Weekly Update: 10/10/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

Tuesday: North Hill Community Club Candidate’s Forum

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

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting

Friday: Ultra-Fine Particulate Advisory Group

Last Week

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

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

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

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

We’ll Fix It In The Mix

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

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

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

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

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

Stay In Your Lane

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

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

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

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

Somebody has to do something different.

Clair Patterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Data. No problem.

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

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

See where I’m going with this now?

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

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

Get it?

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

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

Ongoing concerns

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

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

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

A gift to the future

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

Summary

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 10/03/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: State Legislative Redistricting Public Comment.

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

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

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

Physics For Poets

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

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

Saturday: Sonju Park Cleanup

Saturday: 11:00AM McSorley Park Salmon Counting Training

Last Week

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

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

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

A couple of quick notes:

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

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

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

Four notes from two meetings

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

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

A tale of two projects

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

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

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

Storm Water Rates and the price of a  latte

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

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

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

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

Annexation City

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

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

Enterprise Fund

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

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

For the price of a latté

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The OG conservative…

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

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

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

Grants and fish food

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

Why?

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

Traditionally, councilmembers avoid oversight because:

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

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

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

Practicality…

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 08/08/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Transparency, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 08/08/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas!

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: A new slug of Port Package home owners have come on the radar.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda). Coincidentally, the Port will be giving an update on their Accelerated Port Package program from last February. The good news is that the Port is finally providing sound insulation to hundreds of untreated apartments in Des Moines–including several along Kent Des Moines Road. The bad news is that they have backtracked on their intent to provide updates per State Law HB2315 to existing homes that have experienced a range of problems–including structural damage.

Wednesday: Friends Of Saltwater Park meeting to discuss their long term plans. FOSP have become an important partner in monitoring the health of McSorley Creek and Puget Sound and we should support their efforts.

Thursday: Meeting (again) with Adam Smith’s office on federal grants for airport communities. This is one of this little ‘details’ that our City should be working on. Currently there is no FAA funding available directly to a city like Des Moines–you always have to go through the owner of the airport–which is the Port. That’s what makes it so hard for us to get any funding for studies or relief.

Friday: Several meetings with local groups on parks. I’ve received dozens of great suggestions for ARPA funding, but these are the first I’ve heard concerning parks–which is near and dear to my heart.

Last Week

Tuesday: Adam Smith. I keep pitching our the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal. Anything that gets any department or organization thinking about Zoom instead of getting on an unnecessary flight is worth doing. 🙂

Thursday: The Budget Retreat City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) This is the meeting that kicks off the only State-mandated process of a City Council: passing a budget. For decades that basically was the only function of most small town City Councils. There was a department by department presentation and there were many questions. Too much to include here. More soon…

Debt, Freedom, Vaccines and Stimulus…

Councilmembers routinely get anonymous emails advocating for some issue–often using hyperbolic language. I got one this week saying “Vaccine Mandates Are Slavery!”

To which I reply: No, dude. Slavery is slavery.

But OK, being told you have no choice to get a vaccine is, to some degree, a loss of freedom. I’m not trying to minimize people’s feelings on this.

Now: wanna know what else is not freedom? Crushing debt. Just ask anyone on the 2016 City Council. Owe enough money and you no longer get to choose anything. Debt can take away everything, including your City.

So I want to throw something out there about debt and the Pandemic and Stimulus. Aside from the deaths and illness, the damage COVID-19 has done in terms of lives, jobs, businesses, homes is historic. And that damage will not stop until everyone is vaccinated. And the kicker? Almost 100% of the suffering now is completely unnecessary. Every month people do not get vaccinated adds billions of dollars of long term debt and keeps millions of citizens in a state of constant anxiety. That is not freedom.

No matter how fast we ‘recover’, that debt has no reasonable expectation of being addressed in our lifetimes. We are simply moving those trillions of dollars of debt (and anxiety) onto future generations.

So any stimulus money the City Of Des Moines receives should not be thought of as Christmas In July… which I meant sarcastically. Rather, this $9M should be thought of more like a ginormous pay day loan that our grandchildren will be stuck with.

The last twenty years of federal debt

In 2000, the federal debt was $5.6 trillion. It is now over $26 trillion. And after this year’s ‘stimuli’ it will surely blow past $30 trillion.

Cumulative Federal Debt 2000 – 2020

Date Dollar Amount
09/30/2020 26,945,391,194,615.15
09/30/2019 22,719,401,753,433.78
09/30/2018 21,516,058,183,180.23
09/30/2017 20,244,900,016,053.51
09/30/2016 19,573,444,713,936.79
09/30/2015 18,150,617,666,484.33
09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32
09/30/2012 16,066,241,407,385.89
09/30/2011 14,790,340,328,557.15
09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

Many economists don’t worry about short term deficits. But no one can ignore such a vast amount of structural debt indefinitely.  Sooner or later the rent comes due. Just as it did for the City Of Des Moines five years ago.

Our grandchildren…

Future generations will rightly ask why we allowed the pandemic to drag on needlessly. They will wonder how the hell we could increase the national debt 600% in 20 years—and what we really got in return for all that spending. And my guess is that their resentment will be profound.

I know all that may seem high falutin’. People are suffering now. They want relief now. But I ran for office with the slogan, “I’ve lived here 25 years. And I want to make Des Moines even better for the next 25 years.” So the long term is also on my mind as I think about how we should spend our $9M share of stimulus money. The staggering amount of debt we are foisting on future generations obligates us to consider doing something really important with that check–for the future of Des Moines.

Debt, Freedom, Vaccines and Stimulus

Posted on Categories Economic Development

Councilmembers routinely get anonymous emails advocating for some issue–often using hyperbolic language. I got one this week saying “Vaccine Mandates Are Slavery!”

To which I reply: No, dude. Slavery is slavery.

But OK, being told you have no choice to get a vaccine is, to some degree, a loss of freedom. I’m not trying to minimize people’s feelings on this.

Now: wanna know what else is not freedom? Crushing debt. Just ask anyone on the 2016 City Council. Owe enough money and you no longer get to choose anything. Debt can take away everything, including your City.

So I want to throw something out there about debt and the Pandemic and Stimulus. Aside from the deaths and illness, the damage COVID-19 has done in terms of lives, jobs, businesses, homes is historic. And that damage will not stop until everyone is vaccinated. And the kicker? Almost 100% of the suffering now is completely unnecessary. Every month people do not get vaccinated adds billions of dollars of long term debt and keeps millions of citizens in a state of constant anxiety. That is not freedom.

No matter how fast we ‘recover’, that debt has no reasonable expectation of being addressed in our lifetimes. We are simply moving those trillions of dollars of debt (and anxiety) onto future generations.

So any stimulus money the City Of Des Moines receives should not be thought of as Christmas In July… which I meant sarcastically. Rather, this $9M should be thought of more like a ginormous pay day loan that our grandchildren will be stuck with.

The last twenty years of federal debt

In 2000, the federal debt was $5.6 trillion. It is now over $26 trillion. And after this year’s ‘stimuli’ it will surely blow past $30 trillion.

Cumulative Federal Debt 2000 – 2020

Date Dollar Amount
09/30/2020 26,945,391,194,615.15
09/30/2019 22,719,401,753,433.78
09/30/2018 21,516,058,183,180.23
09/30/2017 20,244,900,016,053.51
09/30/2016 19,573,444,713,936.79
09/30/2015 18,150,617,666,484.33
09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32
09/30/2012 16,066,241,407,385.89
09/30/2011 14,790,340,328,557.15
09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

Many economists don’t worry about short term deficits. But no one can ignore such a vast amount of structural debt indefinitely.  Sooner or later the rent comes due. Just as it did for the City Of Des Moines five years ago.

Our grandchildren…

Future generations will rightly ask why we allowed the pandemic to drag on needlessly. They will wonder how the hell we could increase the national debt 600% in 20 years—and what we really got in return for all that spending. And my guess is that their resentment will be profound.

I know all that may seem high falutin’. People are suffering now. They want relief now. But I ran for office with the slogan, “I’ve lived here 25 years. And I want to make Des Moines even better for the next 25 years.” So the long term is also on my mind as I think about how we should spend our $9M share of stimulus money. The staggering amount of debt we are foisting on future generations obligates us to consider doing something really important with that check–for the future of Des Moines.

Weekly Update: 08/01/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/01/2021

Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas!

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

  4. he Utility Moratorium ended September 30. Help is available, but act now!
  5. Please comment on State legislative districts for the next ten years!
  6. Sign up now for the King County Emergency Alert Program
  7. Please join the Trusted Partner Network – King County
  8. We’re about to update our Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. Comment on any aspect of the system by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  9. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. Please read the Draft Master Plan and then my Marina Redevelopment Talking Points. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Send your questions and concerns to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  10. Renters!  King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program
  11. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  12. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  13. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Tuesday: Adam Smith. I keep pitching our the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal. Anything that gets any department or organization thinking about Zoom instead of getting on an unnecessary flight is worth doing. 🙂

Thursday: The Budget Retreat City Council Meeting (Agenda) This is the meeting that kicks off the only State-mandated process of a City Council: passing a budget. For decades that basically was the only function of most small town City Councils. If it’s like previous years, there will be a department by department presentation which is typically the best overview of the City you’ll see all year. Just to be clear though: this is not an objective assessment of the City. It is the administration’s point of view. That’s not any slam; not at all. It’s the simple truth.  every statement from management comes with a point of view.

Anyhoo, Councilmembers ask questions, offer direction and the staff goes off and next month the City Manager presents the First Draft Budget as prescribed by law.

As usual, the City Manager requested questions about the Agenda. For me, this week was easy: I just re-submitted the same questions I did not get answers to from the last meeting. 😀 Now, I get scowls about being snarky, but overall, I think I’m pretty nice about it. On any properly functioning Board, a CEO who refused to answer questions from a Board Member would be subject to removal for cause. Occasionally I remind readers: it is unethical for a City Manager to treat any Councilmember differently from another. And it’s only the current majority that makes this possible. The fact that such conduct was ever tolerated, either by my colleagues or the voters is a real problem.

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Thursday: Friends Of Saltwater State Park (if I make it on time!) Despite my main ARPA Stimulus proposals, I’m also ‘taking requests’. 😀 My interest in FOSSP is part of a bigger picture: water quality in Des Moines. FOSSP have been the lookout on all the Midway Sewer problems over the past two years and we owe them thanks–and our support. We’re stewards of three significant stretches of shoreline, important creeks and thousands of inter-connected water, sewer and storm water systems.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda) I guess the ‘highlight’ is the allocation of $2M for the South King County Fund–which Cities and various organizations can obtain various grants. The reason I always hem and haw on these is that this is actually your money. Like all Port grants, it comes from your Property Tax Levy. So basically you’re just paying yourself. It’s not airline or cruise revenue.

And this is an intrinsic problem with our relationship with the Port. It looks like the Port is doing all these great projects and it directs attention away from the fact that the Port is not doing anything meaningful to reduce airport noise and emissions. Plus, there is an insidious quality which rarely gets talked about: once an organization accepts any of these grants, it’s unlikely to expect them to oppose the Port on anything real concerning noise and pollution. In other words: the SKCF is a powerful lobbying tool which prevents doing big things by helping people do small things–using our own money.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting (Agenda) There was a review of Capital Improvement Projects plan and an update on the Marina Master Plan. This struck me as sort of a recap of 2021 accomplishments–which was great. There are hold-ups on some playground projects and I’m now struck by how outrageously expensive the equipment items have become. I don’t know if all that is pandemic-related or just that you can’t throw up a set of steel monkey bars and call it good. (Sorry, my fingers could not seem to stop from typing a Dad joke about the bad old days.) But seriously, I was going to do a short piece on the pricing but I’ve run out of time here.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) This is a continuation of the HB1220 discussion and I hope you will view the presentation. I wish the video was on-line! This will sound unkind, but frankly, the discussion centered on all the places Committee Members want to exclude from use as homeless shelters and affordable housing. The only place mentioned as acceptable? Pacific Ridge, of course.

Look: I have exactly the same concerns about all these issues as you do. I am by far the most aggressive CM on Code Enforcement. However, like all cities, our government has officially been saying for years how committed we are to solving these problems. But most cities actually did very little. So the State called our bluff. We now have to allow these structures. But by the same token, I do not want Pacific Ridge to be the ‘affordable housing spot’. I don’t know what or where at this point, but I do know that that idea is not fair. We can’t stop this or try to ‘work around it’. We need to make it work well. And the only way affordable housing works we is to put our energies towards insisting that it be attractive and available throughout Des Moines.

Saturday: A tour of the new Why Not You? Academy. This is a Charter School that will start this autumn with about 113 9th Graders. I met Scott (the boss) and one of the engineers who helped redo the building and I was impressed. They already have a waiting list, which is a good sign.

My Four 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.

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.

It’s all a matter of timing…

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Marina, Transparency1 Comment on It’s all a matter of timing…

Following our last RCM, I sent the following questions to our City Manager in response to the Christmas In July presentation.

Hi Michael,

I have a series of questions on your draft plan. Sorry for the length, but there's a lot. Perhaps we could schedule a Zoom to go through them?

TIA,

---JC


BROAD:

1. First: Several of these are replacing revenue already budgeted, where will that 'saved' money go? IOW: you already budgeted for Body Cameras. Where does that $100k savings go in 2021? Same question re. Metro and other items. Does this open up opportunities for other programs?

2. Which of these programs -must- be decided on immediately in order for you to prepare your Budget? Can some items be deferred?


SPECIFIC LINE ITEMS:

1. POLICE

a. You have Body Cameras budgeted at $250k. But our agreement with Watchguard was for $190k. Why the difference?

b. 4 new officers. Does this add to our enforcement capacity at any point during the 3 years or is it simply to cover for officers on 'light duty'?

c. When are the light duty officers expected to return to full duty?

d. After 2024, given your forecasting, should we plan on needing additional or (new) revenue sources to be able to afford to maintain these new hires?


2. MENTAL HEALTH

a. My understanding is that the ride-along has not yet been implemented. When does that go live?

b. Do you have any program details? 

    I. How many calls are anticipated

    II. How many counselors will be assigned to this?

    III. Will there be a mechanism for the public (or an officer) to call for a counselor to respond as opposed to -both- an officer and a counselor?


3. GRO

a. Why was $100k chosen?

b. What, if any changes are planned for the administration of the program?


4. METRO

a. Is the cost expected to continue to be $125k in subsequent years beyond 2024?


5. TENANT EVICTIONS

a. Which non-profit(s) are you considering?

b. Can you give me specifics on what this help would look like?

    I. Rent relief?

    II. Relocation costs?

    III. Utilities?

    IV. Other?


6. EMERGENCY TRANSITIONAL HOUSING

a. Can you give me specifics on what this help would look like? I'm having trouble visualising what this looks like.

    I. Are we talking existing housing?

    II. New construction?

    III. Where?


7. FOOD TRUCKS

a. Can you give me specifics on what this money would be used for?

b. How is this 'Revenue Loss'?


8. MARINA INFRASTRUCTURE - Can you give me a break down of how you foresee allocating this money. Specifically:

a. What percentage would be used for dock replacement?

b. What percentage for land side development?

c. What (if/any) percentage for bulkhead?


9. SR3

a. Why is this considered Revenue Loss? -Their- revenue loss or ours?

b. Exactly what is that $100k for? Is it a grant? If so, did they make a specific request? If so, I'd like to see it.


10. BUDGET PUBLISHING SOFTWARE

a. What is the specific package being proposed? Can you provide a link to product info?

I also sent an email saying that this spending discussion be postponed–at least until all CMs had had their questions answered. And I know that other CMs felt the same way. The response I received from the administration was that the City Manager was moving the discussion to the September 16th meeting. But this is one of those ‘in the weeds’ things that matters. Here is the administration’s response:

Mayor and City Council,
 
As City Council considers the ARPA funds please take the following into account:
The federal process (Congress) to fund the ARPA was relatively lengthy.  As a result, the federal circulars from the Treasury Department were also somewhat delayed.  These identified the criteria for use of the funds.  At the same time, based on the size of our City’s population, our ARPA funds are administered by the State of Washington, which created another step.
Our Finance Director did a great job justifying both lost revenue and other aspects of these funds to assure Des Moines received our maximum allocation – which our City did.  Approximately $4.5 million this year (these funds are in our bank account) and we anticipate receipt of an additional $4.5 million next year (2022).
The ARPA funds need to be approved as part of the 2022 City Budget.  In order to facilitate this process we made recommendations to the City Council on potential uses of the ARPA funds.  We also set aside time for City Councilmembers to make any suggestions for the use of the funds.  The City Council Budget Retreat will be held on August 5, 2021 so we wanted to be able to include a discussion of the use of the ARPA funds at the Budget Retreat.  That is why the time frame was relatively short.
However, if City Council wants to extend the deadline, we are certainly open to that and will utilize whatever timeline City Council desires, subject only to the State requirement that the City Manager present a recommended budget for 2022 to City Council by early October, 2021.
Therefore, we are recommending an extension of the ARPA review until September 16th, if Council wishes, with any recommendations from City Council for specific uses of the ARPA funds.  City Council will need to provide the application template we sent out earlier by Sept. 8th for inclusion for the City Council meeting of September 16th, 2021.

Best,
Michael Matthias
City Manager 

Now to the uninformed reader that letter sounds like he is asking the Council if it wants to move the process to September 16. But that is not what it means. What the letter means is that the City Manager has decided to move the discussion to September 16 in response to individual complaints from CMs. There is never any ‘Council’ decision on stuff like this. And if he wants to move the item, he should just do it and not do that song and dance.

That may sound like cranky hairsplitting, but it’s not. In other cities there are mechanisms for the full Council to address items of urgency like this truly as a group. It’s as simple as calling a special meeting–which is really not that big a deal now with Zoom. But that  does not happen in Des Moines. Which is unfortunate, because extending the discussion and deadline for proposals is not the only problem that needs to be addressed.

There’s still the problem of those pesky questions. Here is an email I sent on the 27th. No reply yet from the administration or any of my colleagues.

Mayor Pina, fellow Councilmembers:

At the 22 July RCC meeting, Michael gave a presentation on the
administration's draft proposal. The presentation lasts only 13 minutes. It seemed like such a high altitude overview that I assumed there would be more detail to follow.

Seeing none, on 26 July I sent Michael a list of questions on each line
item. I am sure all of us have questions as well. (I am happy to share
mine with any CM--not for purposes of discussion, but simply to know
what others are thinking about.)

My reply on 27 July was that my questions would be discussed at the 16
September meeting--which seems to indicate that no further reply will be forthcoming.

I am -assuming- that you are all being told the same thing.

It does us no good to move the discussion to 16 September armed only
with the current information. Speaking for myself, all it does is add to my backlog of unknowns as more questions come in from residents.

And IMO, without detailed answers, moving that discussion to 16
September actually makes the situation -more- problematic. As you know,
the budget process has an end point in November. The longer we wait to
discuss these items, the shorter the period we (and the administration)
have to make any meaningful adjustments.

So I want to suggest that the administration immediately allocate
sufficient time to research and respond fully and promptly to all
questions re. the draft proposal from all CMs as they are received--right up until 16 September. If this requires some formal
action, I am fully on board.

---JC

Note that I specifically mention that it may require a Council decision (formal action).

Sidetrack: regarding Revenue loss…

Many of the proposed spending line items are classified as ‘revenue loss’. OK, fine. What about the rest of the corporation? How are all the other funds doing? We’re making assumptions regarding significant reductions in receipts–without seeing those numbers. IOW: It’s difficult to talk seriously about prioritising ‘revenue loss’ without seeing the full financials. Those shoulda been with the materials.

Now back to our original show…

If no one responds to my questions (I can only hope my colleagues also have questions) This re-scheduling actually makese the process worse.

A bit of background: the Budget process is the single most important role of the City Council. In fact, it’s one of the few areas in State law concerning cities that is so specific. Each meeting from the Budget Retreat on August 5 follows a particular series of steps towards a final vote in November.

This is important: after the Retreat, the staff is supposed to have all the information it needs to prepare a legally required Draft Budget for October. It’s a ton of work preparing that initial document because you’re balancing the needs of the entire corporation.

So by moving the discussion from August 5 to September 16, you’re now telling staff that, instead of having two months to integrate CM proposals into the Budget they now have two weeks. Yeah, good luck with that.

And remember, I still don’t have answers to my questions. I may have to wait until that meeting for answers. And so will my colleagues. Worst case? We all see each others ideas for the first time, on September 16. And none of us have answers to our research questions.

So even if a colleague presents an idea, unless it is obvious, I would have a hard time voting for it. And I wouldn’t expect anything better from my colleagues. Even if I had a cure for cancer, without sufficient detail I would never ask a colleague to vote for it.

In short, the administration did something that looks like it’s helping the Council (and the public), but in reality it incentivises decision makers to do one of two things:

  • Accept the Draft Proposal as is.
  • Do nothing.

And frankly, I am currently leaning towards ‘do nothing’.

The down sides of ‘do nothing’

I’ve heard from CMs in other cities who are going with ‘do nothing’. Why rush? And here’s my 2p.

First of all, to some extent, the spirit of the law is ‘recovery’. One has to at least take that into consideration.

But a bigger deal, g2g, this is probably #327 on the list of things I’ve observed about our administration, where I actually have no problem with the basic idea. But the bottom line is that I don’t have the same level of implicit trust my colleagues do. The whole issue with the ‘Draft Proposal’ is that it was intentionally vague. More on that in a minute.

Do what you’re good at…

I often ramble on about ‘core competency’: There are some things that every corporation is great at and others… not so special. Wanna know what things  the City Of Des Moines is pretty good at? It’s right here.

Get it? The City has a detailed list of prioritised transportation and infrastructure projects planned out many years into the future that are simply waiting for money to be executed. You drop $9M on our COO’s desk and he knows what to do with it immediately.  That’s how you can tell our City is good at.

OK, now, let’s look at the City Of Des Moines Social Services Improvement Plan. Hmm… can’t seem to find it. I know it’s here somewhere. 😀

I know that sounds flip, but do you see my point? We don’t have the same level of planning for social services spending because a City like ours never seriously expects to have these kinds of opportunities on our usual budget. I’ve gotten all these emails and calls and see all sorts of posts on social media saying “We need mental health, homeless, rent, eviction, utilities, job training, food, medical education, PreK… and on and on and on…” And I’m like. Great! But if the City hasn’t already developed a plan as real as our Capital Improvement Projects plan, where exactly are we supposed to spend it? And maybe that should be the real first step. Maybe we use a portion of the stimulus money to actually develop that ‘SSIP’ now. And spend later.

I’m into that discipline stuff…

I keep harping on ‘data’ but what I really mean is discipline. The City Manager rarely provides adequate detail to the full Council. He doesn’t have to because they don’t ask for it. And in the case of things like Body Cameras, since it’s an issue he is passionate about, CM Martinelli was also more than willing to vote for a proposal without complete information.

So the message I have received from all my colleagues is: details-schmetails. So long as we’re OK with the policy we’ll vote for it. If there are kinks? We’ll iron them out later.

I cannot tell you how much that grinds my gears. After EATS and GRO I fail to understand why any of my colleagues are willing to tolerate anything less than complete information before making decisions. It’s not an either/or.

What I’m not sure people understand is how difficult (and rare) it is for the City Council to re-visit anything it doesn’t absolutely have to. Look at our Agendas. Do you see the Council tweaking existing ordinances without some legal requirement? Happens maybe once a year in a ‘code clean-up’ resolution. For example, the ‘chicken’ discussion? I think the last time the Council looked at that was 8-9 years ago. My experience tells me that we should think of our votes as more like building a bridge, rather than like creating a piece of software that can be ‘tweaked’.

The irony is that committee presentations–usually given by directors–are pretty great. I dunno if it’s coincidence but they are now noticeably more detailed. But unfortunately, almost none of the public sees those. The full Council presentations, in contrast, are often like this Draft Proposal–pretty vague.

I want more complete information. I’ve said so since my first meeting. And I don’t know how to get there until we have a Council that is willing to demand it from the administration.

Actually, there is one project…

Finally, Des Moines is a bit different from other cities in that we actually do have at least one ready-to-go economic development opportunity called the Marina Docks. We’re literally doing the engineering work now. The administration has pushed the idea that replacing the docks isn’t just functionally necessary, the reconfiguration will lead to a 25% increase in revenue for our City. And the finance costs are huge. OK, here’s money to start bringing in that extra cash years ahead of schedule.


2If I were more ‘west coast’ I would say something more like “Gosh it sure would have been preferable if we somehow could have seen financial statements included with the materials.”

American Rescue Plan – Change My Mind

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement2 Comments on American Rescue Plan – Change My Mind

Like my colleagues, I’m sure, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to spend the $9M I discussed in my Christmas In July post.

I’ve received dozens of messages about this. Many are very detailed proposals showing a concern for civic life that is seriously wonderful.  And they spread the gamut. “More police!” to “no police!” to “spend it all on relief programs!” to “rebuild the downtown!” to “fix my road before people DIE!” (four of those so far.)

Money decisions used to be so simple…

One good thing about being a typically strapped small City. It usually makes money decisions simple. Since there’s usually no money, there’s no decision. Simple. 😀

All these people who write care deeply. Many of their ideas are just wonderful and seem so reasonable. Unfortunately, they are also, totally impossible.

Sorry. I should be more sensitive when bursting the balloon. But one reason I wanted to join the City Council is because I’ve had such a great experience in this area over the past quarter century. And, like many people, instead of things getting progressively better, I’ve started seeing it slip away from the next generation. I look at everyone’s Laundry List of ideas and I think, “Why aren’t all these things possible?” I mean, people aren’t asking for wild Louis XIV shit like:

“Ferraris and Unicorns: for everyone!”

They just want normal stuff. Traffic calming. A charging station. A shuttle bus. A park. A community center. A cop on the beat. A market. A sidewalk next to a school. Some trees. Not a lot to ask, right?

I whipped out a cocktail napkin and totted up just the things I knew the general price of and stopped at $50M. No lie. To do all the reasonable stuff people asked for… stuff that probably sounds like standard equipment for a successful mid-twentieth-century city… is in the “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” price range.

I’m not trying to be depressing here. I’m just telling you that since everything you’ve suggested seems so reasonable, it also seems impossible  to ask the City Council to choose based on ‘reasonable’ or ‘worthy’. They’re all reasonable things; not extravagances.

The clock is ticking…

The City Manager asked us to hand in our suggestions by tomorrow. Which seems ridiculous to me and it’s made me realize that I simply don’t have enough information to recommend anything. I’ve called various agencies and asked them, “How much do you need?” And they also need time to provide a number.

I’m watching how other cities are doing surveys, of business and individual needs and that makes a lot of sense to me. But those take time to do.

Frankly, I don’t want to commit to any idea without (my favourite word) ‘data’. I don’t want to say “$100,000 for business grants” without knowing why that particular number.

My first two ideas

So as of Sunday night, I’ll just tell ya the only two ideas I’ve come up with so far that make sense to me. I guess both will appear ‘extreme’ or at least unsexy. But the more I look at your list of ideas, the smaller $9M looks. And the more I look at the City Manager’s ideas, the more ‘meh’ they look to me. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, most (not all) seem like ‘responsible’ things to do. But since this is a one-time deal, I was hoping for more than that.

#1 Do nothing

So since I have no burning inspiration at the moment, if it were up to me, I’d direct the administration to get to work on some surveys of businesses, non-profits, individuals and come back with some numbers, maybe in September. Then we decide. Or not. Maybe we take even more time.

Several people have asked about a Town Hall, and I’m fine with that. But I’m reluctant to even do that until we have those numbers. I don’t want to us to talk with the public without being able to share what is possible.

#2 OK, But if you had to choose?

You little arm twister, you. OK, if I had to choose, I mean right now, I’d probably throw the entire $9M into replacing the Marina docks. I don’t mean restrooms or multi-purpose buildings or anything on the land side. Just the actual docks. Also known as ‘those things that bring in money’.

Yeah, that might seem extreme, or at least unsexy, but the docks must be replaced. And going all-in does a few things you might like:

  • First, it’s cheaper. A lot cheaper. Spreading the project out over 15-20 years (the current plan), adds seriously to the total cost.
  • Second, the quicker we get docks replaced, the quicker they start bringing in more money than they do now. A big part of the dock replacement involves re-sizing the slips to accommodate larger boats. Larger boats = More money. The quicker that happens, the more money we generate. And the more money we generate, the faster we can complete the whole shebang. It’s a virtuous circle.
  • Third, it could buy us time; many years of time for better planning. It completely removes any pressure to start developing the land side now. We could use that time to get the public input we needed in the first place and have a real discussion as to what the entire town wants the Marina Floor to be for the next fifty years.

As I said, I know this sounds about as sexy as a flannel night gown, but at the moment, I’m having difficulty thinking of a better strategy. It addresses an imminent need, it helps us achieve our long term goals, it saves a ton of public money, and all that fiscal responsibility jazz aside, it avoids doing the wrong things to the Marina Floor.

In our short history, we’ve made a number of really big planning errors–things that have kept us from becoming the ‘waterfront town’ we all like to dream about. I really want to find a way to slow things and get that right.

It was all a dream

OK, none of that is going to happen, so remain calm. 🙂

I know many of you want to use as much of this money as possible for immediate relief. I hear you. But I also look at some of our neighbouring cities, who are doing so much better financially, and I see how they are now able to do a lot more for their communities on an ongoing basis. And I want us to be able to do that as well. Not just this one year. I mean every year. Because the truth is: yeah, it’s been horrible, but we have growing and unmet human services needs every yearIf there was a way to use this money to improve our permanent human services budget, I would be inclined towards heading in that direction.

Also, there are traps to almost every line item on the draft proposal. Just one example: I know how much many of you want more police. But I look at the City Manager’s draft and it funds new police for only two years. So I ask myself, “then what?” We’re currently spending well over half the City’s budget on public safety. So as much as I also want safer neighbourhoods, I don’t want to start down that road without knowing we’ll have the money.

Again: there are gotchas like that with every line item on the draft proposal.

Show me the money…

What Des Moines needs, what Des Moines has always needed, is more money. More sustainable money. Not grants. Not one-time permit fees. There are all these things residents have always wanted and will always want: human service programs, sidewalks, housing, education, infrastructure, restaurants. Things that we can never afford. We just can’t.

The current majority balanced the books largely by maxing out Utility Taxes–which I despise for many reasons. But even if you love them, this is as far as they go. Des Moines has to find a new way to get generate more ongoing revenue in order to face the future.

And in closing…

Anyhoo… it’s a choice. Or rather, a spectrum of choices: Somewhere between short term relief or planning for the future.

And I guess those are the two edge cases my mind wandered to this Sunday night:

  • We need more time to decide.
  • How could we use this money to make money?

But as that guy at the park says: Change my mind. 😀