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.
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.
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:
- Develop a strategic approach towards all negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.
- Educate the public and improve awareness to build regional support
- Act as legislative advocate on all related legislation.
- Identify and develop grant funding both for this department, but also to create mitigation programs that benefit the entire community.
- Organize other governments and organizations towards coordinated and strategic responses.
- 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:
- Promote Des Moines businesses, both locally and regionally
- Assist new business formation and existing business relocation to Des Moines
- Use a dedicated fund to provide start-up money as needed
- 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:
- 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:
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
#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.”
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.