, the Bush Administration, which opposed local boycotts against South Africa, threatened to cut off federal funding for the bus tunnel project if Metro returned the granite. Congressman Norm Dicks later sponsored special legislation blocking such retaliation.

Gibbs was embroiled in controversy in 1988, including the mounting cost of the bus tunnel and its special dual-mode buses, and disputes over the construction of a new secondary treatment plant at Magnolia's West Point. His resignation helped to calm agency critics. Gibbs was succeeded by Richard Sandaas on September 7, 1989, and the embattled transit tunnel opened one year later -- sans South African granite.


Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993).

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