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Hi there…

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My duties include creating legislation and providing oversight of our City government. But my job is also to listen to you, the people, businesses and organizations of Des Moines. City Council positions are at large, which means that I represent all of Des Moines. No matter where you live, I’m here to serve you.

If you have questions, concerns or suggestions about how we can make Des Moines better place for you, your family, your business or your organization, I urge you to contact me.

Some quick notes:

Weekly Update: 09/19/2021

Posted on Categories Taxes, Transparency, Weekly Updates5 Comments on Weekly Update: 09/19/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines Meeting.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board Meeting (SCATBD) There will be an update on all regional transportation. I’d like to say that there are bus route improvements coming to DM, but probably not.

Tuesday: King County Clean Water Workshop. This is a venue for regional stakeholders to discuss system-wide challenges. Many cities are experiencing the same kinds of challenges we’ve had here with Midway Sewer and older systems that need updates.

Tuesday: Meeting with Tina Orwall and FAA “regarding the health impacts of aviation and how the knowledge of these impacts is influencing FAA actions and policies”

Wednesday: 5:00PM. Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce Candidates Night. I’m not sure it will be live-streamed, but a video will be available. This is likely one of the only chances you’ll be able to see all the candidates speak publicly (how sad is that, right?)

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership Executive Board Meeting (Agenda)

Saturday: Farmers Market. Last Saturday of the year! I’ll be there wandering around. (Actually, I’m usually skulking somewhere at the Marina. 😀 )

Last Week

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. The main topic was the growing realisation that schools and medical systems are planning on living with the pandemic for the entire school year. Here is a plug for one of the great groups they sponsor Phenomenal She –which provides activities and mentoring for young women of colour.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video #1 ) (Video #2)

  • There was an update on the Parks and Rec Master Plan which was helpful for me in that the consultant indicated that 2020 Census Data would be used in the analysis. As you know, there is an absence of parks in the south end of town. A lot of grant money is based on ‘unmet need’ and I’d like to get a much better assessment of who we are as a City neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
  • We also voted on HB1220–the new law insisting that we develop zoning to allow for homeless shelters and develop a more aggressive approach towards Affordable Housing and Emergency Shelters.Nobody cares more about property values and public safety than me.  The whole reason I started going to City Council meetings twelve years ago was to defend my neighbourhood. But zoning is designed to make it as tough as hell to provide any sort of housing below ‘full market rate single family’. It basically paints every low income person with the same brush. If we want people to have shelter and realistically have a chance to get back on their feet we can’t just push it off into some corner of town. The ordinance is very restrictive on the where but leaves the management piece completely vague. That seems backwards to me. The important thing is to make sure that these buildings are accountable.If you watched the meeting, the issue is deeply personal for me. I am very happy to say that the battered women’s shelter (they don’t call it that any more, of course) my wife helped found is still in business to this day. It worked because it was convenient for clients and their children and did not make them feel like pariahs in the community.
  • But the highlight of the show, of course, was where we spent our $9M of ARPA Stimulus Funds.  Councilmember Buxton described it as ‘incredible’ and we agree on that, for sure. 😀 Here is the City’s Press Release. I’ll be addressing the in a separate post. But for now I want to mention but one item on that Press Release to give you a sense of my feelings about the whole thing:
    • There is not $1,000,000 new money for parks. That money is to make up for a $934,000 loss in income due to COVID-19.
    • There is actually only $66,000 in new spending–for a new Parks employee. And that is for one year.
    • That new hire is categorized under “Revenue Loss”. And when I asked the City Manager how he could justified new spending as lost revenue loss, he said “It is possible, that if we’d had the revenue we would have created this position.” Sure. Anything is possible.
    • The specific justification for that employee was to respond to very legitimate requests by a bunch of parents who wanted to be able to park at Steven J. Underwood Park–which is currently locked except for rented events. However, there was no correspondence from the City indicating that the problem was about staffing. All the correspondence indicated that the parks were being kept locked in response to COVID-19. So… what happened to all the safety concerns?
    • I just want to point out that the parking gate for Steven J. Underwood Park is located about 500 feet from the Senior Activity Center. I would further note that there are employees already on the payroll, at that location, five days a week. And I would also note that those employees have a key to that gate.

    I went through that little exercise because there is something like that on every line. Either it’s not new spending or the rationale sounds great, but when you dig down it’s like, “Wait a minute…” But when the mission is to spend $9,000,000 in 3 hours nobody quibbles over a ‘mere’ $66,000. That is why government spending is the way it is. And this is not me being cranky or some abstraction. $66,000 is three decent sized small business grants. It’s enough money to pay the utility bills for over 250 homes. It’s accounting software. A new web site. Playground equipment.  Get it?

Friday: Meeting with Aclima. Aclima is a company that makes portable/mobile air quality monitoring gear. What I have wanted for years has been to obtain for air quality what you consider standard operating procedure with water quality: ie. ongoing measurements. Your drinking water is tested for purity at least four times a year. The air in Des Moines? Almost never. Seriously. With the help of Rep. Tina Orwall and partnerships with other Cities we have been able to hire UW DEOHS to do various ad hoc studies, but those only occur every few years. There is never anything that gets down to a neighbourhood by neighbourhood monitoring of how the airport is changing Des Moines over time.

Friday: A week ago I gave testimony before the JLARC to maintain a local journalism tax credit. And an editor from the Seattle Times called me about it and mentioned me in this article : https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/public-wants-state-to-help-struggling-newspapers/. (And after last Thursday’s City Council Meeting, I want a local newspaper even more now.)

Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

This is my public testimony today before the State Of Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference. This is a tax credit benefiting local newspapers. Here is a background editorial by Seattle Times Editor Brier Dudley.

Good morning.

Sadly, I have no dog in this fight. There has been no local paper in Des Moines for almost a decade. We used to have two and both provided legitimate coverage of City Hall. I can vouch for many instances where they improved local governance.

But given the rapid decline of newspapers, those facts seems so unbelievable to me now that I may as well be telling you we used to have Space Monkeys.

Some stats…

Our City’s population has turned over by almost two thirds since the Great Recession. The average age of our residents is 39 and trending downward and 45% brown and trending upwards. However the average voter is about 58 and only getting older. And they continue to be overwhelmingly white.

Interestingly the number of voters stays relatively flat. The population changes, but it’s mostly the same type of voters from back in the day when we had newspapers. They just keep getting older.

Yes, we have a ‘Community Facebook page’ with over 5,000 members. But when it comes to local government, we are as uninformed  a bunch of people as I’ve seen in my 26 years in the area. The sheer volume of posts about schools, lost animals, stolen cars and beautiful sunsets seem to make a certain percentage of residents feel ‘informed’ somehow. It’s as though what we used to call the Entertainment Section of a newspaper now is ‘the newspaper’.

For example…

  • Sea-Tac Airport is beginning a massive expansion–and though the airport impacts drive our residents nuts, at least 95% of them are completely unaware that waaaaaaay more flights might be on the way or what our government may or may not be doing about it.
  • Our City is embarking on a $50,000,000 Marina Redevelopment project–the largest capital project in our history. And again, almost no one in town has a clue, despite numerous City Council meeting where no one showed up.

Usually nobody attends our public meetings anymore unless I (and I mean I personally) gin up some small demand. And frankly, governments in general don’t mind that one bit because meetings move a whole lot faster without a lot of pesky residents putting in their two cents.

The small town problem…

Functionally, that lack of public participation leads to an ever shrinking circle residents driving all decision making. By that I mean maybe forty or so. These are almost all extremely well-meaning and civic-minded folks, often who have been at it now for decades, and many of them do incredible work that the City would be lost without. But whether they understand it or not, they all have an outsize role in our City’s affairs and all have self-interests. And, not to put too fine a point on it, they are also overwhelmingly old and white.

In many ways, those elites (it sounds funny to put it that way, but that really is what we’re really talking about) conjure images of the best of small town volunteerism. However, in truth we are now a $100,000,000 corporation  with 32,000 other residents. We are not a small town. And at a certain point, many issues that would be routinely discussed in an objective manner at a similar-size for-profit corporation become impossible when everybody knows everybody.

And there’s the rub:  nobody, especially local politicians, has an incentive to address (or even acknowledge) any of this as problematic. Even if one is willing to pay lip service to “transparency”, all the real incentives lean towards getting along and away from calling attention to it. It’s just not in your interest to promote any changes that might lead to a reduction in your influence.

If by chance one of those forty heard my remarks, they could (or perhaps should) see themselves and may well take offense. But anyone who does not live here would recognize that this state of affairs, for all its good points, has some issues.

The Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval…

Our City publishes a very nice, four-color newsletter which is distributed to every address. That is, for the vast majority of the public, the only source of information they receive about Des Moines. And in fact, many people refer to it as ‘news’ even though it is City-generated content and almost always contains only the good news.

Also, every year your State auditors review our books and we often get very high marks. Like all cities, we advertise this loudly as some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval. Residents understandably find this reassuring. But, not to downplay the great work of our Finance Department, what the public does not understand is that the State is not auditing the quality of our governance. The purpose is to protect your money, not ours.

In short, the only story the public tends to hear about the City is the story the City itself wants to tell.

The cure…

The combination of an uninformed population, (mostly) benign elitism and few but highly biased information sources have been significant factors in creating a lack of equitable representation in towns like Des Moines. Those same factors also make the problems resistant to self-correction.

A local newspaper is the only cure I can think of. It does far more than inform the public. By being the only actor that stays truly above the fray, a newspaper makes it possible to address some embarrassing realities we cannot seem to do on our own.

The only way to make a small town with big money functionally democratic is to give everyone a reasonable chance to participate. And the only way to do that is by giving everyone a reasonable shot at being informed. And the only way to do that is with independent and objective local journalism. In short: good government requires a newspaper.

Who knew, right?

Again, I have no dog in this fight. I’m speaking today simply to keep that possibility alive for the future of my city and for all small towns. I urge you to retain this tax credit and to do even more to make it feasible for cities like Des Moines to provide independent and objective coverage of City Hall.

Thank you.

Postscript: Honestly, I thought when I testified that my comments would be just gilding the lily. I assumed that the committee members would be “Journalism! Fantastic! Approved!” Not so much. In fact, they were surprisingly hard-nosed about extending it. They expressed what seems some very reasonable notions when considering spending public money. If they weren’t at least questioning the idea, newspapers would come to expect it and get lazy in their efforts to help themselves. They applied rigor to the task and as a taxpayer I appreciated that.

Environmental Strategist

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment

This video is one of a series of public comments I made at City Council Meetings starting in 2017 asking the City to change direction on airport policy. I referr to the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) as ‘4a.’  That’s because it is the fourth major expansion for Sea-Tac Airport since 1961 (there is a ‘4b’ tentatively scheduled for 2027.)

At that time the City had unveiled a whole new department, Emergency Management. I was arguing that the SAMP required the same kind of planning and responses. I said that we should hire a management expert–someone who understands not only current technical issues, but also politics and history. Their job would be to develop, implement and maintain a best-in-class ongoing strategy to reduce noise and pollution and obtain compensation for our residents.

Since airport expansions are announced many years in advance, you might think that gives us some  advantage. However since all communities tend to deal with them in the same way, using the same outside consultants and usually at the last minute, the results have always turned out badly.

Rewind the video to the speaker immediately before me, Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture. She mentions that tree cover has been rapidly declining in Des Moines. Put that together with all the water quality, fishing and shoreline management challenges we face (and that was before the sewer district issues), the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me to expand this job to manage all environmental issues for the City. They are all very complex, often frustrating, long game issues involving many agencies and sums of money a City like Des Moines do not have. And they are *often inter-connected.

Not one, three ARPA airport Proposals…

So at the September 16th City Council Meeting, my proposal for creating the position of Environmental Strategist will be discussed and hopefully approved. I hope you will read it carefully and then give your support  by signing up for public comment at our 16 September City Council Meeting at 5:00pm. Your comments may be either written or via Zoom.

Former Aviation Advisory Committee member Steve Edmiston has submitted another, fairly detailed, airport proposal which I know has received a number of letters of support. Deputy Mayor Mahoney has also submitted a proposal to set aside $300,000 for a legal fund. I am happy to see both proposals because it means that the issue matters to the public. However, since there are now three “airporty” proposals out there, I have had any number of people ask me:

“What’s the difference, JC? Give it to me in twenty five words or less!”

And my first answer is, of course: “Read the proposal.” 🙂

Which is three words. (You wanted it simple! 😀 )

And my second answer is this:

What every airport community does is fight the battles that cannot be won and when they lose, simply quit or move; while at the same time, completely ignoring the very significant opportunities that can be achieved with proper ongoing management by a true expert.

This is not a war that one wins or loses. There will never be a magic bullet for Des Moines. Not a second airport. Not electric aircraft.  Not mass transit. Not some major shake-up at the FAA. Not some grand legislation or regional partnership. Nothing.

Instead, let’s start with two simple premises:

  • We’re on our own
  • So long as there is a Sea-Tac Airport, we will face the challenges we now face.

This is an ongoing chronic condition with serious acute phases every decade or so called ‘expansions’. One way or another, we have to live with this condition. But how well we live with it depends a a great deal on our own efforts to manage the condition. We should have been managing the airport in this manner starting in 1959. But it’s never too late to start.

Again, please support this proposal by signing up to attend our 16 September City Council Meeting at 5:00pm or by submitting a public comment.

You can also express support by sending an email to all members of the City Council: citycouncil@desmoineswa.gov

Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

Posted on Categories TransparencyLeave a comment on Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

This is my public testimony today before the State Of Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference. This is a tax credit benefiting local newspapers. Here is a background editorial by Seattle Times Editor Brier Dudley.

Good morning.

Sadly, I have no dog in this fight. There has been no local paper in Des Moines for almost a decade. We used to have two and both provided legitimate coverage of City Hall. I can vouch for many instances where they improved local governance.

But given the rapid decline of newspapers, those facts seems so unbelievable to me now that I may as well be telling you we used to have Space Monkeys.

Some stats…

Our City’s population has turned over by almost two thirds since the Great Recession. The average age of our residents is 39 and trending downward and 45% brown and trending upwards. However the average voter is about 58 and only getting older. And they continue to be overwhelmingly white.

Interestingly the number of voters stays relatively flat. The population changes, but it’s mostly the same type of voters from back in the day when we had newspapers. They just keep getting older.

Yes, we have a ‘Community Facebook page’ with over 5,000 members. But when it comes to local government, we are as uninformed  a bunch of people as I’ve seen in my 26 years in the area. The sheer volume of posts about schools, lost animals, stolen cars and beautiful sunsets seem to make a certain percentage of residents feel ‘informed’ somehow. It’s as though what we used to call the Entertainment Section of a newspaper now is ‘the newspaper’.

For example…

  • Sea-Tac Airport is beginning a massive expansion–and though the airport impacts drive our residents nuts, at least 95% of them are completely unaware that waaaaaaay more flights might be on the way or what our government may or may not be doing about it.
  • Our City is embarking on a $50,000,000 Marina Redevelopment project–the largest capital project in our history. And again, almost no one in town has a clue, despite numerous City Council meeting where no one showed up.

Usually nobody attends our public meetings anymore unless I (and I mean I personally) gin up some small demand. And frankly, governments in general don’t mind that one bit because meetings move a whole lot faster without a lot of pesky residents putting in their two cents.

The small town problem…

Functionally, that lack of public participation leads to an ever shrinking circle residents driving all decision making. By that I mean maybe forty or so. These are almost all extremely well-meaning and civic-minded folks, often who have been at it now for decades, and many of them do incredible work that the City would be lost without. But whether they understand it or not, they all have an outsize role in our City’s affairs and all have self-interests. And, not to put too fine a point on it, they are also overwhelmingly old and white.

In many ways, those elites (it sounds funny to put it that way, but that really is what we’re really talking about) conjure images of the best of small town volunteerism. However, in truth we are now a $100,000,000 corporation  with 32,000 other residents. We are not a small town. And at a certain point, many issues that would be routinely discussed in an objective manner at a similar-size for-profit corporation become impossible when everybody knows everybody.

And there’s the rub:  nobody, especially local politicians, has an incentive to address (or even acknowledge) any of this as problematic. Even if one is willing to pay lip service to “transparency”, all the real incentives lean towards getting along and away from calling attention to it. It’s just not in your interest to promote any changes that might lead to a reduction in your influence.

If by chance one of those forty heard my remarks, they could (or perhaps should) see themselves and may well take offense. But anyone who does not live here would recognize that this state of affairs, for all its good points, has some issues.

The Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval…

Our City publishes a very nice, four-color newsletter which is distributed to every address. That is, for the vast majority of the public, the only source of information they receive about Des Moines. And in fact, many people refer to it as ‘news’ even though it is City-generated content and almost always contains only the good news.

Also, every year your State auditors review our books and we often get very high marks. Like all cities, we advertise this loudly as some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval. Residents understandably find this reassuring. But, not to downplay the great work of our Finance Department, what the public does not understand is that the State is not auditing the quality of our governance. The purpose is to protect your money, not ours.

In short, the only story the public tends to hear about the City is the story the City itself wants to tell.

The cure…

The combination of an uninformed population, (mostly) benign elitism and few but highly biased information sources have been significant factors in creating a lack of equitable representation in towns like Des Moines. Those same factors also make the problems resistant to self-correction.

A local newspaper is the only cure I can think of. It does far more than inform the public. By being the only actor that stays truly above the fray, a newspaper makes it possible to address some embarrassing realities we cannot seem to do on our own.

The only way to make a small town with big money functionally democratic is to give everyone a reasonable chance to participate. And the only way to do that is by giving everyone a reasonable shot at being informed. And the only way to do that is with independent and objective local journalism. In short: good government requires a newspaper.

Who knew, right?

Again, I have no dog in this fight. I’m speaking today simply to keep that possibility alive for the future of my city and for all small towns. I urge you to retain this tax credit and to do even more to make it feasible for cities like Des Moines to provide independent and objective coverage of City Hall.

Thank you.

Postscript: Honestly, I thought when I testified that my comments would be just gilding the lily. I assumed that the committee members would be “Journalism! Fantastic! Approved!” Not so much. In fact, they were surprisingly hard-nosed about extending it. They expressed what seems some very reasonable notions when considering spending public money. If they weren’t at least questioning the idea, newspapers would come to expect it and get lazy in their efforts to help themselves. They applied rigor to the task and as a taxpayer I appreciated that.

Weekly Update: 09/06/2021

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Engagement, Marina, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 09/06/2021

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Meetings with candidates for Port Of Seattle Commissioner. Can I share one of my frustrations? 😀 The big mistake all our Cities make in dealing with the Port is talking about the wrong things. Many of the things residents want the Port Commissioners to do, they legally cannot do. They’re not lying about their lack of control over various aspects of Sea-Tac Airport. You can grumble about the unfairness of life all you want, but that’s just the deal. The other side of the coin are my pro-Port colleagues who think that the Port is this economic fountain for Des Moines, while completely ignoring the environmental impacts. That too is ridiculous.

Candidates for Port Commission all basically have the same message. Jobs, economics. Progressive or conservative, they can talk all they want about ‘environment’, but the fact is that they all have to operate within a certain window. Also: the Port is like the City Of Des Moines. It has a very high complexity number. And a Port Commissioner is a part time job. They have no hope of understanding the issues and the corporation for several years.

What we should do is to educate every Port Candidate as to what they could be doing for us. We know what is possible. (And it’s significant.) But we never do. As I said, either the City gets hold of them with some minor economic pitch or the airport activists ask them to work on things they cannot do. The Port lobbies us. We should lobby right back.

Wednesday: Des Moines Parks Master Plan Update @ Senior Center 6-8PM!

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. You can visit their web site for information on the Marina Redevelopment.

Thursday: I will be giving testimony at the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee in support of continuing to fund a tax credit for local journalism. No, we don’t currently have a newspaper in Des Moines. But hope springs eternal. 🙂 That tax credit is one of the few things keeping local papers in business and we must support it in order to keep the possibility of local journalism alive.

That’s it. The rest of the week is a black hole of emptiness. So give me a call and tell me what’s on your mind about Des Moines (206) 878-0578.

Last Week

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Growth Management Board (Agenda).

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) One highlight was a presentation by Skylab Architects of Portland which did the original renderings for Marina Redevelopment. The Request For Proposal (RFQ) is also supposed to be unveiled–which will flesh out some of the details on the various building proposals.

The other issue was a first reading of our ordinance to comply with HB1220–the new law insisting that we develop zoning to allow for homeless shelters and develop a more aggressive approach towards Affordable Housing. This is another one of those policy issues that I know the public cares about, but which no one ever shows up for. Please watch the presentation and then show up for the second hearing in October.

Happy Labor Day!

I just realised: I’ve been a member of four unions: two for musicians, one for electrical workers and one for professional engineers I kinda forgot about.

I was required to join a union for a factory gig I had in college. Being a jerk, I kinda laughed at how seriously my co-workers took the union. But that was because I was ‘going places’. For them it was their j.o.b. I don’t know what it did for me except that, in spite of being around a lot of dangerous electricity I do not recall anyone getting hurt and I got paid slightly more than I expected. Today, that job would be done by  a computer and a robot and both would have better attitudes.

When I moved to Manhattan it was a rite of passage to join the musicians union. It meant that you were making a (real) living wage in the greatest city on earth. Now? The few remaining union musicians are mostly in orchestras. Ironically, the biggest bargaining issue was also automation. We all knew we were being replaced by synthesizers and computers.

My last union vaguely optional. The idea was to organize professional engineers to negotiate contracts with the State Of Michigan as a single unit. At the time, I thought it was kinda cockamamie because despite any merits of the idea, its success depended on the willingness of a bunch of independent-minded guys to cooperate. Candidly, we were nothing like these women or any other model of solidarity. So we self-destructed. No robots required. I now realize that it was a very worthy goal and very much ahead of its time. Some of us did better without the union, some worse. But it would have simplified very useful things like health insurance and retirement planning for all of us–things you don’t pay attention to when you think you’re special and have all the time in the world. There’s a lesson there. Maybe. 😀

The older I get the more I see the benefits of organized labour. If you’re an employer (or a City) you’re not always thrilled to be on the other side of the table. But opportunities to spend one’s days productively and to be paid fairly do not happen by themselves. Sooner or later we may all get replaced by a robot. But if no one speaks up, you most definitely will.

Something I think about is how much I took for granted the stability on my street in Des Moines. It’s not at all a wealthy neighbourhood. But everybody seemed to have jobs they liked and that paid enough to get their kids through college. I’ve decided that it is that simple lack of anxiety that defines ‘the American Dream’ for me.

I hope your Labor Day has been relaxing. And I hope you enjoy your work. I hope it affords you the freedom to live the way you want to live today and the security to feel hopeful about tomorrow.

Weekly Update: 08/29/2021

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Engagement, Marina, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/29/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post. I’ve submitted six ideas so far.  Please send me yours by Monday September 6, 2021!

The writing critiques generally fall into two camps: “Too damned long” or Too damned short, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Over the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with ways to break the thing up into biter-sizes. The challenge is that some of you follow along but there are new readers who have no idea about many of the things I’m referring to. I’ve started using footnotes more. My newest innovation is to put background information into these clever things they invented called ‘boxes’ which you can skip over if you’ve already been reading along. 🙂

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Growth Management Board (Agenda).

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) The highlight will include a presentation by Skylab Architects of Portland which did the original renderings for Marina Redevelopment. The Request For Proposal (RFQ) is also supposed to be unveiled–which will flesh out some of the details on the various building proposals.

Last Week

Monday: Meetings with Port people, including Comissioner Ryan Calkins on the SeatacNoise.info Check Box thing.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable StART Meeting. This was the first ‘reveal’ of the Sustainable Airport Master Plan environmental review process. The funny thing (for me) is that basically nobody shows up for these things. But over 70 people showed up for this thing–thinking that there would be some big ‘reveal’. Not at all. The public has such a poor understanding of the process or what is possible I honestly don’t know what to do about it. However, well done to Vashon Island for getting organized! Most of the people who showed up were VI residents who want to be included in the discussion.

Thursday: Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (Video). Des Moines resident Steve Edmiston is a member of the commission and gave a passionate presentation on why health impacts should be a consideration in deciding where to locate a second airport.

And… as the official crusher of people’s hopes: Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Nope. A motion to add such language did not pass. And it’s easy to say that it was just the pro-aviation bastards, right? OK, but think about what you want, Des Moines.

If you really believe that a second airport might divert traffic from Des Moines, you gotta let people build a second airport. Airports are like any power plant. They’re gonna suck for communities; there’s no way to make them healthy. If you insist on pre-conditions to do so, I applaud your concern for your fellow man, but you’re also making it impossible to build a second airport.

Which is fine by me. As I keep saying, I don’t care one way or another. 1Because a second airport will never provide any relief for Des Moines.

My biggest challenge has been convincing you of that. Electeds and candidates and activists just loooove selling this as some ‘solution’ for the noise and pollution. And I wish they would stop doing that because it is not true. All the energy we spending on that canard should be better spent doing something that will actually help Des Moines.

Friday: I spoke with 30th District Senator Claire Wilson on the SeatacNoise.Info proposal The Check Box. And of course, the Senator just blew me out of the water. I’ve given this pitch a dozen times now and I still can’t get it right. The Senator distracts people with her stunning eye wear and then destroys them with a highly pointed question.

Look, all this is is ‘car pooling for planes’. When car pooling and van pooling started in the 70’s it was a total joke. You think people love cars now? Americans looooved cars back then. You could not deal with the problem of traffic (the ‘demand’) directly. So whoever thunk it up began with a totally voluntary program which nobody could be against because they didn’t really take it seriously. The only trick was getting someone to take it seriously enough to fund it, but not seriously enough that the auto industry would kill it.

But little by little it got people used to the idea of conservation. Same thing can happen with air travel. People have been using Zoom for a year. They don’t need to fly as much now. It used to be a treat. It’s only a mess because we do so much of it that we don’t need to.

The only reason it’s hard to pitch is because every organization does event planning and travel scheduling slightly differently. So you pitch the idea to someone and invariably they explain how “we have a different process here.” Same thing happened with car pooling. People argued endlessly about the small stuff. We’ll get there.

Senator Wilson and I also talked about the Fair Start legislation she got passed this Spring. As the pandemic has become endless I keep hearing this drum beat from parents about the need for more parks more activities and basically how damned expensive it is to raise a child.

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partners (SKHHP) Executive Board Meeting. There was a fairly devastating presentation by Tim Thomas from UC Berkley on what we can expect here from the coming eviction tsunami. I don’t have numbers to show yet, but the curve is ugly. And why you should care about that is because stability means community safety. Anybody who lived here during the Great Recession knows that a ton of house-flipping is something to be avoided.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph made a good point: Some cities have instituted ordinances to lean on landlords when it comes to tenant issues like mold and poor appliances–common complaints everywhere. The tension is that any pressure you apply to landlords to improve housing also puts pressure on rents–and round and round things go.

Let’s pretend…

Out of the blue, I got a call from Councilmember Buxton asking me if I had questions about that SKHHP meeting. I asked her her impressions of the group and then gave her a couple of my thoughts.

I then gave her my obligatory “I object” speech which I now give to any Councilmember or candidate or community member who does not speak up and it basically goes like this (ahem):

“I object to the constant the preferential treatment the City Manager gives the members of the current majority and the terrible way he has treated both myself and Councilmember Martinelli. As much as I always appreciate hearing from any colleague or community member, this speech will be a part of every discussion we have until the Council establishes an ethical relationship with the City Manager where are all CMs are treated fairly.

I refuse to pretend or compartmentalize or otherwise normalize the bullying by calling it ‘just politics’. Dismissiveness and and victim blaming are unacceptable. Every Councilmember’s primary job is to provide oversight of the administration and that cannot happen when the City Manager and Council majority constantly discriminate against the minority and when members of the community do not speak up. Every member of Council deserves the protection of his colleagues and the full cooperation of the administration. To do otherwise is corruption pure and simple and we should stop pretending that it is anything else. It’s bad for governance and worse for the community. There is simply no excuse. Every person who does not speak up: elected or community member is an enabler.”

I don’t obsess about it; every week you see I work on all sorts of stuff. But I’m never going slide it under the rug either because it makes it harder for me to serve you when I do not enjoy the same cooperation that Councilmember Buxton takes for granted. And it needs to be constantly talked or it will never get solved. It’s become so normal here that most people think that this is how the world should work–which is just nuts.

Let’s Get Organisised

OK, referencing Taxi Driver is probably not a great way to open a topic on parenting, but I keep having these fascinating discussions about Public Outreach as part of things like the ARPA Stimulus, Marina Redevelopment and Parks Master Plan.

For long time, the City had a Citizens Advisory Committee. I guess it still exists. In theory. There’d be one community representative from each of nine neighbourhoods. It sorta ‘dissolved’ around 2017. Now you can say that ‘those uncaring people’ at the City stopped doing it and I half-agree. But you could also say that it became impossible because of all ‘those uncaring people’ in each neighbourhood. Frankly, often there weren’t community members who wanted to do it.

And that’s the thing: I hear all the time, “We need to do better public outreach!” and I 100% agree. The thing I struggle with is: how?

The push back from the City is basically, ‘ the public just doesn’t give a hoot’. On the other hand, I think the City has an ongoing responsibility to aggressively recruit residents. I keep saying it: more than half of the city has turned over in the past 15 years. New people keep coming here and they have no idea about a ‘Citizens Advisory Committee’ unless someone tells them.

There is also an uncomfortable little ‘secret’. There are still a few people in town who do organise for their neighbourhoods. And because you aren’t engaged, they basically have waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much influence. They’re not doing anything ‘wrong’. They’re doing what democracy says is good: advocating for their interest. It’s like a teeter-totter. They’re on one side and you’re not on the other so they always get more attention.

So the question then becomes: Should the City put effort into getting more people to volunteer for groups like the Citizen Advisory Committee? Or at the other end of the scale should it simply acknowledge the fact that nobody has the time in 2021 and try to create other mechanisms to ‘find out what you want’?

One common notion is ‘the town hall’ or ‘open house’. Very cool. We’ve got one coming up next week for the Parks Master Plan. The problem with Town Halls is the same as Citizen Advisory Committees. The same people tend to show up and it can be difficult getting truly equitable results.

That said, the City has a Senior Advisory Committee to indicate our strong commitment to that constituency. However, the average age of Des Moines is now 39. We have an entirely new generation of families. And yet there’s no “Family Advisory Committee”. Maybe there should be. But it will only happen if… wait for it… enough ‘Moms’ get organisised to make it happen.

I see scoffs from some of my colleagues and staff, but at the end of the day, City resources are a zero-sum game. There is only so much money, and also only so much attention to go around. That’s why I’m constantly badgering residents to write the City Council, set up a neighbourhood group, generally… be a (nice) pain in the ass. That actually is democracy.

Every staff member will say that the City takes a completely technocratic and fair approach to all this stuff. And I agree–to a point. That approach also appeals to residents because it asks nothing of them. “Hey, if the City is doing everything fairly, I’m already getting the best possible service, right?”

THWWPTPPWPWWPWPWWPPWPT. (That’s my raspberry emoji. 😀 )

This is no slam against any staff member. But I ran customer service systems for a living. And no matter how even-handed an organisation attempts to be, the people who organise tend to get better results. It’s just a fact that’s been borne out by studies since the dawn of… er… dawn. So if you want more attention for “Mom’s” or “Traffic Calming” or “Racism” or whatever your deal is, you have to do your part. That’s the short term answer.

In the long term…

The City currently does very little in the way of organised community research. We can and should do reporting on police stats, business performance, customer spending, real estate and human service needs at a neighbourhood level of granularity. It’s not rocket surgery and other cities our size already do it. We just have to recognise that the out of pocket costs of such information gathering pay for themselves.

You can’t handle the truth…

Speaking of information. I am the most sympathetic mofo you ever met when it comes to your street. But the truth is that a lot of the time, Cities run studies on traffic or crime or whatever and it turns out that “people are constantly going eighty miles an hour!” is actually “people are constantly going twenty eight miles an hour.”

And that’s the kind of thing that makes decision makers a bit jaded.

The solution is actually more information–which is why I want all that survey data. If you respond to a resident concern with “Dude, it’s not that bad” it’s not gonna go over well. But if you communicate what the resources are city-wide and then can demonstrate where the needs actually are, it makes the medicine go down a lot easier. Theoretically. 😀

One minor detail…

No matter what you do, the squeaky wheel does get the grease. It’s supposed to in a democracy. There’s always gonna be some group that organises and gets something you don’t. I’m not saying that to squash your dreams of fair service. I’m just pointing out that, you know, until ‘the great revolution’, it will always be to your advantage to get as many people together as you can and advocate for what you want. And I want to help you do that. 🙂


1People in other areas see what the airport has done to our area and they’re like, “Yeah you can keep that.” The reasons are exactly the same as in 1989 when we had a similar commission. And whenever this conversation comes up I feel like it’s my duty to mention that, even if ‘they’ built a second airport, doesn’t matter what kind or where it’s located it will never reduce the operations at Sea-Tac Airport. Ever. ever. ever. ever ever. I could write ‘ever’ 150 times and you still would not believe me. 😀 Partly because people always have hope, right? But also for the same reason that most people believe that adding another lane to a highway reduces traffic congestion (It does not.)

You would think building a second airport would be like opening a second hamburger joint across the street–half the business would go there. Nope. If you build a second airport all that happens is that you get more hamburgers… er… planes at the new airport. It does nothing to reduce traffic at the first airport. Really. Truly.

Weekly Update: 08/22/2021

Posted on Categories Engagement, Marina, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/22/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas!

Public Service Announcements

The delta variant is no joke! Fortunately, there are now free vaccine appointments available every day, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Saturday October 9 Salmon Counting at McSorley Creek . Contact John Muramatsu
  2. The Utility Moratorium ends September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  3. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  4. Watch the Candidate Forum from Seattle Southside Chamber!
  5. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  6. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  7. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  8. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  9. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  10. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Meetings with Port people, including Comissioner Ryan Calkins on the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better thing.

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable StART Meeting. This is the first ‘reveal’ of the Sustainable Airport Master Plan environmental review process. Frankly, there hasn’t been much going on for almost a year, but this would be a good one to attend. Airport expansion is the biggest Des Moines issue you don’t know anything about.

Thursday: Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission. Des Moines resident Steve Edmiston is a member of the commission and will be giving a presentation. I have nothing to do with it aside from watching, but I always mention their activities because it seems to be part of my job to crush people’s hopes. See below…

Fri: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partners (SKHHP) Executive Board Meeting.

Last Week

Sunday: I gave King County Council candidate Shukri Olow a tour of the south end of Des Moines. I generally don’t give or receive endorsements.  So the only reason to mention this is because I always encourage everyone to get to know everybody. You never know who will win. And I want everyone to get to know each other at least a little bit–what they care about and what I’m concerned about for Des Moines. We drove through the south end of town because frankly, whenever people visit Des Moines they usually seem to focus on other spots.

A brief word about the Metroplitan King County Council. Yes, it’s an over-simplification, but a big part of what King County does is ‘human services department’ for cities like Des Moines. They handle issues of health, housing, arts grants, etc. I get lots of impassioned calls begging the City to do something about various social problems when oftenn it’s really the County that has, not only the authority, but just as importantly the infrastructure already in place. And I mention that for two reasons:

  1. Because when you vote, candidates promise all sorts of stuff. So when you give some thought not to what they aspire to, but to what they actually have the authority to do for you and Des Moines.
  2. And also because there is so much attention now on the City using ARPA money for various purposes. So many great ideas that would be hard for Des Moines, but easy for King County.

Monday: I spoke with State Senator Karen Keiser about our Remote Works Better program. Yeah, not super excited. 😀 It’s interesting how different the reactions have been.

Wednesday: I attended the Reach Out Des Moines meeting. As usual, they discussed how to get more activities for kids in Pacific Ridge. The goal has been crime reduction and school attendance and they have been remarkably successful on both counts. Again, not to over-simplify, but accomplishing both goals often comes down to giving teens things to do. It’s cheap. It works. And we should do more of it throughout Des Moines.

Along those lines, there’s been talk of a building a community center in Des Moines for a long time. Everyone acknowledges the needs in Pacific Ridge. But there is also a very longstanding desire to have a similar activity center in the South end of town. I don’t want to take anything away from the great work happening in Pacific Ridge. But what I dearly want to see is a proper survey of Des Moines–neighbourhood-level detail to assess where we stand throughout the City.

Thursday: I met with Noemie Maxwell an activist working to save North SeaTac Park from development by the Port Of Seattle. She’s also  thinking about how we could have a more regional approach to tree cover.

All the airport communities really are defined by Sea-Tac Airport. If it weren’t for that property, it’s likely that most of our cities would have formed some sort of a single ‘Highline’ government decades ago. From the air there is an obvious outline of one big ‘city’ and ‘forest’. Sea-Tac Airport is like that giant foot that came down in Monty Python sketches and artificially divided the entire region. It would be much more efficient if we could somehow plan regionally for the forest and creek systems.

Oh, you want answers?

The paradox of City Councilmember is that the gig allows you to really understand what is needed at the street level. On the other hand, you’re often not in a position to actually do much. You have to (sigh) you know, ‘convince people’.

Dumb engineer guys like me want to be able to say to residents, “Look, here’s what’s really going on. Here’s why it hasn’t been solved. Here’s what we need to do (finally) to get there.” I believe the current term is ‘mansplaining’? People really love that. 😀

You also want to be able to question every program the City engages in, not just at the City level but also regionally. But this is not ‘academia’ where people like me are used to giving each other routine grillings. So if you do that,  you’re instantly hurting a lot of hard working people’s feelings. They themselves would be the first to acknowledge that a lot of these programs are not the greatest but they’re making the best of the situation. So you feel like a jerk pointing out that that this is, ya know, public money.

At the end of the day you run the risk of seeming heartless to everybody. Never underestimate how much the desire to look like government is trying drives so much bad policy and bad spending. If you’re me, this cocktail of easy and ineffective can have you constantly checking the clock to see if it’s not too early in the day for that first drink.

Two practical Notes from the week…

  • I sincerely support what SKHHP is trying to do. But at the end of the day, the main reason we haven’t built ‘affordable housing’ in Des Moines is not because of any mysterious forces of nature. It’s because voters told us what they wanted and government has responded. If the people who actually vote really, really wanted more places for people to live? We’d have had them decades ago. Groups like SKHHP exist because the term ‘affordable housing’ is just one of a growing list of items that Cities now spend money on in order to try to secretly wish problems away. It won’t.
  • I fully support the CACC. 1But it won’t help Des Moines at all. Again, the reason there isn’t a second airport in the area is because nobody else wants a second airport. But governments keep putting energy into this rather than things that would help Des Moines because, again, it’s just easier.

The fact is, we spend a ton of energy and/or money on policy stuff like this that is at best questionable, but woe unto you for saying so. (Talk to me about the squillions we’ve wasted on salmon recovery. See? Now you think I’m a 4salmon hater, too right? 😀 )

Poking the bear…

I often discuss thorny issues here, mainly because no one else does. You cannot expect the public to engage on the issues unless they are aware of the issues. The City communicates its successes, generally not the problems. Some people perceive these criticisms as ‘poking the bear’, but that’s really not the point. The real point is that we haven’t had a decent argument in Des Moines for a very long time.

Where are the town halls?

Almost every day now, I also talk with residents who demand, “Where are the Town Halls!?!” And I’m like, “3Dude, we did have town halls back in the day. Ya know why we don’t have town halls now? Because  people screamed a lot!”

You don’t know that because, more than half of you only moved here within the past decade. You have no idea how much things have changed. The City gradually abandoned all sorts of public engagement for a very practical reason: Having real discussions means people disagree.

See you think there’s a lack of ‘public engagement’, but I know that it’s really a lack of basic accountability. (I told you there would be man-splaining.) The administration thinks it’s perfectly fine to treat both of us as they do. And why shouldn’t they? Who is out there telling them otherwise? (I’m not being rhetorical. Councilmembers get lots of letters. But the number demanding better public engagement is exactly the same as the number demanding equal treatment for all Councilmembers. 😀 )

I ‘poke the bear’, not to be prickly, but because I have the right to ask any damned thing I want in order to serve you. I don’t work for the administration. I work for you. I know who works for who. The administration may not. My colleagues may not. But that’s not my fault. It’s their fault for trying to game the system. And it’s also yours if you don’t speak up in support of Councilmembers who poke the bear. (See what I did there? 😀 )

Seriously, though: you want town halls? As soon as you insist on a government that understands who works for whom, trust me, you’ll get your town halls. (And progress on airport issues, housing and all that stuff we spend money on as opposed to actually doing something.)


1People in other areas see what the airport has done to our area and they’re like, “Yeah you can keep that.” The reasons are exactly the same as in 1989 when we had a similar commission. And whenever this conversation comes up I feel like it’s my duty to mention that, even if ‘they’ built a second airport, doesn’t matter what kind or where it’s located it will never reduce the operations at Sea-Tac Airport. Ever. ever. ever. ever ever. I could write ‘ever’ 150 times and you still would not believe me. 😀 Partly because people always have hope, right? But also for the same reason that most people believe that adding another lane to a highway reduces traffic congestion (It does not.)

You would think building a second airport would be like opening a second hamburger joint across the street–half the business would go there. Nope. If you build a second airport all that happens is that you get more hamburgers… er… planes at the new airport. It does nothing to reduce traffic at the first airport. Really. Truly. And I keep hammering away at that, one voter at a time, because so long as people have this misguided hope that a second airport will reduce traffic, we can never deal properly with Sea-Tac.

2OK, except Chinook and Coho. Unless human beings pack up and leave Des Moines, they’re probably screwed.

3Artistic license. I really don’t address constituents as ‘Dude’ all that much.

4I have a deep and, some would say, almost spiritual connection with fish. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a true classic of film, OK?

 

Marina Redevelopment Talking Points

Posted on Categories Engagement, Environment, Marina, Transparency

On August 6, 2021, the City Of Des Moines published its 2021 Draft Marina Master Plan Update.  Almost immediately, residents began speaking with me about serious concerns. The proposal very complicated so most residents have had trouble putting their concerns into words. I was asked to create ‘talking points’ to help express these concerns to the City.

If you can only remember one thing…

Here’s your first talking point: It’s hard to create short ‘talking points’ without creating a long ‘explainer’ because the scheme is so complex and there are so many unknowns. But if you can remember only one thing, remember this:

The land side must pay for the water side

Key problems with the proposal

  • The proposal is simply too vague, particularly financing. But despite many gaps and unknowns, the City has already moved ahead. Some of the needed analysis is now occurring but a lot more should have happened and needs to happen before we can acknowledge the risks and benefits.
  • The proposal conflates need with want and does not at all make clear that various aspects are financed independently.
  • The proposal shamelessly includes several “glamor features” to sell the idea, including a passenger ferry, hotel and year-round-market, while failing to acknowledge that their revenue potential is not just unknown but unknowable.
  • The proposal repurposes the Marina towards wealthier boaters and does not consider the possible effects to small boat users or the larger community which uses the Marina Floor as a park.
  • Making the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA) the only stakeholder in the planning calls into question the City’s management and oversight.
  • For all these reasons, the lack of public outreach is simply grievous.

Ten Takeaways From The Report

Most people kinda/sorta get that the land side has two big features:

  • A Steps project at the end of 223rd (Overlook II) for people to walk down to the Marina Floor.
  • A large multi-level Adaptive Purpose Building (APB) which will replace the boat storage sheds.

The Steps seem universally popular. The APB? Eh, not so much. Regardless, here are ten things to think about.

  1. This is the largest and longest capital project in our history: 15-20 years and $35-50 million. That one sentence should been enough to merit a Town Hall before proceeding with any aspect of the projects.
  2. The land side must pay for the water side. This requires a walk-through:
    • The Marina is a semi-private and self-sustaining business referred to as an Enterprise Fund. The City cannot borrow from its General Fund to finance this. The Marina’s borrowing power is barely enough to start on the first two docks and there will be no more borrowing for the foreseeable future.
    • Every aspect of the land side redevelopment: the APB and any other proposals to be determined (including passenger ferry, boutique hotel, parking, you name it) is the funding source for dock replacement.
    • So the land side needs to generate enough ongoing (structural) revenue to pay that $35-50M bill for dock replacement over that 15-20 year cycle. That is $1.75M – $3M per year. And that is above and beyond any revenue from existing lessees (SR3, CSR, Quarterdeck, etc.)
  3. The proposal has serious gaps. At our September 2 City Council Meeting the Administration will unveil a Request For Proposal (RFQ) to developers. That will be anyone’s first look at what the City is looking for in terms of land side development. It will then be up to whichever developers respond to flesh out a vision for the APB and other projects. But it is important to note that internally, the City must already have a pretty good idea of what it wants the Marina Floor to be like in order to prepare that RFQ. And it is disappointing that they have not shared any of that with the public.
  4. Do not conflate the desires of various self-interests to develop the land side with the need to rebuild the docks or sea walls.
    • The docks and the seawalls (the water side) must be replaced now. There is a years-long process of permitting and planning. No one argues that. If we as a City are committed to having a Marina, we must begin work on the docks now.
    • The docks and the seawalls and land side are all financed separately. (In fact, the City has already received funding to repair the North sea wall. Work on that is already beginning and it has nothing to do with the land side.)
    • There are land side amenities that boaters highly desire (parking, good restrooms, etc.) and the land side should be planned strategically to fully accommodate those needs. But it is only the docks that are in peril. And it is only the docks that depend on land side development to pay for.
  5. The knowable land side revenue generators are not solid:
    • Build a dry stack storage system with 240 spaces into the east side of the hill near the south end of the floor. Presumably, all the small boats displaced by the removal of the current storage sheds will go there. Best case, it generates $1.1M/year in revenue, however operational cost has not been discussed. We are assuming that there will be immediate and 100% demand for that storage.
    • Build a second dry stack storage system with another 240 spaces inside the APB. See above.
    • Move the harbor master’s office into the APB and lease out or redevelop the building for retail/restaurant. Revenue unknown.
  6. The most glamorous revenue generators are unknown and unknowable:
    • Passenger ferry
    • Boutique hotel
    • Move the Farmers Market inside the APB and convert it into a year-round concern

    There’s no way to comment on any of these without more information. They sound wonderful. Who doesn’t like the sound of a ferry or a boutique hotel or a year round market. But there are no numbers. And no discussion as to the impacts on our transportation infrastructure including parking.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with any of these glamour items is that they are being sold as economic drivers. The pitch is that, if we had a ferry or a hotel, regardless of any direct revenue, their presence somehow attracts more visitors, people spending money and general business development. We heard that same argument with the Des Moines Creek Business Park and whatever it’s other virtues, the DMCBP has not been that great economic driver. If people want those things just because they are fun? Great. Sell them like that. But do not include them in the mix of revenue sources for dock replacement.

    Also:

    • The hotel would likely be instead of that second dry stack system, not in addition to it. So regardless of any glamour, it must perform better than $1.1M/year in tax revenue.
    • The demand for a ferry is based on a private study done by the City in 2019 but only revealed a few months ago. Those results are not exactly echoed by a very thorough study done by the Puget Sound Regional Council where a Des Moines route came in dead last.
    • Although the Farmers Market is a beloved institution, a big money maker it is not. It is fantasy to think that a year-round concern would do any better. And again: every inch of the APB must, above all things, be an efficient money maker.
  7. The public outreach has been terrible.
    • The City’s last real ‘town hall’ about the proposal was in 2017. There was also a Yacht Club event which was far less well attended. But in the end, the total number of residents reached at both these events would have been at best several hundreds. Not exactly representative of the entire community. Also: these were not proposals concerning financing or dock replacement or anything real.. They were at best surveys of public interest on three broad options; nothing more. And to say otherwise is completely disingenuous.
    • The sole outreach about the current plan was by distributing flyers inside the docks to the 750-ish boat owners, 80% of whom are not residents. They were the only stakeholders asked to submit questions and not a single member outside of that community attended the initial planning meetings before the Council voted to move ahead with design. You can verify this for yourself by looking at page 11 of the Draft Proposal or here for a list of all documents reviewed before the City Council voted to move ahead.
  8. The plan plan changes the entire focus of moorage towards larger boats or wealthier tenants and that has far bigger consequences than just the docks. The dream would be to make Des Moines a weekend destination for boat owners similar to the San Juans. And that means that any other developments on the land side will also shift upmarket. Does the community believe in and want that sort of long term vision? There are is a small, but important group of residents who disagree because it is such a change from the original mission. Some boat owners still dearly miss the ‘sling’ removed in 2009. Many resent having to go down to Redondo to launch, which they consider inconvenient and much more challenging to use.
  9. The Marina Floor is smaller than people think. If there is a ferry, dry stack operations, a boutique hotel and retail space in the APB and the harbor master’s office, the logistics will be non-trivial. Some people will use the new Steps on 223rd. But many will need parking or shuttles or ride shares to at least get up to Marine View Drive.  Also, there are many ways to implement dry stack storage and we are considering not one but two systems–which means potentially launching seven times as many boats..
  10. For 99% of Des Moines, the practical function of the Marina is as a public park. It has always been that way. The Marina Floor is the City’s gathering space–and so much so that most people have forgotten that it is, in fact, a business. Thus far, apart from the 223rd Steps, the entire discussion has been around ‘boaters’ and ‘revenue’, ignoring entirely the fact that the Marina is a park and that the vast majority of users will never set foot on the docks.

The ends do not justify the means…

I want to acknowledge that the proposal and every one of its assumptions could turn out to be absolutely wonderful. Really. But at the end of the day, the ends do not justify the means. The issue is not the actual proposal, which could be fixed, but rather the process which was and continues to be fraught.

Dismissive…

The City and the Council majority have been completely dismissive of any complaints. The administration denies that there has been any problem with the process. This is not only a failure of government, it is a lack of regard for your intelligence.

  • To insist that there has been anything approaching a proper level of public outreach is to deny reality.
  • Demanding a decent business proposal before proceeding is the very definition of good business.

Three messages to government…

We must send a strong message to our government:

  • The Marina belongs to the entire City. The entire community are the stakeholders and must have a voice at every stage of planning.
  • The City must communicate properly and that includes both high quality information and serious public outreach on programs of this scale.
  • The City must provide complete proposals before asking the City Council to vote and the City Council must not tolerate anything less.

Action Items

To send these messages, I’m asking you to write, not only the City Council, but also to all candidates. Many of the biggest decisions will happen in 2021. So you should be getting specific answers from them now.

  1. Ask them to support of my Marina Redevelopment Presentation ARPA Stimulus Proposal. which will be discussed at our September 16 City Council Meeting.
  2. Ask them to support creating a new Marina Committee of the City Council to provide oversight and planning of Marina and Redondo Zones. This would insure that the entire community had a voice in Marina planning, not merely the DMMA.

1To give you some perspective, SR3 currently pays the City about $450K/year for its piece of the Marina floor.

Marina Redevelopment Town Hall ARPA Proposal

Posted on Categories Engagement, Marina1 Comment on Marina Redevelopment Town Hall ARPA Proposal

My fifth formal proposal to the City Council for ARPA spending is to fund a multi-media presentation ‘explainer’ and Town Hall for Marina Redevelopment.

Background

The City recently released it’s 2021 Draft Marina Master Plan, which I’ll refer to here as ‘Marina Redevelopment’. But having now spoken with a lot of residents who are lobbying the Council to spend ARPA money on everything except the Marina, I’ve heard four themes which should not be underestimated in my opinion:

1. Everyone is very interested in the Marina Redevelopment–even if they have no interest in using ARPA money. I have heard over and over that people feel excluded… ie. they don’t bother asking because they feel like “if the City cared, they would have already done outreach.” That had never occurred to me: if you don’t do outreach, far from demanding information, a lot of people simply get the message that you don’t care and check out.

2. Everyone and I do mean everyone is having a great deal of trouble visualising any projected outcomes. I cannot stress that enough. Even the condo owners just can’t ‘see’ what the 223rd stairs, APB (including views from above), hotel, ferry, might look like, let alone any intentions re. parking, movement of boats to/from dry stock, boat launch, rest room. It is all an abstraction. Those Skylab drawings may have performed well as a sales pitch 7-8 years ago, but now they are deeply frustrating. People have actually told me that they feel stupid for not getting it. They don’t mention it because they assume that everyone else gets it or surely someone else would’ve complained.

3. Residents absolutely no idea about the money: what financing looks like. They have no idea what an 2Enterprise Fund is. If it’s more money for the Marina why should I as a resident care? How does the Adaptive Purpose Building (APB) translate into money for dock replacement? Do larger boats mean something for the town beyond moorage fees? Those are not bad questions. I have them myself.

4. When residents first started talking  about a ‘Town Hall’, I thought what they meant was a ‘public gathering’ where the City Council and Administration stood there and took questions and complaints. Actually, that is not what the people I’ve spoken with want at all–at least, not at this point. For everyone I’ve sat down with, ‘Town Hall’ is at least partly code for “I tried reading that Master Plan and I still don’t get it.”  I’m stunned by how many people have taken the time to read the thing only to have even more questions at the end.

Proposal

What I want to propose is that the City immediately hire a for realz media presentation company to create a for realz presentation consisting of:

    1. A Virtual Tour. A 3d fly-through animation demonstrating all aspects of the proposal as far as they can be known. I mean like showing a ferry docking, boats going in and out of dry stack to the launch, a view from the condos looking down on the APB, a view of the APB from the docks, people descending the 223rd stairs, a re-purposed harbormaster building, parking flows. and of course a fly over of the re-configured moorage. Maybe we do a ‘before and after’ fly-over so people can get a sense of just how big a change it is: the new covered moorage look, how guest moorage changes, the fairways, expansion of Ranger, the various environmental concerns that we are addressing–and why permitting is so costly and so fraught. Everything. (BTW: that environmental thing -really- matters to a small, but vocal number of residents. They really want to have a sense that the rebuild is compatible with their interest in wildlife.)

 

 

  1. Bulleted One-Pagers. Posters and hand outs, crafted at a sixth grade level explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money. That sounds like anyone can do it, but they can’t. You need an outsider–a media pro to make it work.

Then…

Once we have those tools, then we organize ‘Town Halls’. And we should record those meetings as well. I am sure that audience Q&A is something that people who cannot attend will find very useful.


1I’m over-simplifying here, but an enterprise fund is self-financing business that the City operates. Operations and finances are kept separate from other City funds.