Weekly Update: 08/02/2020

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This Week

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

PSA: Wednesday is also the day that the Des Moines Library opens for curbside pickup!

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) the annual Budget Retreat. I encourage everyone to watch on Comcast Channel 21 or livestream.

Friday: South King County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd) meeting. Discussion will include the infamous ‘TBD’ fees we all know and love. 😀

That’s it. Nothing else! (Well, nothing else I can talk about here.) So call me! Ask a question. Complain about something. Share some some gossip. That’s kinda what I’m here for: (206) 878-0578. 😀

Last Week

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: Meeting with Rep. Tina Orwall and Port Commissioners on a school air quality improvement program. I’ve been vaguely referring to this for a while now and I should probably give at least a few details. There have now been several legit studies which basically find that if you provide filtered (cleaner) air at schools, the children are not only healthier, they also tend to perform better as students. A lot better. Just the 7-8 hours a child is in school makes a significant difference. This is not brand new, by the way: there have been concerns about the problems of indoor air quality for decades. What’s new is that we now seem to be able to actually do something about it.  What we’re trying to study now are the mechanics of making it work with the kinds of pollution unique to aircraft.  Explainer.

And also on a related note: there were a whole bunch of constituent kinds of things involving Port Packages. As always, if you have an ongoing problem with your Port Of Seattle sound insulation or want information on qualifying or you’re just interested in helping to reduce noise and pollution from Sea-Tac Airport, contact these guys: SeatacNoise.Info

 

The Budget

So, this is a big one. The whole enchilada. Le grand fromage. (No other food metaphors come to mind right now.) But since I’ve lived here, the ‘August Retreat’ has always been viewed as highly significant because this is where the City basically puts its cards on the table. Frankly, the public (and the full Council) do not often get a full picture of:

  1. How the City is doing financially.
  2. What the ‘the plan’ is likely to be.

I know this is #581 on the list of things that will make eyes roll, but I gotta be honest: the ‘importance’ of this meeting has always struck me as a bit like a religious ceremony. Part of it is tradition and part of it comes down to the challenges of providing data in any government organisation.

Just in time?

As some of you may know, for part of my career I wrote accounting and customer service software. And during that time the entire landscape of corporate reporting shifted from ‘annual reports’ to ‘quarterly reports’ finally to the point where most companies can now tell you what’s what almost every day of the year. The reverence and speculation (and fear) about an organization’s financial position is now mostly a thing of the past. You hear even large corporations talking about the state of their business daily.

Government financial reporting is a different animal. Much of the data you need to create reports comes from higher up the food chain (County, State) so you’re subject to getting results from them and things like tax data only comes out quarterly. Also, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Des Moines has been hampered for a long time by an antiquated accounting system. (Which is why I am so jazzed we’re getting a new accounting system! My hope is that soon we will be able to get more timely information and reduce the ‘surprise’ factor.)

But with all that, it’s still weird for me to have to wait until August to have a good understanding of where we are in 2020-or to be able to start planning for 2021. And with COVID-19, that curiosity has just that extra soupçon of nerves.

Comparisons are inevitable…

Adding to the suspense is the fact that our sister communities have already provided their reports and forecasts and for some the news ain’t great. This could make one nervous for Des Moines, but I was warned a long time ago that when it comes to budgets: Every city is different. And the more I learn the more I understand it’s true. Burien, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Tukwila, Federal Way, Kent all have very different strengths and weaknesses. Some cities that were doing great until COVID-19 are now struggling and some that were struggling are feeling pretty good (as good as one can) about their ability to weather the storm.

I also don’t think one can judge any City’s economic planning based on how they’re doing right now. As I’ve said many times, we’ve done a pretty good in fighting COVID-19 healthwise. But we haven’t exactly been perfect. At least some of that ‘success’ (if you want to call it that) has been good fortune, not genius. And much the same might be said for our economic state. As with health, no one can say with a straight face that they had a COVID-19 plan.

Local businesses

One important question going forward is going to be, What do we do to mute the ongoing impacts to local business? I am literally stunned almost every day to hear from some residents that they vehemently oppose the City doing anything to support local businesses. The notion is that those businesses that can adapt will and those that cannot will fall away and be replaced by better firms. (One of the ‘charges’ leveled against me by our Mayor back in April was that I am firmly in this camp; that I literally want to see weak businesses ‘die’.) I know I should let that drop but that really pissed me off. And here’s why:

I used to own a small restaurant. And a restaurant (or any locally owned business), even if it’s not exactly a goldmine is a resource to a small City far beyond its tax revenue. At the most basic level, it is hard to replace any storefront in this age. There just aren’t that many people wanting to open new retail spots in places other than where they’ve always been. Investors seem to be more than happy to keep plowing money over and over into the same spots in downtown Seattle, rather than taking a chance on a place like Des Moines.

Demand

As you probably know, the American Economy is consumer demand driven. The worst possible thing for our economic future is to have no places for people to spend their money now. Again, even a marginally successful business keeps some money flowing. When a storefront goes away the only people that make money are auctioneers. In the short term, our City loses, residents lose, employees lose.

So the prevailing economic theory since the mistakes of the Great Depression, has been to keep demand going. Even arch conservatives who find the entire concept of subsidies abhorrent tend to buy into this notion because when we’ve tried to ‘let market forces work’, things get awful, awfully fast.

Just passing on the wisdom…

Where did I get this great passel of wisdom? Why from our own City Manager at the 16 July Economic Development Committee Meeting. 🙂 (It’s a shame that we don’t record  these meetings.) Goosing demand seems to be something the City is taking seriously and it’s a big part of the reasoning behind the CARES Act, which will shortly distribute almost a million dollars to Des Moines. In one sentence: giving consumers opportunities to spend is a high priority until things return to normal.

So, you know where I’m going with all this…

Look, you may not like it, but we’re gonna have to do something to prop up local businesses. In fact, we probably shoulda been doing something significant all along. I was reluctant to be vocal about it because, first of all I kinda expected the Feds (the people who actually have some money) to swing boldly into action. And second of all because we didn’t have numbers and that’s another reason I keep grousing about the lack of current financials. It’s been driving me absolutely nuts.

But now that we see that this pandemic ain’t going away any time soon, we simply cannot allow keep our business district to fall apart as if it’s being pushed by normal winds of supply and demand. Not because every business is perfect, but because the more places people have to spend money, the less our City suffers. We just need to buy time.

Nostalgia for 2006

People seem to forget that before the ‘Great Recession’ (which seems only ‘Medium-Strength Recession’ right now) our downtown was looking pretty good–even before the pandemic. There were more and more varied restaurants, more shops, more everything. It was a pretty normal thing for families to spend a Friday evening having dinner at a restaurant, having dessert at another place, going to the Theater for a movie and maybe down to the Marina for a stroll. Regardless of how nostalgic you are for ‘the good old days’, that sort of thing just hasn’t happened so much after the Medium-Strength Recession.  It’s taken us almost a decade to climb back from the desolation of 2008. And we still weren’t close to that level of activity when the pandemic hit.

My view is that we need to do what we can to keep our businesses (not just downtown, but Pac Highway as well) at least on life support until a properly functioning market can resume. Not just for the businesses, but for us. We have to maintain as much of ‘normal’ as possible until the pandemic is over. That includes everything from mission-critical services like education to more mundane things like having places to spend money. If people just learn to accept getting everything from Amazon and eating frozen dinners, our local economy could take another decade to recover.

Step number one

For all the speechifyin’ this is only Step #1 in the Budget process. No decisions will be made. The goal of this meeting is to have enough information about 2020 to forecast with some authority what will happen in 2021. Based on the comments made at this meeting, the City Manager gets down to work on the actual 2021 document. He brings his proposal back in a few months, then both the Council (and you the public) have two public hearings where you get to weigh in on the intended priorities. And after all that we finally vote on the real deal before Thanksgiving. So the actual vote is usually a formality because both we (and you) have seen several iterations.

Tradition…

Some people would argue that the Budget is the reason a government (especially a small town City Council) exists. And that used to be true, for sure. It was also true that kids needed summer off from school in order to help bring in the harvest. 😀 )

As I said at the top, part of the Budget Retreat’s importance also comes down to ‘tradition’. Since the City Manager runs day to day government, once the Budget was done in autumn, lots of town councils (and our State) used to basically wrap it up for many months of the year. As with summer vacation, that tradition has kind of hung on a bit too long in my opinion. It’s created the image of the ‘average citizen’ City Councilmember–a person who just shows up every couple of weeks for a meeting and… hey it’s all good, fellas! 😀 That’s just not the reality in 2020.

As you’ll see at the meeting, we’re a  $100,000,000 corporation, not a one-horse town with some pretty boats and a parade every summer. So while this meeting is a big deal, and I do hope you’ll watch this Thursday, this is not ‘the big show’. It’s just one of many important events every year. There’s a lot on the line and not a whole lot of opportunities to get a glimpse inside the black box.

So I need your help. Keep watching.

Weekly Update: 06/21/2020

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Just a quick note: Yes, this site is going through some (cough) ‘changes’ now. A few things will probably look goofy for a couple of days.

This Week

Tuesday: Association of Washington Cities (AWC) ‘virtual’ annual conference.

Tuesday: Another one of those darned Port Of Seattle meetings. Not on the agenda, but there should be some good news for Port Package updates.

Wednesday:An AWC training class. Plus one on one meetings with members of the Puget Sound Clean Air Advisory Committee.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Advisory Roundtable (StART) Meeting. It’s less of a roundtable nowadays–more like a semi-circle, since Des Moines, Burien and Federal Way left. But it still matters.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly. Wanna demand a second airport? Beg for a fast ferry? Complain about housing sprawl? Traffic a mess? This is the place! 😀

Thursday is the first Committee meetings of the year. Woo Hoo! Municipal Facilities, Economic Development. Haven’t received the Zoom links yet, so go to the City web site or mail City Clerk Bonnie Wilkins for an invite.

And a City Council Meeting to boot! (Agenda and directions on public comment)  Public Hearing on Transportation Plan (2021-2040)

IMPORTANT: To participate in the Public Hearing for the Transportation Improvement Plan or the Flood Hazard Areas Code Update, First Reading: sign up for public comment here!

Last Week

Monday: Sound Cities Association meeting on helping businesses to re-open.

Tuesday: SCATbd Meeting. This is the regional transporation board for South King County. The message: cuts to King County Metro are looking to be pretty massive in the next two years.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (BAC). If you’re concerned about the noise and pollution, I urge you to attend these meetings. The problem we always have in managing Sea-Tac Airport is reactivity historically we only respond to their growth. The BAC is one of the only places where there is ongoing work to change that. And now it’s getting to a critical point in deciding how to try to stop the expansion. More soon.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. The apple pie was particularly good. 🙂

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Over the past several years the group has made major improvements in attendance at our schools as well as juvenile crime reduction. I was introduced to their IT chief about improving Internet access for all students. As reported in the Waterland Blog, there may be a bond initiative to fund that. I want to get as many details as possible.

Happy Fathers Day

Well, it’s Fathers Day. Almost the end of June. Which means that I’ve been doing this gig now for, what… FIVE YEARS? Because that’s what 2020 feels like, right? Can we just take two 2019s and skip ahead to 2021?

I think now is a good time to respond to a few letters I’ve received which have opened with similar themes. “Look, JC, I know you’re interested in all that ‘long term jazz’, but what about my…” 😀 So I figure it worth mentioning that I also spend a lot of time on day-to-day stuff. For example, this week I talked to residents about

Two people with different fence issues, a sewer system, mailbox theft (always near the top of the charts), what it takes to get a speed bump, what it takes to get a speed bump (a lot of people want traffic calming). I also hooked up two small businesses with some coaching. I am always available if you want to talk about local issues–especially your street and your home.

Just Like Dear Old Dad

What I’m taking a long time to get to is this: In the true spirit of Fathers Day I’m going to lecture you what you need to do with your life. 😀

We’ve seen a steady drop in community involvement in our City for decades now. I don’t just mean City Council. I also mean the Citizen Advisory Committees that advocate for residents. And also all the public/private partnerships that do most of the heavy lifting on human services and events in this town. (Without groups like Destination Des Moines, Legacy Foundation, Farmers Market, Rotary, Food Bank, etc. we’d have no parades, no Waterland almost no public art, no support for people with food insecurity and very few programs for Seniors and Kids.) Think about that for a minute. Most people think ‘the City’ does all that stuff. Nope. It’s mostly volunteers. And it should be you.

Because, let’s be frank: you tend to see so many of the same people in these various groups and committees for so many years that it’s easy to think that they are the group. And that’s a two-edged sword. the City owes every long time volunteer all a real debt. But our city’s demographics have changed dramatically in the past decade. We are now a much younger city with lots of new families and it’s past time for a new generation to start taking over.

I’m sorry, sir. Your tuition does not cover that…

If your child goes to Catholic School (or any school these days, really) you know that ‘tuition’ or ‘property tax’ doesn’t begin to cover it. You also need to put in all those volunteer hours. And you need to buy Scrip. And fund the various activities. It never ends, right? You can’t storm into the Principal’s Office and say, “I pay good money to fund this place, why should I have to also do all that other crap!” She’d just smile politely. That’s just not how it works, sir.

But that is exactly how many residents feel about their City. During my last campaign I heard the phrase “I pay taxes! I deserve….” about a billion times. And I learned how to smile politely. A lot. For some reason, we’ve collectively decided that it’s totally fine to ask you to put in hours and hours for school or church, but zero at all for your city. It’s ridiculous. I’m sorry. That’s just not how it works, sir.

Don’t like how something is going in Des Moines? On your street? (I guarantee that you have at least two gripes) There is a group, either with the City or private organization, that you can join and make a real difference on your issue. Just between you and me and the wall, if it looks like some of these groups don’t do much right now, it’s only because so many are starved for members like you.

I mean, check out the average City Council member or candidate. Do we look like you?  Most of us are ancient (OK, I feel ancient). Most of us are clustered in just a few neighborhoods. That’s also how most of the other groups and committees are. If you join a group or committee, you’re adding your neighborhood and your point of view to the mix and that matters.

Also, by being part of one of these groups, you can immediately have a much greater influence on your issue(s) than just one resident complaining. And if you’re one of the only people in the group? Even better! I’ve literally gotten legislation passed because I was the only guy in the room at the time to propose the idea.

This is what Dads do

So it’s time for you to step up. Start going to a group or committee meeting on an issue you care about.  Don’t know which group or committee to join or how to get started? That is definitely something I can help with.  Like I said, if you have an issue you’re passionate about, I can point you in the right direction.

Look, this is what Dad’s do, right? They join a Citizens Advisory Committee; a Foundation. All that civic-minded jazz that seemed so squaresville back when you were a teenager doesn’t seem so square now, does it? You have kids and you want them to grow up in the best possible Des Moines. And guess what? That is how it works, sir.

Weekly Update: 06/14/2020

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This Week

Monday: Sound Cities Association meeting on helping businesses to re-open.

Tuesday: SCATbd Meeting. The cuts to King County Metro are looking to be pretty massive in the next two years. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Zoom link yet so check their web site if you want to comment. The drag is that this is exactly the moment we should be increasing transit options.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (BAC). If you’re concerned about the noise and pollution, I urge you to attend this Zoom meeting. The problem we always have in managing Sea-Tac Airport is reactivity historically we only respond to their growth. The BAC is one of the only places where there is ongoing work to change that.

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Over the past several years the group has made major improvements in attendance at our schools as well as juvenile crime reduction.

Last Week

Not one, but two web meeting with Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce on small business grants in Des Moines. There has been a bunch of talk on how to get more emergency aid to local businesses. There is help on the way. I know it’s taking forever, but a big part of this is that it’s right in the State Constitution that governments are not supposed to give ‘public gifts’ to private businesses (think of the possibilities for corruption.) That’s why grants almost always come with lots of strings attached. How do you do it fairly? Just give xxx dollars to every licensed business regardless of size? Do you make an application process based on ‘need’? How do you define that? The system just ain’t set up to do this quickly.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. Speaking of grants, after two years, the commissioners finally voted to approve the South King County Fund–a program that was originally proposed to provide money for mitigation programs (noise and pollution). But in this? It was the cities who could not even agree on what they wanted to do. They kept pushing back saying, “We want sidewalks!” or “Parks!”. This is the maddening part of dealing with the impacts from Sea-Tac Airport. Even when the Port tries to do the right thing, the Cities can’t agree. Anyhoo… expect to see more Port grants to cities–but not more relief on noise or pollution.

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda) (Video).

Meeting Recap

For openers, here is the coverage of the meeting in the Waterland Blog. And I have a question for you, Dear Reader. When I read their coverage I always wonder, “Is this the average viewer’s takeaway?” So, I’d be interested to get feedback from you as to what you think of their coverage. I obviously address what I consider most important, but I want to occasionally check in and make sure I’m also talking about what you care about.

The ever-expanding Consent Agenda

I’ve gotten a number of questions recently about how meetings work. There is a lot more confusion than usual because of (once again) that darned Consent Agenda. Remember: a Consent Agenda is a straight up or down vote on items that are supposed to be routine.

Now between all the kerfuffle in January and February in bringing on us noob councilmembers, Vic Pennington resigning and then being replaced by Luisa Bangs and now this pesky Pandemic, we’re five months behind schedule. So what we’re doing is cramming most definitely non-routine items onto the Consent Agenda. (and pretending like they’re routine.) Why? Because under our ‘State Of Emergency’ we’re not allowed to do much ‘new business’. So we re-brand new business as ‘routine’. Got all that? 😀

If it weren’t for COVID-19, we’d see a lot more discussion on many items. But even I, ‘the complainer’ am eager to move things along. You simply have to keep City busines moving. *So I’m actually being a lot more ‘go along’ than I would be if it weren’t a pandemic kind of world.

Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP)

The SAMP is one of those things the public isn’t engaged on and at some point I need to do an ‘explainer’ because like I keep saying, the airport is the single external threat to our city’s long term success. But not today. 😀

For now, the deal is that we have this Inter-Local Agreement (ILA) between Des Moines, Burien, SeaTac and Normandy Park to hire a shared team of consultants to help represent us on the possible environmental impacts of the impending expansion of the airport. SeaTac was administering that contract. We simply voted to transfer that bookkeeping function to DM. My motion was tangential. I just snuck in an opportunity to find out from our City Manager (CM) where things stand.

See the thing is: remember that the CM is the executive. So when there is official dialogue between the cities, it’s generally the City Managers doing it. So we’re in this weird parallel universe, where a small number of councilmembers who care about the issue do the day to day research and work with lawmakers. But it’s the City Managers who do the formal negotiating with the FAA or Port. It’s totally cockamamie. But that’s just the deal until the City Councils decide to take this more seriously.

Basically, the dais is the one place where I am guaranteed at least some kind of cooperation from the government. Which sucks for Des Moines. But, again, that’s an explainer for another day. 😀

Valley SWAT (VSWAT)

I tried (unsuccessfully) to delay this vote to formally join VSWAT until the next meeting because the City provided no stats as to the number of incidents or what they were about, cost per incident, or even the difference between ‘joining’ and not joining. There was not even a statement of the effects of not approving the motion (as is typical in most packets.) Yes, the Chief spoke to anecdotes (thank you, that’s helpful). But like I always say, I won’t vote for anything without data.

The funny thing is that this was a golden opportunity to address issues of proper use of force. Presenting some real stats as to the benefits of VSWAT would have allayed some valid concerns from the public. In fact, the very first purpose laid out in the mission statement in the packet was ‘crowd control’. If that ain’t bad timing, I dunno what is. And I think that was worth two weeks sending a message saying, “When you want something? Bring data. Thanks very much.”

I want a culture of data in decision-making. I want reports. You know: those things with numbers on them? That goes for all departments, but especially with policing where the public has concerns. Facts are the best remedy to public skepticism.

My public comment

COVID-19

We really need to mask up. Every State that has re-opened is showing a lot more cases. I try being patient with people who hate wearing masks, but I’m losing patience. We in Des Moines are super-vulnerable due to our senior citizen populations living in such concentration. So it’s my strong feeling that we need to be conservative in our approach and I ask for your help.

George Floyd

As I mentioned above with the VSWAT, we need more information on police activities. Yes, we’re a relatively small city, but we have the ability, right now, to make significant improvements in policing while spending almost nothing. The problem is that the entire conversation has (like all issues, right?) instantly become ‘all or nothing’. If you ask for more data, people immediately get defensive and accuse you of being ‘soft on crime’. It’s about transparency. You don’t have to choose. What’s telling to me in this moment is how many people are willing to talk about everything except: increasing basic accountability.

For example, all the studies show that something as trivial as having a Customer Comment form on the web site works. Just asking the public to submit comments on policing makes a difference.

And publishing complaint data also makes a big difference. Knowing that there were ‘x’ complaints every month (and what type) and having a clear and public policy makes a difference.

Finally, it’s telling that any sort of civilian oversight is not even in the discussion–even thought that has been shown to be the single most effective way to reduce police complaints. Not cameras, not town halls or changes in use of force procedures; just being more transparent. Here is a good article from MIT describing why so many high dollar interventions haven’t worked.

Redondo

Redondo. It was great to see a new resident: Karen Steinhaus and lifetime resident: Rick Johnson, both comment on problems at Redondo. It’s time that the City recognize that the noise and speeding have become chronic and come up with some long-term solutions. Redondo will only continue to grow in importance to the city so we must figure this out. I applaud their efforts to organize residents and help the City figure it out.

*On the other hand: Our meeting still clocked in at a sprinty 1:45, which is much faster than meetings in other cities. So maybe I’m going along a little too much? Who knows. I’m new on the job. 🙂

Weekly Update: 06/07/2020

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This Week

Web meeting with Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce on small business grants in Des Moines. (See Last Week below).

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. A final vote to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’; a long term blueprint for growth. What I asked them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport nearly a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Wednesday: Come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda)

Last Week

Tuesday: Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce Web Meeting. Attended by City Of Des Moines Economic Planner Eric Lane, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove and  Connor Talbott of the Des Moines/Normandy Park Rotary Club. The talk was the nuts and bolts of doing small business grants. There was also a very good discussion on the last mile–getting business owners engaged with translation and form-filling help as needed. Here is an example of how unincorporate King County is doing it.

Tuesday: Attended protest for George Floyd (more below).

Wednesday: Lunch at Senior Center. Got another EATS certificate. Woo hoo!

Wednesday: MRSC meeting on legislative updates and how the upcoming Special Session might affect Des Moines.

Friday: I had a meeting with long-time friend and restaurant management consultant Mat Mandeltort. Mat is something of a polymath: lawyer, MBA and for many years, a professional fine-dining chef. He is a restaurant management consulting in Chicago. He has generously offered to put together a program for restaurants in Des Moines to help them profitably adapt to the new post-COVID-19 reality. If you, or someone you know, runs a restaurant in Des Moines, please contact me. The systems he comes up are most beneficial for restaurants that work together, so the more owners that participate, the more money they will all benefit. Here are a couple of examples showing off the quality of his work:

Datassential Restaurant Analysis for Coronavirus

Black sheep restaurants COVID-19 operating procedures

1500 words about George Floyd

There is just to much to say about this issue to cram in here so I wrote a separate article which contains a very simple proposal which I believe would improve police accountability here in Des Moines.

*Unlike most posts I write, I did not crank this out in an hour. I considered what I wrote quite carefully. Even so, my concern is that, because it’s a long piece, people will not actually read the thing and just cherry pick the items they agree or disagree with.   But as the kids say… what…. ehveeeeehr.

What can Des Moines learn from George Floyd?

*I just did something writing teachers tell you is completely weaselly, but… I did it anyway. Namely trying to shame you into reading something difficult because I’m afraid that otherwise you’ll just skim. Jerk move, right?

Weekly Update: 06/01/2020

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This Week

It’s all very hush hush. Totally on the QT. Or is it on the down low? OK, maybe it’s just a slow week. So why not give me a call? (206) 878-0578.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. This is a biggee in that the Commission voted to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’ which is their long term blueprint for growth. What I asked them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport nearly a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Wednesday: Highline Forum. I want to give a shout out to Councilmember Nancy Tosta of Burien and SeaTac City Manager Carl Cole for bringing up that same issue: Why all the hurry to press on with construction when the ‘demand’ will be low for the foreseeable future? Is there a way to maintain at least some of the current lower levels of noise and pollution? My hope is that electeds from all the airport communities will embrace this notion and work together. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Thursday: 30th Legislative District Call with Senator Claire Wilson, Rep. Mike Pellicciotti and Rep. Jesse Johnson. These are phone calls that any elected can get in on and they are generally just these three providing updates on what they’re doing and asking questions. I’m there mostly to listen and occasionally lobby. And I bring that up because a lot of what I do is lobbying–providing information for someone higher up the food chain about something in Des Moines. I’m not expecting them to ‘do’ anything in the moment because, as legislators, they’re in the same boat as I am–they can’t ‘do’ anything on their own. But if I bring up an issue and a bunch of other people bring up the same issue, then they can start to build a consensus. It’s a long game and it involves a ton of bowing and scraping, which I discuss in one of my fave rants How To Get What You Want From Elected Officials.

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda) (Video).

Friday: UW DEOHS Meeting. We’re having ongoing discussions on how to better monitor the air quality and noise around Sea-Tac Airport. I’ll keep repeating this because it’s always just unbelievable to so many people: There is no proper air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport. Coming from Detroit as I did, and being used to working around factories where ‘monitoring’ is just standard operating procedure, this is just outrageous to me. Sea-Tac Airport is, by any measure, one of the worst polluters in the State of Washington. And what makes me speechless is the fact that so few electeds seem to care. In other words, because there is no ‘smokestack’ people seem to think it’s somehow ‘safer’. But Sea-Tac Airport generates noise and pollution just like any other factory and should be monitored just like any other factory.

Council Meeting Recap

We all gave ten second ‘congratulations’ speeches to graduating High School Seniors. Councilmember Buxton’s was especially good, IMO.

I also want to applaud Councilmember Bangs’ comments.

My new hero

In my comments, I kinda/sorta made two motions. The second was a finishing up of my motion to bring back city manager reports from our last meeting. It is 100% needed but will never  pass with the current majority.

So… moving on to that first item. 😀  I gave a shout out to a resident I met at the Senior Center for lunch out back at the patio tables.

Background: ‘Mr. H.’ called me out for not practicing proper social distancing. He was 100% correct! And then, after I left, he got one of the workers to help him mark the tables so as to encourage proper distancing. Is this guy a great activist or what? But then, he went next level and called me to ask for additional patio tables (a long-standing request) to make up for the fact that we can now only safely have half as many people at each table. This is a man after my own heart!

So I asked from the dais to get the center more patio tables. And was politely shot down by our Mayor. He rightly pointed out that such requests should normally be handled as any other budget item.

However, like Mr. H. I also am an activist. And I’m also a fan of (occasionally) using petty cash to expedite the odd good deed. Mr. H. did a very good deed–he had the courage to mention social distancing (something we all should do) and then advocate for what he wanted. He deserved a favor. So I advocated for the guy. Shoot me. The Senior Center needs those tables. And a few hundred bucks ain’t gonna break the city.

Let’s be clear: that isn’t anyone’s ‘fault’. It’s just that a City has a gazillion things to do, so small items like this often just have to wait. Can’t be helped; even in the most efficient organization imaginable. So occasionally it’s good to stop for a sec and get one small thing taken care of. Not to make a habit of ‘budgeting from the dais’. It just makes people feel better about government writ large when they can actually see their efforts rewarded once in a while.

SR-509

I also made a totally pointless ‘no’ vote on the SR-509 expansion item. This vote was considered so ‘routine’ that it was placed on the Consent Agenda. But even though my protest was pointless, this is one of the most significant votes I will ever take.

SR-509 has been sold as a way to improve traffic through the area (the constant mess on Des Moines Memorial Drive, for example). But what it’s really about, what it has always been about is to make it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to move cargo onto I-5 and 167. That means more trucks on the road, but more significantly, it enables the airport to run waaaaaay more cargo flights–which primarily operate at night.

But the facts on SR-509 are that we are paying the State for the privilege of letting them run a road thru Des Moines that will bring us a small amount of one one-time money and a lot more noise and pollution forever. And if you really listen to the arguments it was all about how we are helping ‘the region’… not Des Moines. As if it’s our patriotic duty to help the rest of King County while we take it in the neck. There are no good arguments on the long term merits of this for Des Moines.

I will never vote for any legislation that enables more flights at Sea-Tac Airport. Any short term benefits just pale when compared to the ongoing damages to health and quality of life.

Weekly Update: 05/25/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Policy, Public Safety, Weekly UpdatesTags , , , , ,

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. This is a biggee in that the Commission will be voting to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’ which is their long term blueprint for growth. What I am asking them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport almost a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda). Spoiler Alert: I will be making a totally pointless ‘no’ vote on the SR-509 expansion which will easily pass. SR-509 has been sold as a way to improve traffic through the area (the constant mess on Des Moines Memorial Drive, for example). But what it’s really about, what it has always been about is to make it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to move cargo onto I-5 and 167. That means more trucks on the road, but more significantly, it enables the airport to run waaaaaay more cargo flights–which primarily operate at night. And I will never vote for any legislation that makes it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to run more flights.

Friday: UW DEOHS Meeting. (A follow up to the presentation discussed below.)

Last Week

Tuesday 9AM: SCATbd Meeting. Short take: Fees will go up. Service will go down. I know you’re shocked. It’s exactly the opposite of what should happen to deal with the ‘new normal’, but like so much of our world, the numbers only penciled out with as many riders as possible. So…

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting

Wednesday: Lunch at Senior Center. My first EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines Zoom Meeting. RODMs works to improve outcomes for school kids in Des Moines and has been incredibly successful at improving school attendance and reducing teenage crime–using very simple tools like after school activities. COVID-19 challenges our community to find ways to engage these kids when social distancing makes these activities difficult.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council CARES Act recovery webinar

Thursday: 30th Legislative District COVID 19 phone call. Legislators made it clear that they are taking unemployment insurance issues seriously. Once again I was pleased to hear that there seems to be a lot of interest in working to improve Internet access for our community (see RODMs above) not only for remote learning, but frankly because if social distancing remains in place, kids will need the Internet more than ever to keep occupied.

Thursday: UW DEOHS presentation on Airport Pollution. This is an overview of where we’re at in terms of noise and pollution. If it seems like there are more questions than answers, you’re not wrong. The biggest challenge our community has had in reducing noise and pollution is that we have not had proper measurements of all the pollutants since 1997. You cannot get relief on anything with the government unless you have data. Getting proper air quality and noise monitoring is one of those ultra-boring long-term issues I spend a lot of time working on.

Friday: Phone call with our Senator Karen Keiser

Following Directions

Mayor Matt Pina’s letter in the most recent City Current Magazine had a good overview of the City’s actions during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I appreciated his call for residents to hang in there and follow the State guidelines. What I hope to hear from my colleagues at the next City Council Meeting (and what I will certainly mention) is the importance of ‘stay the course’.

But girlfriend, can we talk? Most of the frustrations I hear remind me of how so many of us stop taking our prescriptions and then jump back to work the second we start to feel a little better, rather than following the doctor’s directions. I’ve done that. And then had a relapse. And missed more work. Now that kind of chance-taking may be acceptable if it’s just you, but not when yer talking about public health.

Look: We are re-opening. We’re almost there. The plan has worked. (Don’t believe me? Check other States with similar population densities.) So at the risk of sounding like an annoyed parent: STOP FIDGETING, MYRON!

And to sound even more patronizing, I would say this to anyone thinking about running for City Council next year:  Whatever personal frustrations you have with this whole deal, do not be one of the grousers. Don’t be one of those passive aggressive types who say, “I’m following the rules… even though I think they’re crap!” Don’t be that guy. Be a leader. Your public face right now should be 100% behind the State’s plan. In fact, you should be the loudest nagger in town: SIX FEET, PEOPLE! WHERE’S YER MASK, BOB? Advocate for fixes in private sure, but this is the one issue to not go with the angry natives on.

Because here’s the thing: Reopening is only safe if people follow directions. And let’s face it, we haven’t shown that we’re all that great at that. One of the big reasons we had to shut so many places down was because much of the public simply would not get with the program voluntarily. Right now: walk past any business now and you’ll see maybe half the public not wearing a mask; not obeying the six foot rule–even when it’s easy to do. So the police and business owners and civic leaders and yes, candidates will not only have to model best practice but also do some serious nagging or else the public will never get with the program.

And to close this little rant, I happen to believe in the whole ‘science’ deal, which (again patronizing alert) I don’t think some people understand. Science is about being wrong. Frequently. It’s about being allowed to make mistakes along the way to finding out what’s what. You don’t fire people for getting the wrong answer. If anything, you applaud them and tell them to give it another go. During this pandemic researchers have made many mistakes and had to make many course corrections. Why? Because it’s a novel virus, Gomer! It’s never been seen before. So of course yer gonna get things wrong. You make adjustments and move on. This does not trouble me in the least and nothing has annoyed me more than certain people mocking every misstep as an excuse to abandon ship. As someone who has had to work under pressure, I can only imagine how disheartening it must be for researchers and leaders to be constantly pummeled with snark as they try to find answers and do the right thing.

Please hang in there. And as we re-open, if you haven’t been exactly a role model when it comes to masks, hand washing, six feet, etc. I hope you’ll try a bit harder–and maybe even nag a few other people to get with the program. It’s like just seat belts and motorcycle helmets and all the other things we used to think were so ‘unbearable’ only a few years ago. It’s really not a big deal. But it makes a big difference.

Weekly Update: 05/04/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags ,

This Week

Monday: The City will unveil its  EATS Restaurant Voucher Program to support restaurant owners.  Very cool idea. I have a question about re-purposing the original grant funding from King County (which was intended for something slightly different), but I’m assuming we got permission so that’s fine. Just so long as it doesn’t short circuit another targeted seniors program. I’ll ask. 🙂

Thursday: May 7, 5pm City Council Meeting (Agenda). This will feature  (ta da!) Zoom! Public Comments! Another highlight will be a budget update.

Last Week

Monday: Phone call with 33rd State Rep. Tina Orwall to discuss air quality monitors around Sea-Tac Airport. She had high hopes for getting air filters installed at local schools. But that got killed at the last minute by a line-item veto from the Governor as a response to COVID-19. Here is an article that explains why this may provide amazing bang for buck in terms of health outcomes for our children.

Tuesday: MRSC presentation on how cities can plan for life after COVID-19. I say it over and over, but it’s always great seeing how other cities do things.

Thursday: 30th Legislative District Call with Senator Claire Wilson and Reps. Mike Pellicciotti and Jesse Johnson. One thing that was discussed quite a bit was ‘the digital divide’; the fact that we have so many low-income families in South King County without decent Internet access. If you’re like me (the average voter in DM in their mid-50’s/60’s) you may still think of this as merely an inconvenience. But if you have kids in school today, affordable, reliable Internet is as important to their education as pencils.  We have got to find a way to make that service universal for all our kids. Soon. Whether COVID-19 sticks around or not. It is important for the City to start advocating now for ways to bridge that digital divide.

Friday I had a meeting with the UW researchers working on the MOV-UP study and various air quality issues. I also chatted with Puget Sound Clean Air Executive Director Craig Kenworthy. PSCleanAir is another one of those agencies most people are unaware of (unless you hear about ‘burn bans’) but Clean Air Agencies are a creation of the original Federal Clean Air Act/EPA fifty-ish years ago and they are supposed to monitor and enforce air quality. They have made remarkable progress for us over the decades–well except when it comes to airplanes. (D’Oh!) So SeatacNoise.Info among other groups are pushing to finally get air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport. It seems incredible, but the nearest air quality monitoring station is in Georgetown! Now is the time to get permanent air quality monitoring in placebefore the flights start ramping up again.

The Master Plan

Now near the bottom of that EATS memo, the tone sounds as though there has been sort of a master plan all along regarding the City’s management of COVID-19. Phase one was setting up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). And now that is done, Phase 2 seems to be providing help to residents and small business. Sounds reasonable.

But the City government (and always remember that when I say that I mean ‘the municipal corporation’ led by the City Manager, the City Council is not the government) has done a great job of keeping the Council (or at least me) in the dark. So I am slightly skeptical. I literally read about it on social media at the same time as most of you.

But that said, it feels to me as though the City is simply reacting to activism by a number of local organizations and then myself and Councilmember Martinelli on any number of fronts. I say that because that has been my experience in watching the City over the years, we have typically not been proactive on any number of issues. We tend to respond only after other cities else leaps into the fray (or there is a public outcry.) It’s one of the reasons I ran.

I also tend to think this because the memo credits Mayor Matt Pina and Michael Matthias–stating that this is their joint effort, not that of the Council.  The usual custom is to credit the full Council for any action like this and the City Manager is as un-noticeable as possible (Or at least that’s what they taught me at Councilmember School. 😀 ) I’m a bit puzzled whenever any Councilmember (including the Mayor) takes individual credit for a City initiative. Don’t get me wrong: the program is helpful and if I were a local restaurant owner I’d be thrilled. But it also feels political.

Lessons Learned

Anyhoo, back to COVID-19. I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about things we might have done a bit differently–not to assign ‘blame’ but, again, dumb engineer me, it’s appropriate now to do some lessons learned. These are my thoughts:

First: Communicate. If the City had/has a multi-phase plan (and if it didn’t? See above.), it should have communicated it clearly from the beginning, first to get Council input and then to the public so we would all have aligned goals. A lot of business owners are struggling with high levels of *FUD. So anything the City could have done from the git go to provide a bit of ‘help is on the way’ would have made a real difference.

Second: Collaborate. We already have several local organizations that are dedicated to helping promote the City and business. We could be working together, leveraging their efforts to make promotions with much higher visibility; programs that could extend far beyond just seniors and local residents. In other words, this could be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons and (finally) have a cohesive promotional campaign for the City Of Des Moines–something I’ve been yammering about since about 2012.

Third: Think long term.  Many of our businesses will need planning help. I hear some of your eyes rolling already (yes, I can hear eye rolls over the Interwebs). I read all the time, “the city should not do such and such…”  As a dumb engineer, I gotta tell ya: I hate the word “should”. My belief is that ya use whatever tool works best to solve the problem in front of you. And right now, our small businesses (all of them, but let’s start with restaurants) need new tools because profitable sit down service may not make a come back for a while. Many of them are now doing takeout, but some are executing this much better than others. OK, perhaps take-out is a long-term trend, not just something that gets dropped when the emergency is over. Restaurants that do takeout particularly well will have a competitive advantage (safer, faster, more convenient?) And if we can find ways to help all our restaurants do that better than other cities? Our city (literally) takes their lunch. We don’t have a Chamber Of Commerce, so it seems to me that the City has a role to play in this sort of long-term business support, perhaps by making management experts and seminars available. That’s just one thought. I’m sure there are about a dozen other really good ideas to help our business community adapt.

Emergency Response

I do not want to be overly critical of our City’s response. I have no doubt that all our Staff have performed admirably and I salute them for their service. I’m just saying that I don’t see where our actions have been demonstrably better than our peer cities. And it’s worth noting because our management and the current majority have made that one of their key talking points for the past three years. We even have a special place in our budget for Emergency Management that other cities do not. And at the risk of ruffling even more feathers than usual, I will point out that this is one of those times where having a City Manager who is also Economic Development Director may have not been the best configuration. The City Manager understandably had more than a full plate during Phase 1. If there had been another person in the Economic Development role, perhaps we could have worked on Phase 2 concurrently and, again, provided more immediate support to local businesses.

I’m not trying to be ‘hard’. I’m just saying that this sort of review should be happening at every level of government. Our City Council should be reviewing how we can be doing better in Phase 2 (and beyond) right now. And again we need to do more because we have to expect that COVID-19 will be with us for a good while (and may even resurge.)

*FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Happy Earth Day 2020!

Posted on Categories Airport

It’s hard to explain to people under the age of, oh I dunno, 200, what a big deal Earth Day was back when it began in 1970. I mean there were parties. Big parties. People across the entire political spectrum were engaged with ‘environmentalism’ in a way that is unimaginable now. There was a unified enthusiasm for working together to clean up the world  not seen since the end of World War II.

At the time, the public was fed up. The  problems were easy to care about largely because they were so visible. (When I first came to America in 1974, Lake Erie was occasionally on fire. ) Ginormous toxic cleanup sites were everywhere. Airplane exhaust was a thick black smoke. And you think airplanes are loud now?

Now, even with all the politics, the visible state of the environment is so much better, again, it’s hard to recall where we were in 1970. So I think that to a large degree we are victims of all the success we had in dealing with the most obvious problems. We don’t see orange air and acid water now. So it’s harder to get people to see the environment as a high enough priority.

Unfortunately, we have still have many problems. And these problems aren’t just harder to see, they’re often harder to mitigate. For example, commercial aircraft pollute just as much as they used to. It’s just that they appear ‘cleaner’. But the more we study, the more we realize that the invisible emissions are just as deadly. And Puget Sound? It’s frustrating to the people who monitor its health because it looks so nice up top. But beneath? It’s a mess in many areas–and that includes the waters off Des Moines.

The COVID-19 outbreak has given us a unique opportunity. I’m sure you’ve noticed the quiet. And if you’ve been watching any news on TV you’ve undoubtedly seen before/after views of the Seattle area showing how much clearer the skies are now. So what we’re getting is a unique opportunity to see how things were and how they should be now.

Part of the public’s apathy is because so many of you are new to the City and cannot remember what it was like when things were routinely quieter and clearer in Des Moines. Well, this is it. Again, this is how it should be. The other part is that we’ve had such an awful time getting any cooperation or relief from the Port Of Seattle and other agencies that contribute to the problems.

When I ran for City Council, I was clear that one of the biggest long-term challenges our City faces is the noise and pollution from Sea-Tac Airport. And if you know anything about me, you know I spend a lot of time working on that. Last year, for the first time ever, we got some State legislation to help homeowners with Port Packages. And this year we’ll work to get more legislation passed. This will be long game but it’s the only game. We must make incremental gains each year at the local level because we must ensure a cleaner and quieter Des Moines for the next fifty years.

I know some of you tell me, “It’s the County’s problem”, “It’s the State’s problem”, “It’s the Federal government’s problem”. It’s not the City’s problem. To which I reply, “Look, if those agencies aren’t doing the job? It’s our problem.” Someone has to be the steward for Des Moines. So if they won’t? We must.

After all, we’re The Waterland City. I moved here to fish, sail, enjoy the parks. I’m here because of the place. Because though Des Moines isn’t the richest City in dollars, I would argue that it is still one of the richest places in the world. When you view the City from the water, with Mount Rainier in the background you’re experiencing one of the best views on Puget Sound. Which means you’re witnessing one of the best views in America. We are truly blessed. But if we don’t treasure this place we lose what makes us special.

Anyhoo, I know by now you’ve had it up to here with ‘social distancing’. But please take a moment and really look around the City. One last time: this level of quiet and clear air and water is what we should demand. And I hope you will remember that when we re-open and things start edging back towards the  levels of noise and pollution to which we’ve become accustomed. I hope you will help me to make this ‘new’ quieter and cleaner Des Moines permanent.  We need to make that the highest priority for our City. It’s what we owe to our health and to the future of this beautiful place.