Weekly Update: 11/22/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 11/22/2020

This Week

Well, this is gonna be an odd Thanksgiving, am I right? 😀 There wasn’t much scheduled to begin with. However, it will be especially constrained for moi.

As you may have heard, I am in ‘quarantine’ for the next ten days. A person I came in contact with last weekend tested positive and is symptomatic. Currently I have no symptoms–beyond my usual delightful disposition.

I have contacted everyone I have been face to face with recently and I have gotten an initial test (which was negative.) That said, I’m in the jailhouse for ten more days.

I’m only tellin’ y’all to emphasize that this is no joke and if you’ve been slacking recently? Get on the stick. You know what to do.  I know it’s tough with the holidays, but… you gotta stop rationalizing risky behavior. You know what I’m talking about. It reminds me of teenagers. “I’m sure it’ll be fine just this one time, Betty!” 😀 Uh huh.
Anyhoo… have a very Happy Holiday. On Zoom.
(I’m waiting to see Santa show up on a Zoom call. 😀 )

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalized their 2021 Budget and Tax Levy and included a 3% increase in Property Taxes. On the other hand, it also did set aside more money for Port Packages than in the past ten years, so that’s something. One thing you’ll be hearing about a lot is something called the South King County Fund. Originally, this was the Port’s attempt at providing money for airport mitigation programs. Very quickly however, our Cities did what they often do best: disagree. Some of the Cities were like, “environment, schmironment, just give us money for general improvements (like sidewalks). And some areas affected by the planes (Beacon Hill) were upset that they were not included. So now the program has morphed into something of a general ‘grant’ program. I object to these sorts of grab bag programs. The Port should be budgeting specifically to pay for the environmental problems of the airport.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee I always highlight their work for a few reasons: a) They’re currently the only group that is doing any real work on behalf of the communities.  b) Simply because their web site is so much more user-friendly than Des Moines. For those watching, we have two ‘official’ groups which purport to be working on airport issues: The Highline Forum (which is electeds) and the Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Committee (StART) which was supposed to be for community residents. Neither has turned out to be particularly useful because neither has worked on actual legislation or negotiation with the Port of Seattle. The BAC is the one remaining group (well, besides SeatacNoise.Info) doing actual research and asking tough questions.

Wednesday: Highline Forum. Speaking of which: this one had great presentations on Sound Transit and SR-509. Heading back to StART for a minute, there is talk about somehow ‘reforming’ both StART and the Highline Forum so that they might function more like you expect them to (ie. actually advocate for changes to the airport.) I am not thrilled about this notion for a couple of reasons because a) It would still be run by the Port, which is a bit like having yer wife’s attorney mediate yer divorce settlement. b) The fact is that, as with that SKCF, there is simply not a lot of engagement from some Cities. Many of the Cities (including ours, frankly) focus on getting economic development money from the Port and not actually reducing the negative impacts from the airport. There are plenty of organisations now supporting economic development. There should be at least one organisation which is solely dedicated to reducing the noise and pollution.

Friday: South King County Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHPP). An Inter-Local Agreement between many Cities in SKC. The name pretty much says it all. All the Cities have agreed to put in a pot of money, which is great. But as I keep saying, the real question is, “Now what?” In other words, at some point you have to do something with it and that’s gonna be tough because, frankly, the issues are so tough. One of the participants is Master Builders–an organization representing developers. They have a Toolkit which I think you’ll find interesting because it offers several ways forward for increasing housing. One thing I disagreed with the City on over the years was land use and now we have very little space left. But there are some great options in that toolkit.

Friday: Sound Cities Assocation Legislative Agenda presentation. Our own 30th District Rep. Jesse Johnson was in attendance. Here is a letter written by the SCA to Governor Jay Inslee which asks for help for restaurants. If you are concerned that the tone of the letter seems to go against health guidelines, recognise the desperate situation: the Federal Government has totally dropped the ball. And the State has serious Constitutional limits on grants it can supply to Cities (the previous money the State distributed was from Federal CARES Act money). My hope is that the State holds a Special Session and acts to provide more money to Cities. However, based on the dialogue I heard today from State lawmakers, I am not confident. I also want to say one other thing on this: The Stock Market is at a record high which is very misleading. We currently have two very different economies in Des Moines. On the one hand we have these large companies that are doing amazingly well: and those are primarily ones that sell products (Amazon, Lowes, etc.) But then there is the service economy, which is in the tank. And it’s that service economy that comprises the majority of small business in a City like Des Moines. I support the State health guidelines. But I keep reminding people how rough things were for our local businesses after the 2008 recession: it decimated Marine View Drive. We cannot let that happen again.

A quick note on Motions…

I wrote the following letter to our City Attorney last week to ask for a ruling on parliamentary procedure based on a potential problem at our last City Council Meeting (Video) where I proposed that the City rejoin the National League Of Cities (NLC). There were several problems with that motion, but I only want to focus on the parliamentary issue here. I had hoped to receive an answer in time for this article. Hopefully soon. 🙂

Hi Tim,

A parliamentary question. I hope you’re the right person to ask. If not, please direct me to the proper individual for future questions.

At several meetings this year, Mayor Pina has warned me that if I make a motion, it is seconded, and then fails, it is ‘dead’. He did just this in our last meeting.

He has not specified exactly what that means, but the implication is that he means that this is permanent, ie. that particular motion can never be made again. In fact CM Buxton said that she chose not to second my motion to join *National League Of Cities (NLC) specifically because if she had done so it could never be brought up again. She felt that she was doing me a service by not seconding my motion. (ie. by having it die for lack of a second, it could then be brought up again at a future meeting.)

I can’t seem to find that in my reading of Robert’s.

Please provide the specific place in our Rules Of Procedure (or RROO or other City code?) which lays out the specifics of when/if a motion may be renewed.

Thanks in advance,

—JC

Just to be clear, I can find no such rule, either in Robert’s Rules Of Order (RROO) or in our Council Rules Of Procedure.

According to RROO and JurassicParliament (the fantastic training service that our City uses to train Councilmembers), if a motion does not pass, it is only ‘dead’ for that particular meeting. A Councilmember can bring back the same motion at the next meeting. (Of course, when one renews a previously failed motion one should always include new information in order to change hearts and minds.)

This is a great case of why all that ‘parliamentary’ jazz actually matters. A lot.

*The National League Of Cities is just what it says it is, a nationwide group of Cities that lobbies at the Federal level in order to further interests that all Cities tend to share. The City Of Des Moines was a member for many years and we left when the current majority took over. I strongly favor re-joining not only because all our sister cities are members, but because the NLC has been particularly strong in advocating for Airport/FAA reform and in returning more Federal money to Cities.

Weekly Update: 11/15/2020

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This’ll be a long-winded one (sorry). Last week’s City Council Meeting was, arguably, the most important of the year. There was the Budget, Property Taxes, Human Services spending and I got to be the one yelling at my colleagues (for a change) rather than just sitting there and taking it. And tucked in the DMMA thing is a presentation you should watch. So… ya know… it’s a lot. 😀

This Week

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee.

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. There will be updates on SR-509 and the StART. Usually a snoozer, but who knows? 😀

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. This group of education and youth professionals (including our DMPD Community Service Officer) meets to discuss ways to improve school attendance and reduce teen violence in Des Moines.

Thursday: PSRC Growth Management Policy Board There will be a presentation on housing needs in King County. I’ve already hinted at this a few times. It is critical to our City to understand the various demands that the PSRC foresees for our area in order to do our own planning. There are (cough) ‘targets’ each City is expected to meet.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalizes the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposed to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic. Here is my letter to the Commission in protest.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. The contents is actually a ‘State Of The City’ tag team presentation by Mayor Matt Pina and Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney. I strongly encourage everyone to watch it because it covers pretty much big area of the City (with plenty of questions re. the Marina at the very end.)

Thursday: Environmental Committee Meeting. The single item was the Storm Water Comprehensive Plan Update presentation, which I am quite interested in given the various infra-structure problems we’ve had over the past year. Here is the presentation: Surface Water Comp Plan Update

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video). Recap below.

Thursday: Sound Cities Association ‘PIC’ Meeting. The Public Issues Committee is is always fascinating to me because you get to hear about what all the other Cities are dealing with, plus upcoming legislation from the State and Federal governments. It’s one of the best ways to get a sense of how other Cities function and how we all see our role in the region. Traci Buxton is our official representative.

A quick note on how Councilmember can help you…

If you watch the City Council Meetings or you are on-line, there is some confusion as to what/how a Councilmember may help a resident with a particular issue or a problem with the City itself. Here is what Council Rules Of Procedure Rule 32 says:

RULE 32. When administrative policy or administrative performance complaints are made directly to individual Councilmembers, the Councilmember may then refer the matter directly to the City Manager for his/her view and/or action. The individual Councilmember may request to be informed of the action or response made to the complaint. (Res. 525 §1, 1988).

So, if you contact me (or any Councilmember), we’ll refer it to the City Manager and his staff to deal with on your behalf. The advantage in bringing a problem to your Councilmember is in that last sentence: you get another (hopefully well-informed) set of eyes on the issue so we can make sure that you’re getting the best possible customer service. It also helps me/ us know what’s going on–which helps everybody. If you know the numbers? Contact the City directly. If you want to call me personally? I’m always happy to help. 🙂

Meeting Recap

City Recap here. Full packet here. Video here.

Normally, I put in timings at the various points in the vide I’m referencing. I got lazy this week. These things are already work. But when I go on about making our web site more helpful to the public, here is just one thing I’d like to implement. When you look at a Burien Meeting Agenda, it has bookmarks to all the important moments in the video. That’s good public communication.

We passed the Budget.

Yay? 😀

The good news is that we got away this year without significant harm. That is no mean feat and I applaud the Finance team. Our City Manager, has told me that I don’t ‘appreciate them’. As a guy who worked for companies like Arthur Andersen, I’m probably the only person on the Council who fully appreciates their job. I salute them not only for keeping the City on track, but also because the basic day to day mechanics of finance and ‘bookkeeping’ are tough enough without having to screw with telecommuting. Thanks a million. (Get it? Million? I kill me. 😀 )

But I don’t want to be too super jazzed for a couple of reasons. First, we pulled this off by basically:

  • Holding off on any new capital improvement stuff. Which means we’re kinda losing not one but two years on a lot of very worthy projects. (On the other hand, with the repeal of I-976 we may be able to do some road stuff. Stay tuned.)
  • CARES Act funding. And who knows if there will ever be another Federal stimulus package. (Gosh I hope so, Ma. 🙂 )
  • Using one-time money–which was the bane of the City in the bad old days. We voted to allow for it (if necessary) again in 2021. Hopefully it won’t be necessary. But I’ve made it clear that 2021 is the last year I’ll vote for that. *I’m sayin’ two Hail Marys and four Our Fathers every day that the local economy will be back by then. 🙂

Is there anybody in there?

(Boomer reference to Pink Floyd) As I said, this was arguably the most important meeting of the year. And at 1:43 it was twice as long as a typical meeting (which still makes it shorter than every one of our sister cities.)  It covered the Budget, your Property Taxes, our Human Services Budget (which helps thousands of people.) And yet a grand total of zero people signed up to comment. As of this writing a whopping 43 people have watched it. (sigh)

Yes, but are you paying attention?

People see me looking away during the Zoom meetings and wonder if I’m even paying attention. The nerve! 😀 For the record, I’m taking notes on another computer screen.

But as some of you know, a lot of the material is already covered in Committee Meetings, so most of the presentations are things I’ve already seen. There’s very little ‘new’ material at our City Council Meetings. Also there’s no real dialogue to speak of (it’s not like Councilmembers are debating or trying to convince each other of anything or even modifying stuff as happens in other Cities.

So you’re not wrong if you wonder who’s actually paying attention. Because most of it is a formality. And when it comes to Councilmember comments, a lot of those are also not really information sharing per se. Eg. Councilmember Nutting, in his comments described the absolute perfection of our 2021 Budget stating something like (and I’ll get the quote wrong here but I do think I’m capturing the sense of what he said) “You couldn’t move five dollars around without breaking the whole thing.” Now that’s something, right? 😀

Being best isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s this vibe that everything presented to the Council is, worry-free, baked to a golden brown and not to be messed with. If the Council believes that the Budget presented to them has such a delicate balance, why would anyone try to amend anything, right? You might break something!

I’m not being snarky (OK, maybe about 10%) But making everything that the administration presents so ‘perfect’ scares me. Not because it’s untrue (there are many ways that Budget might be tweaked without risk–some might even be 😯 better.) And not just because we’re not really participating in the process (let alone performing oversight). No, what scares me is that I know a certain portion of the public recognizes the performative aspect of our Council Meetings and that makes them even more cynical in any already cynical world.

I think my colleagues see all these claims of “we’re the best” and clockwork precision as a plus–I think they truly believe that such hyperbole inspires confidence with Developers and generally boosts our image. I’m not so sure. I think it makes the public feel like their participation is irrelevant.

In Councilmember Bangs’ comments, she encouraged more volunteerism. As I’ve written many times there is an absolute dearth in volunteerism in Des Moines. But what my colleagues don’t seem to recognize is that the City has done almost everything possible to push away the public over the past five years. I made a comment at the beginning of the meeting that the City should do more to provide outreach to the public on how we determine their taxes. And the reply I got from Mayor Pina was, “Anyone can find this out if they go looking.” That basically sums up the philosophical difference between myself and the rest of the Council. I believe that it’s 2020 and we need to reach out to you. The more information we provide, the more welcoming we are, the more likely we are to feel like the City is a place they want to volunteer.

Human Services Advisory Fund

As I said l would do last week, I voted ‘no’ on the Consent Agenda item to fund the Human Services Advisory Fund. I did so not because I object to the grants. I voted no because I asked for some very basic information on each of the grants ahead of the meeting from our City Manager and got… Nada. Niente. Bupkis. That is simply intolerable conduct. As I’ve said many times, Councilmembers should be able to receive fulsome responses to their requests for basic information on any topic they feel will help them do the job.

Sadly, the current majority is fine with it. (Maybe they don’t care to know about all these programs to any depth, but I certainly do.)

Currently the only form of protest I have is my vote.

I applaud the great work these volunteers and our staff are doing. And in fairness, the City is edging closer to a long-standing goal we’ve had to get to 2% of Total Budget for these grants. We’re not there yet. But it’s progress and I am very glad that we’re heading in the right direction.

Property Taxes

Some good news here. But getting back to that whole ‘public engagement’ thing for a minute: open that packet and go almost to the end (pg 168ish?) and it will show how your property tax dollars are spent. Note that the portion of the pie that the City gets keeps going down over time. In other words, don’t blame the City for your property taxes. Cities have been getting slowly starved for cash now for two decades. And this is just one of those ways.

During the public hearing on property taxes I commented that the City should do more to make the public aware of how we use your tax dollars. I already gave you Mayor Pina’s reply to this suggestion. Councilmember Bangs stated that there really was nothing to worry about given that we’re not raising taxes. In other words, if it doesn’t cost you more money, you probably don’t care. I strongly disagree.

Anyhoo, we did vote on next year’s property tax. The good news is that, unlike the Port Of Seattle, we are freezing the rate at current levels and not raising the rate 1% as has become the usual practice. Well done. The only caveat is that the law says that we can push that increase into future years. Remember how I said I was worried about our Budget for 2022? We could theoretically come back then and retroactively charge the 2021 one percent on top of that current year’s increase. I would not vote for such a thing.

Storm Water Management (Environment Committee)

Surface Water Comp Plan Update

OK, this is the bad news. Maybe. The Storm Water Fund is kinda the biggest piece of business for the Environment Committee. I wish the committee could do a lot more real ‘environment’ stuff (water and air quality), but that’s what it is for now.

The amount of money that the City needs to prepare for future issues is high. We have a 1.3% reserve for unexpected issues. I have no idea if that is sufficient or not. It seems low to me, but what do I know, right? All I know is that we blew through that with one landslide last year. In fact, we’re under-funded by over $3.6 million dollars to do all the projects we need by the next big review in 2026. To fully fund them would add about $2.80 a month to the average homeowner’s bill. I have very mixed feelings on this. Three bucks a month isn’t the world. But I know many of you feel nickeled and dimed to death. Because we do have quite the array of fees and utility taxes. And taken together it adds up to real money for you.

My concern is that if we don’t keep ahead of these projects we’ll be in real trouble. As you know, we’ve had several water-infrastructure problems this year. The infrastructure in much of our City is at or near end of life. And then there’s that pesky climate change–the more it rains, the more work there will be to do.

I’ll close this week by mentioning yet another information request I made that went unfulfilled. I asked for some background information that might help me to decide on how much funding to vote for. As you can see from the presentation, we can be aggressive in funding these programs or we can do less and hope for the best. Right now, I don’t have an idea of how to think about this more broadly.

*I may be exaggerating my prayer routine slightly. Bad Catholic. Bad Catholic, JC.

Veterans Day 2020

Posted on Categories Engagement

I always wondered why my father never spoke of his time in the Army. He spent four years in the Service during World War II and in addition to not talking about it he apparently kept no memorabilia of any kind. The whole thing was a complete mystery to me.

The short version is that he spent four years in Burma, one of the worst theatres of the war. I did what little research I could over the years as to where he was and what he was doing and it just sounds like an absolute hell on earth with no break–and certainly no ‘leave’ to speak of.

When he got off the boat in San Francisco in autumn of 1945, there was no parade or even welcome to speak of–all the celebrating had happened in the Summer after Germany had surrendered. Because by that point, Americans were mostly just exhausted and anxious to get on with life.

Here’s this poor kid at the dock, 23 years old, who volunteered because he was told that by not waiting a year to be drafted he’d get ‘better duty’. It’s 72 degrees, but he’s bundled up in a winter coat because he’s been living in a 100 degree jungle for four years and now he’s absolutely freezing.

So on the train back to his home base in Wisconsin, he got so disgusted he simply tossed everything except the clothes on his back out the window. In his view, yeah we won the war, but personally, it was no great ‘victory’. He felt unappreciated for all he had endured and to some degree that resentment probably never went away.

And I don’t blame him one bit. Frankly, he could be a distant guy. But knowing what I know now–things that he could never say? Just thinking about his story makes me choke up.

To one degree or another every person who serves comes back a different person. Going in, you never know what sacrifices you’ll be asked to make for your country–and that uncertainty must, in itself, be a weight.

If you or a loved one has served in the U.S. Military I want to thank you, most profoundly. May you always feel fully appreciated for your service to this nation.

Right now, people in Des Moines have divided opinions about most everything. But one thing I know we all agree on: gratitude and support for all Veterans.

Sincerely,

–JC

Weekly Update: 11/08/2020

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 11/08/2020

Yeah, late. Again. I’m soooooorry. I had intended to do a piece on Code Enforcement but the Federal election got me thinking about the parallels with Des Moines and unlike most weeks, where I just whip something off in an hour, I actually spent some time choosing my words fairly carefully. 😀

This Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalizes the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposes to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting.

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

Thursday: Environmental Committee Meeting. The single item will be a Storm Water Comprehensive Plan Update presentation, which I am quite interested in given the various infra-structure problems we’ve had over the past year.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development District Board

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

Thursday: Indoor Air Quality Study with Tina Orwall. It’s finally getting off the ground!

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda). I wish y’all would attend these. This particular meeting hit my hot spots with really informative presentations from our new Animal Control Officer and our Code Enforcement Officer Kory Batterman. Please read!

Friday: Airport Summit organized by State Rep. Tina Orwall. This included activists and electeds from the Sea-Tac as well as East Boston (Logan Airport.) Just to give you a reminder of what we’re dealing with, have a look at this environmental risk map of the area. Notice how Des Moines is the worst? The problem is that civic leaders have traditionally ignored these problems-maybe out of ignorance, or fear of scaring people off or just feeling powerless to do anything. But whether it’s in our job description or not, I feel like your City Council must do more and I am proud to see our State legislators: Orwall, Johnson and Keiser taking it up. 

PTSD

For me, this week has been an eerie flash back to my own microscopically tinier election last year. Representative Adam Smith once gave me a piece of advice. He said, it should take you as much work to get elected to City Council as it does to Congress. He wasn’t just whistling Dixie. 😀

Like the President-Elect, I also did not have anything to rejoice about on election night. The race was very close and I didn’t feel comfortable in declaring (cough) ‘victory’ for several days. And then there was the small matter that, like Mr. Biden, I also knew that I was heading into very divided government.

As you know, the Federal government, has all kinds of built-ins that force the majority to take the minority’s ideas seriously.  A major component of our Constitution is to make sure that the majority cannot run the table.

But City government is not like the Federal government. There is no built-in ‘gridlock’ because our form of Council/Manager government is more of a parliamentary system (like Great Britain). If you attain four loyal votes on our Council, you have the ability to run the table. There are no built-in protections for the minority voice. The only ‘rights’ the minority position has are based on all those ‘social norms’ you’ve heard so much about over the past four years in the other Washington.

How do you feel?

Love him or hate him, the fascinating thing about Joe Biden is that despite the evidence of his own eyes he actually still believes in compromise. He gets scorned by people on both sides of the aisle for either being terribly naive about that or for being willing to compromise where he shouldn’t.

So the question I have today is: do you really believe in ‘democracy’ like that? Because if you do, you have to be willing to accept really crappy outcomes sometimes. Sometimes that is all that is possible in a system where the minority has a voice. But if you really don’t care about compromise you need to either win all the seats or engage in dodgy ethics. And since neither side has a hope in hell of doing the former, there is always the strong temptation to do the latter. After all, you want to get things done, right? Ends justifying the means and all that.

The thing I increasingly hear from both sides of the political spectrum is that there is a lot of appeal to this. The situation is so dire now that they just want to get things done.

(Boy howdy, do I feel ya on that one. There are issues where I’m like “Tick tock! We’re running out of time!” If only I could become Emperor. Just for a day. Is that too much to ask? 😀 )

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

With regard to national issues, Des Moines is divided just like the rest of America. But unlike much of the country, DM has a pretty amazing cross-section of America–all in one small town. We’ve got it all here. (I think I’m fairly qualified to make with this half-baked punditry because I have talked to so many of you.)

So when thinking about local issues, the question I always come back to is, “How much do you care about good government?”

See, President-Elect Biden is about to walk into a wall of gridlock. And it’s that desire to ‘get things done’ that makes every President behave more unilaterally than the one before. Speaking truthfully, Mr. Biden will be sorely tempted to use exactly the hardball tactics that Democrats have complained about.

But ironically, that gridlock is something I kinda envy here in Des Moines–I wish the minority here had more of a say in our City government.

Government is government

What I object to here in Des Moines is that the current majority has engaged in exactly the tactics so many of us despise about the Federal government. Over time, they’ve changed Council rules and enabled a miserable level of *stonewalling from the administration. They play hardball.

Which just means that government is government. The issues of ethics, transparency and power are the same at all levels. And my watching Des Moines over the past twenty five years tells me that sooner or later, those issues always come back to bite.

But as I wondered before, maybe you don’t care about all them high-falutin’ ‘ethics’. Maybe just care about “getting ‘er done.” If so,  I am so screwed. 😀

So one big question I’ll be interested in next year is whether or not voters will care. I hope you will–even though you may be more interested in more day to day issues like roads or public safety.

Civics Shmivics

Despite the tone of this article, I want to make it clear that I do not wake up every morning brimming with zeal for GOOD GOVERNMENT! 😀

I figured out a long time ago that we’d have to work on some of that  stuff first before we could ever have a chance to work on the more practical things I think you do care about: economic development, programs for the south end, a decent strategy for dealing with the airport (to name a few.)

There’s simply no way to get any of the things done that you told me you care about so long as there is no willingness to compromise or even engage other ideas.

In the meanwhile, I have a piece of unasked for advice: Try giving Mr. Biden a bit of a honeymoon (at least until the first major screw-up. 😀 ) He wasn’t my first choice either. But if we’re gonna recover from 2020, it’s gonna take each of us showing some willingness to bend a little.

Trust me, it sucks coming into a new position and running into a brick wall. 😉

*Just one example from this week’s meeting. We are being asked to vote for the Human Services Budget Funding this week on our Consent Agenda. The Consent Agenda, if you recall, is a list of items considered so routine as to require no debate. So ahead of the meeting, I did as I usually do, I asked for background information on the twenty two various programs–pretty basic, right? Here is the only reply I received from the City:

The Human Services Committee will be presenting their recommendations to Council this Thursday

It will be a cold day in hell before I ever vote to approve twenty two grants on the spot, with no background information. Shame on the City for failing to provide a Councilmember with background information. And shame on any Councilmember who approves of this refusal to comply with a basic request for information.

How I got so interested in Code Enforcement

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Public SafetyTags , Leave a comment on How I got so interested in Code Enforcement

In 2010 I moved away for a year and rented out my house here. Now back then, in order to rent out yer house, the City required aspiring landlords to do a couple of things: first you paid a $40(?) fee and second you became part of a database with your current address and phone number so that your neighbors could track you down if your renters were misbehaving and finally you had to take a class run by Community Service Officer Tonya (which was great by the way.) The class taught all kinds of neat-o stuff like how not to discriminate, your relationship with renters, etc. Sweet.

In 2011, I moved back and shortly thereafter I found that several of my neighbors had flipped their houses (as was so popular back then.) And the new owners were using their homes as rental properties. Unfortunately, the renters who had moved into these houses just suuuuucked. I mean suuuuucked. So I went to the City, because I knew from my ‘landlord class’ that we had a Code Enforcement Officer. And she told me that since my time as a landlord the City had rescinded the above landlord code. No fee, no database, no school. Which meant no accountability.

What I learned first hand is that when landlords cannot be easily held accountable for their renters, chaos tends to ensue. The City’s Code at the time made it almost impossible for people like me to locate the landlords of these bad renters (because, let’s be honest: a lot of these landlords did not particularly want to be found.)

And I did call the City. And SKFR. Many times. They were on a first-name basis with all the ne’er do-wells. They were sympathetic to me, but told me plainly that there was nothing they could do ‘until a crime is committed.’ The City Code was not designed to deal pro-actively with these kinds of situations.

So after many months of frustration I walked up the hill to City Hall on a Thursday night at 7pm and made my first public comment. And the Council just stared at me. (Just like they stare at you.) Which totally pissed me off. So I kept coming back. And kept getting stared at. But in the meantime, I found that the City had been threatened with a lawsuit from the Rental Housing Association–a group I had joined in order to be a ‘good landlord’. They objected to any form of ‘regulation’ on landlords and rather than litigate the City caved. I won’t go into more detail than that, but the whole thing seemed started to sour me on the Des Moines government. My issue seemed like exactly the sort of basic ‘blocking and tackling’ that City government should handle: keeping your street safe, clean and quiet.

Plus, since we were in the dark times of Des Moines financial problems, the Code Enforcement program was gutted–which I thought was just a terrible policy choice. It sent a very clear message about values.

The net effect of this on me personally and my street was this: Three of my long-time neighbors moved away–specifically because of these jerk renters. One of the rental homes was burned down to the studs by the renter. And another home was completely trashed by a meth-head who would store 10-20 thousand pounds of stolen wire (stealing copper was his day job) in the back yard. All it to0k was two crappy renters (or should I say, crappy landlords) to devastate my street. A street with half a dozen school-age kids.

To his credit, a few years later, at the end of his mayoralty, I got a nice letter  Dave Kaplan, informing me that the City had taken my complaints to heart and was revamping its Code Enforcement program. As you can imagine, I was initially very skeptical.

I’ve got a nose for it…

Fast forward to 2020. I am pleased to report that the situation is much better. Because of my bad experience, I had developed something of a ‘bad property radar’. I can spot troubled properties from far away. And during my campaign, I walked every single block of Des Moines. And I heard hundreds of complaints about ‘that one house’ that makes the entire block nervous. And. I. get. it.

Animal Control Officer and Code Enforcement Update

The thing that is not on the presentation Officer Batterman gave was a very good comment from Chief Thomas: Code Enforcement pays. If done properly, it should basically pay for itself. You can see that it’s at least $100k a year in City revenue when done well. That’s not a bad thing like some speed trap. It’s a good way to measure effectiveness simply because there’s a lot of work left to do in Des Moines.

Now, am I 100% happy? Of course not. 😀 But I gotta be fair. It’s much better than it was. And I want you to know that, on a street by street level this is my number one issue. I moved here because Des Moines had a great reputation for its neighborhoods. Gardens were well tended. People understood that the way their house and street looked mattered.

If you have a Code Enforcement issue, please go to the City Code Enforcement Complaint page or call Officer Kory Batterman directly at (206) 870-7617.

Weekly Update: 11/01/2020

Posted on Categories Transparency, Weekly Updates5 Comments on Weekly Update: 11/01/2020

PSA #1: I’ve made a few tweaks to the web site. Most noticeably that you can now Search for stuff.

PSA #2: You may have heard that there is an election on November 3rd and I encourage you to vote (the nearest Ballot Box is at Highline College.) However I have a comment to make regarding November 4th. Here it is: If by some evil trick of fate your candidate does not win I want to assure you of one thing:

If your candidate doesn’t win? Relax. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat a hearty breakfast. And get back to work.

This Week

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development District Board

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

Thursday: Public Safety Committee Meeting (Agenda) How to watch.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting presented the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposes to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic.

Wednesday: I did not lunch at the Senior Center! 😀

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) Meeting (Agenda): The discussion included the 2020 Legislative Agenda. Recognizing that this is also the Port’s agenda, it is timid. If you care about airport issues I always feel like I should encourage you to sign up for this.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly (Agenda). If it were any other week, I would have a lot to say about this as they approved their ‘Vision 2050’. Let’s just say that it’s not my vision for Des Moines in 2050. Much more. Soon.

1974

I was all jazzed to start talking about some of the broad regional issues that never get talked about. But let’s face it: no one gives a crap about anything except the Presidential election right now.

Now that’s democracy…

I came to America in February 1974 from leeeetle tiny village on the west coast of Ireland–and we was country, baby. But the second biggest story of that year was when Richard Nixon resigned in August.

The thing that Americans don’t ‘get’ is that, while you thought of it as something of a crisis, for us ‘foreigners’, 1974 was a high watermark in the history of democracy. In 1974, the system worked. Legislators on both sides of the aisle agreed that something was wrong and were willing to put aside their various disagreements and tackle the obvious problem of corruption.

There’s also this: the guy left voluntarily. He wasn’t removed. He understood that his continued position would be chaotic for the country. Ironically, that was pretty darned patriotic if you think about it. My people back home marveled at this. That sort of orderly housekeeping never happens in most of the world.

But that’s not even the best part. Because except for that eensy, weensy detail of being a crook, Nixon was arguably one of the more effective Presidents in American history. He had a gazillion bi-partisan policy achievements that we take for granted today (Clean water, Clean air, EPA.) The list is off the hook.

So I matured into a very deep belief in ‘the system’ of America. I saw it work–ironically, even when it seemed most broken.

What happened?

The current level of politics is somewhat less elevated, of course. And that includes Des Moines. Now I’m not saying or even implying that 2020 in Des Moines is the same as 1974 in Washington D.C. But things could definitely be better. And my hope is that we can think about ways to improve politics in Des Moines, not just in that other Washington. Because the same ongoing political challenges there are also at play here. We tend not to notice it because, as I keep yammering on about, people in friendly small towns  don’t like to think of themselves as engaging in anything as nasty as ‘politics’. Right? 😀

The FOCs

The big problem for Des Moines politics, as with so many small towns, is  that civic engagement keeps getting weaker. We’ve traditionally had a very small group of people who are engaged in what’s going on and this tends to feed on itself. The same people are everywhere and involved in everything. And over time that small gene pool of engaged people tends to only get smaller. And as you learned in high school biology, if you don’t have a big enough gene pool eventually you start running into problems. 😀

I refer to this set of engaged people as ‘Friends Of The City’ (FOCs). These are the people who are somehow connected with the City either by blood or work or some group affiliation. I use this term because these relationships are friendly and effective and I am grateful for everything that everyone contributes because, frankly, the City wouldn’t run otherwise.

(I feel a need to emphasize that I am not, not, NOT using FOC as a pejorative. All I’m going to be arguing is that, despite good intentions, there is also a dark side. Some of my best friends are FOCs. 😀 )

I don’t want to upset you…

First off, friends don’t like to create tension. Even when you know there are problems in the City, you figure that the way to change things is with a friendly visit. Or a phone call. In this view of small town government, there’s rarely a need for confrontation or disagreement–and definitely not in public. (Watching friends argue in public is totally cringe-y, right?) So after a while, people even forget how to disagree. Disagreement itself becomes impolite–something to be avoided at all costs.

However disagreement and open debate is what democracy is all about. Government only works with competing ideas and full access to information. But when the only ‘influencers’ are people who are connected by blood, friendship or financial ties  it makes it almost impossible to be objective, let alone speak truth to power.

Then there’s the issue of risk. Anyone who is on a committee they value or who has a contract with the City or gets some form of grant is simply less likely to want to say something critical. That relationship makes you self-censor. Paradoxically, it’s these people who often have information about something not great going on in the City.

And probably worst of all there’s denial: Most of us simply refuse to acknowledge that we are influenced by this arrangement. (How dare you suggest that I might allow my relationship with the City to colour my… <whatever>!) Conflicts of interest that we would instantly spot in others we refuse to see in ourselves. That’s called Human Nature.

Unfortunately, FOCs are also the people most likely to run for City Council, serve on committees, which only further increases the likelihood that the City will keep moving in the same direction.

He had so much potential

Speaking of that direction… During my campaign a very popular question was, “Why hasn’t Des Moines lived up to its ‘potential’?” (The ‘why aren’t we more like Edmonds’ question.) The funny thing is that people ask it in a rhetorical way–they don’t expect a real answer.  But there is a real answer and the answer is that, over the decades, our City’s leadership has made Des Moines what it is. Now, if you think you have a good idea of where things are heading and are happy? Great. But if you aren’t happy (or more likely have no idea where the City is going), the good news is that, we can change trajectory. Either way, understand that it is a choice.

And the choices the FOCs tend to make have overwhelmingly been focused on the short term. That’s a problem for most small cities. All the incentives tend to point towards leaving all the ‘big picture’ stuff to someone else (like a developer or some other much larger agency like King County.) And again, with so few people ‘in the know’, there is not a great likelihood that a large group of residents can get organized to steer the boat in a different direction.

What to do…

I know one thing for sure: the City has a role to play in reversing this. At the risk of annoying some of you, let’s call it ‘civic affirmative action’. (I can be so annoying, I know. 😀 ) But that’s what it is. I see two broad areas that the City needs to address in order to strengthen local government and get Des Moines pointing more towards its long term ‘potential’.

Increase engagement

First of all, the traditional model where residents join some committee or a group like the Rotary no longer works for most people. (Most young people don’t even know what a Kiwanis or Rotary does.)  So people don’t see a way into the system of local government. As I’ve written here many times, virtually none of the City’s Advisory Committees are even functional due to lack of participation. So we desperately need to find ways to introduce people into what it’s like to work with ‘the system’. And the City is the only vehicle with the resources to do that.

Increase awareness

We have no newspaper. Without a newspaper there’s no way for most of you to gain an objective understanding of what is going on. Again: the information you get from any government is biased. I’ll keep hammering on this for as long as I’m doing this: our City government is no different from a State or Federal government. We put out press releases. We don’t tell the whole story. Not by a country mile. And people who work for our government should have no problem with this paragraph, because it’s just the truth.

Twenty years ago we had the same issues of FOCs as we have today. But at least back then, you’d see the occasional piece of investigative journalism and that kept things in check. Today? If there was the same kind of corruption in Des Moines we had less *than twenty years ago, I doubt you’d even hear about it.

So to protect democracy (and I’m not being hyperbolic here) the City needs to reach out to a wider group of people, both to inform them and also to increase the public’s involvement in civic life.

On the other hand…

Of course, providing more information and reaching out to a wider group of residents runs contrary to the interests of many of the FOCs. To a certain portion of the City, things are going along just peachy and all the points I’m raising are at a minimum silly or perhaps even harmful to the positive image the City wants to always portray.

And of course, ethics and transparency are rarely big winners at the local level because, as I keep saying, local government tends to be about tangible stuff like roads and schools and having a cop around when you need one. Unless there’s some dramatic level of corruption (like Nixon or what we had here twenty years ago), a lot of people don’t care too much. For many voters ‘ethics’ is kinda like getting more fiber in yer diet–it’s a nice goal, but not exactly a must have.

Darn that other Washington!

The whole national situation has completely sucked the oxygen out of any attempts I’ve made to get more people to pay attention to City politics. And that’s a shame because, for most of us, what happens at City Council has more of a direct impact on your life than what happens in Washington D.C.

But if you’re, like me, in it for the long run, you also should care about those issues here in Des Moines. We may disagree as to who made the swamp and whose draining it (or backing up the truck to add to the landfill). But the fact is that the same issues that plague national politics are also a challenge right here. Government is government.

Summary

It’s my contention that the reason Des Moines hasn’t lived up to its potential is at least partially for the same reasons the Federal government doesn’t: the number of people actually involved in the system keeps shrinking. (Ironically, many people voted for Donald Trump precisely for this reason.) Regardless of your preferred candidate, do you really believe either of those two clowns are the best we could come up with out of 328 million Americans? I don’t think that and I doubt that most of you do either.

Similarly, the only way Des Moines gets where it oughta go is by broadening the gene pool beyond the same batch of FOCs. And with your help, I hope to get the City working on that in the next few years. The irony, of course, is that we will also need some help from those same FOCs.

The sun’ll come out, tomorrow! 😀

*Google former Des Moines Mayor Don Wasson.

Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 10/25/2020

PSA: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There was a Candidate’s Forum October 14th and it wouldn’t hurt to watch it. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683). MONDAY IS THE LAST DAY TO REGISTER!

This Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting will present the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposes to increase  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic.

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

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) Meeting (Agenda): The discussion will include the 2020 Legislative Agenda. Recognizing that this is also the Port’s agenda, it is fairly timid. I will testify as to the complete lack of understanding on Port Package ‘failures’.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) General Assembly (Agenda).

Last Week

Monday: Meeting with Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. Not much to report on that in particular. Of greater concern is that fact that my City Manager literally refused to take a phone call to answer any questions on anything. Have I already used the word ‘outrageous’ in this article? 😀 That said, I mentioned last week that I wanted an improved web site like this and by using plucky initiative I’ve figured out what it would take to make it happen. One way or another, we are going to improve our public outreach during my time in office. Or I’ll… I’ll… I dunno what I’ll do. 😀

Tuesday: South County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd).

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee. (On their web site I got to the meeting info in two clicks. Which made me happy. 🙂 )

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

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting. (Agenda)  This was a big deal. There was a Buildable Lands Study that I could do 2,500 words on and some talk about the Marina redevelopment which also deserves some real talk, but I’ll save that for another time.

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

Saturday: McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Counting the Salmon! Show up at 10:00AM if you want to be a counter. 🙂

Now this is more like it…

Last week’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) and City Council Meetings (City’s recap here) were much more like what I expected when I ran for office. As you know, I ran as a ‘change’ candidate. I was able to convince enough voters that something had to change. But the job now is, in many ways, a lot harder because the things that need changing aren’t a bunch of evil men twirling their mustaches.

Des Moines has been heading in the wrong direction for a long time. Our government keeps doing things for short term benefit. But in the long run, have slowly lead further and further from making the City a ‘destination’ (to use that now tired cliche.) But because these policies often seem to make sense in the moment they have been difficult to change. They are well-intentioned; they’re just not in the City’s long-term best interest. It’s like telling me to lay off the ice cream when it’s right there on the counter. It’s a hard sell (sigh.)

You want it now

As I keep saying, a City is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the one place where voters actually expect responsiveness from government. And most voters are concerned with now, not ten years from now. When I moved here, everybody on my street had been here for two decades–and that was typical for homeowners in Des Moines. In 2020? The average homeowner sticks around for 5-7 years. So their interest is in ‘how can you help me now‘. Keep my taxes low. Keep me safe. And don’t rock the boat. I get it.

Unfortunately, many that thinking runs contrary to what it takes to make Des Moines (finally) live up to its potential as a waterfront community.

It’s coming…

The reason I have been yammering about the PSRC and all this ‘regional’ junk since I got elected is because, in addition to the short term interests of current residents there are intense forces at the State and regional level which also push Des Moines to only consider the short view.

We are on the cusp of having to make development decisions that I guarantee most of you will not appreciate if you care about Des Moines more than a few years out. But they will be irresistible because a) they will provide short term cash and b) the State and PSRC will be nagging us to do them–and attempting to punish us if we do not.

I see one of my primary tasks to push back. Because this is existential for our future and I am not being hyperbolic. Our long-term desire to (finally) make Des Moines the historic and unique place it was meant to be run smack into the desires of many developers, the State, the County, the PSRC and the Port Of Seattle. They will offer us lots of things that look fabulous in the short term, but will inevitably lead to minimizing the very things that make Des Moines special. City Councils come and go, but overall, our development plan has been wrong since before decades. I will explain my positive vision for the City in detail in the months ahead.

SKHHP: Affordable Housing

The actual City Council Meeting was pretty innocuous. I want to highlight a couple of questions I had which probably seemed like me grousing a bit, but they matter. The first was in response to Traci Buxton’s comments on this thing:

19054 ILA South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership

We were asked to approve a directive clarifying our City’s position on SKHHP–essentially, giving Councilmember Buxton guidance on the City’s goals when *she represents us. Here is the guidance we approved:

  1. Policy decisions that directly affect the City or that create mandates should be made by the City Council and not by the SKHHP board.
  2. Primary focus of SKHHP should be on the production and preservation of affordable housing as stated in the Interlocal Agreement that created the partnership.
  3. Policy decisions made by SKHHP should prioritize the preservation of affordable housing and the creation of affordable housing, while also balancing the interests of those who provide it.

Now that all looks pretty sensible, harmless and vague. But it matters because what I’ve been trying to tease out from our City is the actual purpose of SKHHP. The fact that we need to add this sort of ‘fluff’ indicates that there is not a clear agreement (yet) as to the goals–or at least a concern that the process might be hijacked. If so, I want to know what the goals of other Cities might be that could conflict with ours? The title of the group includes the word ‘homelessness’. Great. We should definitely tackle that problem. But though the two topics converge, affordable housing is not the same thing as ‘homelessness’. Not by a country mile.

What I keep trying to get at is: what are we willing to do? I want transparency. The problem is that the issues SKHHP needs to tackle are, like all land use and zoning and housing issues totally nuclear divisive. I get why decision makers would want to keep it vague until the last possible moment. But I would much prefer that we do work to get buy-in from our residents up front, rather than working on programs that may come as a unpleasant surprises down the road. That is exactly what went wrong with the Woodmont Recovery Clinic. It was a noble cause (helping people climb out of addiction) but it was implemented in a way to generate maximum †FUD.

Video

Show me the numbers

The second question I had was during the Budget Public Hearing and was about ‘trends’. I referred to page 49 of the 2021 Preliminary Annual Budget , which is the only place in the document that charts a five year forecast.

I asked what I thought was a fairly easy question: How do you make that forecast? Now check out the responses from our City Manager.

Video

Now that you’ve watched that exchange, do you have any idea how the City estimates 2023, 2024, 2025? If so, please email me. Because I sure don’t. It’s the defensiveness that always gets my antennae up. I asked a perfectly reasonable question and got nowhere. And the end of the discussion was our Mayor saying, “Asked and answered.” As if this were a trial, not a reasonable discussion.

I’m not here to cross-examine anyone. I just wanted to know what any business person would want to know: What are your assumptions? It turned something routine into even more *FUD and I can never understand why. If they’d simply give me the information I request, I’d be happy as a clam. 🙂

You gotta sell me on this…

We often hear from candidates how they want to run government ‘like a business’. Our Mayor often talks about how the City Of Des Moines is structured like a Corporation. It’s not ‘like’ a corporation it is a corporation.

But municipal corporations are not  businesses. And definitely not when it comes to decision making. Yeah, you get to vote for City Council, but beyond that, the government gets to ram an awful lot of stuff down yer throat if it wants to. If it were a business, it would have to actually sell you on its ideas. It would have to market like crazy to get your buy-in on plans that you won’t necessarily like right now, but will ultimately make your life better ten years from now on.

Governments are not known for being particularly good marketers and the public often refuses to eat their vegetables. And more and more the public is interested in the short term. So it’s just a lot simpler for the government to do what it wants and not bother asking.

I strongly disagree. We have the obligation to be very clear on both the good and the painful parts of our policies. We should sell difficult ideas and only act unilaterally when absolutely necessary.

Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth? Sure thing. I’m a low rent politician. 😀 I’m going to propose a lot of ideas that you may find challenging in the short term. Because I’m certain these are things that will make Des Moines really special for you in the long term. And I’m also going to work my bananas off to get your sincere buy in. That salesmanship is something the City has not done well at all over the years–because, again, it doesn’t have to ask for permission. It doesn’t have to sell you. To the extent I can, I hope to change that approach.

*Minor detail: I am the City’s Alternate Representative to SKHHP. To date I have not been invited to any meetings or notified on any of its activities. I’ve already used ‘outrageous’ and ‘unprofessional’. Thank goodness I’m done with this article. I’m running out of adjectives. 😀

†FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Weekly Update: 10/19/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Transparency, Weekly Updates5 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/19/2020

PSA: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There was a Candidate’s Forum October 14th and it wouldn’t hurt to watch it. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

This Week

Monday: Meeting with Finance Director Beth Anne Wroe. Since this is literally the only contact I’ve been allowed with staff in the past seven months (every time I write or say that it sounds even more insane that a Councilmember can’t talk to staff) Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, I need to make my fifteen minutes count, baby. 😀 Hopefully, I can asking one or two questions which will point me in the right direction for self-study. My personal needs/wants/desires include an improved web site like this (click on the Calendar. See how easy it is to find out when things are and then drill down to Agendas and basically find whatever you want?) Something like that is maybe a couple of grand. A big spender I am not. 🙂

Tuesday: South County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd).

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee. (On their web site I got to the meeting info in two clicks. Which made me happy. 🙂 )

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

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting. (Agenda) It’s not my meeting, but hey why not attend? And since it’s a public meeting, why don’t you attend? (Homework: To understand why I want to improve our City’s web site, don’t use the link I posted. Try to find out what/where/when about this meeting. I dare ya.) To attend Committee Meetings, please contact the City Clerk’s Office at cityclerk@desmoineswa.gov for a link no later than 12:00 p.m. the day of the meeting.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda). As has become typical, the Consent Agenda is jam-packed with items that probably should be discussed, but hey, I’m a lover, Paul, not a fighter. (That joke was probably a lot funnier back when Michael was alive and not… you know. 😀 ) But this will also be the first Public Hearing On The 2021 Annual Budget. Which means that you the public (theoretically, anyhoo) should be showing up to make your needs/wants/desires known. Seriously. That is what is supposed to happen. If ‘municipal government’ were working as expected, back in… oh… say 1911… this would be the best attended meeting of the year for a WA City.

Saturday: McSorley Creek with Trout Unlimited. Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Counting the Salmon! Show up at 10:00AM if you want to be a counter. 🙂

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Aviation Budget Meeting. I was hoping to hear that, after all the COVID-19 delays, the Commission would finally start funding Port Packages again (do I sound enough like a petulant teenager? 😀 ). Still not there yet, but there’s still time.

Tuesday: I, along with Councilmembers from Burien and SeaTac, met with Congressman Adam Smith. Short version: under a 2018 law (which is super-vague) the FAA is supposed to have some sort of ‘community engagement’ now to discuss our concerns. And in other major airport communities, this has been an improvement in relations. But at Sea-Tac? Nooooooooooooooooooooooo. Our specific local FAA leadership have about zero interest in changing anything. That is not what Congress intended with the 2018 law. So we’re trying to figure out what Mr. Smith can do to help bring us in line with other airport communities.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting (Agenda). I was disappointed to hear that we still haven’t gotten permits to dredge the entrance. It’s not the end of the world but we got a ‘discount’ contingent on doing it this year. On a happier note, Harbormaster Wilkins is actively checking out Wi-Fi options which is something a lot of us have wanted for a long time (I dunno about you, but my cell reception in various parts of DM has never been great and this sort of amenity would be very attractive for visitors with money. 🙂 ) Also, we will likely be getting a huge rate reduction (over $50k) from the Department Of Natural Resources on rent review thanks to the advocacy of the City’s legal department.

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. We draw Seniors from all of South King County so I always learn something.

Thursday: I, along with Councilmembers from Burien and SeaTac, met with Snohomish  Congressman Rick Larsen (it’s like deja vu all over again.) As we say back home, “different bread, same sandwich.” Except that this bread… er… Legislator… happens to be the Chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committee. So he has pull and we should at least be on his radar. Because the detail I left out is that most FAA law is designed around the premise that a City or County will own the airport. So if residents are bugged about noise and pollution, they have some recourse. But because the Port Of Seattle owns Sea-Tac, they always have this loophole that leave us out in the cold. And the Congressman can do something about that.

History

I had a conversation today with Councilmember *xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.   We discussed a bit why I bother with this whole Weekly Update business. What they reported to me is that these things are, for a certain set of people, annoying. Which is shocking, right? 😀 But if I seem cavalier it’s because I honestly do not get that. Really. Which made me feel like I should give y’all some background on why I do these Weekly Updates. Because I think there is some real misunderstanding.

Cue the harp music

(You always use harp arpeggios to go back in time.) When my friends and I started SeatacNoise.Info four years ago, it was because I felt, very strongly, that something was wrong with the activism associated around Sea-Tac Airport. My kid had studied citizen activism in college and so we would talk about what we could do to succeed here. He pointed out that activists here had not followed many of the strategies and tactics that had proven successful for other issue groups across America. Specifically, he pointed out that when it’s David v. Goliath, you can win, but it’s a very long game–it will cross generations so you can’t worry about specific battles. People get burnt out, move, etc. Some things succeed, others fail. But successful movements keep going. Each generation learns from the past, corrects mistakes, tries new things. But you need to have a continuity of information.

We haven’t done that with the airport. Basically, after every airport expansion, people just kinda give up–until the next expansion. In fact, most people, including decision makers, had then and still have a very poor overview of the facts as to what had happened with the Third Runway. (Some of those people will get upset at reading that.) But the fact is that all movements fail… until they succeed. And you have to look at what worked and didn’t in order to move forward. There’s also the fact that human memory stinks. We all forget what happened in very short order. That’s why you need newspapers and historians.

There truth may not be out there

The problem is that a lot of information is rapidly disappearing. (One of my standard quizzes is this: Go on-line and tell me who were the candidates for City Council in Des Moines in 1997. Good luck with that. And unless you’re someone like our City Clerk you probably don’t know.) This is completely counter-intuitive. Most of us think that ‘everything’ has already been ‘digitized’. But nothing could be further from the truth.

So SeatacNoise.Info started creating a library of basically everything having to do with the airport since about 1959 (when Des Moines was incorporated). We got a big-ass scanner and servers and started inhaling as much data as we could. We did this simply so we could say, “It’s all in one place”. We figured that people could use it for research and analysis and planning future strategies to slow down airport expansions. That includes thousands of hours of unbelievably boring videos of Port Commission meetings, City Council Meetings, Court proceedings, RCAA meetings, public documents and newspapers like the Highline Times.

The importance of news

See that handsome fella in the picture at far right? Why that’s a younger version of our Mayor Matt Pina from back in 2007 when he was a School Board member. See all those other articles? We’ve scanned a gazillion of those newspapers because, when there were newspapers here, people were discussing the airport and other civic issues all the time. And the one thing I’ve learned from all those old newspapers is this: people here had far greater access to what was going on in government than they do today. I cannot over-state how many more opportunities the public had to learn about local politics ten years ago. And it was the newspaper and actual journalism that drove that.

Real journalism

I got yelled at last year by the nice people at the Waterland Blog (WB) for somewhat insensitively (I know yer shocked again) saying that the Waterland Blog was not ‘real journalism’. I’ve spoken to reporter Jack Mayne about this a few times since then and I appreciate the fact that he has been willing to engage with me. We’ve had some good conversations.

But I kinda gotta stick with what I said: a City Council is a for realz beat, meaning that it’s a ton of work to report. You can’t actually cover City politics without understanding what’s going on ‘under the hood’. And that takes a lot more sustained effort than the WB can make. To get an idea of what it does take to do ‘real local journalism’, check out the Seattle City Council Insight blog. That guy is either a Saint or somewhat deranged for all the work he must put into that thing–which means you should read it. He gets City politics way better than anyone else in the region.) So it’s a bit unfair of me to ask the WB to do something they aren’t equipped to do.

Why?

I write this thing to give the public some context. It’s my take on what’s going on ‘under the hood’. The press releases that the City puts out are just that: press releases. They will always tell you how wonderful things are. They are not objective and  no one should expect them to be. And neither can any coverage by places like The Waterland Blog. Because they can’t give you the context.

And of course, the other reason I feel qualified to b ‘opinionated’ is because I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of pieces of recent DM history. Pieces on everything from water mains to police brutality to parades to you name it. (The more things change, right?) When I as doorbelling last summer it tickled me to talk to a resident who I had already read about from an article ten years ago. I already had at least one thing I knew we could talk about.

The thing I worry about now is this: with no news coverage, is history even occurring?

Master strategy?

I do not do this as part of some grand ‘strategy’. It’s a stupid amount of effort and if the object of politics is to maximise popularity, it’s even stupider. If I were not elected, I would likely still do this. But if someone else was doing ‘real journalism–investigative journalism like the SCC Insight Blog–I would not do this. But there’s not.

There have been attempts on Facebook and Twitter to create forums to discuss local politics, but they don’t work simply because the people doing the discussing don’t have enough background to even know what to talk about. So they tend to devolve into the typical national shit show in which I have almost no interest. For better or worse, I ended up being that one idiot who goes to every City Council meeting.

If there is some ‘master strategy’ it’s only this: I wanted everyone to have a place to refer back to for information on what happened during my time in office, along with one fairly informed devil’s advocate. If at some point  that makes it easier change hearts and minds of the existing Council (or to elect new people I support)? That means that my faith in ‘news’ has been rewarded and yeah for me. If it doesn’t? Oops! 😀

I wonder how much my colleagues would object to a blog like this if it were some independent guy writing. Is it because I’m on the Council? Or is it simply because I’m being ‘critical’ of the City and they don’t think that is a Councilmember’s role? I honestly don’t know.

I think it’s perfectly fine that the seven of us disagree on issues–in public. Because I don’t think it does any good to only disagree in private. Government should be a (mostly) public process. I just don’t think we’ve figured out a way to disagree in public in a respectful fashion like legislators higher up the food chain.

My suspicion is that this is because at least some of us don’t feel like ‘real’ legislators. I think some people view this gig as some sort of public service opportunity and feel like it is the administration that should lead and plan. But some of us are definitely real politicians–actually trying to wield power. Muwhahahahaha! (kidding.) That just means that some of us see our role as to be the ones doing the leading and the planning. I’m one of them. And that is because you voted for me and I see my job as being to try to make happen what you told me you want for the future of the City.

News and decision making

My positions on issues are conditioned a bit by all the City history I’ve been marinating in for the past four years. So when I talk about something controversial like ‘Paid Parking At The Marina’, I’m not just thinking about the fifty people who live near the Marina who felt strongly enough about it to write the City Council last month. (Good job, by the way.) I’m also thinking about all the hearings I went to and all the old newspapers I read where hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of people repeatedly said not just “no” but “Hell no!” to Paid Parking. Over and over and over for a solid decade. And that doesn’t include all the people I doorbelled last summer who also had strong opinions. They all deserve a place in my thinking on this issue.

Having access to history gives me a perspective that, sadly, most of you cannot access. At some point, I hope to have the full contents of all these old Highline Times, Des Moines News, Seattle PI and Seattle Times articles available for all residents to look at.

In spite of the Interwebs, we have far less public engagement now than we used to. Fewer people attend public meetings or volunteer for various committees and organizations. My hope is that providing more information–or at least an alternative POV, helps the community in some small way to engage more on the issues and events I don’t think get enough attention.

Whether you agree or disagree with that POV, if I can get a few more people to show up to meetings or challenge the City to do more in some way then this thing is doing its job.

The Loyal opposition

Even better would be if my colleagues and people in the government who dislike these Weekly Updates would see them (and all public critiques) as a healthy part of local government. Sure it’s great to get all positive reinforcement all the time, but that’s not how it works at the Federal, State or County levels. So why should things be any different here? People in those governments understand and accept routine criticism. My goal would be for everyone to understand that our government is no different in this way. We do some things well; other things not so well. And fair-minded criticism from a loyal opposition is nothing to get upset about.

*UPDATE 10-19-20 20:54 : I have redacted this person’s name at their request.