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: 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.

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.

Crime

Posted on Categories Policy, Public Safety

If I know my Des Moines voters, you probably clicked here first. 😉

I don’t have all the answers right now. Nobody does. But I do think I’m asking all the right questions and I’m going to give you what I’ve learned. You may not like it. 😀

I’ve been where many of you are. A few years ago, two of my neighbor’s houses were sold and turned into rentals. And for the next five years my street endured a string of terrible tenants–criminals, couples with chronic family abuse, and meth addicts. Almost every week was an adventure in bad behavior. Usually, the cops could only shrug–not because they didn’t care but because there was little they could do. Worst of all, the landlords were completely unreachable. And as terrible as the problems were, they were either not ‘criminal’ or they were criminal, but only petty misdemeanors, so the person would be back on our street in just a few days.

Things finally resolved themselves with the one house being burned down by a tenant and the other when the tenant was evicted after doing $26,000 damage to the owner’s property. Two of my neighbors, who are great friends of mine, moved out. And my house still has a couple of bullet holes in one window as a reminder. So I get it. In fact the reason I am running now if because I was so appalled at how the city handled these problems. There are a lot of things that happen in our neighborhoods for which we currently don’t have good solutions.

My point is this: By far the largest chunk of crime that residents complain about is caused by people with drug addiction and/or mental health issues. And, let’s just get this out of the way now: we cannot arrest our way out of these problems. Or rather, we can, it’s just that we can’t simply “lock ’em up and throw away the key” or just drive them to the city limits and dump them somewheres else. Not possible. There’s this pesky thing called ‘the constitution’. And yes, I know that’s a tough pill to swallow.

New Facilities

First off, we need a whole new type of facility to take care of people with mental health or drug problems. When people are arrested for most misdemeanors (which again are the biggest chunk of crime in the area) they are booked into the SCORE facility. And that place becomes their detox or mental health care facility; which is ridiculous. On any given day between fifty to eighty percent of inmates at SCORE are either mentally ill or have a substance abuse problem. It is those problems that drive the criminal behavior. And jail is not a place to correct either of these problems. So the people are then released back into the community without the help they need and then they are likely to re-offend. So what we need is a different kind of institution which is designed to not only keep these people off the street, but also to give them the proper help they need so they stop re-offending.

The kind of institution I’m talking about requires State funding. So the city needs to start lobbying hard, both regionally and in Olympia for that to happen. Right now.

Code Enforcement

I know this is a dull subject. 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 property upkeep goes. You can literally leave junk on your lawn for months at a time without incurring any penalties. I decided to run for office in order to fix this problem. If Des Moines had had these kinds of ordinances back when I was having my problems, the city would’ve cited the owner and the tenants would’ve been evicted. Problem solved.

Community Engagement

If you’re on Facebook, you’ll see several community groups which are sharing info on problems on their street and in their neighborhoods. And often, the city and the police are right there as well, taking information and trying to be responsive. This is something that the city should do a lot more to encourage.

What we often find out is that people on the same street are having similar problems, but they don’t realize that it’s a trend because, frankly, a lot of us aren’t as in touch with our neighbors as we should be. But almost all of us now are on the Internet, getting our news and information from computers and phones. The city can start engaging more directly with residents, encouraging them to post problems on social media and to the council and police. This creates a ‘virtuous circle’. The more we can get residents to engage with the city, the better the city can determine where problem hot spots are. And at the same time, residents can realize that they aren’t alone, that people on their street are there for them.

I’ve seen first hand how well this can help with exactly the kinds of problems I was experiencing. Someone reports a problem on social media and immediately other people chime in, “I have that problem too!”. And once that happens? Believe me, the police take note and problems get solved. What we need to do is get everyone in Des Moines involved.

More Bodies

OK, this is the part you want to hear. I do support increasing staff; not so much to increase ‘boots on the ground’, but simply to give officers a break. They currently run twelve hour shifts and often do overtime. No department can sustain effectiveness and morale under those conditions. This is actually one area where I am in agreement with the current government. We need to gradually increase the number of officers to where they can run full shifts and have at least a few extra officers to handle unexpected emergencies. That has to be done within the limits of a tight budget; it won’t happen overnight.

Zoning

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy

Zoning is one of those ‘little’ issues that rarely gets talked about in campaigns. But it is an issue that is very important in a city like Des Moines. Zoning needs to be handled with great sensitivity for existing homes and green space.

Here is just one example. A friend of mine owned this property for many years. Before retiring, he divided the property, keeping the small house on the right to sell and also selling the portion of the property on the left to a developer to build a new home. But before selling the small house, he was assured by the developer that any new house they built would be built in such a way as to be respectful of the existing small house.

But the developer has a standard model of house they want to build so they went ahead and put that up. So now the two houses are less than three feet from one another and the new house looms over the old. The developers were able to do this because city code has no limits for this type of situation.

So now the new owner of the small house is quite upset. And I couldn’t agree more. By being so close, the new house simply overwhelms the older house.

I’m definitely pro-development for Des Moines. We need more good homes for families. But this is the sort of zoning nightmare that happens in Des Moines far too often. Properties are developed according to some fixed plan, ignoring common sense.

There must have been some way the city could’ve worked with the developer to build the new house in such a way as to be more respectful of the owner of the existing smaller house.

I want to find ways to build the new homes and businesses we desperately need, but do so in a way that is in harmony with existing structures and open spaces.

Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

Posted on Categories Airport, Campaigning, Policy1 Comment on Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

The Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce is hosting a Candidate’s Night event on September 27 at the Red Lion hotel in Seatac. I hope to see many of you there as it will give you a rare chance to see and hear and meet all the candidates.

To further educate you on all our positions, last month, all the candidates for City Council (save Anthony Martinelli) and Port Commissioner submitted their answers to a list of questions from the chamber. The above link gives you all our answers. At first, a lot of their answers might seem fairly pat. But if you squint, you can definitely see the very real differences between us.

One item I want to point out: I am the only candidate for office in any capacity who mentioned the problems of the airport as being of major concern. I find this absolutely stunning. One might make the case that candidates were responding to a set of questions from a pro-business organization and that might have caused them to downplay environmental problems. But most candidates did not mention the airport at all, or only in the most positive terms. And this actually frightens me a little.

I’m running because I feel the city is headed in the wrong direction on several levels. The other candidates will tell you that fixing the city’s finances is the number of obligation of a council member. I fundamentally disagree. The number one obligation of a council member is to protect its residents and the city. Full stop.

The seems so obvious to me I almost can’t believe it needs saying. If I were forced to choose between balancing the city’s books and keeping you safe? The answer is a big ‘Duuuh’. The pollution and noise generated by the airport is so egregious that it is already giving Des Moines some of the highest rates of cancer and respiratory disease in the nation–not to mention the fact that our property values and per capita income are the lowest of any waterfront community in the region. The airport may be an ‘economic engine’ for some, but it is the residents of Des Moines who suffer to make it happen. And I want to change that.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t also value the fiscal health of our city. I certainly do. But to hear the other candidates speak, one would get the impression that the only way for Des Moines to prosper is by creating ever greater partnerships with the airport. Other candidates also prioritize the environmental impacts of the airport far below that of economic development. I simply disagree. Your health; your childrens’ health and the health of our land, water and sky will always matter most to me.

I believe it is a false choice to assume that we must depend on the airport for our economic prosperity. Des Moines has some of the most beautiful natural resources in the entire region. Our location with respect to the various transportation arteries is almost ideal. We can and must leverage these assets to build a diversified and sustainable economy that is independent of any single industry and certainly not one that is so damaging to our health and property.

Fast Ferry Service To Des Moines

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Policy

Fast Ferry Service
Fast Ferry Service
If elected I will do everything in my power to get a Fast Ferry Service in South Puget Sound, linking Seattle with Des Moines and Tacoma.

Here is a great story on the concept of a Fast Ferry courtesy of KUOW radio.

This is one of those solutions to traffic that is so face-palm obvious that it serves to demonstrate how much we’re all in thrall of the automobile. But the fact is that Puget Sound had a ‘Mosquito Fleet’ for years and years. We focus so much on some ‘ground’ solution we forget that we have another potential transportation system which is much greener, right at our Marina!

Most people don’t realize it, but originally Des Moines was a necessary stop-off for ships heading south. We are actually a deep water port that can handle very large ships with ease.

When people get on any boat they are amazed at how fast it is getting to Alki. We forget that Des Moines to Alki is actually a short distance in a straight line. It’s schlepping up 509/99 or winding around Ambaum that makes it seem like it’s a million miles away.

The kicker for me? A Fast Ferry would be sooooooooooooooo much cheaper than the Sound Transit Light Rail for which we have to wait until 2023. Even better, implementing a stop at Des Moines could be accomplished in much less time.

All we need is the political will to bring together the necessary stakeholders to make it happen.