Weekly Update: 04/13/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags

I’m late (again) because of the holiday. It’s a funny thing what with the whole COVID-19 deal. The Internet is a wonderful invention and it definitely helps in coping. However, especially at Easter, I’m reminded me how much we all need physical connection. Which is to say, I hope you all found new ways to connect and have a blessed holiday (Easter, Pesach, etc.) in spite of the current obstacles. 🙂

This Week

Today there is a Virtual Town Hall with Adam Smith at 5:00pm covering some great information on the new State unemployment benefits. I’ll have posts on my Facebook Page soon. I asked the Congressman to see what he could do to provide a second round of stimulus specific to Cities like Des Moines–specifically for long term capital projects. I also passed along the frustrations I’m hearing from local businesses regarding the SBA Loan process.

Beyond that? Not a clue. 😀

Last Week

The response from the Take Out Des Moines Restaurant Flyer  has been pretty great. And we’ll be doing more… a lot more… soon. For now? Please download that flyer or go to the Take Out Des Moines web site and start ordering some great local food tonight!

So many forms…

I spent a good part of last week doing something pretty basic: Filling out forms. Most of the businesses in Des Moines have rushed to apply for the various SBA Coronavirus Loans and now State grants. But sometimes the biggest hurdle? Simply doing the paperwork. Boy, I wish I spoke about five more languages because translation service is something that a lot of our small businesses need help with.

April 9 City Council Meeting

Thursday was the April 9th City Council Meeting Video, Agenda. This is the second meeting conducted by telephone. There was a brief presentation on the state of the City’s finances (more below). And then there was the big todo you may have seen on social media. There will not be more below. As I’ve said before, when Henry Robert wrote his rules Of Order he was pretty clear that when the meeting is over, the meeting is over. Let it go. I will only say that I know the rules and I am happy to be judged by the voters and the constituents I try to serve every day. And I strongly encourage you to watch that video, write me and tell me what you think?  I have written both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor expressing my concerns and we’ll see how that goes. (Note for fans of transparency: You (the public) can make a Public Records Request at any time to find out how this plays out because all our emails are a matter of public record. Ironic, no? 😀 )

One notable thing is that the next City Council Meeting is set for a month from now May 7. Remember: we still have not had a single committee meeting. What this means is that no new legislation is even being considered right now. If you look at our neighbour cities they have all mastered remote meetings and are conducting council business in a situation pretty close to normal. I’ve been slammed for being critical of our emergency response, but c’mon… we have not found an effective way to keep our Council business running fully and that too should be a high priority in emergency planning. It should have happened by now–especially considering that the current social distancing may be around for a good while longer.

Shiny Penny…

At that City Council Meeting, I made the second vote so far that I regret (I’m not telling what the first one was. 😀 ) I voted twice to give the City Manager authority to spend down one-time revenue in order to offset possible revenue shortages due to COVID-19.

Why I am filled with remorse? Well first off, in a way being in the minority is an enviable position. I haven’t a care in the world. I can vote however I want and it makes absolutely no difference.  Pretty sweet, huh? So sometimes, the hardest decision I have at the dais is: “Do I vote my conscience and slow things down or do I just give in and maybe I’ll get brownie points for being cooperative? 🙂 ” Decisions, decisions.

Anyhoo, there is a somewhat complicated dance one does in passing budget resolutions like this because normally such things require not one but two meetings to become law.  I was always going to vote for the actual resolution (the second vote) because we will likely need that dough to cover current operating expenses. It was the first vote that I regret.

Confused? You weren’t alone 😀 It’s a big deal going outside the budget process, so at the first meeting you introduce the resolution, have a discussion and then decide whether or not to move to the actual vote at the second meeting. You take a couple of extra weeks to mull things over. Our first vote (the one I regret) was to bypass that second meeting because of the state of emergency. I should not have voted for this. I should have voted to delay the resolution to the second meeting.

Still with me? See, I guess I was going for the brownie points. I knew I was voting for the actual resolution (second vote) and frankly, by that point I admit I was pretty disgusted with the meeting. So I just went with it. Bad City Councilmember! Bad City Councilmember! I promise, I’ll never do it again. OK, I’ve confided in you. I’m trusting you. Just. Don’t. Tell. anyone.

Now regarding the budget presentation. I’ve asked several times over the past month for any kind of specifics as to the forecasting and I’ve been told it’s not possible, as in “Gee, I forgot to bring my crystal ball with me.” And given that? I should’ve made as big a stink as possible to get that second meeting. At least then we would’ve had a couple more weeks to try to get more details as to the financial impacts to Des Moines from COVID-19. Even though I had no chance to win that vote, I should’ve pushed harder to as much detail as possible.

Our neighbour cities have been publishing fairly detailed forecasts. I know because… wait for it… I’m able to watch their City Council and Finance Committee presentations using their space-magic-on-line-tech.. (Sorry for the snippy, I’m sooooo frustrated about this.)

The estimates I heard from City Manager Matthias were in the range of 10-20% drop in revenue. And that seems fair because every State and Federal forecast I’ve seen is for something like a twenty percent drop to GDP. So I’m nervous for detail. And… I don’t have the votes to demand more detail.

What I’m trying to say is this:  I’ve gotten a lot of very nice, supportive emails regarding the beating I took at this meeting. Thanks. Really. But I’m going to suggest to you that this may have been an unintended *shiny penny trick. What you should be writing the City Council about is, “I want more details as to financial forecasts!” Maybe the government is already doing all it can and there are simply too many unknown, unknowns. But given the poor level of communication I currently receive, I can’t say. I don’t see ‘the sausage being made’ so I have no way to know. So that’s the thing we should be focused on now, not the bad theatre you keep seeing from the dais.

*I’m always surprised that more Americans haven’t heard the expression ‘shiny penny trick’. It simply means when a children’s magician misdirects the audience away from what is really going on with some distraction (the shiny penny).

Weekly Update: 04/05/2020

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Weekly UpdatesTags

This Week

So, the nice people at Destination Des Moines and the Des Moines Legacy Foundation put together this Restaurant Flyer. I’ll be talking more with them and Seatte South Side Chamber Of Commerce about how to get it out to the entire region. I’d like to see this placed everywhere within five miles of Des Moines and beyond. We have a one-pager you can place in your window or a tri-fold brochure for point-of-sale. Please contact me for details. I’m also hoping the City will formally get behind it.  The City Of Des Moines needs a formal promotional campaign. Not just during this emergency but on an ongoing basis. We need to be selling Des Moines!

Thursday will be another telephone City Council Meeting at the extra special time of 5pm. Why 5pm? Not a clue. Why a curtailed agenda? Not a clue. As I’ve reported, the Governor’s recent changes to OPMA rules makes such a constrained agenda unnecessary. And frankly, I’m getting concerned because other cities are starting to report real problems: https://komonews.com/news/local/tukwila-mulls-worker-wage-cuts-to-offset-steep-losses-from-coronavirus. I got some eye rolls a month ago when I started worrying about finances, but this is no joke. Our City Council has not had any report on the real and projected impacts of COVID-19 and it’s past time.

Last Week

I spent four days volunteering at the Food Bank in the afternoon. I had a couple of talks with Director Kris Van Gasken and Barb Shimizu. A couple of facts: The City used to give $40,000 a year to the Food Bank. We now give around $32k. But $40k, in 2020 dollars is more like $60k. So we are actually currently giving the Food Bank about half of what we used to. However, with the COVID-19 thing, the number of new clients they are now seeing has doubled in the past two weeks–and is expected to stay at that level for the next several months (have you checked the unemployment numbers recently?) The Food Bank’s most immediate need is volunteers. Because of the high volume, they are now doing a lot of ‘grab n go’ meals–which means they need workers to help prep those all day. They also need PPEs and cleaning supplies. Those items are in particularly short supply. They are on the EOC list (see below), but there is such a backlog that they probably can’t expect help any time soon. They also need donations. Let’s get real: ‘Donations’ are a great thing. But there is no way that public small dollar donations can make up for this kind of increase.

One other thing about the Food Bank: School is now basically over this year. Over two thirds of our children are on ‘free lunch’ programs. So who fills in the gap when those programs go away? The Food Bank. They are feeding our children. And it ain’t in their budget.

It is proper for the City to step in at this time. And if you can donate, please do so at the Food Bank web site.

On Thursday I visited the new Joint Emergency Operations Center (JEOC). Which is a room at the Fire Station at 223rd and 24th. 🙂 (Every City has some form of ’emergency operations center’, which coordinates with a County EOC and then a State EOC and then the Feds as the chain of command in any declared emergency scenario.) I spoke with Police Chief Ken Thomas and Fire Chief Vic Pennington. I had no idea what this thing is about. Currently it’s mostly about monitoring the growth of the outbreak here. Thankfully, we’re doing a much better job battling COVID-19 here than many other places  (more below) so there’s less to react to. But one thing they’re really concerned about is, what to do if the first responders start getting sick. Just as with hospitals, people on the front line tend to be the ones who will get sick. So you need a plan to provide continuity of fire, rescue and police–even if a significant portion of those workers test positive.

One thing: I was dismayed to hear from Chief Thomas that efforts on social distancing are still not great. The moment the sun comes out? People go nuts. And worse still, they’ve already had a few ‘compliance issues’ (ie. when the policemen asks you nicely to disperse you refuse.) I can’t imagine that level of disregard for our police (never mind the stupidity from a health perspective.) So I want to thank the Des Moines Police Department for their extra professionalism during this very challenging time. It can’t be easy.

On Thursday I also had a phone call with our State Reps. from the 30th District and got an update on what the State response is to COVID-19. Our lobbyist Anthony Hemstad pointed out the shortage of PPEs for first-responders. I was begging for that same gear for volunteers at the Food Bank. I also asked for consideration for a State moratorium on late fees–not just for residents, but for businesses as well. After seeing what happened to our small business community in the 2008 Great Recession, I’m very concerned for the small businesses in Des Moines. Rep. Pellicciotti pointed out that the Governor’s ban on evictions had a specific note on price gouging. While not a ban on ‘late fees’ per se, it does make it illegal to tack on extra costs of any kind during this emergency. So if you feel that has happened to you, please let me know!

On Friday, I attended a conference call with Congressman Adam Smith. There was great information on SBA Coronavirus Loans. If you have any business, even sole-proprietors and  non-profit you need to check these out! One tiny ‘silver lining’ to this whole crisis is that there will be a second stimulus package and there will be a piece that targets small cities like ours. Fingers crossed.

Yet another lecture…

So the novelty of this whole ‘social distancing’ thing is wearing off. I’m noticing that people are definitely not trying as hard as they were a week ago. I’m especially unnerved to seeing young parents having ‘play dates’ everywhere I go. I can’t stress enough that it is the next two weeks that are going to be the worst (at least nationwide). All the ‘modeling’ says so and ya know, for all of those who are constantly going on about ‘modeling’, guess what: It’s been remarkably accurate so far. (As a former stats guy I get a bit defensive about this sort of thing. 😀 ) What I’m saying is that now is not the time to relax and get sloppy. The boredom and increasing level of annoyance you’re feeling only means that we’re succeeding.

This is real for me: I’ve had three friends die of COVID-19 in the past week. Because of work I made many friends in New York and New Orleans–two of the hardest hit cities in America. What is really notable is that two of these guys were younger  than me. If you recall, New York started getting cases only slightly after we did. But we acted far more aggressively than they did and waaaaaaaay more aggressively than Louisiana. So we are now reaping the benefits. Does it absolutely blow to see all the economic devastation? For sure. But compared to… oh I dunno, DEATH? Not so much So, please try to hang in there. In fact, don’t just ‘hang’, try to step it up a bit. It’s really working.

One really good news I got this week is that wide-spread testing may be coming fairly soon–and when that happens, places like Des Moines that are doing well may be able to get back to work ahead of the other areas that aren’t. In other words, we may not have to wait for the entire country to heal before we can get back to work. Again: Fingers crossed.

Weekly Update: 03/30/2020

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Weekly UpdatesTags

This Week

Late again! Same excuse as last week: waiting for information.  This time I’ve been waiting for details on the City’s new ‘Joint Emergency Operations Center’, which I just found out I’ll be touring on Friday. More below.

You may have noticed that I’ve cobbled together two new links on the home page. Coro’na Virus and Restaurants. I hope you find them useful.

SUPER IMPORTANT: Congressman Adam Smith’s office has a private e-mail list for small business owners to find out how the Federal Government can help. Please contact me to join up. Congressman Smith is concerned that there is such a fire hose of information (and skepticism) that many people are leaving money on the table. Like I’ve been saying, some of the new programs are very generous. Your participation will not only help you, but also other businesses with similar questions.

For the rest of the week, I’m going virtually everywhere and physically nowhere. And I suggest you do the same. I’ve gotten a bunch of messages and e-mails complaining that the restrictions are too severe, some with lines like, “I’m never voting for you again!” And I’m like. “May you live long enough to do so!” I’m probably one of the few people in Des Moines who’s actually had a long-term nasty illness. And brother? You do not want it!

Actually, I’m doing a lot of research. And I’m kinda surprised that so many people are ‘on hold’. This is the perfect time to be thinking about ‘the day after’. Yeah, it’s rough. But when this is over, there will be tremendous opportunities to build stuff. The time to plan is now.

Last Week

On Monday, Governor Inslee put us all on lockdown.

Tuesday was the virtual Port Of Seattle Special Meeting (agenda). Although it will be of great interest to people in Des Moines and I urge you to watch it with me. Not on my couch, of course. But here. It included a contract to (finally) sound insulate Villa Enzi condominiums on 216th and allocates the first money to the new sound insulation initiative I keep banging on about and finalizes the Flight Corridor Safety Program (aka ‘tree cutting along 200th’). Though originally slated to chop down 3,000 trees, it’s been reduced now to 170. Whew.

I also participated in a virtual City Council Meeting (agenda) at the extra-special time of 5pm on Thursday March 26th.

Virtual City Council Meeting 03/26/20

The last City Council Meeting (video) gave me the feels. The annoyed kind. It was held by telephone (fine), but the agenda was severely truncated (not as fine) and the highlight was over thirty minutes of reporting from our City Manager, South King County Fire Chief Vic Pennington and Police Chief Ken Thomas on the whole COVID-19 thing (not fine at all).

Joint Emergency Operations Center

Look, I know I’m asking for trouble, but the three of them talked about this new thing called a ‘Joint Emergency Operations Center’ (JEOC). With a logo and everything. I did not hear one word of information on what it actually is and why we need it. I thought I was being too harsh in my assessment so I went back and listened to the whole thing over again and I wasn’t off in a fog. In addition to being almost content-free, there was no opportunity for questions which ticks me off due to the curtailed meeting agenda. What there was was a lot of backslapping about how fantastic our emergency management is. But so far, I honestly see no difference in our response to COVID-19 and other Cities. I hope that when I see the JEOC I will eat my words. 🙂

Status Report?

Look, I know I sound cranky, but I can only reiterate what I’ve been saying for a while now: I feel blind. And I know at least a few others on the Council feel the same. We were told to expect an update from Finance at the April 9 meeting and I gotta say I’m not thrilled with that speed. Yes, I know everything is ultra-stressful for City employees right now, but I feel like Council should have some idea of what this State Of Emergency is doing to our finances. Getting a first report on that almost two months into the emergency seems wrong. I’m not blaming anyone. I’m just saying that we need to do better. We should consider how to provide better information to Council faster in future emergencies.

Late Fee Motion

The only substantial part of the meeting was a motion injected into the Consent Agenda by Councilmember Martinelli. This motion was to ask the City Attorney to study the possibility of a moratorium on late fees for renters during the emergency. It was voted down 5-2.

I voted ‘yes’ for the same reason I just finished grousing about the lack of information on finances. And the lack of information on the JEOC. I will always vote for more information if the request is reasonable. Councilmembers deserve to have their requests for information honored as part of their job as legislators, full stop. Even if I disagree with an idea, I will almost always want the Council to be able to utilize the power of the City to do the research.

So I was not happy that this was voted down, and not just because at least two Councilmembers are landlords and have a vested interest in the issue. They should have been more generous in at least studying the issue.

But on the other hand, I am also not happy with being blind-sided on this. I would prefer not to have any motions ever involving public policy injected anywhere into a meeting (like, oh I dunno… to triple the City Managers severance package?) Grrrrrr….

But in this case Mr. Martinelli had no choice. There was no reason for the Agenda to be so restrictive since our Governor relaxed OPMA rules last week. So if Mr. Martinelli wanted to get his idea out there he had to do it this way. I voted for this, again, as a courtesy. If it had been a vote on the real issue, without specific data I probably would have voted ‘no’. Not because of the merits, but for the fourth time: because there was no data. (Are ya sending a pattern here? 😀 )

Because here’s the thing: I have no idea how many people might be affected by this: either tenants or landlords. And neither the City or Councilmember Martinelli showed up with any stats. I don’t want to vote on anything where I don’t have data. Right now, I have no idea where the City is at and that makes me wary of any ad hoc spending. And frankly, just saying “They’re doing it in <CityX> doesn’t fly. It may be a huge problem. It may not be much of a problem. I have no idea.

One Size Does Not Fit All

An idea that is very easy for one city might be a terrible idea for another city depending on their finances, impacts to business, the jerks (er ‘Distinguished Councilmembers’ 😀 ) running the show, legal fees, etc.  And here’s an example that I relate to:

Until 7-8 years ago, we had a really good landlord training requirement in Des Moines, run by CSO Tonya Seaberry. I was a part of it. It protected neighborhoods from crap renters by making landlords more accountable. It cut down on Code Enforcement complaints dramatically. But the City dumped it (2012-ish?) after the law was challenged by the Rental Housing Association (RHA). We actually paid them a settlement of over $100k. So that went away. Now: I dearly want to see that law return. But I know we will likely have to be prepared to fight to get there. We have a huge pool of tiny landlords in DM who live off rental income  and they pay dues to RHA.

Anyhoo, when the majority says they’re worried about having to defend a ban on late fees they ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. It’s a legit concern, especially when there was no specifics as to how many people might be helped or hurt.

Do tenants deserve a break these days? You bet. But all policy ideas should be data-driven in order to obtain support.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this, and any little ol’ thang you might want to talk about of course. 🙂