Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

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PSA#1: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

PSA#2: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There will be a Candidate’s Forum October 14th. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Aviation Budget Meeting. I hope to hear that, after all the COVID-19 delays, the Commission will finally start funding Port Packages again as they promised last February.

Wednesday: have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting.

Last Week

Tuesday: I was not allowed to watch the Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas. Which was disappointing.

Wednesday: Lunch with me at the Senior Center. We draw Seniors from all of South King County so I always learn something.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Board. I keep bringing up the PSRC because they are the most important agency you’ve never heard of. They decide little details like, oh… if say, a Third Runway gets built. 😀 They create a variety of broad regional planning goals like transportation, housing and economic development. They do this partly by being the funnel through which Federal funding passes. In other words, when the Federal government sends dollars to build roads or housing or businesses, they tend to get distributed through the PSRC. Unfortunately, the PSRC is organized in a fashion that allows larger cities and the Port to steamroll the interests of smaller cities. So the City Of Des Moines needs to be a lot more engaged here.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting. If you haven’t been following, the City funds most of its street repairs from that $40 ‘car tab’ (ie. the Transportation Benefit District or ‘TBD’) which you voted to rescind last year (I-976). That issue is being argued in the courts now (because, hey, no law just goes into effect anymore, right? Everything gets appealed in the courts.) But until that’s resolved here’s two things you can count on: First, you’re gonna continue to pay into the fee–even though the City is not allowed to use that money. Second, the City’s entire road repair program is pretty much on hold. And if I-976 is upheld, we’ll need to take about $1 million from something else if we want our pot holes filled.

Transportation Benefit District TBD Page

Pavement Management program

Des Moines 2016 Pavement Analysis Report

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda, Video). See below.

City Council Meeting Recap

Official City Recap

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. If that isn’t the best opening line in a book ehvehhhhhr? On the one hand, last Thursday’s meeting was one of the least controversial I’ve attended; and at 43 minutes, it was definitely the shortest. Heck, I even had time to grab a snack and watch Judy Woodruff. 😀 There’s a downside to all that which made it perfect time to publish the third in my series Better City Council Meetings.

Consent Agenda

Street Sweepers: I asked to pull the item for renewing the Street Sweeper contract because I’ve heard from many neighbours over the years that it’s a bit crazy-making never knowing when they’ll show up. DPW Director Brandon Carver promised to ask the vendor if they could do that.

Comcast Renewal: This is one of those things that I voted for simply because I’m new and no one would care. But we just signed a ten year contract with an organization that is unbelievably disliked. I don’t know what we could do better, but I feel like we should try.

City Manager report on Airport stuff

The City Manager made two comments of note regarding the airport.

Letter to the PSRC

First, that he and the Mayor had written a letter to the Puget Sound Regional Council objecting to various aspects of their Regional Aviation Baseline Study.

OK, this is tricky, so please stick with me. The letter is fine, so far as it goes. However, it’s one of those ‘appearance of engagement’ deals. you will hear me go on about aaaaaaaaaaaall the time.

The appearance of engagement is when you do something that, to the uninformed public, looks like you’re showing concern, when in fact, it has almost no tangible effect whatsoever. The Port Of Seattle are the masters of this.

And letters like this can also be seen in that light because it creates the impression that the City is fighting the best possible fight. But that is far from the case. This is not to sound cynical–it’s important to raise the alarm that the PSRC’s (cough) ‘study’. That document is also a massive ‘appearance of engagement’. It tries so hard to sound concerned about the negative impacts of aviation, but in fact the PSRC study is totally biased against community interest.

So I appreciate the Mayor and City Manager doing this. However, we are literally years behind where we should be in dealing with the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP). It’s important to recognize that the Port announced its plans to expand in 2012 and we’ve done very little of consequence to this point. So unless we change course strategically starting about yesterday, the expansion of Sea-Tac Airport is pretty much assured. In short, we shoulda been doing a lot more than writing letters  and that’s the main reason I ran for office.

Tina Orwall’s HEPA filter STUDY

On an unambiguously positive note, the City Of Des Moines (along with our sister-cities) have kicked in money recently for State Representative Tina Orwall‘s project to test schools to see about the efficacy of HEPA filters. As I’ve written before, proper air quality is not some new-agey deal. It has very real and immediate effects for school children and I am so glad we are backing this.

The next obvious step, which I hope the City will get behind in its 2021 Legislative Agenda, is for the State to install a comprehensive air quality monitoring system for the communities around Sea-Tac Airport. I feel like I need to mention this over and over but there is literally no air quality monitoring system anywhere near the airport. Various agencies will do a study of one particular toxin (like ultrafine particulates) every decade or so but that’s about it. This is ridiculous.

The 2021 Budget Presentation

2021 Preliminary Annual Budget

This was a new one. We had first Budget Presentation of 2021. There was just one detail missing. The Budget. Literally. The actual document showed up in my Inbox ten minutes after the meeting ended. So there was nothing to discuss–except how much we were encouraged to ask questions. OK, my first question is this: Why couldn’t you send us the PDF before the meeting? 😀

I guess this is a good time to say that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀 I hope you’ll read it.

Five new police cars

We’re getting five new police cars. One immediately and four next year. And they need to be paid for now ahead of the Budget, in order to get them in a timely fashion. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because if you read my Better City Council Meetings #3, this is very similar to my problem with having a Budget Presentation without an actual Budget. Given the urgency and given the fact that this is being approved outside the normal budget process, look at the agenda and tell me what question is not on there:

Why do we need five new police cars?

There was nothing in the Agenda Packet that told me why I should vote to spend $350,000 on new vehicles–outside of the budget process.

Let me be clear: I have no problem paying for new vehicles if that’s what is needed. But in the hundreds of public meetings I’ve attended over the years, I have never been to any outside of Des Moines where a packet does not provide at least some justification for making an expenditure. If you run or work at a business, can you imagine a scenario where you made a written request for $350,000 without providing a reason?

Wait… remind me. Did I mention that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀

Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

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PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

Tuesday: Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development Committee.

Thursday: Transportation Meeting 3:00pm (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Last Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee meeting. The big discussion this time was about body cameras. Our City Manager has already added $140k for this to the 2021 budget so I guess that’s a done deal?

What’s Your Position On?

I do get questions from residents.

Body cameras

The interesting thing about that last Public Safety Committee Meeting was that there was 100% agreement, but almost no data. The position of the Police Guild is that, while they are not opposed to the idea in principle, they think that the money could be spent better elsewhere. And I agree. The Chief has said repeatedly that we get very few officer complaints, however offered no supporting data. And I think that was a mistake. Basic data regarding complaints should be constantly available and certainly when making a presentation on this issue. But, taking him at his word, I say again: we’re in the biggest budget shortfall in years, so why spend money now if there’s no problem? One comment from Councilmember Bangs was that “if we don’t spend this money for body cameras it may not be available for other public safety programs. It may just go away.” I would remind her that we the Council control the budget. Well, in theory, anyhoo. 😉

Redondo

To quote our Chief Of Police, “the best solution to crime is an engineered solution.” In other words, you want to organize traffic or buildings or whatever to avoid having to call the cops or have an ordinance. The best law enforcement is where no law enforcement is needed. And I agree.

However, there are some situations, and I’m starting to think Redondo is one of them, where there is nothing like a cop on the beat. This is where I’d like to spend that $140k–where there is a demonstrable problem that can clearly be solved with the presence of an officer. However, the Chief seems to be resistant to this notion. At his last Police Advisory Meeting, he made an interesting comment, “every interaction is a chance for something to go wrong.” Which I hope to ask him about because I think that if you ask most residents they want to see more police in their neighborhoods. I’ve done a bit of research and other law enforcement professionals express this sentiment.  The thing is, in places like Redondo, where there is no obvious ‘engineered’ answer to chronic speeding, loud cars, etc., having an officer on patrol (and writing tickets) may be the best solution.

Midway Sewer District

I’ve reached out to the Sewer District, as usual, mainly to learn how everything works and they seem pretty confident that it’s a one-off. OK, maybe this incident won’t happen again. However we’ve now had at least four water infrastructure problems just this year. My interest is in seeing if there are ways that all the players (Water Districts, Sewer Districts, City) need to be thinking long term.

Taken as a whole, Des Moines has an amazingly complex water system from wells like Water District #54 to the Marina, Redondo, Saltwater State Park, creeks, commercial shell-fishing. There are at least six agencies I can think of off the top of my head that govern various aspects of ‘water’ from your house out to Puget Sound. When people think of ‘complex bureaucracy’ water management is exactly what you’re thinking of.

I know people want something like those air quality ‘dashboards’ with a little water quality indicator color: Green good, Yellow caution, Red bad. Simple. But that is not how it currently works. (Actually, what you really want is to never have to think about ‘water’.) But in addition to all the ‘agencies’ we have an aging system–especially in areas like Lower Woodmont and increasing pressure to reduce pollutants. So my prediction is that we’re going to be talking about ‘water’ a lot more in the coming years.

G.R.O. business grant program

So, due to the nonsense at the last City Council Meeting I never got to ask questions about the program. I just want to reiterate that I am thrilled to support local business grants. In fact, I started pushing for this concept back in April in meetings with people from Rotary, Destination Des Moines, SCCOC and staff from the City Of Des Moines.

However, I have had questions of the process. I talk to lots and lots of businesses and I had several concerns:

1. Lack of awareness. Many businesses were unaware that the City even had a program. In fact, everyone at those initial SCCOC meetings agreed that ‘getting the word out’ would be one of the most challenging parts of any such program. I saw very little public marketing from the City and I wish there had been more.

2. Aside from basic awareness, there was also many psychological hurdles that you can’t really understand unless you’ve had a small business. Many business owners had an absolutely terrible experience with both the Federal and State grant programs earlier in the year. They were either subjected to a very confusing process, or delays or were outright denied.  Any number of business owners I spoke with literally had to be talked into applying for these grants. Again, after the bad experience with the Federal/State programs, a lot of people felt like, “Forget it. I’ll just try and muddle through.”

3. Accessibility. We have any number of business owners who have trouble with language issues or basic computer skills. One can argue that this is on them, but they are hard working and they provide products and services that many of us all benefit from. Without a certain amount of ‘hand holding’ (which their banker provided in the case of Federal programs) they found the process a struggle.

4. The fact that there were 26 applications and 26 acceptances strikes me as, at minimum, unusual. (Eg. how many employers do you know that accept 100% of their applicants?) I found it unnerving that the City did not publish the names or the dollar amounts. All I know is that we gave out $432k without a Council vote. I found it irresponsible that not a single one of my colleagues had any questions or concerns–which just seem like basic due diligence to me.

To deal with these concerns, all our sister cities utilized an independent firm to manage their grant program–as recommended by MRSC. Here is an example from Burien (which is now in round two of their program.) The idea was to have

Now, none of the above takes away from the benefit I’m sure the winners feel or the hard work of our City Staff. Again, no one is more thrilled than me to help local businesses. But ultimately, I work for you. It’s your money and I’m supposed to ask these kinds of questions.

Student Internet Access

I posted on Facebook an article in the Seattle Times about the uncertainty over how many students don’t have access to the Internet. We have a similar issue here. According to Highline Schools, there are close to a 1,000 students in Des Moines who may have poor or no Internet service. Other cities devoted a portion of their CARES Act money to helping them through the pandemic. We did not. The Mayor offered a token gesture to help twenty students which is only a drop in the bucket.

We have to offer a competitive education to every student in order to improve Des Moines. Quality of schools is number one on many people’s lists when choosing a place to live.  So even if you don’t have children in public school it is in your self-interest to help these students.

I want to remind the reader that we received $1.4 million in CARES Act funding. 100% of that money was spent by our City Manager and 0% was voted on by our City Council.

Education is such an important issue that there should have at least been an opportunity for discussion on that CARES funding from the dais. But even if I can’t convince you that education is your priority, I hope we can agree that the Council (as your representative) should’ve had the opportunity to weigh in on how that money was spent. It’s your money.

COVID-19

At our last Transportation Committee meeting I expressed my support for Roundabouts in Des Moines–to which the City Manager quipped, “Amazing, I am in agreement with Councilmember Harris!” To which I replied, “Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.” 😀

Although I doubt we’d currently agree as to who is the clock in that metaphor, I wanted to return the favor by applauding his recent policy statement on face coverings.

That letter shows that the City is continuing to be serious about the pandemic and I want to encourage all of you to do the same.

Let’s be honest: with each passing week I see fewer and fewer people using masks, doing the ‘six feet’ thing. It almost seems like the same game we all play at the airport with taking off our shoes.

I know we’re all sick of it and emotionally checked out, but it’s not going away. Not even close. Rates have risen sharply in the past few weeks and I’m begging y’all to take a breath and re-commit to good habits–before the cold weather.

Weekly Update: 09/29/2020

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Mea Culpa: Yeah, late again. But this time I have a really really good excuse, Ma! I’m working on this SeatacNoise.Info history thingee and… Oh, never mind. 🙂

Kudos: To our Communications Director Bonnie Wilkins for publishing her own Meeting Recaps which you can find on the City’s Facebook Page and the official web site. They’re not ‘Minutes’, more like the Agenda sheet with all the fluff stripped out. But they are definitely useful in summarizing the issues that were discussed and voted on–and which I don’t have time to get into here. Well done.

PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee meetings. These are public meetings so sign up  to listen in and comment. I believe the big discussion this time will be about body cameras. Our City Manager has already added $140k for this to the 2021 budget so I guess that’s a done deal?

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Regular Meeting and Audit Meetings (Agendas). What I’m watching and lobbying for is money specifically set aside for Port Package Updates.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Highline Forum. This is a bi-monthly meeting hosted by the Port Of Seattle. It is attended by electeds from the six airport communities, plus Highline Schools. It was started years ago in the aftermath of the Third Runway conflicts. Do I sound bored yet? 😀 The communities wish it would be more like an ongoing negotiation but it really isn’t. There’s usually some presentation re. noise, pollution, construction. It’s worth attending to get up to speed and to get an idea of which communities are engaged and which are not.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Aviation Baseline Study Open House.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. There was a discussion regarding the G.R.O. business grant program as well as the five year Capital Improvement Projects budget.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)  (Video1, Video2) Much of the discussion centered around recaps of the MFP and ED committee presentations. As I wrote last week, the highlight (for me) will be the first reading of approving our first Comcast agreement in ten years. I was, frankly, surprised that there was no public comment on this–given how much grousing there is on social media regarding Comcast’s pricing and service.

Gaslight

When people ask me about Des Moines politics I often refer to a truly great movie from 1944, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. It’s the story of a woman who witnesses a terrible crime and as a result gradually starts thinking she is going insane. The twist is that it’s her husband and his friends who are actually working to convince her (and everyone around her) that she’s nuts in order to cover up the fact that he is the criminal. The expression ‘gaslighting’ comes this movie/play–the tactic of trying to explain away bad behaviour by convincing people that it is the accusers who are batty.

 

At our last City Council Meeting I was once again attacked (Video go to 36:00)–this time by our City Manager and then scolded by my Councilmembers for having done whatever. Of course, as before, they have no facts or evidence or even a specific ‘charge’. They just believed the City Manager’s spiel and decided it was good idea to pile on because if one is doing anything he dislikes, hey, it’s time to get the cuffs, ossifer.

You and me both have grown weary of these cases of funny business. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, at night, I occasionally ask Jesus to bring some real investigative journalism to Des Moines. Until then, I’ll do what I’ve done before: document what happened and publish the results next week. For now…

Business Grants

This case revolves around my desire to help local businesses participate in the City’s G.R.O. business grant program . You would think that wanting to increase participation would be welcomed by our City, but apparently not.

What is frustrating for me is how ‘black box’ the program has been. According to the presentation there are 26 businesses to be assisted (which is great) for a total of $432,000. However some of them will receive more than they requested (which does raise an eyebrow.) We know Richard Shockley from the Highline College Small Business Development Center. But we have not been given the business’ names or the methodology used to evaluate their applications. And I find that a bit unusual.

And apparently, other Cities agree. Because the common practice, and what MRSC recommends, is that Cities outsource these sorts of programs to an external agency (like a Chamber Of Commerce or other group with specific expertise) so that there can be no question of outreach or bias or equity.

On the other hand

Now 26 businesses get $432,000 sounds pretty sweet. But on the other hand, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of businesses operating in Des Moines. Yes, many of them do not qualify for grants for various obvious reasons, but still:  twenty six ain’t exactly ‘huge’ given the number of operating establishments. And then there’s this: there was 100% acceptance. Literally everyone who applied got a grant. Those were the only Des Moines businesses with genuine needs?

So forgive me if I ask at least a few questions regarding how our program was set up. I’m not being vindictive. I just want all the facts, before I render judgment.

*The City Of Des Moines was given $1.4 million dollars in Federal CARES Act money. Our City Manager spent it, all on his own, without a single vote or input from our City Council. And the rest of the Council had no problem with that. In fact, as the City Manager has talked about this spending there has not been a single objection or even question about it–only applause, which I find kinda nuts.

What is wrong with you?

But if one asks reasonable questions about the program design, the response is, “So you’re against business grants? You’re against money for the Food Bank? You’re against money to prevent lay-offs?” What are you, nuts? 😀

No. I’m not nuts. I’m trying to look out for your money. It’s your tax money. Whether or not twenty six businesses got much needed money is not the whole story. What really matters is that one person ultimately decided how to spend every dollar of that money. And that ain’t how public spending is supposed to work. How it’s supposed to work is that we, the Council, put forward proposals which represent what we think you want and best represents your interests.

Boys Town

I’ll just close by pointing out one bust out lie from the dais which I’ve heard over and over. One doesn’t usually like to use the ‘L’ word, but I admit I’ve kinda lost patience with this one thing.

It’s the plaint, “We’ve reached out to JC many times and tried to guide him….” Aside from the fact that this isn’t Boys Town and I’m not some wayward youth to be put back on the straight and narrow by Father Flanagan, this is simply untrue.

I want to make it clear that almost 100% of the ‘reaching out’ that has happened since my election has been me reaching out to my colleagues. Every Councilmember knows that I have tried to reach out to them–not just in Des Moines, but regionally. Councilmembers across all of Puget Sound know that I really value a collaborative approach. But in fact, the only members of the Council who have actually initiated contact with me since November have been Traci Buxton and Luisa Bangs–which I welcomed. But they weren’t exactly “Let’s all work together!” kinda deals. There were never any sincere, high-minded discussions like that. If I had a dime for all the number of un-returned emails and phone calls… I’d have a lot of dimes. 🙂  In fact, I’ve had DM Councilmembers make appointments with me and simply not show up. Not just once, but many times. What is this, Tinder for local government? 😀

So with regard to this latest attack (or any prior issues), you might think that my colleagues would at least, Oh I dunno, try to talk to me about the issue before sounding off. But you’d be wrong. They simply took the City Manager’s bogus narrative at face value. In short, it’s just more of the same ‘7-0’ deal I campaigned against.

And the reason you should care about it, apart from my delicate ‘feelings’ or whatever, is that, remember, the City Council is the oversight of government. We like to think of local government as not subject to the same pettiness and partisanship as the State or Federal levels, but that was and is simply not true.

One way to tell…

See, you the public can’t know directly what’s what because you don’t get to see the ‘inside baseball’. But I’ll just leave you with this:

If you think back to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor’s made up attacks back in April there is a recurring theme of making accusations that are not only vague but serve no civic purpose. They’re not about an ordinance or action that can be taken. They’re simply an attempt at public embarrassment, dressed up to sound authoritative, when in truth they are empty words–merely an expression of personal annoyance. In short, a waste of the Council’s time. It’s bad enough when politicians do it. But an administrator who is paid really well to stay above the fray should never go there.

Man, I hate sounding so ‘cranky’. Because that just plays into the narrative I’ve heard over and over since the night I made my first public comment at a Des Moines City Council Meeting. But that was always just the gaslighting playbook: Don’t pay attention to what is actually being said. Just be charming. And label all those inconvenient facts (and people) as ‘cranky’.

*As one example of alternative spending. According to Highline Schools, there are close to a 1,000 students in Des Moines who may have poor or no Internet service. Other cities devoted a portion of their CARES Act money to helping them through the pandemic. We did not. But education is such an important issue that there should have at least been an opportunity for discussion from the dais. That’s the problem with a pre-decided system: it sounds great until you start to think about the options that were not thought of.

Weekly Update: 09/21/2020

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PSA #1: Now that the Federal Way light rail construction is really beginning in earnest, you may want to sign up for email updates from Sound Transit. There will be many road closures over the next year or so.

PSA #2: Dude: you really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

RIP: I note and deeply mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Just perusing her bio reminds me of how much the world has improved for women in my lifetime–and how much she did to make that happen. When I was in grad school, which wasn’t that long ago, there were fifty nine guys in my class and one woman. I distinctly remember the Dean making a statement about why there weren’t more women. “Possibly because most girls don’t want to be engineers.” Oof. Lots accomplished. Lots more still to do. Thank you for your service.

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Regular Meeting and Audit Meetings (Agendas)

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Highline Forum. This is a bi-monthly meeting hosted by the Port Of Seattle. It is attended by electeds from the six airport communities, plus Highline Schools. It was started years ago in the aftermath of the Third Runway conflicts. Do I sound bored yet? 😀 The communities wish it would be more like an ongoing negotiation but it really isn’t. There’s usually some presentation re. noise, pollution, construction. It’s worth attending to get up to speed and to get an idea of which communities are engaged and which are not.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Aviation Baseline Study Open House Sign up to learn about progress on siting a second airport.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. These are public meetings so sign up  to listen in and comment.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) We’ll get an update on the G.R.O. business grant program. But the highlight (for me) will be the first reading of approving our first Comcast agreement in ten years. I am not on the Franchise Committee which oversees that. But considering Comcast is running neck and neck in terms of public hatred with the Port Of Seattle :D, I will be very interested to see if we have achieved any tangible improvements since the 2009 agreement. The answer to the obvious question is, “no we can’t lower your rates.” But there are possible improvements. I may sound snippy here, but based on previous meetings involving contract review I expect defensiveness–which I hate. I can never understand why there is tension. I’m supposed to ask tough questions of the staff negotiating this because I know this is one of the most visceral issues for you as residents. You feel ill-treated by Comcast, right? (OK, I do. 😀 ) Please read these notes from the last Franchise Committee Meeting for background and let the City Council know what you think!

Last Week

Tuesday: SCAtbd Meeting all that ‘transportation’ stuff–like

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda).

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. I should remind people periodically that this is a King County-funded program that works to reduce youth violence and improve school attendance. It’s success has been dramatic over the past five years, thanks in part to Officer Tanya Seaberry. It shows that an extremely effective way to reduce crime and improve outcomes for students is with some pretty basic and low dollar programs. Give kids interesting things to do and some attention and good things happen. 🙂

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Board Meeting. This mattered partly because of this Aviation Baseline Study presentation. The bottom line is that almost no aviation planning includes a discussion of ‘externalities’… those pesky effects on us. This study has been ongoing for two years and literally no work has been done on the negative impacts on airport communities. As I keep trying to say, this is outrageous and simply would not happen in any other type of public project.

Thursday: Transportation Meeting 3:00pm (Agenda). What was great about this was that we had a member of the public attending a public meeting. 😀 (Thanks to Cory O’Brien for being a guinea pig.) I also learned that our Mayor and Deputy Mayor dislike roundabouts. Whereas the City Manager does not. I happen to believe in roundabouts because all the evidence says that they improve traffic flows dramatically–so much so that State law strongly encourages their adoption.

Thursday: Environment Committee. These are probably the most boringest of all committees (even for attendees), mainly because they are currently limited in scope to riveting topics like storm water. For the long term I’m interested that it should include broader topics like shore and off-shore water quality (spoiler alert: not good) and, of course, the airport.

Thursday (Thursday is quite a day, right?) : City Council General Meeting (Agenda). Recap below.

Saturday: Marina/Beach Cleanup organised by SR3 and Seattle Dive Tours. I spent an hour ostensibly looking for trash along the North seawall. Didn’t find much. But I’ll tell ya what I did find–a lot of the seawall. 😀 What I mean is that a surprising amount of it is now falling onto the beach and into Puget Sound and I wish we could pick up all that creosote-coated wood, but that’s a job on a different scale. I had an interesting conversation with the boss at Seattle Dive Tours and it got me thinking about our unique relationship to environmental issues with both the water and air.

Lobbyist Contract

Last Thursday’s City Council Meeting (video) was, like almost all meetings since the Declaration Of Emergency in March, basically a Consent Agenda. The only ‘excitement’ was that I pulled the item amending and enhancing our lobbyist’s contract. That led to (yet another) trolling by the City Manager.

Preamble: strategery

When you’re part of a group like a City Council, you will routinely come up against issues that are no-win. And this *contract enhancement was one of them. In these cases you can take the principled position, get attacked and lose or you can go along, not make waves and wait for a future opportunity to undo the thing you dislike.

Believe it or not, I choose Door #2 on most issues for several reasons: first of all, the City Manager should have the team he wants; I’m not here to micro-manage. Second of all, it’s generally a waste of time arguing over issues where I’ll lose. I only take the principled (aka ‘guy asking to be trolled’) stance when there is something going on.

I ran to change things

I ran as a change candidate on at least two big issues. I said that we were not doing economic development well. And I said, especially, that we had not handled the negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport well. Both those departments are run by Michael Matthias. Unlike other cities, he is not only our City Manager, he is also our Economic Development Director and our lead on all airport issues, including the upcoming SAMP. In other words, Mr. Matthias is not just an administrator, he is the policy driver on the two key issues I  ran to try and change. So it was inevitable that we would have disagreements. The question always came down to, would we be able to work together respectfully.

Why complain?

Once again, the City Manager made some disparaging comments about me from the dais which were, well, let’s just say, not 100% accurate. And I want to point out three things:

1. This has become something of a recurring deal with Mr. Matthias and our Mayor. If I disagree. If I question the wonderfulness of a policy? If I do anything they dislike? Attack. Make some claim that I’m doing something ‘inappropriate’ or even ‘dangerous’! If you watch City Council Meetings, or read the Waterland Blog you’ve seen a few of these admonitions. But at some point I’ll publish a full list of these beauties (which are part of the public record–I’m would never betray confidences.) I don’t want to be a tease, but they are truly ridiculous. And they will make the people who supported them look ridiculous.

2. The thing I truly do not get is that there is absolutely no need to do so. As usual, he/they have the votes, so why not just ignore me, especially when I make reasonable objections? Why be blatantly disrespectful? As always, I said nothing disparaging. But I did speak from research and personal experience.

3. Most troubling, once again my colleagues seem to find nothing out of the ordinary with this. Regardless of who you voted for you, it is not in your interest as a voter to allow the administration to ever publicly criticize an elected official. When that decorum breaks down, it should tell you something about what is going on ‘under the hood’.

New duties

To begin with, I asked for specifics as to what Mr. Hemstad would be doing for his raise and got no reply. That right there gets my antennae up. But here are my educated guesses.

Airport

For what it’s worth: I’ve had over a dozen chances to engage with Mr. Hemstad over the past two years. I had these opportunities because I was a part of SB5370 (siting a second airport) in 2018 and then I came up with the original plan that became legislation to expand Port Packages (HB2315 and HB1847) in 2019. I knew the extent of his knowledge on airport issues–which is similar to most lobbyists, and which was, to put it bluntly, none.

Mr. Matthias and Mr. Hemstad are now our representatives on the StART, which was designed to be a citizen-led group as part of an FAA mandate on community outreach. So what we’re now doing is sending the two highest paid people in the City to attend meetings that were better served by far more knowledgeable residents? Not my preferred plan.

Economic Development

That’s my personal research. As to the other selling points, as I said, I am not happy with the City’s current economic development strategy. I asked for specifics as to his new portfolio and got no reply. So I did some research. And what seems to be the case is that Mr. Hemstad and Mr. Matthias have worked together at least twice before in other cities. I believe that is why he was hired in the first place–which is fine, Mr. Matthias wanted people he knows and trusts. Great. But I examined those City’s economic development plans and I did not find them to be great roadmaps for Des Moines. So why would I support doubling down on more of the strategies I already think are bad for Des Moines future?

Added Value

And finally, there was much talk about ‘what a deal’ we were getting–that Mr. Hemstad combined best-in-class service with the lowest price one could find anywhere. The claims were just effusive. Mr. Hemstad gets $6,000 per month for non-exclusive services–meaning he can (and does) take on work for other clients. So I reached out to a long-time friend and Olympia lobbyist and to colleagues in five other cities. And I found that there are other similar-sized cities which pay the same or less for similarly effective services; some as little has half that amount. Some have larger staffs with greater resources and some have in-house, full-time lobbyists that provide exclusive services.

Overall grading

I am in no way disparaging the work that Mr. Hemstad does or the fees he has received. I’m sure he earns his money. I liked him personally when we collaborated before. His accomplishments are real and I appreciate everything he has done for Des Moines–so much so that I wanted him to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing! Just not all this new nonsense.

Two things to think about

I want residents to understand that if they voted for me they voted for change in our economic development and airport strategies. And that means pointing out when I believe we are headed in the wrong direction–even if it would tactically better to ‘go along’.

You as a resident will never have access to the petty ‘inside baseball’ that is behind most of these fights. But once again, I want to emphasize that I did not pick this fight. Again, it would have been better if the other side had let me have my say and just moved on. From the dais I made a subtle (probably too subtle) policy objection to this raise. The City Manager (and the Council) had a choice. They have the votes. They could simply listen to my objections, vote to approve, and move on. Simple. No arguments, no wasting time. But noooooooo. (Hear the John Belushi voice, there?) Apparently, winning the vote is not sufficient.

I suppose one can read this and think, “Jeez, what a whiner. The vote was 6-1 so you were obviously wrong. Move on.” But when one is attacked from the dais, one has to respond. You, the voter, should  understand that their behavior is simply not appropriate and that my objections to this contract were fact-based and reasonable. Regardless of the tally, I am confident that I made the right call. And their bad behavior only reinforces that confidence.

I leave it to you to decide who is more credible.

*Despite what you may heard this is a raise, not just an ‘extension’ as was advertised, so to be generous I refer to it as an ‘enhancement’. The idea was sold that Mr. Hemstad is being paid simply to work more months of the year from home. But what those new tasks are–especially during the months when legislatures are not in session, was never spelled out. Don’t wanna call it a raise? Fine, call it a whole new consulting gig. But as a consultant myself, it is most definitely not ‘just an extension’.me.

Weekly Update: 07/12/2020

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This Week

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda)

Last Week

Tuesday: Puget Sound Regional Committee (PSRC) Transportation Board Zoom Meeting. (Remember: they’re most important agency nobody knows about.) Discussion of Fast Ferry and about half a billion in regional transportation monies.

Tuesday: phone call with Senator Karen Keiser on air quality monitor stuff.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: My first committee meetings ever. Woo hoo! Transportation and Environment. Not much to report except that we chose a chairman for each and neither was me. 😀 Which is normal, given my n00b status.

Thursday: City Council Meeting Study Session (Agenda, Video)

Meeting Recap

This was a long meeting (four hours).  Part of the length came from quite a number of administrative presentations from various staff before the main events. A lot of people were interested in hearing about the police response to the Fourth Of July. Interestingly, calls for service were down this year (62) vs. last year (68). Only one big ticket ($513) was issued.

Now this meeting was a ‘Study Session’ which means that the agenda was constrained to the two item(s) to be ‘studied’. But two were enough! Both issues were contentious and I’ll just tell you that my vote on both was based on taking the long view. The vote was 5-2 on both. The majority voted with the city manager’s recommendations–and they were both, in my opinion, incredibly short sighted.

I’m devoting this week’s ‘essay’ to the StART. I know many of you are much more concerned about the Van Gasken House. I know this because I received 86 emails and phone calls about the issue and only five were in favor of tearing down the place. I think that must be some kind of record for citizen engagement on a City Council issue. The loss of the Van Gasken House breaks my heart. I’ll have more in a separate post because so many things went wrong with that  it highlights an essential difference between me and my peers.

But I’m about to talk about the StART. And not because this decision on its own was all that important (it really wasn’t) but because there were things said in this discussion that make clear how our city has been mishandling its entire relationship with the Port for a long time. And that is a big deal if you care about the noise, pollution and other negative impacts from Sea-Tac Airport.

Sea-Tac Airport has profoundly affected this City since before it’s incorporation in 1959 (one of the primary drivers to incorporate was to hopefully give residents more of a voice in an upcoming airport expansion. How little things change. 😀 ) The airport is the most important long-term issue facing the City which you almost surely know nothing about. Our City has done a not great job of keeping the public informed so I can’t sum all this stuff up in one post. But suffice it to say, our health, our economy, our property are all heavily impacted by the Port Of Seattle–and usually not for the better.

This relatively small vote was only one of a hundred forks in the road where we’ve made the wrong choice over the years. I’ve spent the last four years, including running for this office, in order to help get our City to change that course.

ReStART

We voted to immediately rejoin the Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable (StART). We left last year in concert with Burien and Federal Way.  But now we are rejoining unilaterally. Look, everything to do with the airport is a soap opera. So there is no way to make this explanation short and sweet. I am so sorry. 😀

Background

After the war between the airport communities and the Port Of Seattle over building the Third Runway, both sides considered it important to have an ongoing dialogue to help mend fences. This is called the Highline Forum. Since 2006, electeds from each of the six cities, plus Highline Schools, have met bi-monthly to share information–mostly about what is going on at the airport. That’s all fine, but that’s not what residents actually wanted which is, of course, negotiation. Concerned citizens have always wanted ways to discuss how the Port might actually work to reduce the negative impacts. That was never the purpose of the Highline Forum.

To address that frustration, in 2018, the City Managers of these same cities responded by creating the Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable. StART is populated by two citizens appointed by each city, plus the Port and reps from both the FAA and the largest Airlines (let’s call them the PFAs for short.)

Unfortunately the StART has been problematic from day one because, frankly, neither side ever agreed on its purpose. The Port saw it as being another ‘Highline Forum for Citizens’; meaning more of the same ‘information sharing’. And the city managers went along–perhaps believing that “half a loaf is better than no loaf.” But you see the problem: more information sharing is not what the community was demanding.

Despite that, each side had strong reasons to plow ahead anyway. There was so much pressure from citizen groups like the Quiet Skies groups to do something. And on the other side the Port had a strong public relations incentive to improve their ‘engagement’ with the public. So it got underway and the fighting over what it was supposed to do and how it was supposed to work began literally at the first meeting. It was only a matter of time before someone got fed up. And they did. So about a year into it, Burien, Des Moines and Federal Way drafted a letter to the Port saying that they were ‘suspending’ their participation. (I’m not divorcing you, Bob. I’m just taking a break. 😀 )

The Cold War

As you can probably tell from my somewhat flippant tone, I was against the StART because I knew that the PFAs were not interested in negotiating (at least, not in that public forum.) But who listens to me, right? 😀 Yes we desperately needed (and still need) dialogue. However, it needed to be of a very different kind in order to get anywhere.

All that said, once we had joined, I felt (as I do now) that we should not be quitters. One way to look at our relationship with Sea-Tac Airport is that it is something of a Cold War that flares up every decade or so when the Port starts another expansion project. So leaving the StART was kinda like America threatening to remove our Embassy from Moscow every time the Soviets did something we disliked. Sure the StART was/is deeply flawed. But cutting off communication like that? That was even worse.

So I was convinced that eventually we were bound to rejoin. And then our city manager decided to do that. Good! However, last night’s vote was a decision to rejoin on our own and with almost no mention of the issues that drove us to leave in the first place. And that’s bad. My goal at last night’s meeting was to simply delay the vote to rejoin until after we had had a chance to talk to Burien and Federal Way and obtain a joint agreement. We left together, we should rejoin together.

Because one problem we’ve always had in obtaining fair treatment from the Port is that we are small cities. The Port always has an easy job dealing with the airport communities when we don’t work together. And sadly, that is often the case. What my colleagues and city manager do not seem to appreciate is that we should always present a united front in discussions with the Port. To a certain extent, the Port is management and we’re labor. And labor is always stronger together.

If you control the agenda…

In his presentation on the StART, our city manager said that one of the chief of objections everyone has to the StART is the way meetings are run:

“…because if you control the agenda, you control the meeting.”

To which I might reply: the man knows of what he speaks. 😀

I hate doing it, but I just gotta be blunt here: The city manager’s (cough) dialogue with me was not good for Des Moines.  His presentation tells me that he does not have a full understanding of the situation. And this does not surprise me. Because in addition to not consulting with me, he also did not get input from our own *Des Moines Aviation Advisory Committee.

Clearly the City Manager feels like the tasks of negotiation should be his alone. I strongly disagree.  And if he could not bring himself to take advantage of my expertise in developing his recommendation to the full Council, the least he could have done would have been to avoid a confrontation.

That aside, the real problem is that Des Moines and Federal Way have largely ignored airport issues since leaving the StART.  And Burien, which had provided leadership in the past, is now struggling to come to a consensus on how to proceed. The point is that there has been almost zero communication and coordination between the three Cities in the past year.

Strategy? What strategy?

Long before my election I began working with electeds in all six cities to try to find some direction we can all agree on. Because I know that there are important actions to be taken regarding the airport literally every week.

Because the issue is not really the StART. The essential problem is a lack of strategy. The fact is that none of the six cities have a coherent strategy. And certainly there is no collective plan.

What we do, what we have always done, is simply react to events as they happen. Which is a ridiculous way to defend one’s interest against an ongoing threat that flares up every few years. It’s a bit like only preparing for hurricanes when it starts raining.

You are not a cog

I also rarely call out individual councilmembers and I don’t like to quote people because I never want to be accused of quoting people out of context. I respect her and her work, but at this meeting Councilmember Buxton basically spoke for the majority view on Des Moines’ relationship with Sea-Tac Airport:

“It’s always been about exploring, settling and securing this region… for commerce.”

“Our cities are a cog in a historical and global machine… It’s a huge, moving commerce machine.”

“Effective advocacy will be more at the regional and national level […] and the most effective interventions will be mitigation.”

These three quotes encapsulate everything that is wrong and has been wrong with our relationship with the Port Of Seattle for the past fifteen years.

The City Of Des Moines and its people are not meant to be ‘cogs’ at the service of a ‘commerce machine’. We are here to raise our families in health and safety and that means doing everything in our power to push back against the PFAs and obtain less noise and less pollution for our families.

Speaking for the majority, Councilmember Buxton made it clear that they believe that there is nothing that we can do to help ourselves. This is factually inaccurate (I cannot stress this enough because it seems that in today’s world all one has to do is repeat a falsehood enough times and suddenly a large number of people will believe it to be the truth.)

But what is especially troubling is that her statements could easily have come from the mouth of a Port Of Seattle public relations employee. Which may seem odd until you realize that our former mayor–and the colleague and mentor of several members of the current majority actually is a Port Of Seattle public relations employee.

And I’ll go further: none of the current Port Commissioners would ever talk that way about Des Moines. They may not be on our side, but they do not consider us to be ‘cogs’ in their machine. And I’m telling you that because if they did think so little of us as human beings, negotiation really would be pointless. It’s not. We just need to have people on our side of the table who really are on our side of the table.

Summary

Our decision to leave the Sea-Tac Airport Roundtable highlighted the two basic reasons we cannot negotiate effectively with Sea-Tac Airport and neither is because we are powerless:

  1. We have a government with no long-term strategy that has shown itself unable to negotiate effectively.
  2. We currently have a council that mouths the Port’s own talking points.

*As I write this, the two remaining members of the DMAAC just submitted a letter of resignation.

Weekly Update: 07/06/2020

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This Week

Tuesday: Puget Sound Regional Committee (PSRC) Transportation Board Zoom Meeting. (Remember: they’re most important agency nobody knows about.) Discussion of Fast Ferry and about half a billion in regional transportation monies. (More below.)

Tuesday: phone call with Senator Karen Keiser on air quality monitor stuff.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Thursday: My first committee meetings ever. Woo hoo. Transportation and Environment. You can listen in by signing up here to Zoom in.

Thursday: City Council Meeting Study Session (Agenda) Note: A ‘Study Session’ means that the agenda is constrained to the item(s) to be ‘studied’. The practical effect is that, per Council Rule #10, no public comment will be taken unless it is to do with those items. Which are:

  1. Whether or not to re-join the StART. It looks the majority will vote to re-join. We left last year in concert with Burien and Federal Way.  But now we are re-joining (apparently) unilaterally which I think is a mistake–we left as a group and if we re-join, we should also do so together. For the record, I never thought it was wise to leave in the first place. It’s complicated. 🙂 As the SAMP (airport expansion) approaches, I’ll try to clear up the confusion.
  2. Tearing down the Van Gasken House. This breaks my heart.  Now purchasing this property back in 2017 was a fantastic idea. But apparently the grant the City is using to redevelop the property almost demands it (all grants are loaded with nasty strings like this, see pg 11 of the packet and the essay below.)  The question I have is: was this the plan all along? I mean, did we go into this purchase knowing that we’d have to demolish it in order to get redevelopment money? Can’t we just leave it as is and wait for a grant that gives us the option to save the house? Again: this is where I differ from my colleagues. I think this is the kind of deal where the public should have a chance to weigh in on the issue in a meaningful fashion.

Last Week

Monday: I attended a very good meeting hosted by our State Representative Tina Orwall to try to move forward on her HEPA Interior Air Quality Study. Also in attendance were Mayor Matt Pina, officials from Highline Schools as well as State Senator Karen Keiser. There have been several encouraging studies now that seem to indicate that better air filtering in schools can lead to not only healthier kids, but also higher test scores. This study will provide valuable information on how we can improve air quality in public buildings and our homes–and what benefits that might yield.

Tuesday: I gave testimony at the Port Of Seattle’s Special Meeting on Policing. Here is the letter I sent to the commissioners. I think their willingness to have a meeting where the public could vent a bit is important and it’s something we should do here as well. I’m also pleased to report  receiving personal replies from two commissioners.

Tuesday: I attended a Highline Good Neighbors Group meeting in Burien. This is the group Melissa Petrini started last year in Normandy Park to try to unite residents from all our communities to discuss issues of public safety, homelessness, drugs, etc. The group had made great progress until COVID-19 made things impossible. She’s starting up again with a group of twenty and we’ll see if we can get the ball rolling again. I really think this is the sort of community work that needs to happen in order to make the area safer and–and also tamp down on some of the polarization. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, just email Melissa with “Highline Good Neighbors” in the subject line.

Wednesday: come lunch at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: I spoke with Mark Finstrom the Chief Technology Officer of Highline Schools. The school district intends on a levy to provide better technology services for students, but there may be other opportunities to get broadband for our kids, which is a high priority for several Councilmembers.

Thursday: a briefing from King County Metro on the fiscal challenges facing Metro, and the service changes you can expect this fall.

Saturday: OK, I know I said I might do that Running Of The Flags fun run and as it turned out? I LIED. 😀 My excuse is basically that I have old dogs and the blasting started early in the day in my neighbourhood. So with no canine-antidepressants handy, I decided to leave town and give them a break. What does this have to do with City Council? I am told that, as with last year, someone from the Police Department will give a report at the beginning of the next City Council Meeting  as to their response to all the fireworks complaints. So be sure to tune in July 9 at 5pm for that. 🙂

Sidewalks

Surprisingly, I got a bunch of follow-up questions about last week’s rant on Committees. Which is why I’m going to totally ignore them and talk about something completely different this week. 😀 (There is a lot more to say about committees, but I’ve got a plan here with these rants. And besides, we were just talking about the difficulties of ‘grants’, so forgive me changing direction like that.)

In the Top 3 of most residents’ questions (especially women and parents) is undoubtedly “Why don’t we have sidewalks?” It’s a fair question. The short answer is: They cost an absolute fortune. To which you’ll reply, “What? Concrete? How expensive is concrete?” Yes. The cost of concrete (like so many other aspects of construction) is huge. I know you think it’s the five guys who supposedly stand around and do nothing on the crew, but that’s not really it.

Grant Land

So remember I talked after our last City Council Meeting about our Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP)? Go open that and take a gander at the big City project for 2021:  Priority #5 (24th Ave. from 223rd down to Kent Des Moines Road). About ten blocks. Now check the price tag: $4,638,000. Eye popping isn’t it?

The first thing to notice is that the City portion is only about 25% of the total. And that’s typical. The lion’s share of big projects like this are funded from Fed, State and County grants. And by the way, most of the Federal transportation funding to Des Moines actually comes from the PSRC (see Tuesday above) so they’re a big player in this too. All these sources of funding come with pages and pages of †rules and regs

A big portion of our City’s staff time is spent scouring the bowels of State and County programs for opportunities to get the other 75% that small cities like ours can almost never afford on our own.  And while it’s great to get ‘free money’, none of it is really ‘free’ because it takes a ton of work to find and almost all come with *strings. But the biggest drag, in my opinion, is that we don’t control our own fate–we have to win those grants before we can determine what projects we can do, and when. Because we’re always competing with every other city for the same bags of money.

Which brings me to the last thing I wanted to mention about the TIP: Notice how the vast majority of projects have empty spaces next to the funding and scheduling? A City Council could proclaim like feudal kings, “Sidewalks for all!” But until the grants show up? It’s all fantasy.

In short: The costs for sidewalks, even a single block, starts at six figures. So you need to use other people’s money and follow their rules and their schedules.

You can’t be in the game if you’re not on the board

Now despite all my grousing, if you want any traffic project (say a speed bump) it is still very important to get your idea on the TIP as soon as possible. If your idea isn’t on the TIP? No one will even begin looking for money to pay for it. Grants come in all shapes and sizes. If your idea is small, a grant might be found right away and ‘Presto!’ it might be possible to move your idea to the top of the stack. As I always say: advocate, Advocate, ADVOCATE for what you want.

So what’s the answer?

Not to sound flip, but the ‘answer’ to more transportation projects is simple: make more money. 😀 Look, I never promised a “secret sauce.” Because there is no secret sauce. My only goal was to give you some understanding as to why this most basic desire from residents has become so hard to achieve.

There is no way a small city like ours can ever afford sidewalks in established neighborhoods without a lot more revenue. As I see it, there are two solutions, sadly neither of them with instant relief:

1. A radical reform of how Cities are funded (that’s beyond this essay, but in one sentence, most of your tax dollars go to the State; very little actually goes to the City Of Des Moines.) Given how reluctant voters are to trust any changes to the tax system, I ain’t holding my breath. But at some point, some legislation needs to happen to keep more of your taxes here in Des Moines.

2. A dramatic re-think of local economic development. That’s the reason I kept ranting about ‘economic development’ during my campaign. Because business formation is  the only chance a city like Des Moines has to improve its ability to build more sidewalks. Unless you enjoy more taxes, of course. (Where’s the eye roll emoji when you really need it?)

Summary

Sidewalks are very expensive to build in established neighborhoods. Small cities like Des Moines actually keep a small percentage of the taxes you pay to the County and State so transportation projects (like almost all capital projects) are funded overwhelmingly via grants (aka ‘other people’s money’) But grants are often unpredictable and usually come with lots of strings. Those strings limit not only how many projects we can do and when we can do them, but also the design of the things we do end up building.

*Here is one more example of the strings that comes with grant funding: Did you know that concrete is one of the top five contributors to global warming? Really. Making concrete pollutes more than just about anything else you can think of. So one reason construction is so expensive now is that every government tries to specify low-carbon concrete. Which is waaaaaay more expensive than Brand X concrete. That’s just one example of the rules and regs. There are literally hundreds more.

†Another example of a grant rule is that the grant we are using to redevelop the Van Gasken house says you can’t have an existing structure on the redeveloped property–Oops!