Featured

Why I’m Running

Posted on Categories Campaigning

I love Des Moines. I think it’s an absolute jewel. I started sailing and going to church here over twenty years ago when I first moved to Puget Sound. And when I bought my own house in 2005, I wanted it to be in Des Moines near St. Philomena and the Marina and the Downtown.

Then the Great Recession hit. I saw how the neighborhoods and families and businesses were hit very, very hard. A lot of people moved away and a lot of businesses simply boarded up. But a lot of new people have moved in and have added a great energy to the city.

Several years ago the regional economy began to recover. And the airport was ‘expanded’ (boy was it ever!)

But have you noticed? Des Moines, despite all its obvious assets doesn’t seem to be sharing in the recovery nearly as much as the rest of the region. Our Downtown still looks much the same as it did five years ago with many businesses still shuttered. Many homes are untended because there is no Code Enforcement to speak of and our Marina arguably our most important asset is in need of essential repairs.

Then there is the airport. The Third Runway is turning out to be not just an annoyance, but an absolute disaster, not just in terms of noise but in terms of damage to our health–and that of our children. Worst of all, unlike other cities, we get no compensation or relief for the ever increasing levels of traffic and pollution. We can do better, not just for ourselves but for the next generation. We cannot let them down.

For the past thirteen years I’ve been a gadfly at so many City Council meetings I’ve lost count. And there comes a time when one has to decide to either put up or shut up. So I’ve decided it’s time for me to try to do something about these problems.

It is my belief that what ails Des Moines is that it is now trying to be something it is not. Our city is, at it’s heart, a town for families and a waterfront community. Somewhere along the way I think the government lost sight of that. There have been an almost constant series of grand schemes that have almost completely occupied the attention of the council while largely ignoring the needs of small businesses, families and neighborhoods.

As you may know, for far too long, the city was dealing with budgets only from one term to the next and getting closer and closer to bankruptcy. The current government will tell you that they have turned this around. Fine. But remember that it’s also largely the same people who got us into trouble in the first place! Plus, they have performed this trick by partnering more and more with the airport for large development projects. But it is the same airport which is making life more and more dangerous with the increases in noise and pollution; not to mention the loss of property values for home and businesses. Do not believe the myth that the Port provides ‘jobs and economic growth’. For Des Moines, this is simply untrue.

We have to start planning for a future without the Port and with the help of a vibrant small business community and fully engaged residents. Des Moines is now a city of almost 33,000 people. We need to start planning five, ten, twenty years out when it comes to our Downtown, our Marina, our neighborhoods and most of all, our children’s futures.

I believe I’m up to these challenges. I’m making an effort to put down my ideas here so you will know how I feel about the issues I think matter most. It is mid-October as I update this post and by now I’ve “doorbelled” over 6,000 homes because I really wanted to hear what you have to say. If I happened to miss you when I visited your street, I strongly encourage you to contact me any time. My goal is to be the one person you can count on in Des Moines to really listen and then to take the long view.

I’m A Loser

Posted on Categories Campaigning

Well, like the song says, and as expected, I’m a loser. I’d like to be gracious, congratulate my opponent on running a great campaign and wish him a successful term. I’d like to but I can’t. 😀

Look, I ran because I was not and am not happy with the state of affairs. And if you voted for me, I assume you felt the same. So I simply cannot be sanguine. My assumption is that the Deputy Mayor will only continue with the current agenda that caused me to run in the first place.

I do want to thank everyone who supported me. I can’t tell you what it meant to me. I also want to acknowledge the things I could’ve done better.

When I started, I was under the impression that I would get support from various people in town who would help me figure out what to do and how to raise money. For reasons I won’t go into here that did not happen, so I just started ‘doorbelling’; determined to win by dint of shoe leather alone. And though it was -great- in terms of actually learning about people’s needs, it clearly was not enough to win. I somewhat arrogantly avoided traditional ‘networking’ because I felt then (and still feel) that there is something a bit oily about the whole business of fundraising. I am still not thrilled at how much money the candidates had to raise in order to be competitive. That doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me; not in a small town like Des Moines. But let’s face it: my opponent basically just put out a zillion yard signs and then ran an absentee campaign. So clearly, to a certain, extent money does matter.

The other thing is that, from Day one, I was told over and over how I was going to lose. I mean, even people who voted for me told me they already knew I was in a ‘noble’ lost cause. And I suppose I bought into that a bit. I confess that it did give me a certain ‘freedom’; I literally didn’t lose any sleep over the campaign. I never worried about saying or doing the wrong thing–like a normal candidate would. Unlike all other (sensible) candidates I told people exactly what I would do if I won, at least in part because I was never worried about losing votes.

Which means that today, I am not feeling particularly downhearted for myself. In fact, I’m actually a bit energised by the whole experience. My only regret is that I didn’t fund raise like a ‘real’ candidate, which is what you deserved. By the time I figured out that I actually could win, and how to win, it was simply too late in the game.

So I want you to know that I know how I let you down. We need change here now. And to the extent that I could’ve campaigned better to make that happen? I am truly sorry. But I also want you to know that I will continue to fight for the issues I ran on: our health, the airport, the over-industrialisation, the lack of concern for neighbourhoods and the lack of open government in Des Moines. And when the next election comes round, I will likely be back in the race, but hopefully with a much better campaign. I still believe that we deserve a different future for Des Moines and I promise to do whatever I can to help get us there.

Sincerely,

—JC

Balance

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Economic Development, Neighborhoods

This will be my last post before the election. And to sum up, I want to talk about ‘balance’. I know this post is a bit long, so if you want to save some time, I wouldn’t blame ya bit if you simply skipped down to THE CHALLENGE.

For those of you still here, I want to first mention my Public Comment at the City Council meeting on October 12, 2017 which has stirred a bit of controversy. You can watch it here. My comment starts at prox. 3:00.

Video

If you skip ahead a bit to where the Council Members are allowed to give their ‘report’ back to the Mayor for the record, every CM took an opportunity to get their licks on me for making what they strongly implied to be either racist or discriminating against the poor. I find this laughable given the fact that I know our current council’s policies pretty well and I think I know ‘me’ very well. But viewers who watched on the cable TV may not so perhaps some explanation is in order.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES

Now as disingenuous as this may sound, it never crosses my mind that people now watch council meetings on their TVs. I suppose I should feel good about that given the emptiness of the council chambers. But it also makes me forget that there is an audience. Despite what some may think, I am not making a speech. My Public Comments really are directed to the Council Members; I am not being rhetorical. I don’t go there to argue or lecture. I simply want them to think about what I’m saying! So my comments are often ‘inside baseball’, reflecting things that we already know about each other, but that you do not. And the comments I’m about to talk about refer to things they know I’ve been upset about for a while.

My comments that night, which I admit I made in a very poor way, had to do with balance. All cities need to keep a LOT of things in balance in order to thrive. We need a healthy mix of different housing stocks: single family homes vs. apartments, owners and renters. The city government also needs to keep a balance between sources of revenues: sales taxes, business taxes, property taxes. And there are also environmental balances. For example, it’s important to have a certain number of parks and trees. Right now, we’ve lost a significant amount of forest with the development of the new Business Park. So the city and people like me are negotiating back and forth as to how we regain as much of that tree canopy as possible.

THE CHALLENGE

What I was trying to get across is this basic challenge: Des Moines residents’ incomes and homeowner property values have been shrinking relative to the rest of King County. While the rest of King County has been seeing a huge increase in property values and their residents a rise in income, Des Moines residents are not sharing in that prosperity.

At the same time, we are also in the midst of a very large resident turnover. In fact most of the people living here now did not live here ten years ago. In short, we have a city of new residents, who, taken as a whole are less well-off than a generation ago. And this has real consequences for the city’s future.

THEN VS. NOW: NOSTALGIA

When I first moved to Des Moines, my neighbours were engineers at Boeing, accountants, a store manager at Albertson’s; solid middle class people who lived around the region and found Des Moines to be a great place to raise a family. Des Moines had, in my view, the best value proposition in the region. They (and I) moved here at a time when the city garnered most of its revenue from property taxes. You see, Des Moines was designed to be a ‘bedroom community’; primarily for homeowners and small businesses. That was/is its charm. A place for families on the water. Des Moines was never meant to be a place that supported large industry as we’re seeing now with the Des Moines Creek Business Park. And forty years ago, the balance of homeowners paying property taxes worked well.

But now? We simply cannot generate enough sales tax from property taxes. Earlier city leaders did not have the foresight to see that change coming and transition the city smoothly. So now we’re having to re-invent ourselves in very short order.

THE CURRENT STRATEGY: INDUSTRIALIZATION

To do that, the current leadership is aggressively increasing the industrialization of Des Moines. This strategy has profound implications for that ‘balance’ I referred to.

Now the very appealing part of this strategy is that it pays the city’s bills without asking you to pay more. Great, right? And on top of that, since we do have such low property values relative to the rest of the region, we’re now one of the last places in the area that is considered ‘affordable’. Hooray!

DES MOINES IS A WATERFRONT COMMUNITY

But we’re a waterfront community. And waterfront communities should not have some of the lowest rents in a given region. In fact, a waterfront community should be highly valued (think Edmonds, Shilshole, Mukilteo, Poulsbo, etc.) It should be a powerful asset that attracts residents with higher incomes and visitors with higher incomes and small businesses to serve those clientele. That’s the way you build a great Downtown and Marina organically, by making it more valuable; by attracting people who can afford to support it.

ANOTHER STRATEGY: MARKETING

So my desire has been to market the city to the rest of the region; a region which has very poor awareness of Des Moines but has higher incomes. I believe that we need that waterfront to be highly valued in order to make the Downtown, and in fact the whole city, thrive again. To do this, we need to be reaching people who work at Amazon or on the East Side who can’t find affordable homes elsewhere. We need to encourage that same middle class to locate here for the best value proposition as was the case thirty years ago. In short, we need to actively market to recruit higher income, long term residents.

THE ‘G’ WORD

If what I’m suggesting sounds a bit like gentrification, you’re not wrong. Des Moines has always been proud of its working class roots and more than a little bit suspicious of pretense. But as I’ve been saying, we’re actually less affluent than in past generations and our property values are now lower than they should be. So a little gentrification would not be a bad thing at all. I believe the reason the Downtown and Marina are not thriving is because they do not attract the kinds of traffic that can support small business. Our current mix of residents and visitors simply can’t afford to support a great Downtown and Marina. But if we turn that around by recruiting for (somewhat) higher income residents and small businesses this also improves the lives of lower income residents because they also benefit from the improved businesses and infrastructure. Sorry for the bad pun, but a rising tide lifts all boats.

THE LONG VIEW

However, if the city continues on the current course of industrialization, we will have an ever-increasing mix of lower income residents. If that’s the case, then we should have an infrastructure of services that are designed to meet those needs. And we should have the revenue to handle the increased needs of those residents. But we don’t. We have always depended on private institutions and grants to handle the needs of lower income people. Has that worked well? Just ask any of these groups. In public they may say that all is great because they need to work with the city, but in private, they will tell you just how overwhelming the situation is.

THE TIPPING POINT

So the question is: what kind of city do we want? Because every increase in industrialization means a change to the city. More traffic. Fewer trees. Less of that ‘bedroom community’ so many of us moved here for. And I believe that such changes make us less attractive to potential long-term, more affluent residents that we need to organically support our businesses.

I think we are at a tipping point. It’s up to us to decide what kind of city we’re going to be in the next forty years: a city with a valuable waterfront and a balanced mix of residents and visitors with the disposable income to support it? Or a city which depends primarily on income from industrial parks (and the airport) to service an increasingly lower income base of residents?

IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME?

To me, the current strategy is a passive one. It basically does nothing to compete for potential residents who might be unaware of Des Moines. The game seems to be that we build a new Marina or other ‘attractions’ and hope that they attract the residents and visitors we want–just like in that movie, “If you build it, he will come.” I believe this is a real mistake. I used to live in Detroit. They wasted billions building shiny new structures, only to see them waste away because the residents and local businesses could not afford the flashy shops and business offices. And people outside of Detroit? They continued to shop and work where they were.

I believe that many of the revenue problems we have would be lessened if we simply restored the income balance of residents to the same place we were at thirty years ago. This would then drive organic improvements to the small business health of the entire town. In short: we improve our city by actively encouraging a healthy mix of residents’ income levels. And we do that simply by marketing the city to the rest of the region.

RESTORING THE BALANCE

My campaign has been about restoring the balance I loved so much when I moved to Des Moines. And that means making the city more desirable to the rest of the region; not just people in the immediate area who are seeking the lowest possible rent. It means making Des Moines once again the best value; not simply the cheapest. And to do that I’ve been fighting the over-industrialization; the increasing influence of the airport on city planning; the ever-increasing noise and pollution. Because no one with a healthy income will want to live here if they don’t feel it is safe and healthy.

I always say: I want to make Des Moines a great place to raise a family or retire or have a small business. To accomplish those goals we need to work pro-actively to encourage a proper balance of residents at all income levels. I did not word that properly in my Public Comment, but it’s the truth. It may be a hard truth, but it is the truth. If we either cannot or will not work towards this re-balancing, we cannot expect to regain the quality of life which a great waterfront community should expect.

The main thing I want to leave you with is that I do not advocate trying to manufacture some artificially ‘exclusive’ community. Des Moines has been and always will be a city with down to earth residents. All I’m suggesting is that we get back to the value proposition people had come to expect. We can get there. But such a change will not happen on its own. And it will not happen by simply building some shiny new structures. It will happen; because we work to tell the rest of the region about what used to be our secret and let the market go to work.

Video: Why Vote For JC Harris?

Posted on Categories Campaigning

I make my case for your vote in four and one half minutes. This video has some policy, but it’s main goal is to tell voters that I care enough about the city to be walking the streets and getting to know every neighborhood. We desperately need new voices on the council to fight the noise and pollution, to refocus the city away from grand developments, to improve the quality of our neighborhoods and to encourage small businesses to make Des Moines a destination full of unique opportunities to visit and shop.

This is the first video I’ve done which I’ve tried to market on Facebook. Previously, I’ve worked on many Facebook Ads with my ‘web developer’ hat on. But this is my first foray into targeting an advert to likely voters in Des Moines and I have a couple of observations.
1) It’s amazing how much Facebook thinks it knows about you. You can target people on Facebook by so many details such as ‘Homeowner’, ‘Retiree’, ‘Family with kids under the age of 8’, ‘Likely to engage in political discussions (Liberal)’ etc.

2) But for all that, Facebook currently doesn’t have a clue as to what I want to know which is ‘Likely To Vote’. A lot of metrics you think might help, really don’t. For example, targeting ‘Likely to engage in political discussions (Any)’ only gets me 1,100 people within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines (total Facebook members are 300,000 in that area). Only 1,100 people like to talk politics within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines? I think not. 😀

So one has to do some more digging and make some educated guesses when targeting a political advert. And one should have plenty of budget to test several ads each day to find out what works and what doesn’t. I sure don’t have a budget! So I guessed that people who are likely to vote in DM are
1. People over the age of 18.
2. People who own a home or rent an apartment.
3. People who have a full time job.
4. People who are full time students.
5. Retirees.

That gets it down to 190,000 Facebook members within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines. Oh, and you can’t target just Des Moines because that gets it down to 7,837 members and Facebook won’t let you do an advert with that small a sample size. Here’s the intri. Out of a total population of 32,000 or so, there are supposedly 16,800 registered voters. And based on previous elections, I expect half of that number will vote in the upcoming election. So 7,837 is pretty darned close to the number of people who will vote. Marketing genius on my part or just a coincidence? You make the call! 😀

Anyhoo, this pretty much wraps up my fabulous political strategery. I’ll be spending the last few days walking various neighbourhoods carrying my sign. If you see me? I hope you’ll say ‘Hi’ and tell me what’s on your mind.

But like the video says, whoever you vote for? PLEASE VOTE!

Video: No Big Mystery

Posted on Categories Engagement

A new video about how the city can do a much better job of communicating and engaging with residents and business. Your city should reach out to you and get your input before big decisions are made. If you’re a small business, the city should make the permitting process faster and more predictable.

And in the case of emergency situations like the ‘Boil Water’ scare we had in 2015, the city should be able to reach everyone immediately.

Frankly, almost ZERO people ever show up for council meetings, not enough people volunteer to do various projects. The council does VERY LITTLE to draw in more people. They think that all they need to do is put some little note on the web site. But the council should be really reaching out to residents–most of whom have just checked out.

Voter turnout in DM is TERRIBLE. That’s basically why the city is what it is… the same small number of people vote every time. If you like the way things are? Great. But if not, more people need to get off their duffs and vote.

Innovation And Air Traffic

Posted on Categories Airport

Whenever anyone mentions the idea of somehow constraining the air traffic over Des Moines you will invariably get something like the following reply:

If you get rid of the planes, you get rid of revenue. And then the airports close. And then the jobs go away!

This is the kind of argument we hear from politicians (including your city council), business, the Port, etc. You probably believe it, too.

But as a former Detroiter and an engineer who worked in logistics for quite some time, I can assure you these arguments are specious.

When people wind up this old Victrola, I always remind them of the automotive industry. If you’re old enough, you’ll recall that when the government first started creating pollution and mileage standards, automakers said the sky would fall. Last time I checked, the sky is still there and auto companies appear to be doing fine.

The missing piece that (ironically) no one mentions in these arguments is AMERICAN INNOVATION. Engineers responded to the new rules as with any challenge—they rolled up their sleeves and got it done (Thank God.) All the engineers absolutely looooooove a big career-size challenge.

If airports simply capped the number of flights as I propose, the airlines would respond in just the same way: they would INNOVATE. They would find a way. They would demand that Boeing and Airbus create the first truly climate-friendly planes in history. They would use their mastery of logistics to load-balance their flight schedules (move planes around more efficiently) to minimise the effects on communities AND at the lowest cost impact to their bottom line. Don’t think it’s possible? They already do it–they make a LOT more money now by wringing efficiencies out of each route. They just have to be told to do it in a way that takes communities into account.

Again, the airline industry would INNOVATE and solve the problem just like ALL great American companies have done. Just as car and truck companies have learned to do. And they would do it at a speed that no one thought possible–simply because no one had ever tried.

I worked in logistics for a good while and I know how adaptable the world of logistics is. They respond to problems ALL THE TIME–most of which you never hear about because they do it so seamlessly. In short, it can be done. The reason it isn’t done now is: BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. What business does what it doesn’t have to? But ‘not required’ does NOT mean ‘not doable’.

See that’s the thing that always amazes me. What company spends money it doesn’t absolutely have to? Companies do R&D because they think it will further their business interests. Why on earth would any airline or Port improve their environmental impact UNLESS COMPELLED? Just to be ‘good corporate citizens?’ Puh-lease. If you have some of your retirement savings invested in Alaska or Boeing you want them to MAKE MONEY. But slap on a few ‘regulations’, give an airline or an airport some boundaries and JUST WATCH. They will get it done because there is still so much money to be made. So in this case? Environmental regulations are a win-win. It improves our situation and gives them a fantastic PR story to tell of challenges met and concern for our planet and blah, blah, blah.

Again, ‘not required’ does NOT mean ‘not doable’.

The only solution is to cap flights at Sea-Tac, by a simple vote of three commissioners and then watch the airline industry re-invent itself. We’d be doing the airlines a huge favour.

Are You Registered To Vote?

Posted on Categories Campaigning

The deadline is nearing to register to vote in the November 7th election (you are aware there’s an election, right? Right? :D).

So… you (unregistered person) have until next Monday, October 9th to register which you can do from the comfort of your LazyBoy right here:

https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/MyVoteOLVR

People in Des Moines are constantly grousing about any number of problems with our fair city that never seem to get fixed. Wanna know why? If you’re under 50? Frankly, it’s probably your fault.

Des Moines has some of the lowest voter turnout in the county. The AVERAGE voter clocks in at close to 52 years old. We’ll likely get as few as 5k votes out of 16k eligible human beings. And one other detail: It’s basically the same people voting every time around. People who vote, tend to vote every time and people who do not vote, almost never vote. Which means that it’s the same the same 5,000 dried up old people like me who call the shots. 😀

The irony is that this system depends on you (the person who doesn’t vote) to change things up. Because new guys like me rarely win unless new people like you vote.

So please register. And then vote. For somebody.

https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/MyVoteOLVR

Code Enforcement

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Public Safety

I know this is a dull subject. But it concerns everything from crime, to property values to the quality of life you can expect as a resident. Des Moines used to have a dedicated Code Enforcement Officer who’s job was to check that all properties were up to code. So, theoretically, if a property was obviously not being take care of, she could ticket them. Unfortunately, Des Moines has some of the weakest code in the entire state as far as upkeep goes. You can literally leave junk on your lawn for months at a time without incurring any penalties. So the Code Enforcement Officer, and police and fire department were often unable to take action when they saw properties in a sorry state. The rule was (and is) that they have to wait until an actual crime is committed in order to deal with obviously bad apples. It is for this reason that I got fed up enough to run for office. The good news is that we can easily fix this problem.

Now why would Des Moines have such weak code enforcement? Two reasons: one is that apartment building and other commercial owners tend to hate code enforcement. They complain that it adds to their costs and is unnecessary because ‘the market will take care of it’. In other words, people won’t rent if they don’t take care of their properties. That’s simply ridiculous.

The other reason is more philosophical. The city council has traditionally had the attitude “a man’s home is his castle.” Obviously, I have a slightly different take on this. Yes, you have your right to do as you please. But you also have a responsibility, as a property owner, to your neighbours to keep your place looking decent and to not infringe on their rights. It’s called courtesy. You can’t leave junk on your front lawn or fail to mow for weeks at a time or let your house fall into total disrepair. It damages the community, is unsafe.

Several years ago the city ended the Code Enforcement Officer position. It also rescinded a number of ordinances that hold rental property owners to a special standard of property upkeep (again, based on complaints from commercial property lobbying). What that means is that when my neighbors and I would complain to the city, we had no way of locating the absentee landlords or hold them accountable for the damage their renters were doing to our street!

We should reinstate the Code Enforcement Officer position. We should also update the city code to make our city’s ordinances on property upkeep in-line with those of other cities. These simple, no-drama changes to our city would save a tremendous amount on policing resources, make the city far more pleasant to live in and make the city far more attractive to prospective home buyers.