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

Why candidates don’t care about the airport

Posted on Categories Airport, CampaigningLeave a comment on Why candidates don’t care about the airport

There’s no way around talking about problems without hurting feelings. I am always sorry.

On July 21, Sheila Brush posted the following in the Des Moines Community Action Network Facebook Group (DMCAN), which she created.

Now the same people who were facilitating the Burien Forum had told me months ago that they would be happy to do the same for Des Moines at no cost. (I had first researched the idea because CM Martinelli had suggested doing a Town Hall in March.) So the logistics were ready to go. Obviously it would be unethical for me to organise such an event so when I read this post I immediately contacted Admins of the various Des Moines Facebook pages (including DMCAN) and passed my contact info along to see if they would take it from there.

B-Town Coverage Of Airport

In the meantime, The B-Town Blog did another, very good article, asking each candidate for a statement on airport issues:

Questioning Burien’s City Council Candidates Part 5: How should the city approach the airport’s growth plans?

Here is a link to the full discussion. And here is a screen capture screen capture in case you’re not a member of the group.

And a couple of people, including Sheila replied:

“Majority Tone Deaf.” and “Sad, but true. Ironic how certain political issues fire people up, and most others leave them uninterested.”

And I hate that kind of comment. Because it’s simply not true. So I wrote the following reply:

This is long and it's gonna be painful. But I believe it's worth studying carefully. I was willing to work pretty hard to get elected based on this. READ FIRST BEFORE WATCHING VIDEO... won't make sense otherwise. Also, I get yelled at for 'all complaint no solution.' There is a short, simple solution, but one has to first be willing to acknowledge the validity of the complaint.

Candidates and electeds are not tone deaf. Or uninterested. Local electeds are part-timers and most are extremely well-meaning people who want to do the right thing. Some may be against your idea, but most people want to try to do something about the airport.
However, politicians are generally not subject matter experts. And they have, even at a local level, a STUNNING range of complicated stuff they're supposed to vote on like they know what they're talking about.

They come into their campaigns with personal biases and are usually total numbskulls on complex policy issues--and the airport is the Queen Mary of complex policy. They depend on guidance, which in this case either comes from the Port or trusted advocacy groups like this. They need, at most, 400 words on the subject. And they rarely get it. So they scan all this 'stuff' and try to draw some conclusions.
If you put the entirety of this forum through a lexical analyser the output would have five main themes:
1. The public complains incessantly about the noise, the pollution. Noise and Pollution are what they truly care about.
2. However, any meaningful relief on noise and pollution is only at the federal level. And even then, it's many years, probably decades away.
3. We need a second airport--but that too will take so long and be so far away that it will never provide relief on Noise and Pollution for people here.
4. So overall, the public is essentially powerless on the issues they truly care about (Noise and Pollution).
5. The only meaningful discussion at the local level involves side issues like: "health studies", "filters" and occasionally "trees" or -maybe-... "sound insulation". Nice, but none of these affect operations.

Now, those are themes--not objective reality. But they -are- what this page -says-.

BIG REVEAL: Those themes completely MATCH the essential messaging of the Port Of Seattle. The Port sincerely agrees with all of that. And they have legit evidence that they agree with all of that--a Legislative Agenda that they spend real money to pursue. Like it or not, and whether people realise it or not, to the novice, this page largely agrees with the essential messaging of the Port Of Seattle lobbyist. Everyone knows their lobbyists, and they seem to sincerely believe they are doing their best. They are convincing. My former Mayor is one of them (more on that later.)
So if candidates and electeds are not particularly jazzed about the airport (or environmental issues writ large), that is the reason.
It's worse than that, in fact. This page has told them that the above agenda (which requires no effort or study on their part btw), is the -only- reasonable approach. Just by looking at the text of this page over 4 years, this page lavishly praises and supports the few people working on hepa filters and trees and parks and glide slopes. It ignores or heavily criticises the one local elected who believes in working locally to reduce noise and pollution and GHG--the things that the public -truly- cares about. (that would be moi.)

Remember: candidates generally only care about what they think their voters truly care about. I know what voters truly care about in Des Moines because I doorbelled every inch of my City in 2019. Trees? fine. Filters? OK. Glide slope? Whatever. What they are willing to actually vote for are candidates with some balls concerning NOISE AND POLLUTION. Everything else? Meh. Whether they should or not is irrelevant. That is what they care about. And those 5 themes are not worth their vote the moment they realise that they are mostly aspirational.

To demonstrate my points: here is a short discussion of the Des Moines City Council to leave StART in 2019. The actual issue is irrelevant. It's the attitude that matters. And if you don't know any better EVERYTHING the Councilmembers say sounds like they are 100% committed to fighting the SAMP!

Now, some quick background: I ran for City Council in Des Moines for one basic reason: because the City Council's outrage bore no relationship to their policies. At that time, the City had an Aviation Advisory Committee, peopled by leadership of Quiet Skies (including Sheila Brush)--which sounds wonderful, right? However, the actual City Council and City Manager were (and are) 100% pro-Port. So, you have the City totally pursuing pro-Port policies, while -saying- in public tough anti-expansion bullshit like this video. And the public believed it because they trust Quiet Skies so much.

Now here's my dilemma: the Cities were first informed about the SAMP in 2012. I hired a lawyer to walk me through the process. It takes years to effectively prep if you actually want to be effective on something this scale. Following the process with patience (as the Mayor says in the video) is the total sucker move and in fact, no one succeeds who simply 'follows the process'. And by that time, both the City and the QSPS people already hated my guts.
So I reasoned that the only chance in hell to actually -do- something about the SAMP was to start my own process: replace the City Council, hopefully with people that would be willing to listen to another POV.... and hopefully before the train had left the station.
So I ran. And it sucked... because I was running not just against these pro-Port Councilmembers, I was also, in a very real sense, running against Quiet Skies. But I had no choice--the City was using QSPS to cover the fact that they had no intention of handling the SAMP (or Port expansion in general) in anything other than a total 'pro-growth' manner. Eg, I would doorbell people, with Quiet Skies yard signs no less, and they would swear that my opponent (a Port employee, btw) 'is working with Quiet Skies. You're lying, JC!' Hoo boy.

So given all these considerations...
1. Some of the most complex policy imaginable,
2. The Port's agenda looks a lot like this page in the broad strokes.
3. That agenda does -not- seem to address what voters care enough about to vote on (Noise and Pollution)
4, Our local politics has more layers than a spy novel.

Showing disappointment at candidates (or electeds) is ridiculous. It's -not- their fault.

The messaging is confusing and does not seem to address what voters actually demand. And the few genuine activists don't work well together. Why -should- any candidate get near this beyond a few sympathetic words and the Port's aspirational leg. agenda?

AND PS: Lest you think this is me slagging on QSPS or my colleagues on the City Council, I could do a dozen versions of this about other 'issues' and 'personalities'... I used -me- simply to avoid mentioning anyone else. But this sort of crap is -really- what has prevented progress on the airport---not so much the legalities that everyone bitches about. It's a bit like COVID---you'd -think- that there would be issues so intense that people would rise above. But... ?


And then this to a commenter located in California:

I have never felt like things were hopeless. Rather, I see a series of the same mistakes over and over and over... The only 'hopeless' factor is sort of like COVID--but again, that's self-inflicted.

And I'll just close by noting this: the fact that you (or anyone thousands of miles away) can comment on local politics says to -me- that everyone thinks that local politics is irrelevant--we're all screwed no matter where we live or what we do. That is the sense I get from talking with people all over the country.

So again: why -should- local politicians engage on those terms?

I reject the whole 'it's all at the federal level' assumptions not only because they are not accurate, but also because they are not helpful. You cannot have politicians or the public willing to fight meaningfully on an issue if you yourself do not believe that they can make a real difference.
Best.

Here’s how ya know…

OK, ya know how I know that neither electeds, candidates or activists really care about this issue? Because that article is about Burien and most of the QSPS people live in a very small area of south Des Moines and Federal Way along the track of the Third Runway.

Wanna know how much political coverage… of any kind… there was been in Des Moines for the entire Primary Season? Here it is.  A very enterprising woman organised a candidates forum for one Condo building. In Redondo. So all the questions related to the interests of those few residents.

But still, that Candidate Forum was excellent. Despite the limited range of questions, every person I’ve spoken with who watched them said that they gave the public a tremendous amount of insight into each of the candidates.

Quick Recap…

Now remember: On July 21, I contacted the various admins of Des Moines Facebook pages and offered them a way to get a candidates forum going. I knew of at least two organisations who were willing to facilitate… and no one picked up the ball.

What did happen?

On July 28, Sheila Brush held a get together (fund raiser?) which included candidates Gene Achziger, Yoshiko Grace Matsui, Dave Upthegrove, Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck and Port Comission Candidate Hamdi Mohamed. Which is totally fine. But that is not the Candidate Forum she originally proposed.

Also, the unspoken message of this event is exactly as I complained in my Facebook comment on DMCAN: People in that video are cheering for Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, even though he has absolutely nothing specific to say other than the fact that he is with everyone in spirit. I like Peter as a person. But the Commission’s objective performance in doing anything Des Moines voters actually care about related to the airport? 1 Zero.

The City Council candidates generally know nothing about airport issues. But their takeaway is likely to be: get on stage with Port Commissioners, show support for Quiet Skies and… done. They have no other incentives to learn or to offer any proposals that the Port may disagree with. I’ll keep reiterating this: that is not their fault.

September…

Whenever anyone (well, me) complains about a lack of candidate forums before the Primary, there is always the excuse “We’ll do that in September.” OK, so what you’re saying is that the Primary doesn’t matter. And if you feel that way, you have no right to complain about low voter turnout.

You also have no right to complain about which candidates make it through to November.

The bottom line is that Burien does these events partly because Scott Schaefer (the publisher of the B-Town Blog and The Waterland Blog) lives in Burien. But part of it is the fact that people in Buren expect it and ask.

Why candidates are ‘tone deaf’

Airport issues are complex. Very few residents ask about it, partly because they haven’t been educated and partly because we’ve had over a decade of pro-Port government which has sold the notion that there is nothing we can do.

Candidates have almost no opportunities to speak to the public on anything. And apparently there are no civic-minded residents willing to organize candidate forums–even with Zoom!

And remember: candidates already come to the table with other issues they care far more about. So unless or until there is a mechanism that rewards candidates for doing more than getting on a stage with the Port Commissioners? Why should any candidate do more?


1In fairness, the Port recently announced that it was finally re-starting it’s Port Package sound insulation program–focusing on some largely BIPOC apartment buildings in Des Moines. It’s expensive and commendable. But it’s work that was left undone twenty years ago. And it has nothing to do with addressing the source of the problems: noise and pollution.

My six ARPA proposals

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Marina, Neighborhoods, Transportation1 Comment on My six ARPA proposals

Update 08/31/21: Since this original post, I have added two other proposals for a total of six. I’ve added them below.

As I said in the Christmas in July post on spending our $9M in stimulus money, after the July 22 City Council Meeting, Councilmembers were given an application by the City Manager to fill out potential programs for research.

As I wrote last Sunday, I’ve had lots of suggestions from very informed citizens. But I’ve had no blazing insights as to which ideas to put forward.

So far, I have submitted four ideas. I could’ve submitted dozens. What I submitted have the following shared features:

  • I think I know enough about the idea to know if it might work
  • I think the City has the ability to execute it’s part with excellence
  • Each is strategic, as opposed to short term relief
  • Each would improve the quality of life for most or all residents
  • Each would lead to ongoing sustainable economic benefit to the City

And just to be clear: based on everything I have learned thus far, the primary goal I have is: the City Of Des Moines needs more money. You can’t do anything the public wants if you don’t have the money.

Consolation prize

A few words as to why I did not prioritize other stuff.

First off, I had a slew of questions about almost every line item on the City Manager’s draft proposal. It’s exactly the kind of detail-free thing that drives me nuts. It’s like designed to mess with me. So as I said last Sunday, more than anything else, I would like to slow down the entire train. We have plenty of time to decide most (not all) of these things.

Second, all the suggestions I have received are wonderful. I’m not kidding. Some of these proposals are so detailed, I was thinking, “Man if I was still working, I’d want that person’s résumé” If it were appropriate, I’d share a few of your suggestions just to show you how thoughtful and civic-minded so many of our residents really are. And that’s the problem: there are so many equivalently wonderful ideas I have no way of deeming one better than the other. So I took the coward’s way out. 😀

Third–every corporation has core competencies; things it excels at and things it finds more challenging. For example, my experiences with EATS and GRO were not exactly great, so I’m not as jazzed to repeat those, unless I get assurances that they’ll be handled differently in REV 2.0.

Fourth–with regard to anything ‘human servicesy’, again, I just found a lot of ittoo vague. I’m happy to provide funding for programs that have demonstrable need and a proven track record. However, I’m very reluctant to talk about any new program that we might have to build from scratch (see EATS and GRO.) Again, you’d have to show me that they can be executed well. If that sounds like micro-managing? Sorry. I just can’t support a blank check made out to ‘Mental Health’ or whatever. This has nothing to do with my support for the issue. *I just want evidence.

And parenthetically–I have to point out something I’ve been grousing about since day one: the fact that all our Advisory Committees (especially our Human Services Advisory Committee–which is where the majority of our social services spending is generated) is something of a black box to me. The Council gets only a single annual report during budgeting season. I’ve asked for information and been denied. If Council could get more routine information about the programs they fund–I’d be thrilled to be more supportive. I just refuse to spend money without details. Which makes me heartless, of course. And cold. Probably cruel to small animals as well.

The proposals

And with all that build -up:

#1 ENVIRONMENTAL Strategist

As most of you know “the airport” was and is my issue. The Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) is here. People are often asking me “OK, what’s the answer?” This proposal is a big part of it. I would like the City to create a full-time position dedicated  to managing the negative impacts of Sea-Tac Airport. We’ve needed such a person since basically forever.

It’s one of the few ideas I’ll ever float that has some ‘what?’ factor. As far as I know, there is literally no person doing this job in the United States. But there should be.

People always complain that I’m gassing on, but there have been successes  in managing the airport, you know about them, you just don’t hear about them. (Until 1990, the airport literally dumped untreated waste directly into Des Moines Creek and Puget Sound.) But those successes have been epic and  inexpensive. They were also local talent and that was the key. Unfortunately, the only thing that ever got newspaper coverage seems to have been the truly spectacular wastes of money (eg. over $5.5M on Third Runway legal fees).

Anyhoo, I’m being a terrible tease and  I’ll come back to this another time. For now: the key mistake we always make is to outsource airport management–as a reaction to the Port. We hire outsiders from a small club of people inside the airline world, to come in, usually at the 11th hour. And that is why it is always unbelievably expensive and totally ineffective.

But among this person’s duties would be:

  1. Develop a strategic approach towards all negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.
  2. Educate the public and improve awareness to build regional support
  3. Act as legislative advocate on all related legislation.
  4. Identify and develop grant funding both for this department, but also to create mitigation programs that benefit the entire community.
  5. Organize other governments and organizations towards coordinated and strategic responses.
  6. Facilitate a new Council/Citizen Committee that can create legislation for the full Council.

This person needs to have a very specific set of skills: environmental law, communication, and the ability to grok airports. I’m asking for funding for three years as a proof of concept–and I’m applying the same standard our City Manager proposed when he accepted his job: if the work product isn’t paying for itself, it should be terminated.

The City Manager has chaired our Aviation Advisory Committee and currently represents the City on all airport-related groups. This person will take over that slot.

#2 DIRECTOR OF Business formation

I would like the City to create a dedicated business formation program. The program would initially consist of an FTE who’s job would be to:

  1. Promote Des Moines businesses, both locally and regionally
  2. Assist new business formation and existing business relocation to Des Moines
  3. Use a dedicated fund to provide start-up money as needed
  4. Provide ongoing surveys, events and other support services to help the business community support and grow their customer bases

Currently the City Manager also functions as Economic Development Director. But this is actually a very different job. The job of EDD is strategic planning–and in practice that has meant land development. But Des Moines also (and especially) needs someone to help the business owners. Years ago we had a Chamber Of Commerce but it was not particularly effective. This person will recruit promising businesses to locate here. When someone begins the process, this person will make it their mission to help them open and then thrive. To build their digital presence. To market. And to keep their finger on the pulse of every business and help raise their profile with media.

One of the first thing my critics often say about me is that I hate business. Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the Council who actually likes  running a business. I think we’ve often confused ‘building’ and ‘real estate’ as ‘business’. Construction is great. But a business–something that serves customers–is an ongoing process. A City that says it supports business should provide services that actually, you know, support business.

#3 Second metro shuttle

The Metro Shuttle that runs down 216th was a very good idea. Now let’s bring it to the rest of Des Moines. I propose to establish a second and permanent Metro Shuttle line for the south end of town with a route heading south from Marine View Drive and the Marina down to Judson, Huntington Park and Highline College. This will help us in our stated goals as a transit-centered community and it will help tie the south end of town into the downtown core–especially for our large senior community.

#4 Accelerated Marina Dock Replacement

I would like the City to research the possibilities of using as much of the $9M, up to the entire amount, to accelerate dock replacement. Not land side or restrooms. Just the docks.

I would like to research how much/if any cost savings, economic benefits or other advantages there might be in using all or a much larger portion of this money to complete multiple docks. Are there some docks we could use this money to replace now that would immediately start generating more revenue? If so, how much? How much borrowing costs would we save over the long haul?

If not the full $9M does $6M give significant benefits?  $4M? I’m trying to get a sense of what the relative benefits (if any) might be to each of these spending points.

#5 MARINA COMMUNITY OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS

The Marina Master Plan is very complex. The document is good, but it is very difficult for most people to visualize what the experience will be given so many various possibilities. Some of the options discussed compete for the same space. It is also challenging to understand many of the financial aspects, including revenue potential and costs.

It is essential to provide the public with a clear understanding of what this all might mean for the future of the Marina … and for them. To create that understanding, the City will immediately identify and engage with a specialist in creating media presentations to create a series of materials:

  1. A Virtual Tour Of The Marina. These are common in residential and commercial real estate. It would consist of a video animation allowing the viewer to “fly over and through” the area and explore what the Marina might look like from several perspectives (birds eye, street level pedestrian, etc.) The animation will demonstrate all aspects of the proposal in the document as far as they can currently be known. It might begin with a ‘before’ fly-over approaching the Marina entrance and showing how the Marina looks now and then transition to an ‘after’ fly-over showing the new elements. It could also give a visitor’s viewpoint taking walk though various features on the land side. The following list of elements to be included is by no means comprehensive but is provided to give a sense of scope:
    1. Waterside
      • The new covered moorage look
      • How guest moorage changes
      • Changes to the fairways
      • Possible Expansion of Ranger
      • A view of the APB from the docks
      • A ferry docking
      • Views of the various seawalls – most of the public never sees these and do not understand what it does or the challenges to wildlife. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife
    2. Landside
      • Hotel
      • Pedestrians moving from the ferry to parking
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the APB dry stack to the launch
      • Movement of boats going in and out of the east bank dry stack to the launch
      • A view from the condos looking down on the APB
      • Interiors of the APB with proposed uses
      • Pedestrians descending the 223rd stairs
      • A re-purposed harbormaster building
      • Parking flows
  2. A series of posters and hand outs, and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level , explaining the various environmental concerns: why permitting is so costly and so fraught. This is important to residents who want to have confidence that the rebuild is compatible with ongoing interest in wildlife.
  3. A series of posters, hand outs and web pages, crafted at a sixth grade level, explaining the costs, revenue forecasts, permitting challenges, how we intend to finance and also the appropriate uses of ongoing Marina money (eg. how an Enterprise Fund works.)

Important: All these materials will be updated as various elements of the project are approved and a complete set of all revisions will be maintained so that the public can see how the project evolves over time.

These materials will be created to be both self-standing, but also with a presenter in mind. The goal will be to support community meetings where experts from the City and its partners can use these to enhance their presentations and Q&A sessions with the public.

$20,000.

#6 FRIENDS OF SALTWATER STATE PARK WEB SITE

“The Friends Of Saltwater State Park are invaluable to the City and our residents through their efforts at park clean up, education and in monitoring the health of Puget Sound and the water quality at McSorley Creek. Their ongoing efforts to monitor and report spills from Midway Sewer District are much appreciated by our residents who feel safer knowing that they are watching. Their work also greatly enhances the value of the park as a tourist destination both at the water and on the forest trails.

Like many non-profits, FOSWSP struggles to attract volunteers and the donations necessary to provide these valuable benefits to Des Moines. To address these challenges, they are asking for our help to create a new web site to attract volunteers and donations. The new site will also provide educational opportunities and keep the public updated on the health of McSorley Creek, Puget Sound and the forest. Please see their attached proposal with details.”

Full proposal

$7,500

Summary: Tie it together

Look, I don’t know if any of this is going anywhere. But I’m sharing this with you because I honestly have never been clear as to the City’s strategy. We talk about the ‘Marina Redevelopment’ and other projects, but they always feel like separate and unrelated items. At the end of the day, Des Moines started out in 1959 as a very small city that grew by leaps and bounds with many small annexations. And in truth, the City still feels like all those separate ‘chunks’.

Part of that is just life. An administration is busy enough with the day to day stuff. But at some point we have to make real efforts to stamp Des Moines as a unified City. I’ve already suggested having unified branding across the City. Beyond that, we need to have a series of strategic goals that get beyond this project and that project–and finally gets us to being a unified city.


*Some day I’ll write an article on Detroit during the late 70’s. I’ll call it “How to waste half a billion dollars with only the best of intentions.” The City of Detroit went through a very long phase where it received absolutely lavish sums of Federal grants. And it just poured money into various social programs that were almost uniformly ineffective. But after so many decades of abject racism, questioning the effectiveness of any of these programs was politically impossible. Outcomes mattered far less than simply to appear to be trying. I still have a bad taste in my mouth thinking back on all the neighbourhoods that should have been helped.

Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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!

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

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

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

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

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

This Week

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

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

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

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

Some really good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And about those stickers…

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

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

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

Sum it up…

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

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

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

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

What keeps me up at night…

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates2 Comments on Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

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!

Last Week

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

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

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

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

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

Century Agenda

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

Process Matters

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

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

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

Symbols Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

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

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

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

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

The Minority Report (Part 2)

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

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

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

The big picture

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

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

Challenges

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

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

The Past 5 Years

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

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

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

Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

Public Safety

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

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

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

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

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

The Masonic Home

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

Sea-Tac Airport

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

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

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

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

In closing

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

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

The Minority Report (Part 2 of 2: Policy)

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

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

The big picture

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

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

Challenges

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

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

The Past 5 Years

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

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

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

Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

Public Safety

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

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

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

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

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

The Masonic Home

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

Sea-Tac Airport

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

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

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

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

In closing

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

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 02/14/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Environment, Transparency, Weekly Updates4 Comments on Weekly Update: 02/14/2021

This is a long one and a late one. Sorry. Last week was action-packed! 😀

Public Service Announcements

  1. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  2. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  3. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  4. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  8. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  9. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

  1. Tuesday: It’s time to set up the Coho Pen at the Marina to help with the next batch of hatchery fish. Wanna help out? Be there at 9AM!
  2. Tuesday: I’ll be attending the Water District #54 Board Meeting. FYI: Their water source is the giant water tower next to the Police Station. It’s one of the very last un-chlorinated well-water sources left in the State Of Washington. 🙂
  3. Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines!
  4. Thursday: 3:00PM Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  5. Thursday: 4:00PM Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  6. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

  1. Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). This is one of those ‘details’ that you should care about. The Port is purchasing the 14 acres of wooded area next to the Des Moines Creek Business Park for the purpose of adding more warehouses.  I wrote the following letter to the Port Commissioners in support of doing something to help maintain the environment. Let’s be honest: this means more cargo. Which means more air traffic over Des Moines. My colleagues on the Council have publicly stated that they are all-in on this development. It’s shameful. Those will likely not be Des Moines jobs. But this will definitely add to the noise, traffic and pollution.Many of you have complained to me about the Port once again behaving badl. But actually, the City Of Des Moines was offered a chance to buy the land at least three years ago. Instead, we chose to let the Port have it because the current administration think the Business Park is a fantastic thing and wants it to be expanded. I disagree. In my view, a City has an obligation to take control of as much land as possible–that is the only way that we have a say in how it’s developed. Through the decades, Des Moines has made the same mistake over and over: give up prime land to developers with no real long-term planning. That’s why we have housing where a downtown should be and strip malls where housing should’ve been built.
  2. Wednesday & Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities Action Days. I attended this last year as a noobie and found it very useful. (I actually scored a private five with Jay Inslee. No selfie or pen. 🙁 😉 )
  3. Wednesday was also the Des Moines Marina Association Meeting (Agenda). The good news is that we’re finally moving ahead with fixing the north bulk head!
  4. Thursday: Public Safety Committee (Agenda). I think the most noteworthy item was that the entire meeting lasted a whopping 22 minutes. The fact that these meetings are so damned perfunctory should matter. It’s not like there aren’t public safety issues to work on, right?
  5. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (City Clerk’s Recap) (Video)
  6. Saturday: 30th District Democrats Town Hall (Video). Whether you’re a Democrat or not, all four of our legislators in the south end are Democrats so this was a chance to hear their views on current legislation in Olympia. Good info on the Redondo Pier, policing, economic recovery for Des Moines.

My Council Meeting Highlights…

  1. We’re now (finally) moving ahead with repairing the North Bulkhead. That is great news for the safety of the Marina. I’ll be kinda honest that I’ve had a certain left-handed relief at the delays because I have reservations as to the Administration’s plans for re-development. One note: in order to get the permits to do this, we’re going to pay $344,000 into a credit system, where we are contributing to another environmental program up north in Everett. Apparently this is much less expensive than re-designing the project to meet the NMFS standards. What is frustrating is that this system is unbelievably complex. So I have no idea if the re-design would be the more environmentally responsible thing to do.
  2. Speaking of which, this is coming to 216th. It is a sky bridge that will connect the new Wesley buildings on either side. I’ll be candid: you know how much I care about the needs of Seniors. But I cannot tell you how much I dislike this thing. If it gets built, I am about 100% certain that it will go down in history as being about as good for the City as the strip mall designs on Marine View Drive.

OK, there was one other highlight…

If you go to about 2:00 into the video and look at my comments. I made a motion from the dais to make the following official City policy:

Meetings of all statutory boards and commissions and Council citizen advisory bodies shall be open to any member of the City Council.

This was based on something I’ve mentioned here (and to several of my colleagues about privately). Basically, I have been repeatedly refused entry to the Chief’s Police Advisory Committee Meeting.

Now at the most basic level the job of CM is oversight. You can’t oversee if you can’t watch. And besides, this is a citizen meeting. It’s not like some secret executive session. So what exactly is there that needs to be private?

Where’s the pants on fire emoji?

The first thing I want to explain, by way of backstory is this that several of my colleagues fibbed. Sorry, but there’s no gentle way to say it. They refused to discuss the merits of this issue (which are indefensible) because they claimed they had no idea what was going on. (How dare you spring this on us, Councilmember Harris?) This is simply untrue. I have raised this issue either in writing and/or in person with most of my colleagues. My hope was to address this privately so as not to bring attention to the Chief. But they made that impossible by failing to respond.

Rules are so boring

Second of all, you may find this a bit dull, but it matters: Instead of dealing with the actual issue, the Mayor and City Attorney decided to tell me that I was in violation of parliamentary procedure. They quoted Rule 9 of our Rules Of Procedure saying that you can’t make a motion from the dais. Even though several of us (including myself on multiple occasions) have done so just this year.

And speaking of parliamentary procedure, CM Buxton suggested we go to Executive Session to work this out. But instead of making a motion and get a vote from the group (that’s the correct procedure), the Mayor simply remarked, “We’re not doing that…” And everyone just went along with it.

So there was not just one, but several breakdowns in parliamentary procedure. And no one ever speaks up.

The bottom line is this: the majority changed the Council Rules at the last meeting of 2019 in order to make life as difficult as possible for CM Martinelli and myself (we have restrictions that literally no other city in the area has.) But occasionally, a loophole does make itself known. And when it does, the Mayor simply ‘rules’ and the group goes along. Rules be damned.

Yeah, it really is as bad as that

What frustrates me most  is that these violations of procedure are so undemocratic. The few of you who watch the meetings don’t know this because it all appears to be ‘normal’. So I’m sure I will be accused of whining about nothing. But this is definitely not nothing.

I cringed when he said it, but Councilmember Martinelli was actually 100% correct when he described the majority as engaging in discrimination. Absolutely. I mean, what else would you call the following:

  • Being denied access to city-sponsored meetings?
  • Being prevented from asking questions of staff or obtaining any research?
  • Failure to respond to phone calls and emails by both the Chief and the City Manager for eleven months?
  • Being prevented from bringing any item to a meeting agenda?

Discrimination is exactly the word for it. It’s the City Council version of a poll tax. It’s a coordinated plan by the majority to ensure that a minority that they dislike is completely shut out from any meaningful opportunities.

But it’s not illegal

However, Mr. Martinelli was incorrect about one thing. There is no risk of a lawsuit. All this is as perfectly legal as the crappy way the political parties behave in the other Washington. The RCW makes it very clear that there is only one remedy: elections.

As I keep saying, almost all the day to day procedures of Council/Manager government are ruled by ‘social norms’. If the City Manager and/or Council majority want to treat a Councilmember badly, there are really no guard rails in law. As with Federal government, the management of poor governance, almost no matter how egregious is the ballot box.

So what is a politician’s promise worth?

Do I wish there were some sort of rules of ethics codified in State law? For sure. But unfortunately, the reason there aren’t is for the same reason that there aren’t such rules at the Federal level. The rules that are so unethical and shameful when one is in the minority suddenly became pretty darned handy once one gains control. As they say: Payback is a bitch.

But assuming there is a change in the balance of the Council during my tenure, I pledge to do something to meaningfully address these problems. At the very least, we can revise our Rules Of Procedure to be more in line with the best practices recommended by *MRSC and Jurassic Parliament. And you have it here in writing to hold me to it. 🙂

*Whenever you read something about parliamentary procedure here it’s usually sourced from these two places. They provide the recommended training courses for Councilmembers.

Weekly Update: 01/03/2021

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Weekly Updates6 Comments on Weekly Update: 01/03/2021

Happy New Year!

I’ve been on the job for one year. And frankly, it’s sometimes hard to tell how I’m doing–especially being in the minority, where one rarely wins the day. But perhaps one metric is this mailing list. Like so many things during the pandemic, it went up, down and sideways. But most weeks I got over 500 views. That’s either a lot of love or a lot of the other thing. 😀 But either way I got people talking.  I am very grateful for all the feedback.

2021 will be a big year for Des Moines. Once we get past this little pandemic-speed bump thing there will be an election for four Council seats. (not mine, Thank God. 😀 ) So I hope you’ll stay engaged and start making yourself heard!

Public Service Announcements

  1. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”

This Week

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

The highlight (as of this writing) will be something you don’t get to see: an Executive Session regarding the Masonic Home. And yeah, we’re starting the year the way we ended last year: I have been admonished by our City Attorney against speaking up in support of saving the place. Way to go First Amendment. NOT! 😀

I am not a fan of Executive Sessions–except to say that they are the only place I ever get to talk to my colleagues in any meaningful way.

The City (for the 46th time in 2020) stonewalled my basic requests for information on the Masonic Home. All the info that I (and CM Buxton) requested, which should be 100% public, has to (unnecessarily) wait for an Executive Session. I hope there is some seriously juicy info that I don’t know about which explains the lack of action over the past 10+ years. But for now, it just seems like another bit of vindictive behavior towards a Councilmember and that should not thrill you.

Last Two Weeks

Or: “How I spent my holidays.” 😀

Grand Theft Auto

First, my car was stolen from a well-lit public place. But the good news is that I got a first hand experience of the Des Moines PD handling car theft. The DM Officers were courteous as expected, but there were a few hiccoughs that other residents have told me about that I hope we can work on soon.

  • I got transferred 3xs during the 911 hand-offs. There are ongoing glitches in the whole 911 system. It’s not our City’s ‘fault’ per se, but it does need looking into as I hear this complaint from residents aaaaaaaaaall the time.
  • And I found out that if you want to get a routine copy of your police report, you have to make a public records request. My guess is that this confuses a lot of residents so I’d like to see a direct link on the PD page that says “Click here to get your police report.”
  • And in talking to both the police and residents and former police I get the distinct impression of “well, that’s life in 2021, whaddaya gonna do?” At the risk of sounding like ‘OK, Boomer’, I think we have to do something. It’s corrosive to the fabric of society to make what we used to call ‘grand theft auto’ into a collective shoulder shrug.

The Masonic Home

Second, I did spend a good deal of time researching the Masonic Home and I learned a few things: First, how totally aware the rest of Washington is about this building. I thought that at least a part of the reason it hadn’t been rescued was because no one else knows about it. Nope. Everybody at all levels of government and in philanthropy knows. And they want it to be saved. The message I heard over and over was that they’ve been waiting for our City to get fully engaged.

As I’ve written is at least part of the problem is philosophical. We have had an extremely strong tradition of property rights on our City Council, so no matter how special a building is, there will be lots of people who simply do not believe in the City getting involved. But the thing I want to stress is that no one I’ve spoken with wants anything but a healthy return for the current owner. Whatever solution that arises has to be a real win-win for all parties. And that shouldn’t be hard. There are many really great ideas for preserving the property and creating value for the owner.

The Airport and the water

Third, as you know, I’ve been continuing work on the History Of Sea-Tac Airport project with SeatacNoise.Info. Over the holidays, I did a ton of digging into the earliest days of Sea-Tac Airport–even before the big change of 1961. Now this whole ‘history’ game is not easy work because obviously, a lot of people are now gone. Also there’s the pandemic, so getting access to paper records is problematic.

This is Sea-Tac Airport c. 1948. The ‘x’ pattern is the original two runways. Shortly after Des Moines incorporated in 1959 the angled runway was removed and the horizontal runway was lengthened into what is now the First (east) runway–the one which tracks directly over so many of our schools on 24th. That was the ‘big change’.

I put this up because, if you’re under seventy-ish you probably don’t realize how much the entire landscape of our area has changed.  There was a marvelous wetland system that surrounded the airport (including underneath what are now the second and third runways.) There were houses and forests and active creeks with lots of fish from the back end on 188th all the way south to 216th.

Which is my way of leading up to telling you just how awful the Port (and the airlines) treated the surrounding environment until at least the 1970’s. But back then the issue was not so much noise or air pollution but water. For decades the airlines dumped raw aviation waste directly into every major creek as well as Puget Sound. One property owner famously demonstrated the problem by walking over to a rock in the north end of Des Moines Creek and setting it on fire with a lighted match! The damage the airport did to the entire eco-system is unbelievable and probably irreparable.

The Port has been successfully sued at least a dozen times to create and improve this state of affairs. In fact, those law suits over ‘water’ were the ones that held up Third Runway construction for over a decade; nothing to do with ‘noise’ or ‘air pollution’. Water. And the Port still hasn’t finished that clean up. Just this year they’re spending $800k to clean up Miller Creek in Burien. But that’s really just continuing to mitigate bad acts dating back to the 1950’s.

Other than giving you a sad story, the point for today has to do with expectations. See the Port is only paying to clean up that creek–nothing more. But when creeks die or the forests are cut down or homes are removed, it permanently damages the City. It reduces property values, increases our costs, makes our City less desirable, and it reduces our property tax rolls (which means we then have to tax you more to make up the lost income.)

Say I injured you in a car accident. You have surgery, but even after that you’ve got some permanent disability. I agree to pay for your surgery, but nothing else; nothing to help you deal with your ongoing problems, including permanent loss of income. Does that sound fair?

That has always been the essential problem with the airport–when it harms surrounding Cities it may pay the proximate costs (if one is willing to sue) but that is all. It never makes Cities whole by covering the true damages. And they can do that because, unlike other airports in America, we don’t own it. The Port does. And it is our failure, as airport communities, to have not fully recognized this inequity and done all we can to be fairly compensated.