Weekly Update: 07/13/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Environment, Neighborhoods, Public Safety, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 07/13/2021

Yeah, late again. My lame excuse this time was that I was waiting for the presentation and video from last week’s Economic Development Committee Meeting. I strongly urge you to read that bit below–and the Memo on the last page of that Agenda.

Public Service Announcements

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

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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). Of some note is that the Commission will vote to permanently ban facial recognition from their facilities. Which sounds fabulous for privacy activists, except that this is the Port we’re talking about so you may want to read the fine print. 😀 There are some caveats such as ‘subject to State and Federal laws’. And that basically means that, if the FAA decides it wants to allow facial recognition? It’s game on again. The airlines will want this because it will increase throughput if they can validate your identity without the (slow) ID checks.  And one other thing I’ll keep repeating: the ‘chokepoints’ for airport expansion are not up in the sky. There will never be a need for a ‘Fourth Runway’. Whenever you hear about ‘airport expansion’ it will concern moving planes and people around on the ground.

Wednesday: Marina Association seminar on “Understanding Your Marina’s Economic Impact”. I’ve attended several of these over the past few months and more and more I’m convinced that the City Council should have more formal engagement in the planning and management of the Marina.

Last Week

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda).  Well, this took a left turn. The advertised highlight was supposed to be on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) HB1189. Instead, the discussion was concerning HB1220 which is summarized on the last page of the Agenda.

Update: Presentation To summarize, Planner Eric Lane and our lobbyist Anthony Hemstad took turns in describing the hows and whys.

I don’t want to be melodramatic, but this is a big deal because this is where the whole ‘housing’ discussion begins to get real for Des Moines. What is concerning is that my colleagues seemed kinda caught off guard. But this sort of bill has been pushed for years and smaller cities have fought it tooth and nail. However, sooner or later, something like this was going to pass at the State level because, frankly, there has been no will to do so at the local level. It’s just one of those classic State/Local tensions. The majority of State voters say they want to address ‘housing’ and ‘homelessness’. But local voters have also made it clear that they are not thrilled with zoning changes in their City.

The meat of it is that it will limit the City’s ability to use zoning law to prevent emergency and long-term shelters that housing/homelessness advocates want. (Not in this version, but next year) it will make it easier to build ADUs (mother-in-law apartments). It compels the City to create a for realz plan to address affordable housing and to document our real-world efforts we’ve made on reducing homelessness.

HB1220 is not something to freak out about now. But whether you like it or not, it is the beginning and we need to be planning for that long term.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video)

Council Meeting Recap: Constructive Criticism…

I got the following message from a resident the morning after our last City Council Meeting :

“It looks like you guys were getting along. What happened?” 😀

I can only speak for myself: I self-censored. I avoided several uncomfortable conversations that should be happening. Frankly, some nights? I just don’t feel like fighting.

Administration Report on Heat Event

Not to bring up unpleasant history, but hearken back to our September 7, 2017 meeting. One of the first things our City Manager did after being promoted was to establish a separate director-level Emergency Management position and head to Maryland along with the Mayor and staff for a week of Emergency Preparedness Training. There was a lot of discussion about making Des Moines the regional leader in emergency preparedness given various risks and our strategic location (earthquake, shoreline, proximity to freeways, airport, etc.) 1We’ve put a lot of money into this program.

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit bitter 😀 but last April I got reamed by Mayor Pina and then Deputy Mayor Mahoney for  being ‘disrespectful’ of our Emergency Operations Center, our staff, the City Of Des Moines–and probably Santa Claus.  Actually, I did nothing of the kind. I was simply asking questions about the program because the City made such a big deal about our exceptional investment in it.

Results

Fifteen months after the declaration, and despite a four year specially-dedicated Emergency Management program, we have not performed much differently than our sister cities in responding to COVID-19. We were slower than other cities to shut down various functions and convert to remote functionality and we’ve been slower now to re-open to the public.

OK, here is a 5piccie from that 2017 meeting. Forget that I’m counting ceiling tiles in back. What COO Dan Brewer is saying in that exact moment is that the City needs to be in constant preparation, not just for ‘disasters’ but weather events.

So now, after all this effort, when I see us not have a plan in place for a hot day (which was predicted a week in advance) and the administration basically says, “Well, who knew, right?” I have even more questions.

Because other cities, who do not have dedicated EM departments,  did have cooling centers ready to go.

This is no joke. We have a large vulnerable population (including a lot of  seniors who are not in air conditioned settings.)  And in my opinion, extreme heat events are things we should already have plans for. We already have detailed plans for ‘Snowmageddon’, right?

Look, it was fantastic that State Rep. Orwall was able to work with Highline College to open up on that Monday. And it’s great that 85 people were helped that day. But it should also be reasonable to ask: Given our Emergency Management program, why did we even need that special intervention?

Other Cities

I don’t want to pile on here, but I get calls and messages several times a week now along the lines of, “Why isn’t (x) facility open? Other Cities are doing (y) so  1WTF, Dude?” And I have exactly the same questions.

Street Racing Ordinance

I voted for the Street Racing Ordinance. I even seconded Mayor Pina’s motion to increase the fine for this Civil Infraction from $256 to $513. I am generally not in favor of heavy penalties unless there is actual data to show that it has a deterrent effect. But as I said from the dais, my former company worked with the ‘performance community’, I’ve been to their conventions, and these people are invested in their cars and their hobby. As with fireworks–they’re well-aware of the illegality. And by the way, a Civil Infraction is not a criminal offense.

Rule 26a

Whenever proposing an ordinance, the administration almost always tacks on an amendment to suspend Rule 26a. And I always vote against that.

By default, all ordinances require a second reading before taking effect–meaning that there need to be two separate votes at two meetings for it to take effect. In my opinion, we should never pass an ordinance without a second reading unless it is a true emergency for this reason: public engagement. Often times, the public only hears about a Council action because of that first reading. I want the public to have every possible opportunity to weigh in. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has given me some suggestion on legislation–only after it was enacted. The second reading gives the Council a final chance to refine the law.

I did not feel like it was a true emergency in this case because before the meeting I asked to see if there was any intelligence to indicate there might be upcoming racing events. Nope.

Burden of proof

One thing I wanted to highlight during the discussion is that, under State law, the burden of proof to prosecute is crazy high. And I don’t think the public understands this. You have to be able to ID the driver, not merely the automobile, in order to obtain a conviction. It is not good enough for a bystander to simply take video of a guy speeding by (or some unidentifiable person lighting off fireworks for that matter) and agree to be testify later. So unless a sworn officer just happens to be in the neighbourhood, good luck. Which is exactly why I want more neighbourhood policing.

Signage

My primary interest in the ordinance was to get signs placed at key points (like the start and end points in Redondo) announcing the ordinance and the penalty. I had calls and messages from several residents asking for this and I was very pleased that my colleagues, specifically Councilmember Bangs provided their support. It may turn out that signage is a bigger deterrent than the actual ordinance.

Fourth Of July

I had at least half a dozen letters and messages complaining about personal fireworks. I had planned to ask the Chief about it at this meeting, however neither the Chief or other PD official were present. This is unusual because a representative of the PD attends almost every meeting to take questions.

All my colleagues (and I) took pains to express our gratitude for the hard work of our Officers on Independence Day. A couple went so far as to say how much quieter things were where they lived.  But that was definitely not my experience living near the old Des Moines Elementary School.

However, the number of calls for service was 15% higher than in 2019,  while the number of citations written was less than half (7 vs. 3).

What I wanted to ask the Chief directly was:

  1. To what do you attribute the lower ticket count?
  2. Did you ask your officers to report on the mood in the community? Was there general willingness to comply? Or were many calls challenging?
  3. Do you have stats by neighborhood?

For me, the point of the increased patrols is as much about data gathering as it is enforcement. I expected more activity this year after the pandemic. But we need to have a sense of how we’re doing year on year. Remember: it costs money. So we need metrics on ROI.

I want to be able to gauge the efficacy of the increased enforcement. Is it going to reduce personal fireworks long term? Do we need to do more? If so, what? Or should we just stay the course? As a Council we should have gotten some sense of this from the administration and we got nothing.

The atmosphere

To be blunt, it is simply not possible with the current Council to ask these kinds of very reasonable questions–the ones that residents ask me about all the time. Because when I do, there is retaliation–as there was about the EOC last year. To ask any question which  that sounds ‘critical’,  that City might have done better on a particular task is to be told that one is ‘un-supportive’ or ‘running down the City’ or worse.

In reality, direct inquiry is basic oversight and at the core of the job of Councilmember. And again, all the questions I’ve listed above are questions that the Council gets. All the time.

I want a City Council that fosters a climate where every member can ask such questions of staff and feel the full support of the entire Council.

My current colleagues and the City Manager take great pains to show support for our staff and to always paint our City in the best possible light. Good. Portraying a positive image of the City is important; as is creating a positive work environment. And for the billionth time: I never want staff to feel unappreciated or attacked.

But in the future I want to have discussions that focus just a bit less on “Great job guys!” and more like “What could we have done better?”

Because you can always do better. There are always lessons to be learned and the City Council Meetings are the public venue to have those discussions.

The Thanksgiving table…

There’s an expression I’ve heard many times since I’ve lived in Des Moines to account for the unwillingness to have frank open discussions. It’s referred to as ‘the Thanksgiving Table’. No one wants to say anything that anyone might find unpleasant–so as not to upset the meal.

But City Council meetings are not family gatherings, they’re supposed to be inquiries leading to serious, well-informed decisions. The goal is neither to court or to avoid conflict, it’s simply to get at the truth. But over time, we’ve slowly made ‘asking questions’ itself into being somehow impolite, “Oh we don’t want to talk about that at the dinner table!”

Candidate Modeling…

Here’s the thing. 2When beginning their campaigns, candidates are always counseled to ‘be positive’. Talk about the good things, never go negative.

Plus, the public definitely is sick of the arguing and bad conduct.

So newly elected CMs generally have no 4model or incentives towards true debate. We’ve demonized any disagreement, either with fellow CMs, or especially the administration, as being somehow intrinsically bad for the City. They may not understand just how critical it is for every CM to have each other’s back so as to never allow the administration the ability to play favorites.

In one sentence, my concern is that even new candidates will come in and unconsciously continue the ‘Thanksgiving Table’ pattern of self-censorship. Because that’s all they know.

So to any new candidates who come to the Council next January: I will always have your back if you want to raise a concern, whether I agree or not.


1And let me be clear: I fully supported this concept. I wrote a detailed letter to the new City Manager after that meeting, asking him to consider the potential importance of the boating community for any disaster planning.

2OK, seniors generally do not express themselves like that in Des Moines. But inside, they feel, it baby. 😀

3Yeah, I totally didn’t do that

4Well, unless they are obsessives like this guy (or moi) who regularly attend City Council meetings all over the place.

5That’s Traci Buxton and Harry Steinmetz who were competing for Position 5. Candidates all tend to start showing up for a few meetings around August. That’s how you can tell it’s an election year. 😀

Constructive Criticism

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Engagement, Neighborhoods, Public Safety

I got the following message from a resident the morning after our last City Council Meeting :

“It looks like you guys were getting along. What happened?” 😀

I can only speak for myself: I self-censored. I avoided several uncomfortable conversations that should be happening. Frankly, some nights? I just don’t feel like fighting.

Administration Report on Heat Event

Not to bring up unpleasant history, but hearken back to our September 7, 2017 meeting. One of the first things our City Manager did after being promoted was to establish a separate director-level Emergency Management position and head to Maryland along with the Mayor and staff for a week of Emergency Preparedness Training. There was a lot of discussion about making Des Moines the regional leader in emergency preparedness given various risks and our strategic location (earthquake, shoreline, proximity to freeways, airport, etc.) 1We’ve put a lot of money into this program.

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit bitter 😀 but last April I got reamed by Mayor Pina and then Deputy Mayor Mahoney for  being ‘disrespectful’ of our Emergency Operations Center, our staff, the City Of Des Moines–and probably Santa Claus.  Actually, I did nothing of the kind. I was simply asking questions about the program because the City made such a big deal about our exceptional investment in it.

Results

Fifteen months after the declaration, and despite a four year specially-dedicated Emergency Management program, we have not performed much differently than our sister cities in responding to COVID-19. We were slower than other cities to shut down various functions and convert to remote functionality and we’ve been slower now to re-open to the public.

OK, here is a 5piccie from that 2017 meeting. Forget that I’m counting ceiling tiles in back. What COO Dan Brewer is saying in that exact moment is that the City needs to be in constant preparation, not just for ‘disasters’ but weather events.

So now, after all this effort, when I see us not have a plan in place for a hot day (which was predicted a week in advance) and the administration basically says, “Well, who knew, right?” I have even more questions.

Because other cities, who do not have dedicated EM departments,  did have cooling centers ready to go.

This is no joke. We have a large vulnerable population (including a lot of  seniors who are not in air conditioned settings.)  And in my opinion, extreme heat events are things we should already have plans for. We already have detailed plans for ‘Snowmageddon’, right?

Look, it was fantastic that State Rep. Orwall was able to work with Highline College to open up on that Monday. And it’s great that 85 people were helped that day. But it should also be reasonable to ask: Given our Emergency Management program, why did we even need that special intervention?

Other Cities

I don’t want to pile on here, but I get calls and messages several times a week now along the lines of, “Why isn’t (x) facility open? Other Cities are doing (y) so  1WTF, Dude?” And I have exactly the same questions.

Street Racing Ordinance

I voted for the Street Racing Ordinance. I even seconded Mayor Pina’s motion to increase the fine for this Civil Infraction from $256 to $513. I am generally not in favor of heavy penalties unless there is actual data to show that it has a deterrent effect. But as I said from the dais, my former company worked with the ‘performance community’, I’ve been to their conventions, and these people are invested in their cars and their hobby. As with fireworks–they’re well-aware of the illegality. And by the way, a Civil Infraction is not a criminal offense.

Rule 26a

Whenever proposing an ordinance, the administration almost always tacks on an amendment to suspend Rule 26a. And I always vote against that.

By default, all ordinances require a second reading before taking effect–meaning that there need to be two separate votes at two meetings for it to take effect. In my opinion, we should never pass an ordinance without a second reading unless it is a true emergency for this reason: public engagement. Often times, the public only hears about a Council action because of that first reading. I want the public to have every possible opportunity to weigh in. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has given me some suggestion on legislation–only after it was enacted. The second reading gives the Council a final chance to refine the law.

I did not feel like it was a true emergency in this case because before the meeting I asked to see if there was any intelligence to indicate there might be upcoming racing events. Nope.

Burden of proof

One thing I wanted to highlight during the discussion is that, under State law, the burden of proof to prosecute is crazy high. And I don’t think the public understands this. You have to be able to ID the driver, not merely the automobile, in order to obtain a conviction. It is not good enough for a bystander to simply take video of a guy speeding by (or some unidentifiable person lighting off fireworks for that matter) and agree to be testify later. So unless a sworn officer just happens to be in the neighbourhood, good luck. Which is exactly why I want more neighbourhood policing.

Signage

My primary interest in the ordinance was to get signs placed at key points (like the start and end points in Redondo) announcing the ordinance and the penalty. I had calls and messages from several residents asking for this and I was very pleased that my colleagues, specifically Councilmember Bangs provided their support. It may turn out that signage is a bigger deterrent than the actual ordinance.

Fourth Of July

I had at least half a dozen letters and messages complaining about personal fireworks. I had planned to ask the Chief about it at this meeting, however neither the Chief or other PD official were present. This is unusual because a representative of the PD attends almost every meeting to take questions.

All my colleagues (and I) took pains to express our gratitude for the hard work of our Officers on Independence Day. A couple went so far as to say how much quieter things were where they lived.  But that was definitely not my experience living near the old Des Moines Elementary School.

However, the number of calls for service was 15% higher than in 2019,  while the number of citations written was less than half (7 vs. 3).

What I wanted to ask the Chief directly was:

  1. To what do you attribute the lower ticket count?
  2. Did you ask your officers to report on the mood in the community? Was there general willingness to comply? Or were many calls challenging?
  3. Do you have stats by neighborhood?

For me, the point of the increased patrols is as much about data gathering as it is enforcement. I expected more activity this year after the pandemic. But we need to have a sense of how we’re doing year on year. Remember: it costs money. So we need metrics on ROI.

I want to be able to gauge the efficacy of the increased enforcement. Is it going to reduce personal fireworks long term? Do we need to do more? If so, what? Or should we just stay the course? As a Council we should have gotten some sense of this from the administration and we got nothing.

The atmosphere

To be blunt, it is simply not possible with the current Council to ask these kinds of very reasonable questions–the ones that residents ask me about all the time. Because when I do, there is retaliation–as there was about the EOC last year. To ask any question which  that sounds ‘critical’,  that City might have done better on a particular task is to be told that one is ‘un-supportive’ or ‘running down the City’ or worse.

In reality, direct inquiry is basic oversight and at the core of the job of Councilmember. And again, all the questions I’ve listed above are questions that the Council gets. All the time.

I want a City Council that fosters a climate where every member can ask such questions of staff and feel the full support of the entire Council.

My current colleagues and the City Manager take great pains to show support for our staff and to always paint our City in the best possible light. Good. Portraying a positive image of the City is important; as is creating a positive work environment. And for the billionth time: I never want staff to feel unappreciated or attacked.

But in the future I want to have discussions that focus just a bit less on “Great job guys!” and more like “What could we have done better?”

Because you can always do better. There are always lessons to be learned and the City Council Meetings are the public venue to have those discussions.

The Thanksgiving table…

There’s an expression I’ve heard many times since I’ve lived in Des Moines to account for the unwillingness to have frank open discussions. It’s referred to as ‘the Thanksgiving Table’. No one wants to say anything that anyone might find unpleasant–so as not to upset the meal.

But City Council meetings are not family gatherings, they’re supposed to be inquiries leading to serious, well-informed decisions. The goal is neither to court or to avoid conflict, it’s simply to get at the truth. But over time, we’ve slowly made ‘asking questions’ itself into being somehow impolite, “Oh we don’t want to talk about that at the dinner table!”

Candidate Modeling…

Here’s the thing. 2When beginning their campaigns, candidates are always counseled to ‘be positive’. Talk about the good things, never go negative.

Plus, the public definitely is sick of the arguing and bad conduct.

So newly elected CMs generally have no 4model or incentives towards true debate. We’ve demonized any disagreement, either with fellow CMs, or especially the administration, as being somehow intrinsically bad for the City. They may not understand just how critical it is for every CM to have each other’s back so as to never allow the administration the ability to play favorites.

In one sentence, my concern is that even new candidates will come in and unconsciously continue the ‘Thanksgiving Table’ pattern of self-censorship. Because that’s all they know.

So to any new candidates who come to the Council next January: I will always have your back if you want to raise a concern, whether I agree or not.


1And let me be clear: I fully supported this concept. I wrote a detailed letter to the new City Manager after that meeting, asking him to consider the potential importance of the boating community for any disaster planning.

2OK, seniors generally do not express themselves like that in Des Moines. But inside, they feel, it baby. 😀

3Yeah, I totally didn’t do that

4Well, unless they are obsessives like this guy (or moi) who regularly attend City Council meetings all over the place.

5That’s Traci Buxton and Harry Steinmetz who were competing for Position 5. Candidates all tend to start showing up for a few meetings around August. That’s how you can tell it’s an election year. 😀

2003 Furniture Store Guy

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Engagement, Neighborhoods, Transparency

Another old guy reference: There’s this moment in the movie Amadeus, where the Emperor walks in on a rehearsal of Mozart’s newest music and he sees something so obviously wrong he’s rendered speechless with confusion.

My ‘fix the web site’ proposal

At last week’s City Council Meeting, I felt a lot like this guy (not like an Emperor 😀 ). You have an issue you care about and you can’t understand why other people don’t see what you see. It’s just obvious. 😀

That’s how I feel about our City’s web site. So I made one of the the stupider speeches of my relatively short career–basically along the lines of

“um… er… could… um… er… somebody… um… you know… please… er… uh…  well… fix it?’)

Really productive.

I’ve been thinking about this because, at the end of the day, you get elected to convince people to do things, not to be ‘right’. If neither your colleagues  (or the public) sees what you see, you’re kind of a failure.

Two other issues…

Beyond the transparency and public engagement issues there are two other problems that I thought were kinda obvious for both my colleagues and the public. They are not and I guess that’s also on me. I’ll summarize here and then, if you give a crap, some details below.

  • The current web site is challenging for a significant percentage of our community–many seniors, but also people with disabilities and ESL. That is a not small number of residents (Have I mentioned recently that seniors vote upwards of 90% in some neighborhoods? For a City that prides itself on a commitment to seniors that’s not great.)
  • Our digital presence does not properly promote the City’s image and values. It does not look like the web site of a $100 million corporation that wants to attract entrepreneurs and growth.

These are not separate deals. They demonstrate a mindset that goes way beyond a web site. At my old company we had a nickname for it, we called it “Furniture Store Guy”.

Ah, the good ol’ days…

At the dawn of history, when many organizations still had either no or terrible web sites (you know, 2003 😀 ), my company would have a fairly regular argument with skeptical clients about ‘good enough’. How much dough did they really need to put into their digital presence? Here’s a quote from a client who owned a chain of furniture stores (the kind that used to advertise every week in newspapers.)

“Nobody visits the web site, so why are you telling me to spend money on the web site?”

Now I have some problems with this logic, but this guy was no dummy. He had built a successful business. He felt that it was the best use of his resources to put money into things that had been working for decades. However, he didn’t see that the world about to shift from newspapers to smartphones. And he didn’t see how the rest of the world was starting to see his stores as kinda long in the tooth. So he made the decision to have a digital presence that he considered ‘good enough’.

This is democracy…

It took me a while to grasp that the City’s digital presence is really my problem. It’s not only OK with my colleagues and the administration, it’s also just fine with a lot of our businesses and residents.It never dawned on me (really) that so many people don’t see what I see.

I think there are two reasons for this:

  • For some, it’s likely because they already have the digital literacy to navigate the site as it is. They don’t recognize how much of a struggle it is for others.
  • And for a lot of people and businesses, they just don’t seen the value of the City’s digital presence for them. They don’t see a good digital presence as being the business card, the branding of the City Of Des Moines for the outside world and for our future.

City response…

Early this week I sent an email to the administration with a laundry list of things I see as important fixes. This was totally cringey for many reasons, not the least of which being that I’m sure it comes off as the worst kind of ‘back seat driving’ to staff. But if yer asking people to work on something they don’t see, you gotta be specific.

On Friday, I received a detailed  and thoughtful reply from our IT department to each item, which I will over-simplify as “We were already working on it–we had planned to get this done over the summer.”

Which is good and bad. I am glad that some of the major (not all) issues I raised  will be addressed. But it’s bad because the City felt like these issues were just not that urgent.

My takeaway:

  1. Our digital presence is just not a high priority, either to my colleagues or the administration or a good deal of the public. It’s good enough.
  2. This is exactly the kind of thing that could (and should) be handled in private. But because the relationship between Council and the administration is so verkachte, the only way for me to raise this sort of issue (even to get an update as to what is going on) is to raise it from the dais.

Everything comes down to marketing…

Look, I did a terrible job of explaining why people should care about our City’s digital presence, but this is not about ‘fix the web site’. One of my main goals is to market Des Moines. When people perpetually ask “Why hasn’t Des Moines reached its ‘potential’?”, it hasn’t just been a money issue. It’s also been a marketing issue. A large portion of our residents wanted (and still want) to stay a ‘hidden gem’. For a long time, I was one of those people. We never properly marketed the City. That has to change.

My colleagues often talk about promoting business. The first thing interaction most of the world will have with Des Moines is through some form of digital presence–likely our web site. That’s the first impression, the chance to show a potential resident or business owner or developer who we are and what we value. We can look relatively sophisticated and innovative, or… you know… not.

The best way to look sophisticated and innovative is, you know, to actually do something sophisticated and innovative. 😀 Great marketing tends to be very expensive and time consuming. A decent web site is a cheap way to show the world (and our residents) the kind of community we are and the entrepreneurs we want to attract. At the end of the day, all this jazz about ‘transparency’ and ‘engagement’ and ‘accessibility’ and ‘branding’ is just good marketing. And marketing is what this city has always needed as much as any new building project.

At the risk of sounding passive aggressive, I misunderstood how much selling there is to do here. It’s my fault. At my old company, we turned Furniture Store Guy into a running joke for being stuck in the past. But again, he was not a joke. He rationally chose to stay on a path that had always worked for him. We failed. It was our job to show him that times were changing and that it would be in his best interest to invest in his digital presence.

Because here’s the thing: by the time it became obvious to him that he needed a better digital presence, it was too late. Someone else, more savvy, came into his market and became dominant. He didn’t go out of business. He just never reached his potential.

A specific use case

Since I have so many bitches, and I’ve already traveled deep into cringey back seat driving, I figured, what the hell? I should give you at least one specific example of what ‘better’ looks like. This is a modest City web site that punches above its weight… and it’s right next door: https://normandyparkwa.gov/  🙂

It’s not just that it’s more accessible. Or that it actually invites feedback from visitors on how better to serve. What catches my eye is that their government had the very sensible notion to hire a for realz marketing agency to develop and project an image and a message. They took their branding and image seriously. It’s not the specific image or branding or message that matters. Or even the fact that they hired an outside company.  What matters is that any visitor (whether they are conscious of it or not) immediately sees that the City Of Normandy Park really cares about the image they’re trying to project.

Footnote: Some previous rants I’ve had about the site’s lack of accessibility:

  1. Apart from any of the other shortcomings of the web site, at least a portion of this discussion trivialises the lack of accessibility for a very large number of our residents.Using any performance metric such as the number of people watching Council meetings or searching for information is not only irrelevant it’s just plain wrong. By such logic, ADA ramps would never have been mandated.

    If the site isn’t easy to use for seniors, the disabled and the large number of people who speak other languages, we cannot call ourselves an ‘inclusive’ community.

    Inclusion means fair access for everyone, not just the people lucky enough to own an iPhone, have no disabilities, read English fluently–and already possess a level of digital literacy that is apparently taken for granted by people here. Maybe that’s still the majority in Des Moines, but even if it is I could care less.

    The web site is a cue as to what the City values, not just in terms of transparency, but in terms of which types of people.

    If it cost a million dollars to have a proper web site, I wouldn’t squawk. It doesn’t–it’s actually less than putting in a single ADA ramp.

  2. An explainer about Section 508 and making the digital world more accessible.
  3. Shortly after my election, before I was banned any communication with staff, I inquired as to when/if/how the City web site might be updated. I was told that there was no specific plan. However I was also told that in the past, when the City had previously done web site updates, they had requested input from residents and Councilmembers as to how it might be improved–and that such a process would be employed when/if any update would occur. The new site was rolled out with no prior notice and no opportunity for either public or Councilmember input.

Water District 54 Tower

Posted on Categories Environment, Neighborhoods

The King County Water District 54 reservoir, located on 11th Avenue between City Hall and the Police Department, is almost unique in Washington State. It is one of only three remaining well-water sources and is un-chlorinated. One ‘feature’ of the water is that it tends to contain high levels of manganese–a completely benign metal that is in high concentration in our area. You may notice this as an occasional gray cast in your water.

Effects of airplane exhaust

An easy way to see the effects of airplane exhaust from take-offs heading south from Sea-Tac Airport is to look at the tower.

04/01/2021 4pm South side (behind take-off path)

04/01/2021 4pm North side (facing take-off path)

Sailboat Logo

Until about 2010, the tower was painted with the Des Moines ‘sailboat’ logo. It was painted over with the current blue due to the increase in aircraft exhaust pollution. The custom artwork cost $12,000 and it was thought too expensive to have to keep re-doing every few years.

Summer 2009 with logo. The logo was display in four places around the circumference.

Summer 2009 with logo (close-up)

Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Public Safety, Transparency, UncategorizedTags 4 Comments on Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Subject: Stepping down from the DMPD Diversity Task Force

To: Chief Ken Thomas,  Des Moines Police Guild, City Council, etc.

To the Members of the Des Moines Police Department Diversity Task Force,

I am regretfully writing to inform you that I am stepping down from the Diversity Task Force.

In joining this Task Force, my hope was built upon the expectation that the lived experiences of marginalized community members would be respected and prioritized.  I was told that the goal of the task force was to implement training on unconscious bias, and that opinions that provided different perspectives were welcome, particularly since I was not only a woman of color, but I had been working in the field of diversity and inclusion for over two decades.  I have facilitated Diversity and Inclusion Workshops throughout the country, from Atlanta to Hawaii, and all points in between and I have worked with all levels of employees, from line workers to CEO’s, from police officers, to scientists, to politicians.  I’ve taught college-level classes on Diversity and Multiculturalism for 13 years and I worked with educators as a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute leading prejudice reduction workshops.  So I came into this Task Force with a wealth and breadth of experience.  Social justice is something in which I believe passionately, and I was honored to be asked to be on the Task Force.

The first meeting was in August and I am still not clear on what the goal of the task force is.  There was one sparsely attended meeting in the fall in which diversity topics weren’t discussed at all.  I’m really not sure why.  At the end of that particular meeting, body cams were discussed, but for the most part I can’t recall what was discussed; I only remember thinking to myself, what does this have to do with diversity?

It is now March, seven months after the initial meeting and absolutely nothing has been accomplished.  There has been no discussion of training.  I feel that whenever issues around race are brought up, there is a feeling of defensiveness and attempts to justify actions by the police.  I tried to open up an honest conversation about the disparity between how black protesters are treated vs. the way white protesters are treated given what happened at the Capitol on January 6th.  There appeared to be a clear division between the people of color on the task force and the white officers on the task force, with the people of color feeling strongly that there is a disparity between how POC and white people are treated by law enforcement.  This is a quote from Robin DiAngelo: “If you haven’t spent years of sustained study, struggle and focus on issues of racism, then your opinion is necessarily limited.”  Whose opinion on racism holds more weight—those who have experienced racism, or those who haven’t?  What I felt was the invisible blue wall of silence go up.  What I believe is not understood by everyone in this Task Force is that racism does not necessarily have to be intentional.  Racism is a structure that maintains whiteness as the status quo. In this police department, whiteness is the status quo. If this Diversity Task Force cannot agree on what the realities are on racism in policing, what is the point of having the Task Force?

It was brought up during the first meeting that there were officers who weren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force was being put together.  As a former Diversity Consultant, I have worked with Police Officers in another jurisdiction and there was definitely a lot of reluctance going through Diversity Training on their part, so I don’t find this surprising. During the January meeting, I brought that issue up again, asking WHY those officers weren’t happy. The response to that question skirted the issue, stating that there were “different opinions” about the Diversity Task Force.  But the different opinions about the Task Force were never specified, leaving one to wonder, just exactly what ARE those differing opinions? And in fact, if there are officers who aren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force exists, why is that?  Does it conflict with their value system, their ideology?  Do they not value diversity and inclusion?  The only way we would know is if we knew what their opinions were.

Too often I have seen Diversity and Inclusion programs or Task Forces be implemented yet no change take place.  Organizations do this just to “check the box”, to say they did what they were supposed to do.  In the wake of the George Floyd murder, maybe it looks good to take that step.  But if this is just performative, then this is not the right task force for me.

Des Moines’ demographics have been steadily changing over the past two decades.  I’ve put together the attached Excel graphic (Des Moines Demographics 2000-2020) to show how the population has been changing since 2000.  There are currently about an equal number of people of color in Des Moines as there are white people, yet the police department does not reflect that reality.  If your department doesn’t reflect who they represent, how can you adequately protect and serve them?  These numbers will continue to change and people of color will become the majority.  How is the police department going to adequately understand the needs of the population it serves if the 99% of the officers continue to view things through their own cultural lenses?

One suggestion I have is that a third party outside of the police department with professional experience in diversity and inclusion act as a facilitator for the task force.  I believe that would be a better way to conduct task force meetings and to keep topics focused on diversity-related issues.  I also feel there should be more gender diversity among the people of color—where are the men of color who are not police officers?  Whether intentional or unintentional, there seems to be an out-of-balance power dynamic when the police officers are almost all White males and the citizens are all women of color.  Also, since this is a city government organization, I don’t see why City Council members should be banned from attending task force meetings.  I am aware that Councilmember J.C. Harris has asked to attend the task force meeting and was denied, and I am not sure I understand why.  It would seem to me that complete transparency would be a good thing.

I’ve attached some articles for your information.  I hope that in the near future you are able to determine what your diversity and inclusion goals are and accomplish them.

And I strongly urge EVERYONE on the task force to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.

Also, I think you will find this an eye-opening video to watch:  A Conversation With the Police – Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho has a conversation with the Petaluma Police Department “Proximity breeds care; distance breeds fear.” –  Emmanuel Acho

Meg Tapucol-Provo

Notes on the attached articles:

  1. “10 Things We Know About Race and Policing in the U.S.”, an excellent article by the Pew Research Center.  One big takeaway from this article is that Black police officers view fatal encounters between law enforcement and Black people very differently than White police officers.  The majority of Black police officers view these incidents as signs of a larger problem between the police and Black people, whereas only 26% of White police officers believe this to be true.  In fact, the majority of Americans, both Black and White, believe Blacks are treated less fairly than Whites by law enforcement and by the criminal justice system.
  2. “The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System”.  A great article exploring the way different people interpret statistical analyses about racism based on their own stereotypes about different groups of people and strategies on how to mitigate the unintended consequences of these stereotypes.
  3. “Racial Bias and Disparities in Policing”.  A thorough exploration of the racial bias and disparities in policing.
  4. “Federal judge holds Seattle Police Department in contempt for use of pepper spray, blast balls during Black Lives Matter protests”.  Seattle Times article shows that Seattle police did in fact use violence on peaceful BLM protesters, in contrast to what was claimed during January task force meeting.
  5. “The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design”.  “In December, a 111-page investigative report about the New York Police Department revealed that last year’s Black Lives Matter protests had been grossly mishandled by officers. The report, conducted by a city oversight agency, confirmed what millions of Americans had seen after the killing of George Floyd on May 25: Police responses during peaceful protests were characterized by “excessive enforcement” and the violation of First Amendment rights. Yet one month before Floyd’s death, on April 30, the country had watched as white protesters, some of them heavily armed, swarmed the Michigan state capitol to object to stay-at-home orders, resulting in little incident from Michigan State Police troopers and only two arrests.” – Excerpt from the article
  6. “Police Shrugged Off the Proud Boys, Until They Attacked the Capitol”, New York Times article does a deep dive into local police departments and how sometimes they have even appeared to side with the Proud Boys, especially when they have squared off against leftists openly critical of law enforcement.
  7. “Stop Turning Your Head: Black Cops Speak Out Against Blanket of Racism”,   “A department leadership that condones or ignores these levels of racism among its officers and fails to establish strict policies against it, or hold officers who break those policies accountable creates a culture of acceptance, denial and inaction that breeds bad behavior, Williams and others told The Crime Report.  ‘Old habits, old traditions, old structures are hard to break,’ said Williams. ‘It’s easy when you’re not affected by it to make an excuse for it, deny it, and just turn your head.’ However, willful ignorance by the leadership feeds a culture that can have dangerous consequences for communities around the country.” – Excerpt from the article.

2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – proper uses of funds for local governments

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy1 Comment on 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – proper uses of funds for local governments

According to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), local governments have until December 31, 2024 to spend the funds on eligible purposes.  These funds cannot be banked.  ARPA states that these funds can be spent:

  • To respond to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19
  • To provide assistance to households, small business, and nonprofits
  • To aid impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality
  • For premium pay to eligible workers performing essential work
  • For grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work
  • To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure

Weekly Update: 01/17/2021

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Weekly Updates7 Comments on Weekly Update: 01/17/2021

If you check the site you’ll see a few tweaks. The Public Service Announcements now have their own page so you can always see what’s current. And the COVID-19 info has moved to the top next to the hat. You should check there because there are some big changes to do with finding out where/when you can get vaccinated and which new benefits are available for small business and unemployment.

Public Service Announcements

  1. The new round of Federal PPP loan program just opened up. And it is much better than the first round last year. If you need more information, here is a presentation from the Small Business Administration with lots of links to more information.
  2. There is new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  3. Last month’s article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”

This Week

  1. Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  2. Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (Agenda)
  3. Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

You can (and should) attend any of these meetings by signing up at:  https://www.desmoineswa.gov/FormCenter/City-Forms-3/Council-Meeting-Comments-49 by 4PM the day of the meeting.

Last Week

  1. Wednesday: I attended a small business administration webinar hosted by Congressman Adam Smith. There was some great info on the new PPP loan program. Check it out!
  2. Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting.
  3. Somewhere in there I had a meeting with the University Of Washington Department Of Environment And Occupational Health Sciences (UWDEOHS), the people who are doing so much great work on air quality around Sea-Tac Airport. This meeting was  to finalize the air quality monitor proposal. Please read that proposal. Now!
  4. Saturday: There was a Downtown Clean-Up organized by Salon Michelle’s Michelle Fawcett-Johnson. And I had absolutely nothing to do with it. But that ain’t gonna stop me from talking about it, no sirree! 😀

Now what?

As I said, I conveniently missed the downtown cleanup. So I walked along MVD and 7th Avenue today seeing the results and talking to local business people. Everyone is grateful of course, but there’s also the question of, “OK, Now what?”

One reason I am so jazzed about the idea of ‘cleanups’ in general is not about the trash per sé, but because they can act as a catalyst towards much more transformational change.

For example, what got Midway Park turned around was at least partly the cleanups and the Garden organized by Alena Rogers. At first, it was a bit disheartening to me because the trash began re-appearing almost immediately. So… another one was organized. And then another. And another. And for whatever reason, after a couple of years the changes became somewhat ‘sticky’. The cleanups are necessary less often. The crime has been reduced dramatically. It turns out that if people pay attention, good things happen. And after the area became more inviting, then the City came in with grants and new equipment. Next year the park will be extended even further. That’s one way real change occurs.

I’m so glad that Michelle got fired up enough to organize this. She did a great job. And I’m sure she’ll get even more people for the next cleanup. So perhaps, as with Midway Park, it will become a ‘thing’ beyond one person’s activism and drive much more substantial change.

But again, what will that change look like? I ask because we’ve already made a number of cosmetic improvements to MVD in the past few years–like the summer planters that everyone loves. Cool. But my feeling is that it’s time to really consider moving beyond cosmetics. You can make the place cleaner. You can reduce the number of vagrants. Those are good things and I am not minimizing those changes at all. They are real. But then you gotta take it to the next level.

So what does that look like? How can we leverage this enthusiasm into something more transformational–as is happening at Midway Park and Pacific Ridge?

Backwards

One thing that young people don’t realize is that what we think of as ‘the ‘business district’ along Marine View Drive isn’t where it’s supposed to be.  The reason MVD acts as such a traffic magnet is because it was always supposed to be the road heading south. The ‘business district’ should actually have been along Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Those two streets are the ‘walkable neighborhood’ that everyone always dreams about.

Somewhere along the way, previous city governments made the absolutely terrible decisions to literally flip those two functions–zoning for apartments and condos where the walkable business center should be. And then promoting businesses on cockamamie strip malls along MVD. That is what now makes it so difficult to create a cohesive ‘downtown’. And we did it for the same reason we’ve always done such things: short term cash from developers, with no consideration for the long-term implications. And that Dear Reader, is why I always grouse about ‘planning’.

Apparently, it’s not useful crying over spilt milk. But at the end of the day, that’s gonna be the challenge if we ever want to make Des Moines a ‘destination’. We’re gonna have to start incentivizing development to move the gravity of downtown back to where it was always meant to be. Which should take, oh I dunno, five maybe six weeks, right? 😀

Seriously, it’s gonna be hard. And it’s gonna take years. Which means that there will be resistance–as there is to anything challenging.  There is a momentum to planning mistakes which often keeps nudging one down the road to even more mistakes (like losing the Masonic Home and the Van Gasken House). It’s like a strong current in a river. But at some point, if you ever want your City to live up to its potential, you gotta start pushing back against that current.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, Michelle’s cleanup. 😀 I’m so glad that so many people signed up and followed through. Whenever I see a group of Des Moines residents get organized to do something like this I gets to dreaming about bigger things. 😉