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.

Weekly Update: 03/09/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly Updates

This Week

It’s now all-Corona all-the-time. A lot of the City government is shut down or curtailed now (including the court.) Our City is taking COVID-19 very seriously (as I hope you are) and you can check here for good info from King County on the current status of the situation.

Well, the Port Of Seattle trip all us airport-community electeds had scheduled for Washington D.C. got cancelled (thanks a lot corona virus!) So my dance card is pretty clear this week! Some of my peers in Burien and SeaTac are already there as part of a National League Of Cities convention so they may still be able to have meetings with the FAA, Senator Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen that I had planned. (Des Moines is no longer a member of NLC :(.) The good news is that I can honestly say that there is at least one elected now in each of these cities who is strong on airport issues. So I’m confident that they will advocate strongly in my stead to get Federal funding for HB2315 and HB1847 as well as help in the upcoming SAMP process at Sea-Tac Airport. Hopefully, we can re-schedule the Port trip soon!

Thursday is the next City Council meeting (Agenda). Although the Agenda says that no public comment will be taken, actually public comment will be taken on the ‘code clean-up’ item. If you can, please examine pg. 87 of the packet carefully. Some of those ‘clean-up’ items are quite significant in my opinion and I will be asking questions. More below.

City Manager Michael Matthias will als0 be reporting on his meeting in January on the fate of the StART. More below.

Last Week

Monday I met with electeds from SeaTac, Burien and Tukwila on that ill-fated (get it? 😀 ) trip to D.C. As I wrote above, I’m feel pretty good that we have a few people now on the various city councils who are truly engaged and that is what we’ve needed all along: better electeds.

Thursday I met with the Beacon Hill Quieter Skies Coalition. They get a lot of the same impacts from Sea-Tac Airport that we do and they have some great organizers that can help us get more of our residents engaged.

Saturday morning, the City Of Des Moines employees who completed their  Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Unfortunately, all us city council people were ordered not to show up. In fact, a lot of the City government is shut down or curtailed now (including the court.) Our City is taking COVID-19 very seriously (as I hope you are) and you can check the City web site for good info on the current status of the situation.

Also, on Friday and Saturday, both HB2315 and HB1847 passed in the Legislature and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. Kudos to Rep. Tina Orwall and especially to Rep. Mike Pellicciotti for their great work.

Keep It Short

There is a lot of ‘inside baseball’ to any City government–and Des Moines more than most. Part of my writing these Updates is to give the public a sense of that. It’s also a chance for electeds from other cities and activists to gain an understanding of how we differ from other cities. I’m just a ‘noob’ Councilmember here, but I have the somewhat bizarre distinction of being the only person who actually attends council meetings all over the area and I ‘compare and contrast’ a lot. There are more interesting hobbies of course–like this guy.

One detail: Des Moines City Council Meetings tend to be the shortest in the area. Even on nights where there’s, like a Boy Scout presentation or some other long ceremonial deal, meetings are often a mere ninety minutes–half the length of most other Cities. And this is quite intentional. Our current majority has worked to change procedures over the years to make it so. Now don’t get me wrong: no one wants to get home in time for Deep Space Nine any more than me.  But when meetings move along this fast, things can slip by.

What I told the applicants for the recent Council appointment was this: Look at the Consent Agendas. The Consent Agenda (CA) is the long list of items at the beginning of the Agenda which are voted on as one with no discussion. The idea is that they are considered to be routine and completely obvious items and thus require no debate. Typical items will be payroll checks and other payments to vendors.  Often, our CA will have ten or more items, and fiscal impacts of as much as two million dollars. I often cringe at this. In my gut, it feels like we should not just rush through a list of items that long and that expensive.

Similarly the public hearing on ‘code clean-up’ is considered to be merely routine items. But a public hearing is required on any code changes like this for a reason. And if you dig into the code to be ‘cleaned up’ this time, you’ll see several tweaks to zoning that I don’t find routine at all.

The idea of running an efficient meeting is understandable. But here’s the thing: I do not want the meetings to go so fast. I want to ask questions even if they’re obvious questions. Because on many of these items, the City Council meeting is the only chance the public will ever get to hear about a particular issue.

There is an inherent tension in our Council/Manager form of government which I’ll point out again and again, because it matters and because the overwhelming majority of the public does not understand. The government does not work for the City Council. It works for the City Manager. And under our current rules, the Council has exactly zero authority over the City Manager outside of the official meetings. Those meetings are technically the only places to hold the government to account.

Now because of this arrangement, the tension is that whenever one questions the government, the Staff can get defensive–as in, “Are you questioning the way I do my job?” And the answer, of course, is: yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. 😀 That’s the price of having a government job: you have to be willing to submit to questioning. It’s not questioning one’s competence or integrity. It’s just… asking questions. Again: away from the dais, the Staff is under no obligation to answer questions from Council. The moment we step off the dais, we have actually less authority than a resident with Staff. So it’s up to Councilmembers to make the most of their time on the dais. That’s the one time we have any ‘power’.

Unfortunately, questioning takes time. And that’s why meetings sometimes should be longer in my opinion. Because again, if we don’t use that time on the dais to inquire, we lose our chance at accountability.

So in general, I prefer fewer items on the CA and fewer items considered ‘routine’. I tend to want more discussion and more inquiry. But that’s just me. Other current Councilmembers do not have as many questions and do have families they want to get home to. Their position is that the City Manager and the Staff are doing a great job and unless there is something super-obvious that requires immediate attention, we should let them get on with it and not waste time with a lot of pointless questions at Council meetings.

Again: there’s the tension.

A timeline. And a commitment to airport issues in Des Moines

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy

On February 12th of 2020, I was told of a group trip to Washington D.C. being organized by the Port Of Seattle for electeds in the six airport communities. The purpose being a chance to provide a unified front from electeds and the Port Of Seattle on several pieces of legislation that all the cities (seem) to agree are important to our communities. The Port lobbyist, Eric Schinfeld had already scheduled several very good meetings with FAA leaders, Adam Smith, Maria Cantwell, Rick Larsen and Rep. Lynch from Massachusetts. Attendees were also encouraged to set up their own meetings, which I began doing. (My agenda is Federal funding of HB2315, an improved relationship with the FAA, and ways to get elements of Congressman Smith’s Aviation Impacted Communities Act passed at the State level.)

Strangely enough, I only found out about this event ‘through the grapevine’–not via my City. So I asked Mr. Schinfeld to be included and, of course, he agreed–recognizing the important position the City Of Des Moines should have in this process.

Unlike our neighbour cities, the City Of Des Moines has no travel budget for electeds. One has to ask for permission from the City Manager in order to be reimbursed for any activity. So on 19 February I asked Michael Matthias what the chances were for me getting a travel reimbursement for my airfare to this event. I was told, “About zero.” When I asked why his reply was, “The Mayor and I feel that there is no value in spending money to talk to people who are already on board with that legislation. And besides, none of that has any realistic chance of passing.”

So I went ahead and made my own booking. And in the meantime, I discretely asked two of my peers on the City Council to see if anyone might support me in a motion from the dais to reimburse me for my travel expenses. I was politely told “No”. And as you may know, one needs four votes to pass a motion.

A week later, the City Manager did decide to send a representative from Des Moines: the City’s State lobbyist, a fine man, but someone who would be the first to admit he is not conversant in the issues. I leave it to you to decide why. But the upshot is that Des Moines is the only City not represented by knowledgeable electeds.

Why you should care

This puzzles and frustrates my peers in other Cities who are constantly wondering why Des Moines, which bears so much of the brunt of negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport is chronically so intransigent in advocating for its residents on airport issues.

For example, the legislation I originally proposed back in March of 2019 which became HB2315 only became a part of the City’s legislative agenda after it was apparent that it had a good chance of passage–and after I got elected, by the way. I was specifically told by Mayor Pina after my election to not, I repeat not say that I was representing the City Of Des Moines when I would testify in public on behalf of either  bill.

And Mike Pellicciotti’s HB1847, which aims to expand the boundary of Port Packages throughout Des Moines was never formally endorsed by the City Of Des Moines. So again, when I would spend my own time and money to advocate for that bill, I would be doing so as a private citizen.

Attendance Matters

Other airport communities send their electeds to a variety of conferences on airport issues and they are, in many ways, ahead of us in terms of knowledge and political savvy. I also attend these conferences when I can but they are simply too expensive for me to do with consistency. (For example, I attended a conference of Noise Program Managers last November which set me back over $800 for a single day event.) These events matter because they provide information about policy that is hard to obtain otherwise. They are the cheapest possible insurance against being out of the loop on events that matter to airport communities.

Even more importantly, they are the one place where an elected can meet in a casual setting with the real  decider-ers at the FAA and other large airport operators. There is nothing to get honest back and forth going like having a few drinks with decision makers and that is why I’m willing to shell out the dough. You simply cannot have truly candid discussions within the context of formal meetings. But Des Moines does not participate and thus we don’t know what we don’t know regarding what is actually possible. And since we don’t know what’s possible, we continue to do the wrong things on airport issues.

Divisive?

Over the past decade, the City Of Des Moines has made consistently poor decisions with regard to the negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport. My peers on the Council hate when I say that but it’s simply the truth. What our government does is the appearance of engagement–just enough to appear like we’re advocating for residents. But not enough to actually make a difference.

This is not pointing a finger at any one person; it’s been a consistent pattern across several administrations and it has become normative–by it’s actions, our government has made it clear that it doesn’t consider airport issues to be all that important. I ran for City Council to change that. Airport issues are my area of expertise and I had hoped to leverage that expertise with the backing of the City to bring home far greater benefits to our residents. Sadly, this has not been the case thus far.

Until the City Of Des Moines begins doing smart things, like sending our electeds to events that matter, building the knowledgebase of our electeds on these issues, working with our peers in other cities, by giving our full-throated support to good legislation and by creating our own strong agenda of leadership on these issues, we will never get where we all want to be: a quieter, safer, cleaner Des Moines.

The negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport should be non-partisan. So whether or not you voted for me, if you care about the noise, the pollution and the economic harms, I need your support on this. If what I wrote above makes sense to you, please encourage the rest of the City Council and City Manager to support me in my efforts before it’s too late.

Tick. tock. The Port keeps building.

Weekly Update: 03/02/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly Updates

This Week

Monday I’ll be meeting with everyone heading to Washington D.C. on March 12th to lobby for various pieces of airport-related legislation (including Adam Smith’s recent bill.)

Tuesday it’s back to Olympia for (hopefully) the last Stakeholders Meeting to finalize language for HB2315 (Port Package Updates).

Thursday I’ll be meeting with leaders of the Beacon Hill Quieter Skies Coalition (see ‘Last Week’ below) to gather their requests I can pass onto various bigwigs in D.C. 😀

Saturday morning I’ll be at the Beach Park to say thanks to the recent City Of Des Moines employees who are completing their  Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Sunday I’ll be at Marine View Espresso from 10:00-11:00AM to talk with residents. Come on over and let’s talk!

Last Week

Tuesday was a very important Port Of Seattle Meeting–especially if you have a Port Package. The Port did indeed decide to scale up their Noise Program big time, not just to address HB2315 but to finally get done all the residences that they’ve slow walked for so long. This is potentially huge as they are committing to do the work before getting Federal money and they are asking the airlines to chip in.

Wednesday, I gave a talk on the status of various airport issues at the Rotary Club at Anthony’s.

Wednesday night I attended the Burien Airport Committee (BAC) at their Community Center (the old Library on Sixth). The BAC has been doing great things over the past few years and I highly recommend that you attend if you want to get a sense of how local communities are working on these issues.

Thursday I attended a Puget Sound Clean Air Agency meeting in Seattle. I was there to lobby for something pretty basic: a pollution monitor. One thing almost no one realizes is that there are currently no air quality monitors anywhere near Sea-Tac Airport. This is something we should be fighting for because as I keep saying, “If there’s no data, the government thinks the problem doesn’t exist.”

Thursday was our City Council Meeting (Agenda, Video ).  The Mayor did not discuss committee assignments, however I did receive an e-mail with that info. More below. The highlight was a presentation on the construction of the new Link Light Rail Station near 240th and Pac Highway. I expressed my serious concerns about the parking (or rather lack thereof.) The parking garage is set for only 500 spaces–less than half of Angle Lake (which is seriously under-capacity.) The fact is that there is almost no chance of increasing that. But I am angry. I know there is a lot of controversy over parking capacity. Planners in Seattle like to provide as little parking as possible, but my feeling is that people here need as many spaces as possible–otherwise we simply won’t utilize transit as much as we should. If it ain’t convenient? People won’t do it.

Friday I talked with our King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. We did indeed talk about air quality monitors–and he allowed me to vent about parking at the Light Rail. One of my long-term goals is to have several of those Commuter Shuttles like we currently have on 216th.

Saturday morning, I missed the Hillgrove Cemetery clean up (sorry, Pete). If you’re interested in helping out with this essential piece of Des Moines history, please contact Pete Loke on Facebook. Instead, I was at Beacon Hill Centro De La Raza with Normandy Park Councilmember Earnest Thompson to see a presentation by Dr. Edmund Seto of the MOV-UP Study on the airport impacts they experience from Sea-Tac Airport (we tend to forget that people to the North also get slammed.) Yo

The Beacon Hill community has done a fantastic job of community organizing and the room was packed with residents who are interested in finding ways to fight back.  Bonus: they provided an amazing lunch. (Pro community organizer tip–home-made tamales are how you get people to show up! 😀 )

Seniority and Committees

So, it looks like I’ll be on the Environment and Transportation Committees. These are choices I definitely wanted (thank you, Mayor Pina!) as they are the committees directly connected with airport and water quality–issues that I consider to be intrinsic to the future of Des Moines. The only major disappointment was not being assigned to the Seniors & Human Services Committee. Seniors supported me big time during my campaign and I want to keep my promise to advocate for them. My hope is to attend as many of those committee meetings as well and compla… er… ‘contribute’ as much as possible. 😀

FYI: As you might guess, almost everyone wants to be on the Economic Development Committee, but when one joins the Council one is told that it just ain’t happening for us noobs.

Now when I said ‘Thank you, Mayor Pina!’ I was being totally sincere; I am grateful. However, that is another one of those ‘traditional roles’ that the Mayoralty has assumed in Des Moines that is not necessarily the case in other Cities. Currently there is kind of a ‘seniority system’ on City Council. Now it makes sense to assign a particular Councilmember to a position–for example in situations where a specific technical expertise is required. But for a lot of positions the only real requirement is  a strong commitment to the subject. However, I’ve heard various Councilmembers over the years describe feeling not really ‘full members’ until they had been on Council for a couple of years. That strikes me as wrong.

Another issue with our system is that it encourages politicking between Councilmembers to become Mayor or obtain other high-status privilege (like committee assignments.) So you have jockeying for position even after the election, rather than focusing on helping residents.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not just singling out Des Moines or our current Mayor. This has been going on in lots of cities (including Des Moines) for a looong time and it’s kinda become normative in the same way that ‘seniority’ has become so much a part of State and Federal politics. It’s not built into the law, it’s just become tradition. A lot of times, noobs will rail against the practices, but then become a lot more enthusiastic once they obtain seniority. That’s human nature, of course.

Assuming I’m around for a while, I hope to change this. In my opinion, the moment one is sworn in, every Councilmember should have an equal voice. Suggested changes? I’ve already talked about a few–basically reducing the current power of the position of Mayor back to the defaults under State law for our ‘weak mayor’ form of government. Another suggestion I’ve seen successfully implemented in other cities is to rotate the office every two years. That alone would help to focus every Councilmember’s attention on the group as a whole, rather than doing politics inside the Council.

Weekly Update: 02/23/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Taxes, Weekly Updates

This Week

Tuesday is a Port Of Seattle General Meeting at Sea-Tac Airport. Any activist will want to attend as it will concern both the whole ‘Port Package’ issue and the SAMP-expansion. In twenty five words or less, the Port is deciding to scale up their Noise Program big time, not just to address HB2315 but to finally get done all the residences that they’ve slow walked for so long. This is potentially huge as they are committing to do the work before getting Federal money and they are asking the airlines to chip in.

Wednesday, I’ll be giving a talk on the status of various airport issues at the Rotary Club at Anthony’s. At some point I need to start videotaping these.

Then it’s back to Olympia for another Stakeholders Meeting on HB2315, presumably to get some final tweaks to the language.

Wednesday night is also the next meeting of the Burien Airport Committee (BAC) at their Community Center (the old Library on Sixth). The BAC has been doing great things over the past few years and I highly recommend that you attend if you want to get a sense of how local communities are working on these issues.

Thursday there is a Puget Sound Clean Air Agency meeting in Seattle. I want to be there to lobby for something pretty basic: a pollution monitor. One thing almost no one realizes is that there are currently no air quality monitors anywhere near Sea-Tac Airport. This is something we should be fighting for because as I keep saying, “If there’s no data, the government thinks the problem doesn’t exist.”

Thursday is also the next City Council Meeting (Agenda). Apparently, the Mayor will be discussing committee assignments–which is a big deal.

Friday I’ll be talking with our King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove (Maybe he can get us the air quality monitor? 🙂 ) He’s a big supporter of transit.

Saturday morning, I’ll be at the Hillgrove Cemetery helping with clean up. If you’re interested in helping out with this essential piece of Des Moines history, please let me know for details.

Last Week

Wednesday was the latest Reach Out Des Moines (RODM) meeting. I’m interested in how much effort the City and schools are putting into making sure that all the new residents at Waterview Crossing will have the services they need to thrive here as the place finally opens in a few months. I’ve made friends with several people who represent immigrant communities from East Africa and South Asia and one thing I keep thinking about is the wide range of languages used in Des Moines now. It feels like we should be doing more to provide translation services for a wide variety of documents. I wonder what are the ‘top five’? You can’t provide for the dozens and dozens of languages, but what are the ones that will be of value to the vast majority.

Wednesday was also Sound Cities Association (SCA) ‘networking’ event. The highlight was a speech by King County Executive Dow Constantine. I gotta say: when Dow gives a speech, he gives a real speechifyin’ speech. 😀 Anyhoo, he talked mostly about ‘revenue’, ‘housing’ and ‘transit’, the eternal trinity of regional politics. Basically, every city wants/needs more of all of the above. More on this below.

Thursday I was back in Olympia for yet another hearing on HB2315 (Port Package Updates). It feels like it’s going to pass. I can’t express how extraordinary it is to get a bill through on the first try. For any number of reasons (not the least of which being the fact that we run a $50 billion dollar organization (the State Of Washington) with a part-time legislation), most legislation takes several tries (years) to become law. If it passes, our own Rep. Tina Orwall is the reason why.

Somewhere in there was another bunch of SeatacNoise.info apts.; taking a look at people’s homes with Port Packages. And now a brief PSA for residents who think they may be eligible:

FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD, FIND YOUR PORT PACKAGE HANDBOOK! If you’re not the owner who had the system installed, you may not know this, but every Port Package is custom. A tech came to the priority and came up with a noise reduction design just for your home. And one of the problems with many Port Packages is that the design was not very good or was not properly followed. If you have your Handbook, the design is inside (in the link it’s on pg. 27) and SeatacNoise.info (or a home inspector) can go through your home and check the design. If the design was not followed or was poor that is another way you should be able to get relief under the new program. (That example? That’s one of the less than adequate ones.)

Saturday I helped out Trout Unlimited to get the Coho Pen assembled at the Des Moines Marina. It’s currently across from the Harbor Master’s office. Come down and watch the fry grow. 🙂 Total tangent: It amazes me that this process even works. If you’ve ever looked at a salmon, they go through these pretty amazing transformations as they grow and move from fresh to salt and then back to fresh water. It’s a very gradual process. The fact that you can just throw these babies from a hatchery into Puget Sound and they live is something. (Double Tangent: Salmon are the national animal of Ireland–kinda like bald eagles are here.)

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

One thing I’ve been noticing at almost every public meeting I’ve been to in the last few years is an almost constant sense of frustration among most local leaders on the issues Executive Constantine spoke of in his speech. And I don’t mean the usual chronic complaining. This is different. This is beginning to sound desperate. Transit is a big one. After years of largely avoiding the issue, most cities are now (finally) falling all over themselves to improve non-auto transportation. And that costs.

See the thing is this: Ya know how most people think that, behind closed doors, all politicians do is try to find ways to get more money, even though in public they all preach, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”? OK, worst kept secret of all time: you’re absolutely correct. Most (not all, but most) local politicians are constantly scheming to get new sources of revenue and it really is only the constant public screaming that keeps taxes under control. But before you start in with all that  “you bloodsucking politicians!” jazz, I’ll just state for the record, I understand both sides.

If you really listen to a mayor or city manager, they will generally talk about this abstract thing called a ‘City’ or a ‘County’. They talk far less about people. Their primary duty is to that institution. And frankly, the institution wants and needs money. More of it all the time. If you’re an elected or a city manager your oath is to safeguard your city–which is often a very different thing from making individuals happy, right? We want to re-build roads, hire more police,  build houses and on and on. These are not bad priorities. They just cost a fortune.

There is this myth that all cities are wasting tons of money. It’s simply untrue. The current State tax system has been extremely unfair to cities over the past twenty years. Cities like Des Moines used to count on property taxes for the majority of their funding. Now? Property tax only makes up about a third of our revenue. So most cities now scramble to build strong business tax bases to make up the difference. And if they can’t? They/we find (cough) ‘creative’ solutions. Some of these are really bad (borrowing from the future), only kinda bad (red light cameras) or merely unpredictable (grants).

The point I’m trying to make is that you will be hearing more and more regionally about proposals to lift property tax limits, add sales tax increases and so on–especially with the passage of I-976. Many of these are for real needs like re-building infrastructure and improved transit. I have no objection to any of these…

(you’ve stopped reading and started getting angry already, right?)

…so long as you get to vote on it.

Happier now? 😀 Look, there are a ton of extremely worthy projects that you should consider funding. But I will never support an increase to your taxes that you don’t get a say in.

In my view, the proper way to go about any touchy issue like taxes is for the city/county/state to get out there and sell it. A lot of revenue increases tend to bypass the public because, frankly, it is hard to convince residents to pony up. It’s much easier to pass legislation for revenue sources that do not require public approval. And that kinda looks like what is on the horizon as regional needs for things like transit and housing become more acute.

(Example: Cities like Des Moines knew I-976 would be a gut punch to our road projects. So in my view, government should have all been getting out there educating the public as to how it would affect those projects before the vote. At least then voters would be able to understand what they’d be giving up in exchange. We did not do that education and we should do better in the future.)

Leaders do hear the message from voters of ‘no more taxes’. But as I said before: their (my) duty is to the institution and that is why they/we sometimes seem so tone-deaf. It’s like taking a kid to the doctor. (You’re the kid in this analogy): you’re screaming ‘I don’t wanna get a shot!’ but the parent is trying to do what’s best so they make you get it anyway. I know how patronizing that sounds, but that really is the psychology at work. So expect even more tension on taxes in the coming year.