Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday: North Hill Community Club Candidate’s Forum

Wednesday: Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Tina Orwall

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting

Friday: Ultra-Fine Particulate Advisory Group

Last Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment. Over 300 people signed up for this first of four sessions. Only a few were from our area.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment)  I provided public comment in support of restoring the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. I am shocked that the District cut the program as it provides wonderful opportunities for hands-on learning. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) (Video) There was a discussion of the Draft Body Camera Policy. This is everything I love and hate about Des Moines politics. Councilmember Martinelli rightly brings up the idea that there are all these “may” instead of “will” throughout the document. Eg. “The officer may turn off the device when…” The officer may turn on the device when…” And Councilmember Bangs is just scrupulous in digging into the document and asking to see examples from other cities. Well done. Love it!

My problem… and the reason I did not vote to approve Body Cameras originally was that all this should have been resolved before we approved them. I have no problem with Body Cameras. I do have a problem with “We’ll fix it in the mix.”

We’ll Fix It In The Mix

When I was a musician (back in the Dark Ages), if you did a recording session you basically got it right the first time or you were never called again. There was an expectation that the recording session was about 95% finished product. The recording engineer might do a few tweaks but it was quite common for a recording I did to get on the air within a day or two.

Nowadays, you’ll hear about artists taking years to do a record and a lot of it comes down to the phrase “we’ll fix it in the mix.” As the recording technology improved, it became possible to completely re-shape any performance. Not just bad notes, I mean the entire performance. Even before  the Internet, the recording industry was falling apart because albums were taking too damned long.  And part of it was simply that musicians got out of the habit of “play it right the first time”.

In the case of Body Cameras, they’ve been on the horizon for a couple of years. It’s great that Councilmember Martinelli pushed for them, but they would’ve shown up here eventually either way. We could afford to be patient. Now when the Council approved the plan the initial  price was estimated at $140,000. After the initial ‘beta’ it suddenly became $190,000. Now as of September 16 it’s $250,000. And we also approved it without having the policy that’s being debated now. (And another that is not being debated involving how long the police can hold onto recordings.) But regardless, we’re going live January 1, 2022. That go live date puts pressure on everyone to “get ‘er done.”

I wish we could simply do it right before voting for things because in the end it saves time and money. And if you’re looking for another practical example, think about our Marina Paid Parking. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, even though the discussion got dragged out over years, the actual implementation was super-hasty. And the resulting implementation was, well, you know… (We’re supposedly looking for another vendor and will come back to it in 2022.)

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) The Budget Presentation turned out to be about sixty seconds. The City Manager announced that he would be delivering the budget the next day. Here it is. This is a pattern. Deliver the document after the meeting to shorten the decision making window. How do I know it’s a pattern? Here’s how.  At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money on September 16 with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Stay In Your Lane

During my comment period, I went off into one of my rambles about Clair Patterson that evoke much eye rolling. The general notion being, even among people who voted for me that, “Hey dude, we need more < fill in the blank>, OK? Please just focus on that.” Got it.

And my (somewhat defensive) reply is, if you look across the board on the number of practical things I work on every week, I think you’d be surprised. But look, there are only so many hours in the week. And a bunch of people are engaged on various ‘traditional’ issues. That’s why there are seven of us. Each of us has issues they like to tackle and I let them do it. They do just fine without me. 😀

But nobody else works the issues I do. They just don’t. Or rather, they work them in the conventional ways that do not work. (Sorry, guys.) They stay in their lane as the saying goes.

Many of our government institutions go back 100 years. Counties. Cities. School Boards. The Port Of Seattle. They were designed for a completely different world. You don’t have to be some management genius to see that a lot of these systems no longer work very well in today’s world. For example, the reason we get screwed over and over by the airport is because, if you follow the rules, they lead to you getting screwed. There is no ‘lane’ that leads to a city like Des Moines having good results on airport issues.

Somebody has to do something different.

Clair Patterson

When anyone tries to describe Clair Patterson, they tend to use words like ‘oddball’ and ‘crank’. That’s the easy part. He seemed to be OCD in the way he scrubbed his lab, the way he punished his students for lapses in cleanliness and the absolutely insane lengths he went to collect data. But now everyone cleans their labs to that standard and everyone understands that climbing to the top of mountains and going into submarines was the only way to collect the data he needed. People only remember the cranky and forget that he was just doing what was needed to get the job done.

The wonderfulness of his accomplishments are harder to describe. Basically? He figured out a way to collect data on the levels of lead in the environment over time. (Because I’m old, I’m hearing Archie Bunker right now saying, “Whoop De Doo, Edith.”)

Since the Romans, people had known that lead was bad for you. People used to die all the time from lead poisoning–without even knowing it. We now know that people on the entire planet were at least 5 points lower on the IQ scale as a direct result of constant exposure to lead. We just didn’t know it until Clair Patterson came along.

As far back as the 1800’s chemists realized that lead does for most products what salt does for food–it makes pretty much every modern product somehow better. So very quickly it ended up being used in everything from paint to plastics to gasoline.

By the 1950’s so much lead had built up in the world that you could not measure it accurately because it was everywhere from the tallest mountains down into the oceans! The reason he went to the tops of mountains and down in submarines is because those were the only places on the entire planet where he could measure what lead levels were like 100 years ago. He needed to establish a starting point–what life was like before human beings started pumping lead into everything.

It took him decades to figure out how to determine how much lead people (especially kids) were being exposed to. Because without knowing that, you could never determine the effects of lead.

Unfortunately, he could never get money to do that on his own. His idea that we weren’t measuring lead accurately seemed so nutty nobody would give him money, so he was always inventing cockamamie side-projects which just happened to allow him a chance to do what he really wanted to do: measure lead. 😀 And since lead was so important to commerce, there was no great desire on the part of any business to find out about any possible health problems.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, lead was so useful to commerce that it was worth five IQ points and thousands of deaths every year. That was the cost/benefit trade-off.

When Dr. Patterson’s work was finally recognised, it made the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) possible. That was how NEPA was originally sold : the “get the lead out bill”. Removing lead was its driving purpose because he proved that it was the single worst environmental contaminant in human history. And the fact that you don’t know any of this, shows how well it worked. But in 1973 there was so much lead everywhere that the idea of removing itfrom the world was considered almost impossible. (It’s worth reminding people who are concerned about Climate Change that we have done many ‘impossible’ things before.)

No Data. No problem.

There is this maxim in government, “No data. No problem.” If you don’t have legit data, you can’t get any legislation passed. No matter how much people cry and scream, without accurate data, you will not get anything addressed, from a traffic intersection to removing lead from the environment.

Currently there is no good system in place for managing aviation emissions. And that is because there is no good system in place for measuring aviation emissions.

See where I’m going with this now?

Now here’s the maddening part: There is currently no agency you can go to and say, “We need a system for measuring aviation emissions around Sea-Tac Airport”. And the reason there is no agency like that is because… wait for it…

There is no local agency that has the authority to regulate aviation emissions.

Get it?

So.. if you want to know about aviation emissions, you have to do it yourself. You cannot “stay in your lane.”

Somebody has to start measuring aviation emissions, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, every year, just as we now do for water. And I don’t care if that’s in my lane or not. We should’ve started decades ago, but better late than never. It needs to happen and if you wait for Congress or the FAA, you’re gonna be waiting for a mighty long time.

Ongoing concerns

Residents have been complaining about an increased incidence of various types of cancers and other health effects around Sea-Tac Airport since the 70’s. Citizen groups even self-funded studies to get to the cause. But the lack of ongoing data collection made it impossible to determine what was going on. A single one-off study just couldn’t do it.

Currently, all we know is this: Every time we do another one-off study, we find more correlations between certain health problems and aviation. These are not causalities, but they are suspicious. So the goal should be to do ongoing measurements, starting now.

Clair Patterson performed truly back-breaking work in order to gain historical evidence of lead exposure from the past to the present. You cannot do that with aviation emissions. You have to start doing ongoing data collection and move forward in order to see the patterns. And it just seems ridiculous to me that main reason we haven’t mustered the will to do something so basic to scientific inquiry is because there are no current regulations. By that standard, Clair Patterson would never have done what he did. Because when he got started the prevailing wisdom was, “Well, since there’s no law regulating lead, I guess there’s no need to measure it. Sure glad I didn’t waste my time on that!”

A gift to the future

The point is this: Ongoing air quality monitoring isn’t about today. It’s a gift to the future. If we start today, we give scientists and electeds the tools they need five years from now. But every year we delay measuring, just puts off any possibility of regulation. Every year we delay puts off research on public health one more year. Every year we delay gives the airline industry one more year to get away with not paying what they owe.

Summary

If you don’t see me at a ribbon cutting or speaking up about some more ‘normal’ City Council issue, don’t think I don’t care about it. I know you care about public safety. I know you care about after school events. And parks. And roads. Me too.

But somebody also has to work long game issues like air quality monitoring. I’ve only got so much space every week to talk about the stuff I do and I’d rather use that time to talk about things other people do not.

And if you want to give me a call some time to discuss boat launches or police or permits or chicken ordinances? Pretty much any day of the week I’m here at 10:00AM. 🙂

Comments to the Highline School Board in support of Design/Engineering at Pacific Middle School

Posted on Categories NeighborhoodsTags , , 1 Comment on Comments to the Highline School Board in support of Design/Engineering at Pacific Middle School

This is a lightly edited version of my comments to the School Board on October 6, 2021. At that meeting I urged the School Board to restore the wonderful Design/Engineering program at Pacific Middle School, which had been cut at the last minute. My prepared remarks were about ‘equity’ and ‘the importance of the program to Des Moines’ and all that big picture jazz. But upon entering the meeting, I saw a big sign “Name Strength And Need”–the HSD motto. And after hearing a string of parents commenting on what a difference the program had made for their kids I realised that was the wrong approach and that instead my comments should focus on strength and need. Design/Engineering maps far better to the strengths of certain types of people. And it definitely fulfills an unmet need for hands-on learning. So I was basically winging it. 😀 I took this text from a transcription they do in real-time at the meeting. Here is a link to the original recording. And below is a 2020 City Council Meeting where the Design/Engineering Students present their Future Cities project.

Good evening. My name is JC Harris. I am a member of the Des Moines city council, but I’m just here tonight as me. And I’m about to improvise based on what I heard, so forgive me.

I’m from Ireland. I came to America with about a year left in high school. And there’s a point here. Things did not go well. So I quit. But it was my good fortune to go to trade school, and it was inspiring and transformative for me. And eventually that led to my going to college and obtaining a Masters of Science and Engineering. Thank you, State of Michigan.

And the reason I told you that is we have this kind of bias in American education where you go through the process–and I guess, the goal culminates in college. But if you find any aspect of it challenging, it seems that the preferred remediation is to double down on the very things that you are not finding thrilling to begin with.

OK. Thank God I found a venue for hands-on learning. And it changed my life. But it should not be the case that you have to wait until you’re eighteen or some random luck for that chance. Design engineering program has the same transformative power which changed my life. It changes people.

And the reason I told you I’m on the Des Moines city council is because it is one of the joys everyone looks forward to in joining the Council. Every February, you’re going to get to see that Future Cities presentation. And you can just see– I can–how those kids are heading in the right direction. You just go, “Wow, Yeah. This is going to turn out good.”

I did a little bit of research, because I am that kind of bloodless engineer guy, before coming here. And I could not find any kind of outcome research.
I respond to budgets, and not tears. It’s a tough thing you do (deciding what to keep and what to cut). But I’m just going to suggest to you that making decisions based on head counts, and moving these pieces around, and cost control. Not having that outcome data is preventing you from making
the right decision. Because the truth is that design and engineering has a greater transformative potential than any of the more immediately popular programs.

OK. So the right question to ask is, how many lives are changed? You know what I mean? When these kids get to be 35 and 40. I can just tell you it’s probably more than some of the remaining electives. So if you’re really talking about equity, think about it in terms of, “Yeah, it cost us these dollars and so forth. But this number of people turned out to be engineers and plumbers and so on…”

Because it doesn’t have to be a college thing. Success is success. That  is the power of the program.

I avoided talking about the equity and the importance of Pacific Middle School to Des Moines (as I intended) and all of that because, as I listened to other speakers I realized that success is all that matters.

You should restore the program. But you should also consider your successors into the future. Spend a few bucks and start capturing that outcome data. Because I’m pretty sure the program would have sold itself if you’d had that information.

Thank you. And by the way. As a fellow part time elected, bless you. The public cannot understand. So Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Environment, Public Safety, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment.

Wednesday: Highline School Board Meeting. (Agenda/Comment) Or call (206) 631-3070 I will be providing public comment in order to restore the much loved MS/Design Engineering program at Pacific Middle School. Here is an example of a presentation they do annually before City Council as part of the Washington State Future Cities competition.

Thursday: Public Safety Meeting (Agenda) The key items will be a discussion of the Body Camera Policy and the recent shooting on Pacific Highway.

Thursday:  City Council Meeting (Agenda) This will be the first presentation of our 2022 Budget. It’s October and the City Council has received almost no financial information about the health of the City. At our ‘Budget Retreat’ (which was back in August) we received no numbers–it was all anecdotal. We spent our ARPA money at the last meeting with no context as to the current state of the City’s finance. If I sound snippy? GOOD.

Physics For Poets

Back in the day, us ‘science’ students used to call this approach “Physics For Poets”. At least where I went to university, there were always intro-level classes that attempted to explain things like Special Relativity or Calculus but without, you know, numbers? And they were highly popular with students of the Humanities. And in fact, these philosophy and anthropology majors would try to tell us that we were all haughty jerks because ‘all that math’ really wasn’t necessary. They understood things just fine. Why were we always making things so difficult. And we’d be like, “No, you don’t get it. The numbers are the real thing. All those entertaining anecdotes are useless in solving real world problems.” But they would go away very satisfied and continue to think we were jerks who would never get a date. Which was true. But regardless, the numbers really are the thing. Because without them, you can’t really know what is going on.

If you wish to provide oral public comment please complete the council comment form

Saturday: Sonju Park Cleanup

Saturday: 11:00AM McSorley Park Salmon Counting Training

Last Week

Tuesday: Police Advisory Committee. No, Hell has not frozen over. Out of the blue, Chief Thomas called me with an invite. I have no idea if that was a one-off or not. But apparently this was a ‘special’ meeting concerning the recent shooting at La Familia. There were several interesting things for me which I won’t comment on now.

But for what it’s worth, there were no ‘revelations’ regarding that tragic event. And from what I can tell, that incident isn’t really about ‘police’. By the time the police were called, the shooting was over. (Think about that for a minute.) The real problem started long before that particular event.

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Video)  Mayor Pina was absent, but Deputy Mayor Mahoney and I soldiered on with a review of the Capital Improvements Projects. Quick review: We have a Transportation Improvements Plan (TIP) and then a Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). The TIP is aspirational. It lists all the identified needs in order of priority. But the CIP contains projects we’ve actually budgeted for–so those are real; we’re doing them. Sometimes, I ask rhetorical questions, in the vain hope that someone might be watching and take note. In this case, I kept homping on about how unpredictable these projects can. One factor is that we have so many partners–utility companies, etc. And coordinating their schedules and tasks is hard. Another is the fact that underground maps are so unreliable. It’s fascinating (or annoying) to me that with any project, they start digging and always find something unexpected.

A couple of quick notes:

  • The ‘Downtown Alley Project’ (between 225th and 227th) is supposedly getting paved by November. It will be tight to beat the cold weather. The above issues are key factors in why it takes forever to do any of that work. And it’s going to end up being a simple repave.
  • When it is rebuilt, the 216th Bridge over I-5 will be reduced to one lane for about a year. It will not shut down completely as the rumour goes.
  • The earlier drawings I showed you for the Redondo Fishing Pier are off the table. The Puyallup Tribe has insisted on a fully grated walkway (which lets more light down to the fish). No examples yet.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Video) Again, always good to review, our “Environment Committee” is really a “Storm Water Utility”. It should be an ‘environment’ committee, but for now, it is what it is. We had an update from our consultants on a couple of things:

  • There are new rules from Ecology that ask businesses to do a better job of waste water management. The problem has always been–how to do it and how hard to lean on businesses to do it. Our small businesses are burdened with ‘stuff to do’, but this has got to be taken more seriously.
  • The State is now mandating “inter-disciplinary” requirements in planning. This relates to my proposal to hire an Environmental Strategist. The State now recognises that all departments need to coordinate on every project so that environmental goals are considered at every stage. Apparently there is some formal process–which may just mean more paperwork. But the goal is absolutely correct. If we want to maintain tree cover, improve water quality, etc., do better on airport issues, those considerations have to become a meaningful part of every stage of every project–and not just some afterthought. More below.
  • The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing storm water rates. The consultants recommended that we stretch our 2021-2026 projects out to 2029, take $100k out of our General Fund every year, and raise your rates an average of $.75 a month. I reluctantly went along with that because Councilmember Bangs was absent and it woulda been a needless argument with the Mayor.

Four notes from two meetings

When I decided to run I spoke with some people I know on other Councils and they asked me “What do you want to do?” And I’m like, “I want to bring some oversight to the Council, baby!” And of course they laughed in my face. Because this is not As well they should have. What I was told was that the only way that works is if you can somehow get several people on the Council at the same time who also care. Which is hard. If you go it alone basically everyone will resent you because this is not academia. City Council incentivises for a lack of oversight.

But with all that self-pity, this is #328 on my list of things I wish more CMs took more of an interest in. Routine oversight.

A tale of two projects

Moving onto that Downtown Alley Project. Remember when the City sold the idea of transforming that road into a “Post Alley”? You know, to “drive economic development”? Of course you don’t; that’s ancient history (2017).  😀 But, like everything else, we sell stuff like that hard. Your City Council took multiple tours of Seattle to see ‘possibilities’. We were serious about it.

As of 2021, we’ve budgeted $540,000 dollars for that project, mostly to “underground” all the utilities. Undergrounding costs a fortune and it was not even a requirement for that project. But remember we’re doing it to “drive economic development.” And that is a bit confusing because, again, so far it’s just a simple repave in a commercial alley. The only foreseeable benefit (beyond an absence of potholes in an alley) will be unobstructed views for tenants above the new theatre. Could just be a coincidence, but I hope they appreciate it.

Now, let’s take a look at the 24th Avenue Schools project. That project did mandate undergrounding. In fact, according to our municipal code, all new road projects like that must be undergrounded. But you’ll be pleased to know that your City Council (well, most of us) voted to override that requirement in order to save the taxpayers $300,000. I hope you appreciate it.

Storm Water Rates and the price of a  latte

As I said, we discussed your storm water rates at the Environment Committee Meeting. But the consultants actually presented two rate plans.

  • The recommended plan takes the critical projects originally on the board for 2021-2026, stretches them out to 2029, takes $100k out of our General Fund every year and raises your rates an average of $.75 a month.
  • Then there is a not recommended plan, which fully funds the critical projects on the board for 2021-2026, takes no money from the General Fund, and raises your rates an average of $2.00 a month. Again, that is the not recommended plan.

From one point of view, those consultants are some swell guys. They’re keeping your taxes low. Thank you consultant guys!

From another point of view, we’re taking $900,000 from our General Fund to save homeowners an average of $15 a year. Which is $1.25 a month. We’re also betting that we won’t have any more Woodmont Landslides (price tag $251,000) between 2027 and 2029.

Annexation City

The motto for Des Moines could well be “Annexation City” We started as eighteen blocks in 1959 and just kept adding neighbourhoods every few years until we kinda ran out of space in 1996. (Ironically, the one annexation opportunity we avoided? SeaTac Airport. No kidding. The one actual moneymaker coulda been ours. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Anyhoo, all kidding aside, various neighbourhoods did not vote to become part of our fair city out of some deep passion for “Des Moines”. Most people just wanted better services for less money. King County storm water rates are always high because they know that the pipes are old and they budgeted for replacing them. So one of the things people voted for was to avoid paying for that. King County was only too happy to pass the bill onto us. But now that bill is coming due and if you look at the meeting video, our rates are now approaching King County. How about that.

Enterprise Fund

Now, as a quick review we finance Storm Water, like the Marina, as an Enterprise Fund–meaning that it is supposed to be self-funded. The whole point of an Enterprise Fund is to pay for itself. Using the The General Fund defeats the whole purpose for reasons we’ll get to in two paragraphs.

But you don’t care about that. You want your taxes low. Same reason you wanted to be annexed. OK, setting aside all that “good government” crap, I hear you. But I gotta say, as benefits go that’s might picayune. A buck twenty five a month? As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.

For the price of a latté

As the Mayor rightly pointed out. It’s less than a half a latté. A month. Not even a good latté.  This reminds me of all those charity ads you see on TV. “For the price of a latté you could help a child in need.” Absolutely true. You could help a child in need right here in Des Moines.

$900k is real money  that could be spent on something else. It’s a police officer. A road project. A park. At our last Spending Fiasco (aka the September 16th City Council Meeting) we voted to spend $100k of that juicy one-time ARPA money to increase our Human Services budget which has never gotten above $175,000 a year. What a bunch of great humanitarians we are ! This $900k would double that bonus. And for nine years.

Finally, at the risk of being Mr. Crankypants… is it just me, or do those “100 year events” now seem to happen every third Tuesday? I have no way of knowing when the next land slide happens but I’m not certain it’s going to wait for 2029.

Oversight and why I hate everybody who doesn’t get it

Dr. King used to say, and it never gets old, “Budgets are moral documents”. Meaning that people can say whatever they want, but they are what they are willing to spend money on.

When it comes to the Downtown Alley, we chose to spend a substantial and totally optional amount of money on a project which does not meet the stated goal. At the same time, we chose to avoid following our own ordinance when it came to providing the same benefit to school children. We worked really hard to do both things. That is who we really are.

(Also: You know those tours of Seattle I mentioned? That is the reason a fresh batch of stomach acid moves up into my throat every time I hear about another “Successful step towards a ferry!” It’s a pattern, folks. People here just lose their minds at every “economic development opportunity” because no one steps up to say, “Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before?”)

Same thing with the storm water. When it’s City money? We spend $900k in order to save ratepayers $1.25 a month. The only reason we were so generous in spending that ARPA money on human services is because it was someone else’s money.

You feel me on this? People can say whatever they want. But they are what they spend money on. And we value your $1.25 a month, dear rate payer, enough to kick the can down the road three years on critical infrastructure. We value the views from those new apartments more than school children.

The OG conservative…

Those choices seem wasteful and do not accord with my values. But the only reason I can comment is because I am aware that there are reasonable choices. Here are specific and better ways to spend the money we already have. That’s OG conservative, baby.

But I do not want to sound like I am singling out my current colleagues. Very few of our Councilmembers ever cared about oversight. Currently, our books are balanced and our reserve is healthy. Previous Councils often did not do that. You can do nothing if you don’t have any money.

What is absolutely maddening to me is when the public (and my colleagues) say, “We should spend more on whatever” while having absolutely no clue how to pay for it. People always assume that we can just “shift” money from “extravagant salaries” or some “non-essential program” and presto-change-o! Ten police officers! or A Community Center! or whatever magically appears out of thin air. We can’t. There is no frickin’ money. And people who say there is are “Physics For Poets”. They either do not understand the numbers or are just shilling for some candidate. Either way,  I pray every night that they would stop doing it.

Grants and fish food

For years I’ve heard candidates go on about “We need more grants!” I did it myself because… well… we kinda do, but for another reason. But in general, grants are like sprinkling fish food into the tank. All the little fishies are competing for the same sprinkles. The only way to get off that treadmill is by either a) getting more structural revenue or b) doing better oversight.

Why?

We never do oversight. We always take the consultant or staff recommendation. It’s to the point that they get annoyed if anyone even suggests doing otherwise. We’ve all trained one another not to do it.

Traditionally, councilmembers avoid oversight because:

  • They actually do agree with the recommended policy
  • They fear offending the very people they’re supposed to be overseeing
  • They operate on blind trust (hey, it’s not my money.)
  • They don’t know what questions to ask (awkward)

I have no idea what is in anyone’s heart. Maybe all my colleagues do agree with every recommendation. Fine.

But if you want to do something different? You have to have the ability to recognise the alternatives and the will to push back. There’s never any need to be mean. But you  can’t save money using some Ninja charm schools skills, either..

Practicality…

The reason I think more people don’t care about oversight is, ironically, because they somehow associate the term with ‘corruption’. I think people cynically assume, to one degree or another “the fix is in” and “You can’t fight City Hall.” Like dandruff… not life-threatening, but sort of inevitable.

The funny thing is that, in my opinion, oversight is mostly not about that at all. It’s mainly about letting you do more with what you have. I identified $1,200,000 in two one hour meetings that I’m pretty sure I could convince voters could be spent better.

You know how hard it is to get $1,200,000 in grants these days? To paraphrase the immortal words of Carol Burnett in describing childbirth:

Getting $1,200,000 in grants is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.

But I’m telling ya’, dear reader. Swear to God. There are opportunities like this at almost every meeting.

Summary

The law says that a councilmember has two essential functions: legislation and oversight. We almost never talk about oversight. I went through all this to demonstrate that oversight not only has practical value, it probably has far more practical value than legislation because, frankly, councilmembers do not do much routine ‘legislating’. Our biggest opportunities are often in figuring out ways to save money, not spend it.

My point is that at our last Spending Fiasco nobody else pushed back. And we should have because, as my old accounting prof told me way back in 1372,

When you misspend a dollar, you’re actually losing two dollars: the dollar you burned and the dollar you could have spent on something useful.

Spending money is a lot more fun for everyone–especially when it’s not your money. And oversight is work. So recognise that it’s up to you to demand that of candidates and electeds. Because the default position is always going to be to spend, not necessarily spend well.

But if you’ve ever been one of those people who wondered “Why is Des Moines the way it is?” That is the reason.

Frankly, it’s a lot to expect of part time legislators in a small town. But that’s your job. You, dear voter, have to expect better.

Weekly Update: 09/19/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines Meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

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

Good morning.

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

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

Some stats…

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

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

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

For example…

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

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

The small town problem…

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

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

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

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

The Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval…

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

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

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

The cure…

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

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

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

Who knew, right?

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

Thank you.

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

Environmental Strategist

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment1 Comment on Environmental Strategist

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

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

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

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

Not one, three ARPA airport Proposals…

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

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

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

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

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

And my second answer is this:

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

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

Instead, let’s start with two simple premises:

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

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

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

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

Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

Posted on Categories Transparency1 Comment on Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

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

Good morning.

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

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

Some stats…

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

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

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

For example…

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

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

The small town problem…

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

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

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

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

The Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval…

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

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

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

The cure…

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

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

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

Who knew, right?

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

Thank you.

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

Weekly Update: 09/06/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week

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

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

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

Happy Labor Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 08/29/2021

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

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

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

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. The deadline to register to vote online is October 25. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations.

  2. Wednesday October 13, 6PM Aviation Town Hall with Rep. Adam Smith and 33rd District Sen. Karen Keiser and Rep. Tina Orwall!

  3. Wednesday October 13, 7PM On-Line Candidate Forum hosted by Yoshiko Grace Matsui and Jayme Quinn Wagner! (and to prep, you can watch last month’s Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce Candidate Forum!)

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

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

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pretend…

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Organisised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the long term…

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

You can’t handle the truth…

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

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

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

One minor detail…

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


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

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