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: 09/19/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines Meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony in support of retaining the Newspaper Tax Preference

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

Good morning.

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

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

Some stats…

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

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

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

For example…

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

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

The small town problem…

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

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

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

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

The Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval…

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

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

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

The cure…

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

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

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

Who knew, right?

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

Thank you.

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

Weekly Update: 05/02/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda)

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

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

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

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

This Week

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

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

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

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

Some really good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And about those stickers…

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

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

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

Sum it up…

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

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

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

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

What keeps me up at night…

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

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

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

Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

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

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week

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

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

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

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

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

Century Agenda

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

Process Matters

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

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

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

Symbols Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

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

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

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

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

The Minority Report (Part 2)

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

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

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

The big picture

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

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

Challenges

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

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

The Past 5 Years

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

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

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

Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

Public Safety

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

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

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

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

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

The Masonic Home

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

Sea-Tac Airport

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

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

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

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

In closing

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

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

The Minority Report (Part 2 of 2: Policy)

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

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

The big picture

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

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

Challenges

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

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

The Past 5 Years

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

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

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

Marina Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development

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

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

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

Transportation

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

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

Public Safety

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

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

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

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

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

The Masonic Home

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

Sea-Tac Airport

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

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

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

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

In closing

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

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Posted on Categories Marina, Taxes, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 04/18/2021

Public Service Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

This Week

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

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd) No public agenda at deadline.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There will be a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment (with questions from the public) and update on the passenger ferry.

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

Thursday: Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Monday: I attended the King County International Airport Roundtable. No, it’s not Sea-Tac, but we share the same air space and we need to work together on reducing the noise and pollution.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission. I sent a letter on behalf of SeatacNoise.Info asking the Port to revise the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP) in light of COVID-19. It is short and if you are concerned about the airport, I hope you will read it.

Wednesday: A presentation of the Marina Redevelopment Plan to the Des Moines Marina Association (DMMA). This will be their general membership’s first look at the proposal.

Thursday: I attended the Pacific Coast Congress Of Harbormasters Conference . The PCC is the big association that all west coast Marina’s belong to. Since this is our big marina re-development year, I thought it would be a good idea to check in and see what’s what.

Thursday: Environment Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: Transportation Committee (Agenda)

Thursday: City Council Study Session (Agenda) The topic will be State Of The City. If you wanna bone up on that, you can look at the version presented by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor last November at the Des Moines Marina Association.

A few words on utility taxes…

If we were being practical, our Environment Committee might be renamed ‘The Storm Water Public Utility Committee’ because functionally that’s 90% of what it does. We tend to think of ‘utilities’ as being separate governmental entities, but they don’t have to be. A city can run its own utility and in fact we do. The Environment Committee acts much like the Commissioners at our respective Sewer and Water Districts. (It would be worth a think to run the Marina in this fashion as well, but I digress.)

I dislike utility taxes because they are regressive (bad for you) and terrible environmental policy (bad for the world.) And that is because utilities are priced mostly based on usage which means that everyone pays the same based on how much they use. That sounds fair but actually? Not so much.

Years ago we stopped taxing sales on food because we recognize that $100 of food to someone making $2o,000 a year is a completely different thing from $100 to a person making $200,000 a year. The way we tax utilities has exactly the same unfair impacts on people. Additionally, many utilities encourage wasteful use because you pay a fixed amount regardless of your impact to the system and to the environment.

We bill you for storm water based on just a few very broad sizes of your property. It’s based on the idea that wealthier people have bigger houses. But since there are so few rates, it ends up costing most people the same.

The Environment Committee is going to decide later this year whether or not to raise rates because, just like the Marina, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ that is at or nearing end of life and we need to set aside money to pay for it. We can keep rates as they are and kick the can down the road a few year or we can ask you to bite the bullet now to keep us on schedule.

This conversation would be much easier for me if rates were set more equitably. The problem is that the current system has no way to adjust based on ability to pay. The first thing that probably flashed into your mind is keying it to income. The reason that doesn’t fly in small cities is at least partly administrative, but also it rubs a lot of people the wrong way to start connecting one’s 1040 to their storm water bill–even if it would save them some money.

The biggest tool the current management used to get us out of debt was utility taxes. I understood the concept, but such taxes are addictive–once they get started Cities find them almost impossible to kick. But on the other hand, we do need a certain amount of revenue to pay the bills.

In my opinion, one long term goal should be to re-examine the way we pay for all utilities; not just storm water, but everything, including internet. Utilities, by definition are, like food, necessary items. The City needs enough money to provide these services, but we also need to find a pricing model that is based on how the world works now.

Council Meeting: State Of The City

Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video

See below.

The Minority Report (Part 1)

To the residents of the City Of Des Moines and to our colleagues on the City Council,

This letter is what would be called in State, Federal government, the Minority Report–the response from the party not in power to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. A minority report has become customary with the universal recognition that “State Of” speeches are largely political documents and do not provide an objective review of the strengths and weaknesses of the government. The Minority Report gives the public ‘the rest of the story’ and is an important part of a democratic process.

Many of us dislike thinking about ‘politics’ on our City Council. We don’t consider ourselves as part the ‘swamp’ often associated with state and federal legislatures. But politics is politics. The City Of Des Moines is a $100 million dollar corporation, with a complex government and the stakes are high. Especially in this election year where four seats and the majority are on the line.

We want to be thrifty with your time and attention so we’ll break this into two five minute reads: first politics, then policy.  Note that the majority took two hours to make their argument.

Thanks to our great staff!

First, we want to acknowledge that the presentation did contain some good information and we hope the entire public will watch it. Some of the items discussed are significant accomplishments. We supported these and actively contributed to several. It also highlighted some of the great work our staff is engaged in for all of us every day. We want to acknowledge their efforts and offer our deepest thanks.

A marketing presentation

However, this was unlike any ‘State Of’ speech  we have ever heard in that it was all positive and no negative. In fact it was simply a marketing presentation. Just to be clear: we always want to promote the legitimate accomplishments of our city to the greatest possible extent. However, there was not even a polite attempt to acknowledge any need for improvement or significant long-term risks. There are many of these and the public has a right to hear them discussed with candor.

No matter how glowing, every proper performance review includes that kind of discussion. It is one thing to put a positive spin on things, but a presentation called The State Of The City demands at least some sincere attempt be made to present a balanced picture.

Performance, not Study Session

If you do not regularly attend City Council Meetings you may have thought that the State Of The City presentation was the meeting. That is not accurate. This meeting was a Study Session, a legally separate type of Council meeting broken into two halves: learning followed by discussion.

But even if you knew that you still may have been confused because after a two hour presentation there was no discussion and not a single question. The reason for this, as you know from watching, is simple: the majority Councilmembers were also the presenters. (We wouldn’t have any questions either if we were actors in a scripted show!)

In short, this was not a Study Session it was a performance, pure and simple.

Public engagement…

Just as worrying, there was no comment from the public. The Mayor expressed amazement that no one had signed up to comment, at one of the most important meetings of the year, in one of the most important years in the City’s history. But he had no reason to be surprised: this lack of public participation has become the norm at all meetings and all forms of public engagement.

This lack of participation is partly a lack of awareness–and we can and should do a much better job of public outreach. The deeper problem is cynicism. Many of our residents now recognize from events like this that their voice is irrelevant. This combination of a lack of awareness and cynicism is toxic to good government.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable

The Mayor has repeatedly used the popular phrase ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ to express his laudable desire for a better working relationship on the Council. Perhaps it brings to mind something like this?

As we now know, many of the Founding Fathers actually hated one another. Somehow, they still managed to create the most enduring democracy in history.

It’s not quite as intense here. 😀 But historically, politics in Des Moines  has always been a bit messy–whether or not the public sees it. In every healthy government,  electeds will not agree on all things, all the time. And constructive disagreement can actually be a plus.

Though currently in the minority, a majority of voters elected us to represent you. So any presentation claiming to represent the State Of The City should contain our input.

Some improvements…

That said, we agree with the Mayor that we could work together more effectively and it is our hope to do so going forward. But doing so will require change, hard work and it will take time. We can begin by taking two small, but very significant steps towards making the State Of The City a much more balanced presentation.

  • First, these presentations should be developed with input from all seven Councilmembers; not only the majority. The last word may rest with the majority, but all voices should be given a meaningful place.
  • Second, if so desired, the minority should be provided an opportunity for a formal response. This could be given from the dais after the State Of The City or at the next City Council Meeting.

These changes are not about political ‘fairness’. The public needs to receive a balanced picture of our City.  But including the entire Council in this process and allowing for a minority response  would also send a powerful message to residents that their Council can work together and ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticism but a simple and practical suggestion for improving our government and making your City better. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli

Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

Posted on Categories Environment, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly Updates3 Comments on Weekly Update: 03/14/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. Public Comment on the FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey is due by March 15th. This is important. Please follow these instructions and comment TODAY (more below).
  2. Donate blood, win A NEW CAR! 😀 https://www.bloodworksnw.org/ Aside from the fabulous prize opportunities, there is currently a serious shortage of whole blood. Please schedule an apt. today
  3. Spring Recycling Event at the Des Moines Marina Saturday March 27. NEW: You can now bring TVs and electronics!
  4. Kent Des Moines Road Closure March 21 and 23rd!
  5. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  6. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  7. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  8. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  9. 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. 🙂
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.”
  13. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  14. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting

Tuesday: South King County Area Transportation Board SCATBd (Agenda)

Tuesday: City Of Burien Town Hall on DESC. First of all, they’re actually having a Town Hall. Second of all, even though it’s Burien, this matters for Des Moines. We will be looking at the same issues in the near future so it’s a good idea to see how other Cities are tackling the problems of affordable housing.

Thursday: Sound Transit Finance Committee Meeting. Got a beef about S/T? I know I do. 😀 Sign for public comment. 🙂

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: Environment Committee Meeting (cancelled)

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) We will be asked to vote for two water/sewer projects. If you live on 8th Ave and 223rd or along 27nd, please read. There will also be an update on the choice of maintenance facility for Sound Transit.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission meeting (Agenda/Video). This was a biggee. Almost 90 minutes on how great the Sea-Tac Airport Round Table (StART) is going. (I can tell ya what a waste it is in 90 seconds. 😀 ) But second, what was intended to be a rather rushed item turned out to be a very good discussion on the Port’s 2020 ending financial results. OK, I want you to relax–I know you were getting nervous there for a minute, so here it is. The Port is doing just fine. 🙂 (In one sentence: the amount of money they got from CARES, oy we should all be so lucky.)

Wednesday: Sealife Response, Rehab, Research (SR3) Webinar. Mostly info on what they do. There will be a presentation about our location (which I’m still not wild about) on April 22. The one thing I did learn is that they want you to volunteer! And since it’s not a City deal, there are no requirements other than a willingness to learn. So go to their web site and sign up and learn how to… er… save something. 🙂

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting. This doesn’t relate to the DMMA directly, but I am almost at a point where I would support a separate Council Committee for the Marina in order to insure involvement by Council and the public. I always want to remind residents that the Marina is a profit-center, not a ‘cost’ to taxpaypers–and that the primary revenue comes from boat owners. So boat owners rightly get a strong say in its future. My primary goal regarding the Marina is that it continue to be the best facility of its type in the region for boat owners. But as the years have gone on I feel a certain growing unease. Because the Marina is, of course, far more than a place for boat owners to do their thing. It’s basically the biggest public park in the City. The boat owners definitely have the ear of the City, but I’m never quite sure if the rest of the community does. The City hears from boat owners literally every month at DMMA meetings (which is great), but the rest of the community? Eh, not so much.

Friday: I had a conversation with the head of the Port Of Seattle’s External Real Estate Division–basically the guy who’s buying the SR-509 Surplus property off of 216th at the trail head to the Des Moines Creek Trail. More below.

FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES)

The NES is just a high-falutin’ way of saying that the FAA is, for the first time in forty years, re-evaluating the standards for acceptable noise levels around airports. By providing Public Comment, you’ll be telling the FAA something pretty obvious, that the current acceptable standards are simply too damned loud! If they rule to adopt lower levels, it will affect everything from allowable flight paths to which homes are eligible for sound insulation. It only takes 2 minutes to cut n’ paste the suggested text. The deadline is March 15 so do this today.

My uncomfortable phone call with the Port

I have phone calls like this every week and I almost never comment on them. But I received so much negativity after my election for doing stuff like this that I feel a need to periodically tell the public: This is a part of what you elected Councilmembers to do. And there is basically no danger of me, or any CM ‘mis-representing’ them self. And I will again tell you why: Because the person at the other end of the phone already knows that you have no authority. In fact, that’s probably why they are talking to you one on one. They know  they can safely ignore you because you don’t speak for the City. They’re indulging you. An elected is giving a somewhat elevated version of ‘public comment’. A CM with an IQ over 90 knows this and treats the call with gratitude. My policy: If the call is scheduled for fifteen minutes? I politely take my leave at about 13:30.

Now: What I was advocating for was for the Port to be as ‘green’ as possible in their development; to go beyond the call of duty. And I was frank in saying that ‘trees’ have been a sore point for me with the current administration. We have lost thousands of trees in the past twenty years and our City has done a miserable job of asking developers (or homeowners for that matter) to re-plant or otherwise develop and maintain properties sustainably. As of 2018 we now have a Tree Ordinance, which, on paper, is really good–if we enforce it. I was asking the Port to adhere to that Ordinance–and go even further if possible.

I also asked him to see if there might not be other ways to make that a sustainable development. For example, they could set up charging stations and give the City a leg up on that technical expertise. They could use innovative construction techniques that our building people have not had personal experience with. In other words, this could be a learning opportunity for the City; something that encourage us to make our building code greener.

And the Port has a track record of Green development. They have done good work on a variety of building projects. When you hear me bitch about them so mercilessly it’s because of the systemic hypocrisy present in so many large corporations–they will happily go above and beyond on many things, except for the one thing that truly affects us: the frickin’ airplanes! Anyhoo, that’s not his department. He was knowledgeable, open to my feedback, gracious and sincere about what he could and would attempt to do. 🙂

Oh yeah: the only ‘uncomfortable’ part of the call, which I brought up right at the start, was this: It is a weird thing begging a developer to do better on environmental issues than your own City has previously done. But again, that’s not the Port’s problem.

The office of ‘Councilmember’ is the lowest of the low. Nobody has to return yer calls. Part of the role is to advocacy on behalf of residents–knowing full well you don’t have any real ‘weight’. Which means that if you’re not getting ghosted fairly regularly? You’re just not trying. 😀

State Of The City

Back in November, Mayor Pina and Deputy Mayor Mahoney gave a presentation to the Des Moines Marina Association and it’s worth thinking about. I get comments sometimes complaining that all I do is bitch about picayune stuff like parliamentary procedure saying basically “Let’s talk about something real, Dude!” Well, this is as real as it gets. In this video, the Mayor/Deputy Mayor tag team on pretty much every current item on the City’s plate.Where they think we are and where they want us to go. I’m posting this again because it’s time to start talking about where I think they get it right and where I think we need to change direction. Thanks again to the DMMA for recording this.

There’s simply too much to cover in one bite so I’ll be covering it in sections and each time I do, I’ll add that to this post. When we’re done you can review the entire novel there.

By way of intro, I want to being by saying that this whole series will be about responsibility. I’m going to make the case that the progress (or lack thereof) is intentional. If you like the way the City is going, my colleagues in the majority deserve all the credit. If not, then those policies should be changed. What I do not accept is the notion that so much of our fate is out of our hands.

For years I’ve heard endless talk about how “There’s nothing we can do about the airport. There’s nothing we can do about the downtown. There’s nothing we can do about property crime.” Pick a thorny issue. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Their argument is that the set of things the City can actually do something about is quite limited. So stop complaining and focus on the much smaller domain of things we can accomplish. 

Grading on a curve

That is the primary reason I ran for City Council, because I know that much of that is untrue. What I will argue is that we have a far greater set of options and capabilities. We may choose not to tackle the big problems because they’re hard or controversial, but that is a choice, not fate. So when the current management says we’re doing great, recognize that those much tougher problems aren’t even part of their calculus. Sort of like your kid bringing home all A’s–which sounds great until you find out that they’re ‘grading on a curve’. You have to compare how Des Moines is doing relative to other Cities; not to how we may have done in the past.

Sometimes, angry residents will say unkind things about my colleagues like, “Why don’t those guys ever tell us what they would do!” And I gotta say in my colleagues’ defense: Look around! They’re actually doing it! In other words, just examine the City as it is. That is the story of current management. They don’t need to blather away like me because they’re accomplishing their agenda. For them, the way the City is running now speaks for itself. Again: if you like the way certain things are going, then my colleagues deserve serious applause. If not, they deserve criticism for those specifics. But what I will not accept is that “I’m always doing as good as I can do, Dad.” Good, bad or indifferent, I don’t believe in grading our City on a curve.