Why I’m Running

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

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 moved in and have added a great energy to the city.

Then 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, 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 twelve 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 two things: trying to be something it is not and a lack of long term planning. The first problem is that our city is, at it’s heart, a town for families. 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 families and neighborhoods.

The second problem is that for far too long your government has been dealing with budgets only from one term to the next. We have to start taking the long view. Des Moines is now a city of more than 31,000 people. We need to start planning five, ten, twenty years out when it comes to our Downtown, our Marina, our neighborhoods, the Airport, and most of all, our children’s futures. I believe I’m up to that challenge.

But before I start talking about what I’d like to do to tackle these challenges, I look forward to hearing what you have to say. So you’ll be seeing me pounding the pavement the next few months. And if not? I encourage you to contact me. 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.

Coffee With Port Commissioner John Creighton

Posted on Categories Airport
Photo Courtesy: David Clark

Port Commissioner John Creighton held a re-election coffee in Burien this past Friday. I sat down with Burien City Council Member Debi Wagner and Seatac Council Members Peter Kwon and Kathryn Campbell plus several members from the Quiet Skies Puget Sound group of Des Moines, Seatac and Federal Way. For all my complaints about the Port of Seattle, I have to give the Commissioner credit: he took some pretty tough questions for two solid hours and with a friendly demeanor.

I wish more people could show up for events like these. The Port is the most powerful government agency most people know almost nothing about and if you do show up, you get to talk directly to someone who has as much power in government as any State Senator or Congressman or Representative.

I’m new at this so as I (mostly) watched the experienced people. My impression was mainly one of the Council Members was this: how much patience and perseverance it takes. For example, Debi Wagner has been fighting battles with the Port over pollution and noise for twenty years and yet she remains positive, friendly, constructive. I have a lot to learn.

Me being me, I did vent a bit, of course. 😀 And I did make a couple of proposals, the first of which was quickly shot down as bush-league non-starter, but I’ll tell you about it anyway because I’m going to keep working on it. The Port operates a dozen ‘official’ (and many other unofficial) noise monitors throughout the area from which they gather data on the loudness of airplane traffic. That is the source of the noise studies you may have heard about. But this data has not been updated in many years because it is only used for official environmental impact studies. I would like to see those noise monitors re-purposed now and I would like even more monitors added as far as Federal Way since the noise problem has obviously extended so much further south in the last few years.

What I propose is that the Port publish a web page something like the Tidal Charts that sailors use in spreadsheet format. But in this version the chart would show the average noise for each monitor on the hour for each day of every month, plus the number of flights during each hours. So for example, you might see that Woodmont had 22 flights averaging 54dbA on Tuesday July 11 during the 2PM hour while North Hill had 17 flights averaging 61dbA on Friday June 24 during the 6AM hour.

Uses? A couple come to mind. First, real estate. I think buyers should have useful ‘noise numbers’ when searching for a house. Currently even buyers savvy enough to look up the available (and outdated) noise data would not find it very useful. You can’t trust a single number. But if you had the charts I propose, you actually could comparison shop. You could easily see which neighborhoods were noisier during a given time period (and by how much). One objection I can foresee is that the Port numbers might be low-balled (ie. that their decibles might be low.) To which I reply, ‘So what?’ Because even if they are fudged, at least they are standardized. You’re comparing apples to apples (neighborhood to neighborhood) so for the purposes of comparison shopping its still useful.

Second use? I think everyone appreciates having a certain degree of control over their life. And the first step to having any control is knowing what is actually going on. Look, when someone gets sick, what is the first thing most people want to do? Try to find out as much information as possible. We have a right to have current loudness data–especially since the equipment is already in place. And again, even if the numbers are lower than we might think is ‘real’, at least they are standardized.

My other idea had to do with an off-hand comment Mr. Creighton made during the conversation. He said something like, ‘Should we be thinking more about buyouts?’ and I furiously raised my hand in a half-comical way. But as the meeting was breaking up I said to him privately, “I’d probably want a million dollars for something like that.” Since the Commissioner is a lawyer, my thinking is was along the lines of a settlement where I would want to be made ‘whole’. I wouldn’t want replacement cost for my house–which is all I’ve ever seen offered in such settlements.

Now my house is not worth anywhere near a million dollars, of course, but I don’t think I’m being outrageous, either. To find a house with the same quality of life and amenities as many of us have enjoyed in Des Moines–just with fewer airplanes? (In other words, life with the clock wound back just a few years) Realistically, that would cost a lot more than market value.

Now, do I ever expect such compensation to occur? I’m not holding my breath 😀 But everyone is always trying to quantify ‘mitigation’ and I think that’s the wrong question. The question for me is, “How much would it cost to make you whole.” And as we move down the road towards holding the Port and other institutions accountable for the damage they have done to our community, that’s the bar I’m looking at; not ‘mitigation’.


Posted on Categories Policy

The Des Moines Theater DowntownThe core of the Des Moines downtown is defined by the two traffic triangles on Marine View Drive, the ‘head’ being the entrance at the flag pole on Des Moines Memorial Drive and the ‘tail’ being the traffic light Kent Des Moines leading into Zenith. And when I moved here that length was anchored by two businesses: the QFC Grocery to the north and The Des Moines Movie Theatre to the south. Sadly, both are now gone since the recession and I think their absence says something about the state of our downtown. To me, downtown still feels like a bit of a patchwork. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’ve still truly recovered. Many business remain, but some shops seem hobbled and a few are still boarded up.

The Des Moines Movie Theater was, like all local movie houses was kind of funky and shabby (was it ever). But I have fond memories of Saturday nights with popcorn in hand at the show. During those years I really felt like our downtown was coming together with new shops and a sense of community. But now? The fact that we still haven’t figured out what to do with that space since its closing speaks volumes for the current state of downtown.

As we can see from other recent theater closings throughout Puget Sound, icons like The Des Moines Theater are likely no longer viable. However, a unique and dynamic anchor must be a part of our downtown’s long term strategy. We cannot leave such a prime location to whatever business just happens to come along. We need a fresh plan for the area that will be a magnet for visitors and a gathering place for our residents.

As for the other end of Marine View Drive? Like many of you I was very upset when I heard that QFC was leaving. I felt that a series of very public meetings should’ve been held to discuss what could be done to try and retain QFC and failing that, to discuss the future of that space for the community. It all felt very sudden.

That said, I’ve heard good things from some locals about its replacement, The Dollar Store. However–I want to say this as carefully as I can–I have to say in all honesty that it would not have been my first choice for that key location. Again it has nothing to do with that business or its owners. It’s simply that for so many residents QFC was such a key part of the fabric of the community. It was our grocer and I still miss it.

The downtown is key to the developing a successful vision for Des Moines. And it is my view that certain anchor spaces are crucial to realizing that vision. These spaces are about more than just finding a buyer, collecting sales tax and hoping for the best. The community should have a voice in that. And then real urban planning skill need to be brought to bear to turn that into a fully realized vision.

Over time, too much of Marine View Drive has been left to the whim of one business or just plain happenstance. Sometimes it’s been good luck, but more often not so much. Given the unique gifts of our waterfront, it should be the policy of the city to develop the downtown thoughtfully and with a deliberate strategy. And at every step of the way we should engage the community fully in that process. Our goal should be to make the Des Moines downtown live up to the unique potential of our waterfront for residents, business and visitors.

Time Management Woes

Posted on Categories Campaigning

I call this little trip to the whine cellar “Time Management Woes”

I keep getting nagged by Facebook to ‘post something’ and this begs a question of ‘time management’. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to ‘doorbell’ -and- do the research I’d like to do on your behalf -and- post here.

One of my PET PEEVES is not just the lack of transparency in local government, but the endless cycle of indifference on both sides. The City makes almost no real effort to engage citizens and frankly citizens make no effort to engage the City–unless there is a personal problem of course. I may be tilting at windmills but part of my job is to tilt that balance. I have to -try- to EDUCATE and ENGAGE and ENCOURAGE people to GET INVOLVED. And that all takes time.

Most people in government at this level simply doorbell to get elected the first time and then simply put out signs thereafter. In the thirteen years I’ve lived in Des Moines I’ve literally -never- had anyone come to my door… and neither has anyone else on my street who is a registered voter. I’ve talked with many City Council people and they stare blankly at me when I discuss the notion of ‘engagement’. It simply doesn’t -register- as a useful idea. In their minds, most people do not -want- to engage with local government. Most people view local government a bit like the power company: I only call you when there is a problem and then I expect you to show up jiffy quick. And I don’t expect there to be too many problems!

I disagree. I think Des Moines works a whole lot better when more people get involved.

Anyhoo… you know how some people seem to be able to (cough) ‘Tweet’ a billion times a day -and- meet with a hundred people -and- watch TV -and- do this that and the other thing? That ain’t me.

I’ve been at this for just a couple of months and I can barely write something once a -day-. And most days? It’s not all that ‘newsworthy’. It’s mostly just: knocked on a bunch more doors. Oh, I get some juicy anecdotes for sure. But they’re private. One thing I can tell you: I have already learned more in two months about Des Moines than I ever thought I was -ever- going to know. 😉 You can learn a lot just walking around doorbelling, let me tell ya. (More of my fellow candidates should join in the fun.) Only four months to go!

Personality Transplant

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

This is probably my last post as ‘JC Harris’ for a good while. Bye bye, JC! Aloha, personality!

You know you’re in trouble when you’re worried about quoting Al Franken, but some of the best quotes I’ve recently heard about politics have come from Al Franken who is peddling his memoir “Giant Of The Senate”. It’s about how, after a lifetime as an entertainer he had to train himself to behave like a ‘real politican’ in order to get elected. People in his state simply would not take him seriously so he worked like -crazy- to change voters’ perceptions. And love him or hate him, he won his last election very comfortably, so they must have worked. And those are some lessons that -I- really need to learn. Fast.

Because I too have spent a lot of years as an ‘entertainer’–as a musician–and I -really- struggle adopting the persona of being a politician. It is -waaaaaaaaay- harder than I thought it would be.

OK, first of all? No comedy. I’m taking a last ‘mulligan’ on that one, like the last cigarette before ‘finally quitting’. No really, Bernice, this time I mean it, honey. This is killing me. It’s a total straitjacket having to avoid irony and jokes. My lower lip will need soon need stitches from all the biting. But sadly, residents simply do not appreciate getting a three minute floor show along with my spiel on parks, public safety and code enforcement. Now what’s frustrating? Is that they turn on the TV and they see a guy do the same gags and they fall over. But if I provide it for free? They don’t get it. Ingrates! Apparently the electorate is not ready for a boffo-amusing politician. Just trust me on this.

Next? No profanity. I don’t give a hoot what you -think- you may have garnered from the recent election, this is an anomaly that will soon pass into history. You -cannot- doorbell using the same language that you actually… er … ‘use’ in real life. You want to be yourself with people. But not really. Not -here- anyway.

You gotta, gotta, gotta, use short sentences and small words. I -know- how that just sounded and I am soooooooooooo sorry. But I actually (mostly) believe in this one. You gotsta keep it simple. You thought I meant using Masterpiece Theatre English Major words? OK, I did. But you can just as easily lose people using technical terms like a scientist or a boring accountant. You gotta keep self-editing while you speak to make sure you’re CLARO. And that added mental effort can make you look to the outside world like Obama did during those last few years. You know: Where… every… sentence… seemed… to… take… twenty… minutes… to… get… out… It’s exhausting to say (and to listen to!)

Oh… and NO SLANG. No Urbanisms, neologisms, down-home-isms, contractions, etc. But don’t sound too white-bread either. If you can help it.

Look, I’ll make it even simpler. er. You really should consider visiting Switzerland shortly before your candidature begins (nb: only Europeans say ‘candidature’ or use ‘nb’ D’Oh!) So you can have that Personality Removal Surgery you may have heard so much about on Oprah.

Because the reason most successful candidates are such colorless beings is because a winning candidate tends to represent THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. Like it or not, ‘boring and inoffensive’ is not a bad strategy and a winning candidate -does- need to reflect their entire constituency. If you have too much ‘personality’ of -any- kind? It likely means that either your area is super-crazy gerry-mandered -or- that you’re probably going to lose. Big time.

When I ‘doorbell’, I’m keenly aware of the ‘dance’ going on. It’s a lot like dating in that there is so much ‘sincere lying’ going on. I mean you know that old expression “All’s fair in love and war”? Well they should throw voting in there somewhere too. For example, the people who aren’t trying to immediately get me off their porch are often not listening to a word I’m saying. They’re not being mean. But there is this little smile and I can tell that what they’re really wondering is “Democrat or Republican?”. Now I’m -supposed- to be non-partisan. And the funny thing is that’s -exactly- how I feel about it! But nobody believes that of course. So like dating there’s this odd mix of cynicism and -wanting- to believe. Our system is -so- odd in that way. All politicians are jerks. Except for -you-, JC. (Until the next person comes along, of course). We -want- to believe.

But it cuts both ways. I thought I’d be cool with politics because as a professional musician I thought that there was -nothing- the world could teach me about cynicism. Plus, I like policy and hey, who enjoys ranting more than me? (Or is it I?) But I discovered something: As much as you think politicians lie to you, -you-, Dear Public, lie to us —waaaaaaaaaay— more. The public are the biggest fibbers -ever-. I mean since they invented -ever-. And that’s -exactly- the way you like it! One big reason that politicians at even my teensy level tend to be the way we are is because the public is what it is. Promises are not kept. Donations don’t come in. But the candidate -has- to show up. That sounds like whining, but that’s just the deal we all make.

(And my -personal- pet peeve of all time!!!!!!! people who spend HOURS every week SCREAMING about Trump this or Hillary that! Stuff that is THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY… But never sent me that $25 *payable to JC Harris for Des Moines* to fix something that we can actually do something about!–notice the clever way I weaseled in sincere outrage -and- guilted you into following through on that check ya cheap so and so? That’s how politics works. It’s exhausting and humiliating and it never stops.)

And I mention all this because the process has the Darwinian consequence of making candidates tend to be either people who have something to gain -or- those who are certifiably insane. Normal people just don’t put up with it. America sure is great, but ‘the public at large’ can be truly awful. And that makes it hard to have the candidates that we really need. Yes, even at this picayune level.

But still I believe in it. Because it -has- to work. Or maybe I’m too negative. Maybe -you- would be a lot more positive because the skills would come much more naturally to you. Maybe you’re like one of those animals that absolutely -thrive- living next to those steaming underwater volcanoes. If so, I encourage you to go for it!

Where was I? Oh yeah. Vote for me in November. No wait that’s not quite right. Make your tax deductible contribution of $25 payable to JC Harris For Des Moines now. Then vote for me in November.

And whether I win or not, I’m taking my personality. BACK! (Not that I’m being insincere or anything at the moment. 😀 )

Zenith Elementary

Posted on Categories Airport

I was at the presentation for the new elementary school tonight and it was exciting and a bit sad. I -really- like the old building on 220th and 9th Ave. and wish there was -some- way it could be kept.

I understand the convenience of having a new building ready to go and I well understand the (cough) challenges of the old building and the ‘portable’ but still. The location was -perfect- for all the young families moving into the core of old Des Moines. (sigh)

More problematic for -me- is the new location. I am slightly annoyed with the idea of so many children now having to take the bus to school, but even more so that the new building is sited directly under a flight path! Who thought -that- was a brilliant idea?

I am not sure if it is too late or not, but before ground is broken, we should make whatever last ditch efforts we can make to see if -any- changes can be made to the siting process.

Yes, the old school is definitely run down, but I’d prefer a run down school to one directly under a flight path that is expected to double in capacity in the next few years!

Have A Goal

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy

I did my little three minute speech with the City Council tonight and I tried to say something that no one else wants to say: Have a goal.

Of course, everyone seems to agree that there is a problem. But one thing you’ll notice very quickly is that no one in power will tell you is this: what is their GOAL. No one will commit to an end game. No one at the state, county or municipal level. Which I find troubling to say the least.

Let me start by saying that I am working for the next generation because I’ll be honest, I feel like there is little relief that I can realistically provide for -our- generation, ie. current homeowners and businesses. I’m fighting for our kids and for the long-term future of Des Moines because otherwise because there is no short-term strategy. Let me say that again: there is no short term strategy–except to move while the economy is still (relatively) good. And I am not moving.

So I believe we must have a goal. And as outrageous as this will sound, I know what my goal is: Reverse noise and pollution to levels -before- the recent runway re-surfacing.

Note that I did not say ‘slow growth’. I said, my goal is -reverse-. As audacious as that may sound, I believe the only truly sane course is to do what the federal government insisted upon years ago with auto makers: LOWER the amount of pollution generated by cars. Not slow the growth. Lower it. And a funny thing happened: Those demands, which seemed so ‘impossible’ at the time, magically came to pass.

Not to sound hyperbolic, but we -must- start demanding LOWER levels of overall noise and pollution or else our town will be forever lost. That is not hyperbolic, it is, in fact, the only rational course of action. If we do not act now, decisively, like the movie says, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…” the only people who will want to live in Des Moines will be people with the least amount of money and thus the race to the bottom in South King County will continue.

We must reverse this trend. We must make Des Moines a destination; a place that young families, those who have choices, -choose- to move to. The irony is that, if you take away the Airport, the natural beauty of Des Moines makes it an ideal place for families. It’s the reason my generation, and many generations before me, moved here. Let’s keep it that way.

Parks And Recreation

Posted on Categories Policy

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Dr. Martin Luther King, “Budgets are moral documents.” Governments can say whatever they like, but at the end of the day, it is what they spend money on that tells you what they really value. In my view, a great Parks and Recreation system should be near the top of the list of a city like Des Moines. But if you look at the facts, our city does not have a great track record for investing in our children and seniors. We too often rely on the (great) generosity of private donors to prop up programs that our city should be doing. We can do better. A lot better.

As a new generation of young families move into our city we need to provide them with programs that educate and enrich their children. We need to make Des Moines a place that parents feel great about raising their kids.

The Airport

Posted on Categories Airport

Where do I begin? I have a lot to say on this topic, but I think we can all agree that Des Moines has not been treated fairly by neither the Port Of Seattle or the FAA. Stay tuned. As the amount of traffic has increased, it is my belief that we should be compensated for costs to our health, to our property, to our businesses. Remember: every plane that travels through our skies is more money for someone else and at our expense.