Mid-Bi-Weekly Update: 05/19/2021

Posted on Categories Marina, Transparency, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Mid-Bi-Weekly Update: 05/19/2021

OK, I took last week off. And half of this week off. I feel bad about it because the last City Council Meeting mattered and if you didn’t watch, you should. But… apparently not bad enough to not take the week off. 😉 It’s weird (in a nice way) the number of notes I get when I don’t post on time. Like something is wrong. Nothing’s wrong. In the immortal words of Arnold…

its-not-a-tumor | Tumblr

(That’s something my kid used to say whenever I thought something was wrong but there was absolutely nothing wrong. It’s probably way funnier coming from a nine year old.)

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. They are gearing up for the Running Of the Flags, which you should sign up for here. And since the State is going to be opening up at the end of June, you can look for some in-person events in July–including (maybe?) fireworks! Woo hoo!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Lots to talk about. More KCS libraries will soon re-open. Check out YETI for some great activities for middle and senior high kids! And Seattle Humane for some animal-related fun stuff for kids.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda).  There will be a public hearing on the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). We will also be addressing the idea of providing Public Comment at Committee Meetings–something I’ve been pushing for since, well, forever. I also want to find out what the deal is with getting these meetings recorded, which I think is even more significant. As I keep saying, the real policy discussions happen at the Committee level. By the time an issue reaches the full Council it’s pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, those meetings occur in the afternoon when most of you are working. The first step towards improving public engagement is to make those meetings watchable for you at your convenience. Other Cities already do this and we should too.

To sign up to provide public comment via Zoom or to provide written public comment, go here. To watch live on Youtube go here.

Last Two Weeks

Tuesday May 4: The King County Council (Agenda) voted to approve making aviation impacts an official part of their climate and health action plan known as SCAP. This is a big deal as it ties in nicely with the airport communities’ shared efforts to monitor aviation emissions both indoors and outdoors. Read more here and at KUOW.

Thursday May 6: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) There was an update on ‘street racing’ at Redondo. The upshot is that the administration will bring back a draft resolution to the Committee to vote on next month to make racing a specific crime. The discussion was mainly on how strict the penalties should be–especially for first-timers. What I heard from the Chief is an obvious urgency to have some new tools to deal with the problems before summer kicks in–which is good. I don’t think residents expect miracles, but it’s a step. And I appreciate the residents who keep raising the issue. Redondo is an under-utilized asset for Des Moines. And getting it to be safe and quiet is the first step in making it more of a community draw. There was also a run-down on April 2021 Crime Statistics, which I know a lot of you are curious about.

Thursday: 6 May 2021 Regular City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video). I pulled Item #5 on the Consent Agenda, which was basically the go-ahead to start designing the land side redevelopment plan for the Marina. I then made a motion to postpone the vote to proceed for a month during which time I wanted the City to host a virtual Town Hall Meeting to explain the redevelopment plan and to take comment from the public. This caused a kerfuffle and I was (once again) muted by the Mayor for asking for a final twenty seconds to speak to the motion. That motion, buried inside the Consent Agenda, represented basically everything I think is wrong about the Marina Redevelopment. But at this point, at the very least, I don’t see why the meetings themselves have to be so fraught.

Edit: The discussion on Marina Redevelopment starts here and I hope you’ll watch through to the muting because there’s this whole thing about how ‘engagement’ there’s been over Marina Redevelopment and I’d like to hear your reaction to that. The City Manager knew ahead of time that I intended to pull the item and discuss it (because I wrote about it here) and so he engaged in a pre-emptive strike, telling the administration’s story of how we got to this point. And I think that, and my colleagues’ comments, speak for themselves. Their idea of ‘public engagement’ and mine are obviously quite different.

Two Times

We have this Council Rule #19, which no other City has, where a Councilmember is limited to speaking more than twice on any issue… and no more than four minutes. It was introduced at this meeting, right after CM Martinelli and I were elected in November 2019 (Start at about 1:53):

I hope you watch the discussion, while remembering that this was the last time the full Council met before the new rules were implemented. And if you’ve seen any meetings since then (where CM Martinelli and I are members) you’ll immediately notice the difference.

As you can see from this video, before the new rules, meetings were far more conversational. Now, meetings don’t even approach what might be characterized as a real discussion. Councilmembers now just say their bit, a vote is taken, and boom that’s it. In the past, I’ve railed at how the previous Councils voted in lockstep all the time, but at least there were occasional real discussions. Now, it’s not only performative, it’s basically 100% pro forma.

At that 14 November discussion, several Councilmembers do try to soften the harsh edges of some of the new rules. They express concerns over the time limits and getting to speak only twice. Mayor Pina calms those fears by saying how reasonable and flexible everyone is going to be.

So much for flexibility. 😀

Personality or process?

There is this totally false narrative that somehow Councilmember Martinelli and I are to blame for the lack of harmony. Those meetings ran better (so the story goes) because that Council were more cooperative. In fact, it is these new rules, that the majority put in place at that meeting, that contribute to the bad environment. If you want proof, just attend any current Committee Meeting, where there are no such artificial limitations. There are few open hostilities and it’s mostly just down to business. And as soon as we start recording Committee Meetings, I’m sure more of you will be able to see what I’m saying. Fair process makes a difference.

I’m not saying that improved process will solve all problems. There is certainly personal animus on the Council right now. But these new rules are like itching powder that only exacerbate problems and I hope to convince my colleagues that it is in their best interest that they should all be rescinded. Because at the end of the day there are three facts:

  1. Whether Councilmembers speak twice or a hundred times, the majority still wins all the votes. These rules offer no political advantage.
  2. They do not speed up meetings (as was assumed.) No one wants to hear it, but our meetings are still, by a county mile, shorter than council meetings in other cities. And the only reason they ever went on in the past was because we had (sorry, guys but you know it’s true) some occasionally pretty windy speechifying from Councilmembers not named Harris or Martinelli.
  3. We have to work together. And given that fact, we shouldn’t have any rules that make the process any less pleasant than it needs to be. That’s in everybody’s interest.

Majoritarian… oh no, not another Civics lesson!

If I can accomplish only one thing in office to educate the public about our City it’s this: Council-Manager government (CMG), as we have in Des Moines, is 100% majoritarian.  The majority runs the table on everything, including the way meetings run, how much authority the City Manager or Mayor have. Everything.

So I never lay blame for the new rules or being muted or any of the crappy behavior solely at the Mayor’s feet. Again: it’s a majoritarian body. And since I joined the Council, every time something bad happens procedure-wise, none of my colleagues in that majority ever speaks up. Not once.

The incentives…

Unlike the State or Federal governments which you know a lot more about from civics class there is no ‘power sharing’ And there are zero ‘brakes’ or ‘veto points’ for the minority. CMG was designed that way. The base assumption is that in smaller towns most people will agree on things and so you want a system which gets things done with a minimum of fuss. And that creates certain incentives.

The first is that it gives a longstanding Council majority absolutely zero incentives to compromise, let alone collaborate. That’s why, sooner or later most cities with CMG devolve into blocs. The incentive to obtain a strong, single-minded majority is baked into the system.

Second, it encourages the City Manager to become a political actor–not to stay above the fray and avoid Council politics, but to actively and strongly align with the majority. Because that’s the most efficient way for the Executive to get things done. That’s not a slam against any individual. It’s just an incentive that all executives are subject to.

The counterbalance to these tendencies is, basically, good will–of the majority. Remember: the minority has no power! So everything, including the tone of the Council and any deference to opposing points of view on the Council depends entirely on the good will of the majority–and also, frankly, the ability of the City Manager to remain above that fray. It’s an honor system, pure and simple. And it’s asking an awful lot of people, even under the best of circumstances.

The Good Winner…

There is this huge thing in our culture about being a ‘good loser’. It’s one of the first things we teach our kids: how to lose gracefully. But what I’m trying to say to you is that Council-Manager government depends far more on ‘good winners’ to successfully represent the community.

Because that’s the thing: Even though everyone (including minority members) are elected by the same voters, if you’re in the Council majority, you win everything, all the time.

Think about that for a second: you’re in a softball league and you show up every two weeks already knowing the outcome of the game. Month after month or even year after year. That must feel pretty awesome if you’re on the winning side. But if yer not? Yeah, not so much.

So in my view, it just seems the gracious thing to do to treat the people who are inevitably going to be on the losing side with a measure of empathy and deference.

Seriously, under these circumstances who can more easily afford to be ‘big’ about things? The people who win every vote or those who always have to take it in the neck.

Two Times

Posted on Categories Uncategorized

We have this Council Rule #19, which no other City has, where a Councilmember is limited to speaking more than twice on any issue… and no more than four minutes. It was introduced at this meeting, right after CM Martinelli and I were elected in November 2019 (Start at about 1:53):

I hope you watch the discussion, while remembering that this was the last time the full Council met before the new rules were implemented. And if you’ve seen any meetings since then (where CM Martinelli and I are members) you’ll immediately notice the difference.

As you can see from this video, before the new rules, meetings were far more conversational. Now, meetings don’t even approach what might be characterized as a real discussion. Councilmembers now just say their bit, a vote is taken, and boom that’s it. In the past, I’ve railed at how the previous Councils voted in lockstep all the time, but at least there were occasional real discussions. Now, it’s not only performative, it’s basically 100% pro forma.

At that 14 November discussion, several Councilmembers do try to soften the harsh edges of some of the new rules. They express concerns over the time limits and getting to speak only twice. Mayor Pina calms those fears by saying how reasonable and flexible everyone is going to be.

So much for flexibility. 😀

Personality or process?

There is this totally false narrative that somehow Councilmember Martinelli and I are to blame for the lack of harmony. Those meetings ran better (so the story goes) because that Council were more cooperative. In fact, it is these new rules, that the majority put in place at that meeting, that contribute to the bad environment. If you want proof, just attend any current Committee Meeting, where there are no such artificial limitations. There are few open hostilities and it’s mostly just down to business. And as soon as we start recording Committee Meetings, I’m sure more of you will be able to see what I’m saying. Fair process makes a difference.

I’m not saying that improved process will solve all problems. There is certainly personal animus on the Council right now. But these new rules are like itching powder that only exacerbate problems and I hope to convince my colleagues that it is in their best interest that they should all be rescinded. Because at the end of the day there are three facts:

  1. Whether Councilmembers speak twice or a hundred times, the majority still wins all the votes. These rules offer no political advantage.
  2. They do not speed up meetings (as was assumed.) No one wants to hear it, but our meetings are still, by a county mile, shorter than council meetings in other cities. And the only reason they ever went on in the past was because we had (sorry, guys but you know it’s true) some occasionally pretty windy speechifying from Councilmembers not named Harris or Martinelli.
  3. We have to work together. And given that fact, we shouldn’t have any rules that make the process any less pleasant than it needs to be. That’s in everybody’s interest.

Majoritarian… oh no, not another Civics lesson!

If I can accomplish only one thing in office to educate the public about our City it’s this: Council-Manager government (CMG), as we have in Des Moines, is 100% majoritarian.  The majority runs the table on everything, including the way meetings run, how much authority the City Manager or Mayor have. Everything.

So I never lay blame for the new rules or being muted or any of the crappy behavior solely at the Mayor’s feet. Again: it’s a majoritarian body. And since I joined the Council, every time something bad happens procedure-wise, none of my colleagues in that majority ever speaks up. Not once.

The incentives…

Unlike the State or Federal governments which you know a lot more about from civics class there is no ‘power sharing’ And there are zero ‘brakes’ or ‘veto points’ for the minority. CMG was designed that way. The base assumption is that in smaller towns most people will agree on things and so you want a system which gets things done with a minimum of fuss. And that creates certain incentives.

The first is that it gives a longstanding Council majority absolutely zero incentives to compromise, let alone collaborate. That’s why, sooner or later most cities with CMG devolve into blocs. The incentive to obtain a strong, single-minded majority is baked into the system.

Second, it encourages the City Manager to become a political actor–not to stay above the fray and avoid Council politics, but to actively and strongly align with the majority. Because that’s the most efficient way for the Executive to get things done. That’s not a slam against any individual. It’s just an incentive that all executives are subject to.

The counterbalance to these tendencies is, basically, good will–of the majority. Remember: the minority has no power! So everything, including the tone of the Council and any deference to opposing points of view on the Council depends entirely on the good will of the majority–and also, frankly, the ability of the City Manager to remain above that fray. It’s an honor system, pure and simple. And it’s asking an awful lot of people, even under the best of circumstances.

The Good Winner…

There is this huge thing in our culture about being a ‘good loser’. It’s one of the first things we teach our kids: how to lose gracefully. But what I’m trying to say to you is that Council-Manager government depends far more on ‘good winners’ to successfully represent the community.

Because that’s the thing: Even though everyone (including minority members) are elected by the same voters, if you’re in the Council majority, you win everything, all the time.

Think about that for a second: you’re in a softball league and you show up every two weeks already knowing the outcome of the game. Month after month or even year after year. That must feel pretty awesome if you’re on the winning side. But if yer not? Yeah, not so much.

So in my view, it just seems the gracious thing to do to treat the people who are inevitably going to be on the losing side with a measure of empathy and deference.

Seriously, under these circumstances who can more easily afford to be ‘big’ about things? The people who win every vote or those who always have to take it in the neck.

Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Wednesday: Sea-Tac Airport Round Table (StART).

Both of these were very consequential for Des Moines–especially if you’re concerned about Port Packages, the obvious recent uptick in flights from the airport, plans for a second airport (somewhere?) and what the cities are doing (or rather not doing) about the SAMP expansion. Unfortunately, I’ve run outta time here. More in a few days.

Saturday: I met with several residents and local business owners in Redondo. There is a general sense that the ‘hot rodding’ is an issue that is not going away. The City has taken a number of steps during April to provide an increased police presence but I think it’s fair to say that residents are looking for a more permanent strategy. The thing is: it is a tough nut to crack. As this article shows, cities like Kent have been trying for a looong time. I’ve gotten a zillion suggestions from residents and I honestly am not sure which, if any, are better than simply assigning an officer to the area. For example, I know a lot of you want ‘noise cameras’ and I know they’re being trialed in Australia and the U.K. but so far I can’t find a single place in the US that is actually making them work. If your googling skills are superior? Please let me know.

Sunday: I visited with Heather and Jessica at the new North Hill Community Market which you should definitely check out every Saturday and Sunday. What I like about their approach is that they’re not in any big rush. It will take time to make people aware that it’s there and to build a larger roster of vendors, but I’m sure it will happen. It’s a great location and there are lots of families on both sides of 1st Ave. that will find it fun and convenient.

This Week

Tuesday: King County Council (Agenda) will be voting to approve making aviation an official part of their climate and health action plan known as SCAP. This is a big deal as it ties in nicely with the airport communities’ shared efforts to monitor aviation emissions both indoors and outdoors.

Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda) There will be an update on ‘street racing’ and ‘street crimes’.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

I call your attention to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda, which is basically the go-ahead to start designing the land side redevelopment plan for the Marina.

Some really good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

If you’re 99% of Des Moines, you have no idea that the Marina Redevelopment is going on. Last month, the City asked for questions and comments from the public  which I urge you to read. But I am pretty sure you weren’t aware of that because the only outreach was in the form of flyers posted at the Marina and on the Marina’s web site. No outreach has been done for the residents of Des Moines.

Here is one question on that list, followed by the City’s response:

“I am a resident of Des Moines and to my knowledge there has not been a resident survey.”

You are correct. The residents do not pay for the Marina. While we would welcome their input, those who financially support the Marina enterprise fund is the top priority of the Master Plan.The City has held a number of community outreach meeting to help us understand the community’s desires for development options.

Let’s go back to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda (which I will be voting against.) Item #5 is to proceed with design and marketing of the land side redevelopment; not the Marina docks (ie. the moorage that boaters pay for–and the thing that actually needs fixing now.)

Get it? The only people the City reached out to for input on the land side were the boaters and the organizations already located at the Marina (SR3, Quarterdeck, CSR, Farmer’s Market.) Those existing stakeholders matter for sure. But let’s be clear: those are not the primary stakeholders of land side redevelopment. And neither are us boaters.

You, the residents of Des Moines, always have been and always will be the primary users of the Marina floor. And yet, you were not surveyed as to what you want for the future of the land side. There hasn’t even been a town hall to allow the public to weigh in.

The City is saying directly, “the residents of Des Moines are not a part of this decision making.” That is outrageous.

And about those stickers…

Now the last sentence of the response would seem to indicate otherwise–that the City has done ‘community outreach’. Yes, that did happen. Four years ago. In 2017.

And if you were one of the 300 or so people at that event in 2017, on the fancy Argosy boat, you were asked to provide your input on a number of ‘design options’ using colored stickers to indicate your preferred ideas. Supposedly this would help decide what design ideas should be implemented.

OK, let’s assume that input from 300 people, four years ago, using some stickers, constitutes ‘community outreach’ on the biggest public project in City history. I don’t, but if you want to understand how much all those stickers contributed to the current planning? I’ll make it simple: nothing. From what I can tell, the current design is exactly the same as the original renderings.

Sum it up…

Again, I encourage you to read those questions and answers because it captures perfectly what is wrong with the City’s approach. The City has had a plan for land side development in place for many years and they’re going ahead with it, full stop. There’s no interest in obtaining current community support and very little hard data to support many of the planning assumptions. That’s not my opinion; it says so right in the document.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why so many public projects like this can feel so ‘inevitable’. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s relatively easy to leave the public out of the process. But part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of things are hard to put into a sound bite. For example, I’ve had reporters ask me to give them a ‘twenty five words or less’ explanation of my objections to this process and I struggle. You need a certain amount of background to get it. This is as good as I can do for now. I know it’s an over-simplification, but you try to do better.

The docks (the waterside) are what needs fixing in about five years. But we blew all the money we set aside for updates so we can’t afford it. Now for many years, the City has had a plan to redo the land side, which is much more fun and will cost much less. So it is selling the idea that if we implement the land side plan now, it will somehow provide the ongoing revenues to pay for the docks later. In other words, we’re using the genuine urgency of the docks to ram through a decidedly non-urgent plan to redevelop the land side–with very little supporting data as to how much money it will bring in. A lot of the plan simply aligns with things that a small number of people have wanted for years rather than actual hard analysis.

Now, all that said, some of the individual ideas may well be very, very good. And I want to emphasize that. For example, the 223rd Steps portion makes perfect sense to me. Others, like a passenger ferry might be good ideas. But keep this in mind: the whole point is that all these ideas are supposed to pay for the docks. I am always skeptical when someone proposes that the things they already wanted to do perfectly align with the things that actually need to happen. And I think it would only make sense to get a second opinion from a completely independent source.

What keeps me up at night…

I’ll just close with the idea that keeps me up at night–and why I keep calling for more hard analysis and more community outreach before moving ahead:

In decades past, previous City Councils went all in on some ‘big ideas’ for ‘economic development’ that, in hindsight, now just seem like, What were they thinking? For Exhibit A I give you downtown Marine View Drive. Fifty years ago I’m sure that strip malls were a pretty easy sell for some developer. Now, we all have to live with those short sighted decisions.

I am all in favor of rebuilding the Marina, waterside and land side in a way that people fifty years from now will look back on with pride. The current plan has some ideas that may end up being great for Des Moines. But the process being employed to move them ahead is definitely not and I hope you will support me in my efforts to know a lot more before we plow ahead.

Some good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

Posted on Categories Marina

If you’re 99% of Des Moines, you have no idea that the Marina Redevelopment is going on. Last month, the City asked for questions and comments from the public  which I urge you to read. But I am pretty sure you weren’t aware of that because the only outreach was in the form of flyers posted at the Marina and on the Marina’s web site. No outreach has been done for the residents of Des Moines.

Here is one question on that list, followed by the City’s response:

“I am a resident of Des Moines and to my knowledge there has not been a resident survey.”

You are correct. The residents do not pay for the Marina. While we would welcome their input, those who financially support the Marina enterprise fund is the top priority of the Master Plan.The City has held a number of community outreach meeting to help us understand the community’s desires for development options.

Let’s go back to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda (which I will be voting against.) Item #5 is to proceed with design and marketing of the land side redevelopment; not the Marina docks (ie. the moorage that boaters pay for–and the thing that actually needs fixing now.)

Get it? The only people the City reached out to for input on the land side were the boaters and the organizations already located at the Marina (SR3, Quarterdeck, CSR, Farmer’s Market.) Those existing stakeholders matter for sure. But let’s be clear: those are not the primary stakeholders of land side redevelopment. And neither are us boaters.

You, the residents of Des Moines, always have been and always will be the primary users of the Marina floor. And yet, you were not surveyed as to what you want for the future of the land side. There hasn’t even been a town hall to allow the public to weigh in.

The City is saying directly, “the residents of Des Moines are not a part of this decision making.” That is outrageous.

And about those stickers…

Now the last sentence of the response would seem to indicate otherwise–that the City has done ‘community outreach’. Yes, that did happen. Four years ago. In 2017.

And if you were one of the 300 or so people at that event in 2017, on the fancy Argosy boat, you were asked to provide your input on a number of ‘design options’ using colored stickers to indicate your preferred ideas. Supposedly this would help decide what design ideas should be implemented.

OK, let’s assume that input from 300 people, four years ago, using some stickers, constitutes ‘community outreach’ on the biggest public project in City history. I don’t, but if you want to understand how much all those stickers contributed to the current planning? I’ll make it simple: nothing. From what I can tell, the current design is exactly the same as the original renderings.

Sum it up…

Again, I encourage you to read those questions and answers because it captures perfectly what is wrong with the City’s approach. The City has had a plan for land side development in place for many years and they’re going ahead with it, full stop. There’s no interest in obtaining current community support and very little hard data to support many of the planning assumptions. That’s not my opinion; it says so right in the document.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why so many public projects like this can feel so ‘inevitable’. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s relatively easy to leave the public out of the process. But part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of things are hard to put into a sound bite. For example, I’ve had reporters ask me to give them a ‘twenty five words or less’ explanation of my objections to this process and I struggle. You need a certain amount of background to get it. This is as good as I can do for now. I know it’s an over-simplification, but you try to do better.

The docks (the waterside) are what needs fixing in about five years. But we blew all the money we set aside for updates so we can’t afford it. Now for many years, the City has had a plan to redo the land side, which is much more fun and will cost much less. So it is selling the idea that if we implement the land side plan now, it will somehow provide the ongoing revenues to pay for the docks later. In other words, we’re using the genuine urgency of the docks to ram through a decidedly non-urgent plan to redevelop the land side–with very little supporting data as to how much money it will bring in. A lot of the plan simply aligns with things that a small number of people have wanted for years rather than actual hard analysis.

Now, all that said, some of the individual ideas may well be very, very good. And I want to emphasize that. For example, the 223rd Steps portion makes perfect sense to me. Others, like a passenger ferry might be good ideas. But keep this in mind: the whole point is that all these ideas are supposed to pay for the docks. I am always skeptical when someone proposes that the things they already wanted to do perfectly align with the things that actually need to happen. And I think it would only make sense to get a second opinion from a completely independent source.

What keeps me up at night…

I’ll just close with the idea that keeps me up at night–and why I keep calling for more hard analysis and more community outreach before moving ahead:

In decades past, previous City Councils went all in on some ‘big ideas’ for ‘economic development’ that, in hindsight, now just seem like, What were they thinking? For Exhibit A I give you downtown Marine View Drive. Fifty years ago I’m sure that strip malls were a pretty easy sell for some developer. Now, we all have to live with those short sighted decisions.

I am all in favor of rebuilding the Marina, waterside and land side in a way that people fifty years from now will look back on with pride. The current plan has some ideas that may end up being great for Des Moines. But the process being employed to move them ahead is definitely not and I hope you will support me in my efforts to know a lot more before we plow ahead.

Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There was a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment and and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment and an update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video The main order of business was something you did not see–an Executive Session involving an employee annual performance review. One is not allowed to discuss specifics of Executive Session, but there is only one employee that the Council reviews and it is the City Manager. And boy oh boy, I wish the public had seen it this discussion.

Century Agenda

I moved to amend the language on an item on the Consent Agenda involving a grant we received from the Port Of Seattle. The actual uses of the grant are fine. But I had a couple of problems with this thing: one having to do with process and the other with our City’s goals.

Process Matters

First: Our Council only sees grants after we win them and then legally the Council must vote to accept them. Our Council currently has no input in the application process or the language. So if one finds something objectionable in the grant, you’ve got two bad choices:

  • You can (maybe) go back to the grantor (the Port in this case) and beg them to redo the whole thing. That was the City Manager’s reply to my amendment.
  • Refuse the grant.

The City Manager was able to scoff at my amendment by ignoring the fact that there was no way for me to have objected earlier in the process. There should be at least some Council input on important grants during the application phase. The first time a Councilmember reads about the strings attached to a particular grant should not be at the acceptance phase.

Symbols Matter

In this case, the grant application mentioned that the City had previously shown it’s support for the Port’s Century Agenda–which is the Port’s list of big strategic objectives. Two of those goals are:

  • Double the number of international flights
  • Triple Air Cargo flights

Translation: More flights over Des Moines. More noise and more pollution. The official policy of Des Moines should never express alignment with those goals.

My objection to the language mentioning the Century Agenda was simple: it was unnecessary to obtaining the grant. All that was required was for the City to say that we were going to use the dough to increase tourism and economic development. Wonderful.

Hopefully, whoever filled out the form did it unintentionally–just to add a flourish to the application. But even if that is the case, it demonstrates a lack of policy.

Almost all arguments about not pushing back against the airport always come down to “We can’t do anything about it, so stop complaining!”

First of all, that’s untrue, but second and most important: symbols matter. Cities carefully structure the language of their official documents to show the public what they value–whether they can do anything about them or not. We discourage racism. We encourage various causes supporting the needs of women, children, seniors, veterans and many other constituencies. And we enact many proclamations to show our support of an array of goals where we in fact have no authority.

Now to effect any change, you need to start with simple, declarative sentences: This is what we want. How to achieve it comes later. But if you aren’t clear on where you want to go, you can never get there.

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

This year, the Port Of Seattle is beginning work on the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) a plan to dramatically expand the number of flights at Sea-Tac Airport that very few residents are aware of. Each of the surrounding Cities has been and will continue to engage with the Port on your behalf to minimize its environmental impacts.

Increasing the number of flights would be bad for our City in any number of ways (health, property values, quality of schools, etc.), while providing only token benefits (a very few jobs, small grants like this.) Those are inarguable facts and we need to start educating the public a lot better because I know a lot of you believe otherwise. And when we as a City do anything that sends  an ambiguous message, it calls into question what your City actually believes.

Removing that one sentence about the Century Agenda may seem ‘only symbolic’, but symbols matter. We can’t create good policy if we don’t have a clear message ourselves. The public is often (understandably) confused as to how the airport actually affects them.

The Port is very clear about what its objectives in relation to Des Moines. So we must be equally clear about our objectives in relation to the Port.

The Minority Report (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Councilmember Martinelli and my response to the State Of City presentation, published in the Waterland Blog last week.

This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

The Minority Report (Part 2 of 2: Policy)

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Engagement, Marina, Policy, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation
This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.

Challenges

In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.

Transportation

One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Posted on Categories Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
  2. Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
  3. Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: michellefawcett@comcast.net
  4. You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags  and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
  5. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  6. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  7. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  8. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd) No public agenda at deadline.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There will be a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Monday: I attended the King County International Airport Roundtable. No, it’s not Sea-Tac, but we share the same air space and we need to work together on reducing the noise and pollution.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission. I sent a letter on behalf of SeatacNoise.Info asking the Port to revise the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP) in light of COVID-19. It is short and if you are concerned about the airport, I hope you will read it.

Wednesday: A presentation of the Marina Redevelopment Plan to the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA). This will be their general membership’s first look at the proposal.

Thursday: I attended the Pacific Coast Congress Of Harbormasters Conference . The PCC is the big association that all west coast Marina’s belong to. Since this is our big marina re-development year, I thought it would be a good idea to check in and see what’s what.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Study Session (Agenda) The topic will be State Of The City. If you wanna bone up on that, you can look at the version presented by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor last November at the Des Moines Marina Association.

A few words on utility taxes…

If we were being practical, our Environment Committee might be renamed ‘The Storm Water Public Utility Committee’ because functionally that’s 90% of what it does. We tend to think of ‘utilities’ as being separate governmental entities, but they don’t have to be. A city can run its own utility and in fact we do. The Environment Committee acts much like the Commissioners at our respective Sewer and Water Districts. (It would be worth a think to run the Marina in this fashion as well, but I digress.)

I dislike utility taxes because they are regressive (bad for you) and terrible environmental policy (bad for the world.) And that is because utilities are priced mostly based on usage which means that everyone pays the same based on how much they use. That sounds fair but actually? Not so much.

Years ago we stopped taxing sales on food because we recognize that $100 of food to someone making $2o,000 a year is a completely different thing from $100 to a person making $200,000 a year. The way we tax utilities has exactly the same unfair impacts on people. Additionally, many utilities encourage wasteful use because you pay a fixed amount regardless of your impact to the system and to the environment.

We bill you for storm water based on just a few very broad sizes of your property. It’s based on the idea that wealthier people have bigger houses. But since there are so few rates, it ends up costing most people the same.

The Environment Committee is going to decide later this year whether or not to raise rates because, just like the Marina, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ that is at or nearing end of life and we need to set aside money to pay for it. We can keep rates as they are and kick the can down the road a few year or we can ask you to bite the bullet now to keep us on schedule.

This conversation would be much easier for me if rates were set more equitably. The problem is that the current system has no way to adjust based on ability to pay. The first thing that probably flashed into your mind is keying it to income. The reason that doesn’t fly in small cities is at least partly administrative, but also it rubs a lot of people the wrong way to start connecting one’s 1040 to their storm water bill–even if it would save them some money.

The biggest tool the current management used to get us out of debt was utility taxes. I understood the concept, but such taxes are addictive–once they get started Cities find them almost impossible to kick. But on the other hand, we do need a certain amount of revenue to pay the bills.

In my opinion, one long term goal should be to re-examine the way we pay for all utilities; not just storm water, but everything, including internet. Utilities, by definition are, like food, necessary items. The City needs enough money to provide these services, but we also need to find a pricing model that is based on how the world works now.

Council Meeting: State Of The City

Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video

See below.

The Minority Report (Part 1)

To the residents of the City Of Des Moines and to our colleagues on the City Council,

This letter is what would be called in State, Federal government, the Minority Report–the response from the party not in power to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. A minority report has become customary with the universal recognition that “State Of” speeches are largely political documents and do not provide an objective review of the strengths and weaknesses of the government. The Minority Report gives the public ‘the rest of the story’ and is an important part of a democratic process.

Many of us dislike thinking about ‘politics’ on our City Council. We don’t consider ourselves as part the ‘swamp’ often associated with state and federal legislatures. But politics is politics. The City Of Des Moines is a $100 million dollar corporation, with a complex government and the stakes are high. Especially in this election year where four seats and the majority are on the line.

We want to be thrifty with your time and attention so we’ll break this into two five minute reads: first politics, then policy.  Note that the majority took two hours to make their argument.

Thanks to our great staff!

First, we want to acknowledge that the presentation did contain some good information and we hope the entire public will watch it. Some of the items discussed are significant accomplishments. We supported these and actively contributed to several. It also highlighted some of the great work our staff is engaged in for all of us every day. We want to acknowledge their efforts and offer our deepest thanks.

A marketing presentation

However, this was unlike any ‘State Of’ speech  we have ever heard in that it was all positive and no negative. In fact it was simply a marketing presentation. Just to be clear: we always want to promote the legitimate accomplishments of our city to the greatest possible extent. However, there was not even a polite attempt to acknowledge any need for improvement or significant long-term risks. There are many of these and the public has a right to hear them discussed with candor.

No matter how glowing, every proper performance review includes that kind of discussion. It is one thing to put a positive spin on things, but a presentation called The State Of The City demands at least some sincere attempt be made to present a balanced picture.

Performance, not Study Session

If you do not regularly attend City Council Meetings you may have thought that the State Of The City presentation was the meeting. That is not accurate. This meeting was a Study Session, a legally separate type of Council meeting broken into two halves: learning followed by discussion.

But even if you knew that you still may have been confused because after a two hour presentation there was no discussion and not a single question. The reason for this, as you know from watching, is simple: the majority Councilmembers were also the presenters. (We wouldn’t have any questions either if we were actors in a scripted show!)

In short, this was not a Study Session it was a performance, pure and simple.

Public engagement…

Just as worrying, there was no comment from the public. The Mayor expressed amazement that no one had signed up to comment, at one of the most important meetings of the year, in one of the most important years in the City’s history. But he had no reason to be surprised: this lack of public participation has become the norm at all meetings and all forms of public engagement.

This lack of participation is partly a lack of awareness–and we can and should do a much better job of public outreach. The deeper problem is cynicism. Many of our residents now recognize from events like this that their voice is irrelevant. This combination of a lack of awareness and cynicism is toxic to good government.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable

The Mayor has repeatedly used the popular phrase ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ to express his laudable desire for a better working relationship on the Council. Perhaps it brings to mind something like this?

As we now know, many of the Founding Fathers actually hated one another. Somehow, they still managed to create the most enduring democracy in history.

It’s not quite as intense here. 😀 But historically, politics in Des Moines  has always been a bit messy–whether or not the public sees it. In every healthy government,  electeds will not agree on all things, all the time. And constructive disagreement can actually be a plus.

Though currently in the minority, a majority of voters elected us to represent you. So any presentation claiming to represent the State Of The City should contain our input.

Some improvements…

That said, we agree with the Mayor that we could work together more effectively and it is our hope to do so going forward. But doing so will require change, hard work and it will take time. We can begin by taking two small, but very significant steps towards making the State Of The City a much more balanced presentation.

  • First, these presentations should be developed with input from all seven Councilmembers; not only the majority. The last word may rest with the majority, but all voices should be given a meaningful place.
  • Second, if so desired, the minority should be provided an opportunity for a formal response. This could be given from the dais after the State Of The City or at the next City Council Meeting.

These changes are not about political ‘fairness’. The public needs to receive a balanced picture of our City.  But including the entire Council in this process and allowing for a minority response  would also send a powerful message to residents that their Council can work together and ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticism but a simple and practical suggestion for improving our government and making your City better. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

The Minority Report (Part 1 of 2: Politics)

Posted on Categories Policy, Transparency1 Comment on The Minority Report (Part 1 of 2: Politics)
To the residents of the City Of Des Moines and to our colleagues on the City Council,

This letter is what would be called in State, Federal government, the Minority Report–the response from the party not in power to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. A minority report has become customary with the universal recognition that “State Of” speeches are largely political documents and do not provide an objective review of the strengths and weaknesses of the government. The Minority Report gives the public ‘the rest of the story’ and is an important part of a democratic process.

Many of us dislike thinking about ‘politics’ on our City Council. We don’t consider ourselves as part the ‘swamp’ often associated with state and federal legislatures. But politics is politics. The City Of Des Moines is a $100 million dollar corporation, with a complex government and the stakes are high. Especially in this election year where four seats and the majority are on the line.

We want to be thrifty with your time and attention so we’ll break this into two five minute reads: first politics, then policy.  Note that the majority took two hours to make their argument.

Thanks to our great staff!

First, we want to acknowledge that the presentation did contain some good information and we hope the entire public will watch it. Some of the items discussed are significant accomplishments. We supported these and actively contributed to several. It also highlighted some of the great work our staff is engaged in for all of us every day. We want to acknowledge their efforts and offer our deepest thanks.

A marketing presentation

However, this was unlike any ‘State Of’ speech  we have ever heard in that it was all positive and no negative. In fact it was simply a marketing presentation. Just to be clear: we always want to promote the legitimate accomplishments of our city to the greatest possible extent. However, there was not even a polite attempt to acknowledge any need for improvement or significant long-term risks. There are many of these and the public has a right to hear them discussed with candor.

No matter how glowing, every proper performance review includes that kind of discussion. It is one thing to put a positive spin on things, but a presentation called The State Of The City demands at least some sincere attempt be made to present a balanced picture.

Performance, not Study Session

If you do not regularly attend City Council Meetings you may have thought that the State Of The City presentation was the meeting. That is not accurate. This meeting was a Study Session, a legally separate type of Council meeting broken into two halves: learning followed by discussion.

But even if you knew that you still may have been confused because after a two hour presentation there was no discussion and not a single question. The reason for this, as you know from watching, is simple: the majority Councilmembers were also the presenters. (We wouldn’t have any questions either if we were actors in a scripted show!)

In short, this was not a Study Session it was a performance, pure and simple.

Public engagement…

Just as worrying, there was no comment from the public. The Mayor expressed amazement that no one had signed up to comment, at one of the most important meetings of the year, in one of the most important years in the City’s history. But he had no reason to be surprised: this lack of public participation has become the norm at all meetings and all forms of public engagement.

This lack of participation is partly a lack of awareness–and we can and should do a much better job of public outreach. The deeper problem is cynicism. Many of our residents now recognize from events like this that their voice is irrelevant. This combination of a lack of awareness and cynicism is toxic to good government.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable

The Mayor has repeatedly used the popular phrase ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ to express his laudable desire for a better working relationship on the Council. Perhaps it brings to mind something like this?

As we now know, many of the Founding Fathers actually hated one another. Somehow, they still managed to create the most enduring democracy in history.

It’s not quite as intense here. 😀 But historically, politics in Des Moines  has always been a bit messy–whether or not the public sees it. In every healthy government,  electeds will not agree on all things, all the time. And constructive disagreement can actually be a plus.

Though currently in the minority, a majority of voters elected us to represent you. So any presentation claiming to represent the State Of The City should contain our input.

Some improvements…

That said, we agree with the Mayor that we could work together more effectively and it is our hope to do so going forward. But doing so will require change, hard work and it will take time. We can begin by taking two small, but very significant steps towards making the State Of The City a much more balanced presentation.

  • First, these presentations should be developed with input from all seven Councilmembers; not only the majority. The last word may rest with the majority, but all voices should be given a meaningful place.
  • Second, if so desired, the minority should be provided an opportunity for a formal response. This could be given from the dais after the State Of The City or at the next City Council Meeting.

These changes are not about political ‘fairness’. The public needs to receive a balanced picture of our City.  But including the entire Council in this process and allowing for a minority response  would also send a powerful message to residents that their Council can work together and ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticism but a simple and practical suggestion for improving our government and making your City better. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli