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.

Two-Weekly Update: 09/14/2020

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Weekly Update, my ass. 😀 Sorry. I took a few days to get on the water for a change. And then I come back and the sky has turned orange and the power went out and my computer broke and…

Cats and Dogs! Living together! 😀

Anyhoo, I appreciate all the people who actually notice when I don’t do these. Thanks for following along.

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!

PSA #3: If you have a business in Des Moines, you should fill out a G.R.O. application, the City’s new business grant program. The deadline for applications is Today, Monday September 14th! If you need help filling out forms–especially if you need a translator, please give me a call (206) 878-0578.

This Week

Action packed!

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

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda).

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Let’s see where we’re at with kids as they get back to school (sort of? 😀 )

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

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

Thursday: Environment Committee 4:00pm (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

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

Saturday: Marina/Beach Cleanup organised by SR3 and Seattle Dive Tours. Now they say they’re all booked up for volunteers. But you just know some people are going to punk out at the last minute so why not just show up and help make our coastline even nicer. 🙂

Last Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Meeting. (Watch/Agenda) Item 8b. So… this is a long story. If you care about airporty stuff, I strongly recommend you go to SeatacNoise.Info and subscribe to their mailing list. Basically, the Port Of Seattle operates 24 Noise Monitors, which are supposed to give us a detailed picture of not just the noise, but also the number/altitude of flights over each neighborhood. So the thing is: they’ve never exactly worked properly. Which is bad. Because, as I always say, if you don’t have data, you can’t get help. This has been a long-running issue. In fact the Port spent $2M to replace them back in 2015. And the wild thing? In 2016 I started bitching  that the replacements weren’t working right! And no one paid much attention. Which was sad for me. 🙁 😀 But the good news is that, the Port Commissioners (finally) took complaints from residents like Vashon Island Fair Skies, my colleagues in SeaTac and moi and decided to do something about it. So apparently, their will be an audit and the Port will start releasing data from each Noise Monitor to the public so we can easily double-check that these things actually work. Yay. 🙂

Wednesday: Lunch at the Senior Center. Occasionally people ask why I show up there so often. Well, first off, the food is usually pretty good. Second, there are those EATS vouchers, which I’m always pushing to get residents to try all our local restaurants! But mainly it’s for the intelligence. 😀 A lot of times, these people know stuff that’s going on–you have no idea. 🙂

Wednesday I had a meeting with the MRSC and phone calls with colleagues in a couple of different Cities to discuss, my favorite subject: Exhaust Systems. 😀 A lot of residents want something done about ‘motorists’ who make a lot of noise on the streets–particularly in Redondo. The thing I know is infuriating to residents is how long it seems to take to get relief on things like this. But one part of that ‘process’ is that you kinda have to do some research whenever you propose any sort of policy. More soon.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting. Most of the discussion was about the dreaded Paid Parking. I have three observations:

  1. They did a great job of mobilizing their membership on the whole paid parking thing. I mention that because that is the way to get what you want from City Council.
  2. While I’m belaboring the parking thing, I mentioned a question I have on the issue, which I hope we pursue. When the discussion was put on an earlier City Council Agenda, the City stated that it wanted to work out a system that would be used by both the Marina and Redondo. And I really want to understand why that’s a priority. I mean: what’s the advantage to a shared system?
  3. Have you seen the DMMA’s new web site? Great job! I encourage all local groups to up their game in terms of on-line presence.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Transportation Board Meeting. This was a biggee, with discussion about the 2021-2024 Draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).  The PSRC wants your input. Please do it! More below.

Last Last Week

On Monday I attended the Des Moines Police Advisory Committee meeting, hosted by Chief Ken Thomas.

Wednesday was Lunch at the Senior Center. 🙂

Friday I was joined by Councilmembers from SeaTac and Burien in a meeting with the local FAA. This was something of a special event. And it shouldn’t be. Among the many issues that have made life next to Sea-Tac Airport so fraught has been a uniquely poor relationship with the local FAA. All airport communities have a difficult relationship with the FAA. The law makes it that way. And in fact, the technical language of the Federal code says that all our interactions with the FAA should go through ‘the operator of the airport’ (The Port Of Seattle). Get that? The Port is supposed to be our advocate, if we have problems with all the noise and pollution. You can’t make this stuff up. 😀 However at some airports, the FAA does engage with the local community in a constructive fashion. And we need to try to get to that form of dialogue because: newsflash: simply yelling all the time does no good.

Snap out of it, dude.

Just between us: I’ve been driving around with expired tabs. (I know! 😀 ) The State forgot to send me the annual renewal and I never noticed it. For some reason that seems significant. It’s autumn and there should be a TON of boat stuff or house stuff and so on… but somewhere during the past few months I slowly shifted into what I thought was ‘pandemic mode’ but which is actually more like ‘mañana mode’. Nothing seems as urgent these days.

I guess we’re all waiting for ‘a turning point’, maybe the election, maybe a vaccine to ‘swing boldly into action!’ But in the meantime, at the risk of sounding all ‘Puritan’, I can’t help but feel like we’re getting used to being stuck in second gear. Every day there seems to be a ramping down of expectations (and that includes government.)

My point is this: I don’t think there is going to be a ‘turning point’.  These challenges aren’t going away. In fact, I think we’re just getting warmed up (unintentional pun.) We’re at a point now where we’re (OK, I’m) tired and in this sort of half-speed mode. But unfortunately, now is the time for governments to actually work harder, because the challenges are only going to keep coming faster with each passing year.

Our City has been under an emergency proclamation since March. Does it feel like an emergency to you now? Me either. So I’m wondering when we make up all the time we’ve lost or what that even means given the overall financial uncertainty.

As I write this, the City has just suffered its second water main break of the year in the south end of town. And Pier 58 down town just collapsed! This is probably not a coincidence. A lot of our basic infrastructure is at the end of its useful life and/or is in geologically sensitive spots. Couple that with the wildfires, the pandemic, and when you look at the big picture, they’re all climate change-related. Not to sound all New-Agey, but the Universe is sending us a message about planning for the future. And we’re just not acting like it’s all that serious.

A couple of quick examples:

  1. Your State Representative Tina Orwall has been working on legislation for two years now to put air filters in local schools under the flight paths. Something that sure would’ve come in handy this past week. But even getting $50,000 to get a tiny project off the ground has been like pulling teeth.
  2. As I wrote above, I spent hundreds of hours over the past four years working on this Noise Monitor jazz–something that should’ve worked properly fifteen years ago.

That’s just two examples out of hundreds of things large and small that all sorts of people in Des Moines are working on stupid hard to protect our environment and plan for the future.  But it shouldn’t be this hard. We’ve been waaaaaaaaay too slow to take issues of environment and health seriously. We have to recognize that what we’re experiencing now is not some aberration, but ‘the future’. And we have to do it now. Because this is the new normal.

I’m not saying I have some big ‘plan’. And I’m certainly not the boss of anything. But for me, and for government in general, something needs to happen. Maybe like five Red Bulls. Or maybe just an attitude adjustment.  Whatever. It’s time to find a new gear.

Weekly Update: 08/02/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Economic Development, Engagement, Policy, Taxes, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , Leave a comment on Weekly Update: 08/02/2020

This Week

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

PSA: Wednesday is also the day that the Des Moines Library opens for curbside pickup!

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) the annual Budget Retreat. I encourage everyone to watch on Comcast Channel 21 or livestream.

Friday: South King County Area Transportation Board (SCATbd) meeting. Discussion will include the infamous ‘TBD’ fees we all know and love. 😀

That’s it. Nothing else! (Well, nothing else I can talk about here.) So call me! Ask a question. Complain about something. Share some some gossip. That’s kinda what I’m here for: (206) 878-0578. 😀

Last Week

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

Thursday: Meeting with Rep. Tina Orwall and Port Commissioners on a school air quality improvement program. I’ve been vaguely referring to this for a while now and I should probably give at least a few details. There have now been several legit studies which basically find that if you provide filtered (cleaner) air at schools, the children are not only healthier, they also tend to perform better as students. A lot better. Just the 7-8 hours a child is in school makes a significant difference. This is not brand new, by the way: there have been concerns about the problems of indoor air quality for decades. What’s new is that we now seem to be able to actually do something about it.  What we’re trying to study now are the mechanics of making it work with the kinds of pollution unique to aircraft.  Explainer.

And also on a related note: there were a whole bunch of constituent kinds of things involving Port Packages. As always, if you have an ongoing problem with your Port Of Seattle sound insulation or want information on qualifying or you’re just interested in helping to reduce noise and pollution from Sea-Tac Airport, contact these guys: SeatacNoise.Info

 

The Budget

So, this is a big one. The whole enchilada. Le grand fromage. (No other food metaphors come to mind right now.) But since I’ve lived here, the ‘August Retreat’ has always been viewed as highly significant because this is where the City basically puts its cards on the table. Frankly, the public (and the full Council) do not often get a full picture of:

  1. How the City is doing financially.
  2. What the ‘the plan’ is likely to be.

I know this is #581 on the list of things that will make eyes roll, but I gotta be honest: the ‘importance’ of this meeting has always struck me as a bit like a religious ceremony. Part of it is tradition and part of it comes down to the challenges of providing data in any government organisation.

Just in time?

As some of you may know, for part of my career I wrote accounting and customer service software. And during that time the entire landscape of corporate reporting shifted from ‘annual reports’ to ‘quarterly reports’ finally to the point where most companies can now tell you what’s what almost every day of the year. The reverence and speculation (and fear) about an organization’s financial position is now mostly a thing of the past. You hear even large corporations talking about the state of their business daily.

Government financial reporting is a different animal. Much of the data you need to create reports comes from higher up the food chain (County, State) so you’re subject to getting results from them and things like tax data only comes out quarterly. Also, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Des Moines has been hampered for a long time by an antiquated accounting system. (Which is why I am so jazzed we’re getting a new accounting system! My hope is that soon we will be able to get more timely information and reduce the ‘surprise’ factor.)

But with all that, it’s still weird for me to have to wait until August to have a good understanding of where we are in 2020-or to be able to start planning for 2021. And with COVID-19, that curiosity has just that extra soupçon of nerves.

Comparisons are inevitable…

Adding to the suspense is the fact that our sister communities have already provided their reports and forecasts and for some the news ain’t great. This could make one nervous for Des Moines, but I was warned a long time ago that when it comes to budgets: Every city is different. And the more I learn the more I understand it’s true. Burien, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Tukwila, Federal Way, Kent all have very different strengths and weaknesses. Some cities that were doing great until COVID-19 are now struggling and some that were struggling are feeling pretty good (as good as one can) about their ability to weather the storm.

I also don’t think one can judge any City’s economic planning based on how they’re doing right now. As I’ve said many times, we’ve done a pretty good in fighting COVID-19 healthwise. But we haven’t exactly been perfect. At least some of that ‘success’ (if you want to call it that) has been good fortune, not genius. And much the same might be said for our economic state. As with health, no one can say with a straight face that they had a COVID-19 plan.

Local businesses

One important question going forward is going to be, What do we do to mute the ongoing impacts to local business? I am literally stunned almost every day to hear from some residents that they vehemently oppose the City doing anything to support local businesses. The notion is that those businesses that can adapt will and those that cannot will fall away and be replaced by better firms. (One of the ‘charges’ leveled against me by our Mayor back in April was that I am firmly in this camp; that I literally want to see weak businesses ‘die’.) I know I should let that drop but that really pissed me off. And here’s why:

I used to own a small restaurant. And a restaurant (or any locally owned business), even if it’s not exactly a goldmine is a resource to a small City far beyond its tax revenue. At the most basic level, it is hard to replace any storefront in this age. There just aren’t that many people wanting to open new retail spots in places other than where they’ve always been. Investors seem to be more than happy to keep plowing money over and over into the same spots in downtown Seattle, rather than taking a chance on a place like Des Moines.

Demand

As you probably know, the American Economy is consumer demand driven. The worst possible thing for our economic future is to have no places for people to spend their money now. Again, even a marginally successful business keeps some money flowing. When a storefront goes away the only people that make money are auctioneers. In the short term, our City loses, residents lose, employees lose.

So the prevailing economic theory since the mistakes of the Great Depression, has been to keep demand going. Even arch conservatives who find the entire concept of subsidies abhorrent tend to buy into this notion because when we’ve tried to ‘let market forces work’, things get awful, awfully fast.

Just passing on the wisdom…

Where did I get this great passel of wisdom? Why from our own City Manager at the 16 July Economic Development Committee Meeting. 🙂 (It’s a shame that we don’t record  these meetings.) Goosing demand seems to be something the City is taking seriously and it’s a big part of the reasoning behind the CARES Act, which will shortly distribute almost a million dollars to Des Moines. In one sentence: giving consumers opportunities to spend is a high priority until things return to normal.

So, you know where I’m going with all this…

Look, you may not like it, but we’re gonna have to do something to prop up local businesses. In fact, we probably shoulda been doing something significant all along. I was reluctant to be vocal about it because, first of all I kinda expected the Feds (the people who actually have some money) to swing boldly into action. And second of all because we didn’t have numbers and that’s another reason I keep grousing about the lack of current financials. It’s been driving me absolutely nuts.

But now that we see that this pandemic ain’t going away any time soon, we simply cannot allow keep our business district to fall apart as if it’s being pushed by normal winds of supply and demand. Not because every business is perfect, but because the more places people have to spend money, the less our City suffers. We just need to buy time.

Nostalgia for 2006

People seem to forget that before the ‘Great Recession’ (which seems only ‘Medium-Strength Recession’ right now) our downtown was looking pretty good–even before the pandemic. There were more and more varied restaurants, more shops, more everything. It was a pretty normal thing for families to spend a Friday evening having dinner at a restaurant, having dessert at another place, going to the Theater for a movie and maybe down to the Marina for a stroll. Regardless of how nostalgic you are for ‘the good old days’, that sort of thing just hasn’t happened so much after the Medium-Strength Recession.  It’s taken us almost a decade to climb back from the desolation of 2008. And we still weren’t close to that level of activity when the pandemic hit.

My view is that we need to do what we can to keep our businesses (not just downtown, but Pac Highway as well) at least on life support until a properly functioning market can resume. Not just for the businesses, but for us. We have to maintain as much of ‘normal’ as possible until the pandemic is over. That includes everything from mission-critical services like education to more mundane things like having places to spend money. If people just learn to accept getting everything from Amazon and eating frozen dinners, our local economy could take another decade to recover.

Step number one

For all the speechifyin’ this is only Step #1 in the Budget process. No decisions will be made. The goal of this meeting is to have enough information about 2020 to forecast with some authority what will happen in 2021. Based on the comments made at this meeting, the City Manager gets down to work on the actual 2021 document. He brings his proposal back in a few months, then both the Council (and you the public) have two public hearings where you get to weigh in on the intended priorities. And after all that we finally vote on the real deal before Thanksgiving. So the actual vote is usually a formality because both we (and you) have seen several iterations.

Tradition…

Some people would argue that the Budget is the reason a government (especially a small town City Council) exists. And that used to be true, for sure. It was also true that kids needed summer off from school in order to help bring in the harvest. 😀 )

As I said at the top, part of the Budget Retreat’s importance also comes down to ‘tradition’. Since the City Manager runs day to day government, once the Budget was done in autumn, lots of town councils (and our State) used to basically wrap it up for many months of the year. As with summer vacation, that tradition has kind of hung on a bit too long in my opinion. It’s created the image of the ‘average citizen’ City Councilmember–a person who just shows up every couple of weeks for a meeting and… hey it’s all good, fellas! 😀 That’s just not the reality in 2020.

As you’ll see at the meeting, we’re a  $100,000,000 corporation, not a one-horse town with some pretty boats and a parade every summer. So while this meeting is a big deal, and I do hope you’ll watch this Thursday, this is not ‘the big show’. It’s just one of many important events every year. There’s a lot on the line and not a whole lot of opportunities to get a glimpse inside the black box.

So I need your help. Keep watching.

Weekly Update: 07/27/2020

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Yes, I’m late, Late, LATE. What can I say? Everybody’s always telling me ‘take a few days off.’ So… 😀

This Week

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

Thursday: Meeting with Tina Orwall and Federal Way Schools on school air quality improvement program.

That’s it. Nothing else! (Well, nothing else I can talk about here.) So call me! Ask a question. Complain about something. Share some some gossip. That’s kinda what I’m here for: (206) 878-0578. 😀

Last Week

Monday: Meeting with Tina Orwall and Federal Way Schools on school air quality improvement program.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda and information on attending via Zoom)

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. There will be a discussion of recent studies on UltraFine Particulate pollution

Rule 5

So… there’s been this ongoing kerfuffle in our Council since the election, not just what their role should be but even more basic, what a Councilmember is ‘allowed’ to do. It first came to a head back in April when you heard our Mayor and Deputy Mayor and other Councilmembers say words to the effect that I (moi? 😀 ) am ‘in violation of Rule 5c!’ and that I am ‘representing myself as the City Of Des Moines!’ Sound serious, right?

Yeah…. not so much. Those (cough) ‘charges’ were simply a way to try to intimidate me, so I let it go. As I say over and over, Robert’s Rules Of Orders say that when a meeting is done, Let it go. I told each of my colleagues privately to knock it off and I hoped that would be that.

It’s back…

But at the very end of our last meeting, our Deputy Mayor brought it up again, in response to my fairly routine comment that I had been meeting with various legislators on airport issues–something I’ve done for over four years now. Because of the way Zoom works, I was unable to reply right then (everyone is ‘muted’ until the person running the meeting allows them to speak) So there wasn’t really a way for me to interrupt the nonsense.

The dreaded Rule…

So here are our Rules Of Procedure and the dreaded Rule 5, which basically defines the Mayor’s role in our Council-Manager form of government. Please read carefully. I’ll wait. 😀

The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, and be recognized as the head of the City for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor shall have no regular administrative or executive duties. In case of the Mayor's absence or temporary disability the Deputy Mayor shall act as Mayor during the continuance of the absence. When the Deputy Mayor acts as Mayor by participating in preparation of a Council meeting agenda or study session worksheet, or by presiding at a meeting of the Council, the Deputy Mayor shall have authority only to approve the Council meeting agenda or study session worksheet as to form without introducing or deleting items of business, and to preside at the meeting by following the approved agenda or study session worksheet as written. In case of the absence or temporary disability of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor, a Deputy Mayor selected by members of the Council shall act as Mayor during the continuance of the absences or disabilities. The Mayor, or Deputy Mayor, is referred to as "Presiding Officer" from time to time in these Rules of Procedure.

(a) The Mayor and the Council have authority to introduce proclamations for a variety of purposes, as approved by the Council. No proclamation shall constitute official City actions unless approved or authorized by a majority of the City Council.

(b) To promote a favorable image of the City and pursue resources that will benefit the community, the Mayor, or another Councilmember designated by the City Council, may take the lead in representing the Des Moines City Council to those from outside the community who are interested in joint ventures and efforts to bring economic development and investments to the City, including other local governments, regional organizations, and federal, state, and international government representatives. Neither the Mayor, nor a Councilmember, can commit the City without authorization of a majority of the City Council.

(c) The Mayor, or another Councilmember designated by the City Council, is the spokesperson on actions taken by the Council. On behalf of the City Council, the Mayor or designated Councilmember may inform the public, media, and staff about issues affecting the community.

But here’s what they think…

Now. My colleagues want you to believe that paragraph (c) actually means something  like:

Unless the full City Council votes to approve otherwise for a specific purpose, only the Mayor may interact with other legislators. Other Councilmembers must have explicit permission to do so on a case by case basis. If a Councilmember meets with other legislators or media or basically anyone, without that permission, they are falsely representing themselves as the official voice of the government and are in violation of Rule 5.

I thought hard about even putting that in quotes because I can see someone right now pulling that falsehood out of context and going, “Yes, he admits it!” on social media. 😀

I do not think it means what you think…

But look, it’s total nonsense, OK. That’s not what the Rule says or means. Not at all. It’s so far from what the actual Rule means that it reminds me of the following beloved moment in film history.

However, I was so concerned, that I triple-checked, with two attorneys and the MRSC you see linked to above. And they laughed.

You guys never stop talking!

Remember above where I said that I’ve been meeting with legislators of all kinds for over four years? Well there are always legislators of all shapes, sizes and titles at these meetings. Some are public, some are private. Everybody talk, Talk, TALKING. That’s what politicans do all day. Blabber on in hundreds of configurations to try to figure out ways to work together.

Ya wanna know some things they do not do?

  1. Get permission from someone else before taking a meeting
  2. Provide any introductory disclaimer at the opening of a meeting to wit, “I am here not as the representative of my jurisdiction. I am only speaking for myself. I hope we’re all clear on that. Got it? Good.”

No one ever does that. I speak by phone, email and in person with all manner of electeds and appointees and other high mucky mucks literally every week. And apparently, so does every other councilmember in every other city except Des Moines. (If I were more of a social media kind of guy, this is the spot where I’d carpet bomb you with about 100 piccies of various councilmembers hanging out with Congressmen, Senators, County Executives, etc., etc. I’ll spare you because it’s, frankly, not that exciting.)

Learning to schmooze

Apart from dispelling these bogus claims, I want to make a far more important and positive point. And it is this: you, the residents should want a City Council that engages as much as possible with the wider world. What I mean is that, far from being discouraging, my colleagues should be thrilled when anyone of the Council shows some initiative.

There is a ton of stuff going on in the area at the City, State, Federal level all the time. So much so that there is no way that Staff can cover it all. And even if they could by some space magic, they aren’t in the same position to get meetings with various electeds and then come back and formulate legislation. That is at the heart of a good Councilmember’s job: to bring in ideas.

Oh, and money. (Oh, so now do I have your attention? 😀 ) There is a lot of money out in the wider world. I mean a lot. And frankly, the Cities that get out more, get more of that money. That’s why I’m constantly banging on about all the regional organizations (PSRC, SCA, AWC, SCATbd, etc.) that most residents haven’t heard of.

A councilmember may attend a hundred meetings and ninety nine are fruitless, but that one positive meeting can mean a great deal to a City. If that sounds a lot like cold calling to you, you’re catching on. That’s a big part of what the best electeds do. It’s called schmoozing and I’m trying to get better at it.

It’s a bit different…

Electeds work in an odd dynamic that’s a bit different from what most of us deal with in our day jobs. Most of us, occasionally, work with people with whom we disagree. But we’re all working on the same basic goals because hey, our collective job security depends on it, right?

Politicians don’t work like that. We often have profound disagreements on policy (I keep reminding people who didn’t vote for me: the people who did vote for me want me to disagree on some things. So it’s a balancing act. 🙂 ) And since an elected’s job security doesn’t depend on what their colleagues think, it can create strong incentives to not cooperate or even try to make the people you disagree with look bad (because, hey, if they got their way, we’re all headed to hell. Straight to hell, I tell ya! 😀 )

So who do ya trust?

Well, me of course. 😀 Seriously, it’s a great question. Many residents have no idea what’s going on in local politics. So when they hear something from someone ‘official’ sitting at some ceremonial dais, they’re apt to believe it. Most of us tend to respect authority–and especially in Des Moines, where we’ve had so little public engagement for so long.

Many of you who are supporters of the current majority have told me that while you still support them, you have been surprised by some of their antics. I’m gonna tell ya the truth: it should not be surprising. And it will become less so over time. I know it’s hard, but keep an open mind and keep watching. Ask me tough questions. Ask  my colleagues the same questions. Try to really listen. If you do that, over time, I think you’ll start to see a clear difference between how things have been done–and how they ought to be done.

Weekly Update: 07/19/2020

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This Week

Monday: Meeting with Tina Orwall and Federal Way Schools on school air quality improvement program.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee (Agenda and information on attending via Zoom)

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

Wednesday: Highline Forum. There will be a discussion of recent studies on UltraFine Particulate pollution

Last Week

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

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines meeting. The big news is that King County has recognized the great work they do and renewed their grant funding for another three years!

Thursday: Attending Municipal Facilities and Economic Development Committee meetings

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

Meeting Recap

We’ve been in this state of emergency so long, I think it’s worth reminding people that our current meeting agendas are not ‘normal’. We’re jamming months and months of work from earlier in the year onto our Consent Agenda. It concerns me because all this stuff doesn’t get the same hearing it would in normal times–when such work would be regular agenda items. The view of my colleagues often seems to be “Stop worrying. We have the best City Manager in the State of Washington.”

But that’s not the point. Even if Mr. Matthias was the GOAT of City Managers, it sidesteps one of the two main purposes of a City Council: oversight. If you stop even questioning these decisions, you’re not doing your job. All muscles atrophy when not regularly exercised.

A Consent Agenda is supposed to be routine items that are so obvious as to require no discussion and that’s not what we have on our Consent Agenda. Here are the three items from this meeting, that my colleagues and I thought were worth at least some discussion.

Item #3 Trees

We were asked to approve what, at first glance, looked like a fairly routine adjustment to a building plan at Blueberry Lane. (I have had a lot to say about Blueberry Lane as it relates to the airport.) But in this case we were unknowingly allowing the developer to cut down three Sequoias planted fifty years ago by one of the original employees of Hammond Ashley Violin Shop (Remember them? I sure miss ’em.) Those trees are meant to live 2,000 years. Not 50.

What bugs me in this case is that we have all these policies talking about ‘how much we value our tree canopy’, blah, blah, blah. But there is nothing in the City building code that requires a builder to work around that situation, or even inform that Council when it comes up. In a terrible example of data processing (since fixed–thanks, Bonnie) Councilmembers only got to read an email from this resident ten minutes before the meeting!  For decades we say we’re working to protect the City’s trees, but every time we face a decision? We say, “Oh what a shame” and do nothing. Between the Des Moines Business Park and all the housing developments of the past decade we’ve lost a tremendous amount of tree cover. And we have got to start doing a better job of protecting what remains.

Item 6: Another vote I regret

On the Consent Agenda was approval of a significant raise for our union workers (primarily at the Marina). The negotiations were well under way just before COVID-19 struck. And the Council had an Executive Session to discuss it. We were not given many specifics except that, before we were asked to vote on it, there would be another briefing to flesh out the details. That second briefing never occurred. Instead, the Agenda Packet simply included the contract plus a lengthy explanation of why it was a fantastic deal for all concerned. However, in the Item Description there was also this rather ominous paragraph describing what might happen if we voted ‘no’:

The Council could choose not to approve the Agreement and direct the City Manager to continue negotiations with the Teamsters. However, that would likely damage the City's relationship with the Teamsters following a collaborative negotiation process...

And then…

Should the Council choose not to approve the Agreement, there is a possibility the Teamsters would file an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission.

This is what is known as an ultimatum. By making a handshake agreement with the union before talking to the City Council, the City essentially dared the Council to not approve it. And I don’t like that because my job is to represent you the voters. In other words: the City is not management. You are. It’s your money the City is negotiating.

So I would have preferred to hold off on approving any spending increases until after our August 6th Budget Retreat; or at least to have the promised Executive Session. Because you want to be able to ask questions without annoying the workers (who did negotiate in good faith, of course) and putting the deal at risk.

See here’s the thing: We have been told time and again that we will not understand the City’s finances until that Budget Retreat. So until August 6th none of the Council have any idea where the City’s finances are. My colleagues keep going on about how we can’t approve any spending until we get the numbers. And I could not agreee more. Which is why I find their willingness to sign off on this with no questions asked a bit puzzling.

And let’s be clear: I have been a very happy member of three unions in my career. Organised labour is something I believe in deeply.  But Executive Session (the kind we were promised) was made for this situation. As I keep saying, the Open Public Meetings Act make talking things like this over outside of council meetings almost impossible. You need a way to be able to discuss difficult things like this with candor and Executive Session is that way.

So since I wasn’t able to have that private conversation, I voted with the majority to approve this. Because a deal is a deal. But next time? I want to be asked about the deal before it’s made. Because it’s your money we’re spending.

Item #8: Financial Management System Software

This is really good news. We’ve had absolutely ancient software for years and years. This has made it tougher to get the work done, slowed resident services and basically cost the City a lot of money in reduced productivity. It’s hard to spend money on ‘accounting software’ but this is one expenditure I am glad to say yes to.

The only reason I wanted a discussion is because I had a question about the possibilities of an add-on component which allows for self-service. Self-service is easier to show than tell. So to give you a small taste of what that is, check out ClearGov. Think about how many questions the public routinely asks (like ‘paid parking revenue’ which was supposed to be on this week’s Agenda.) Imagine if the public could get answers to pretty much any routine question about the budget or their taxes or how the city works with a simple search–and without bugging already over-worked staff? That’s one purchase I’d be thrilled to approve.

Coda: Public Records Requests

On a related note: there was all this ricketa-racketa this week about Paid Parking. Many people know I talked it up last year and asked me for all kinds of detailed stats and it was a busy week and I just didn’t have a lot of time for re-litigating that whole thing–especially when it wasn’t actually on the Agenda. So I blew everyone off! There, I said it! 😀 I did not spew back copious stats proving once again what a money-loser that who….

Not gonna do it. 😀

But the silver lining is that even if I let you down, information-wise, you can always do a Public Records Request (PRR) at the City web site. And unlike me, the City will do it’s best to answer your question.  That is State law. So if you have super-detailed questions on anything, the PRR is your friend and more people should use that tool.

Now, no City is necessarily thrilled to hear me advertise this service. PRRs take staff time so a lot of Cities consider them a real pain in the municipal derriere. To which I say, Tough Noogies! Your right to information from your government is constitutional, baby. So take advantage of the service. 🙂

One caveat: we currently have a really onerous PRR system. But that is also something I want to change as we improve our IT systems. You’ll see what I mean when you do your first one–it’s not as quick or easy as it should be. Again, since it’s easier to show than tell, if you want to see what the luxury model PRR System looks like, check out The Port Of Seattle NextRequest System. That is what we need in Des Moines.

Why do we need this? Well, if you look at the Port’s system, maybe the first thing you’ll notice is that you can search through all the historic PRRs. In many cases, someone has already asked exactly the same question (or a very similar question) so you can get the answers you want without even creating a new PRR. That not only improves transparency, it saves them money on staff research. Our PRR system? It has no index. No ‘search’. So you have no idea what has been asked or when or by whom. Maybe ten people have already asked a question like, “How much did the Paid Parking system cost?” But you can’t see that.

(Philosophical loop of the day: You would have to place a PRR in order to find out how many people had previously done PRRs asking “How much did the Paid Parking system cost?” Trippy, right?)

My fondest wish is to make as much of our government’s work as easy to access as possible, both for you and for our staff. The thing I suspected (and then learned after my campaign) is how much room there is for improvement in educating our residents. We don’t have a newspaper and that means we don’t have anyone doing research on the public’s behalf. It’s great that we have ‘social media’, but without actual facts, it’s just people sharing rumours and opinions. Tools like the Public Records Request make it possible for people like you to do real research and then share facts. So the easier we make it for you to lay yer hands on that data, the easier it is for you to spread the word and improve the voting in this here town.

This was always my fiendishly clever political strategy–well-educated voters. 🙂

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!

Weekly Update: 06/14/2020

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This Week

Monday: Sound Cities Association meeting on helping businesses to re-open.

Tuesday: SCATbd Meeting. The cuts to King County Metro are looking to be pretty massive in the next two years. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Zoom link yet so check their web site if you want to comment. The drag is that this is exactly the moment we should be increasing transit options.

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting (BAC). If you’re concerned about the noise and pollution, I urge you to attend this Zoom meeting. The problem we always have in managing Sea-Tac Airport is reactivity historically we only respond to their growth. The BAC is one of the only places where there is ongoing work to change that.

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

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. Over the past several years the group has made major improvements in attendance at our schools as well as juvenile crime reduction.

Last Week

Not one, but two web meeting with Southside Seattle Chamber Of Commerce on small business grants in Des Moines. There has been a bunch of talk on how to get more emergency aid to local businesses. There is help on the way. I know it’s taking forever, but a big part of this is that it’s right in the State Constitution that governments are not supposed to give ‘public gifts’ to private businesses (think of the possibilities for corruption.) That’s why grants almost always come with lots of strings attached. How do you do it fairly? Just give xxx dollars to every licensed business regardless of size? Do you make an application process based on ‘need’? How do you define that? The system just ain’t set up to do this quickly.

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. Speaking of grants, after two years, the commissioners finally voted to approve the South King County Fund–a program that was originally proposed to provide money for mitigation programs (noise and pollution). But in this? It was the cities who could not even agree on what they wanted to do. They kept pushing back saying, “We want sidewalks!” or “Parks!”. This is the maddening part of dealing with the impacts from Sea-Tac Airport. Even when the Port tries to do the right thing, the Cities can’t agree. Anyhoo… expect to see more Port grants to cities–but not more relief on noise or pollution.

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

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (see recap below). (Agenda) (Video).

Meeting Recap

For openers, here is the coverage of the meeting in the Waterland Blog. And I have a question for you, Dear Reader. When I read their coverage I always wonder, “Is this the average viewer’s takeaway?” So, I’d be interested to get feedback from you as to what you think of their coverage. I obviously address what I consider most important, but I want to occasionally check in and make sure I’m also talking about what you care about.

The ever-expanding Consent Agenda

I’ve gotten a number of questions recently about how meetings work. There is a lot more confusion than usual because of (once again) that darned Consent Agenda. Remember: a Consent Agenda is a straight up or down vote on items that are supposed to be routine.

Now between all the kerfuffle in January and February in bringing on us noob councilmembers, Vic Pennington resigning and then being replaced by Luisa Bangs and now this pesky Pandemic, we’re five months behind schedule. So what we’re doing is cramming most definitely non-routine items onto the Consent Agenda. (and pretending like they’re routine.) Why? Because under our ‘State Of Emergency’ we’re not allowed to do much ‘new business’. So we re-brand new business as ‘routine’. Got all that? 😀

If it weren’t for COVID-19, we’d see a lot more discussion on many items. But even I, ‘the complainer’ am eager to move things along. You simply have to keep City busines moving. *So I’m actually being a lot more ‘go along’ than I would be if it weren’t a pandemic kind of world.

Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP)

The SAMP is one of those things the public isn’t engaged on and at some point I need to do an ‘explainer’ because like I keep saying, the airport is the single external threat to our city’s long term success. But not today. 😀

For now, the deal is that we have this Inter-Local Agreement (ILA) between Des Moines, Burien, SeaTac and Normandy Park to hire a shared team of consultants to help represent us on the possible environmental impacts of the impending expansion of the airport. SeaTac was administering that contract. We simply voted to transfer that bookkeeping function to DM. My motion was tangential. I just snuck in an opportunity to find out from our City Manager (CM) where things stand.

See the thing is: remember that the CM is the executive. So when there is official dialogue between the cities, it’s generally the City Managers doing it. So we’re in this weird parallel universe, where a small number of councilmembers who care about the issue do the day to day research and work with lawmakers. But it’s the City Managers who do the formal negotiating with the FAA or Port. It’s totally cockamamie. But that’s just the deal until the City Councils decide to take this more seriously.

Basically, the dais is the one place where I am guaranteed at least some kind of cooperation from the government. Which sucks for Des Moines. But, again, that’s an explainer for another day. 😀

Valley SWAT (VSWAT)

I tried (unsuccessfully) to delay this vote to formally join VSWAT until the next meeting because the City provided no stats as to the number of incidents or what they were about, cost per incident, or even the difference between ‘joining’ and not joining. There was not even a statement of the effects of not approving the motion (as is typical in most packets.) Yes, the Chief spoke to anecdotes (thank you, that’s helpful). But like I always say, I won’t vote for anything without data.

The funny thing is that this was a golden opportunity to address issues of proper use of force. Presenting some real stats as to the benefits of VSWAT would have allayed some valid concerns from the public. In fact, the very first purpose laid out in the mission statement in the packet was ‘crowd control’. If that ain’t bad timing, I dunno what is. And I think that was worth two weeks sending a message saying, “When you want something? Bring data. Thanks very much.”

I want a culture of data in decision-making. I want reports. You know: those things with numbers on them? That goes for all departments, but especially with policing where the public has concerns. Facts are the best remedy to public skepticism.

My public comment

COVID-19

We really need to mask up. Every State that has re-opened is showing a lot more cases. I try being patient with people who hate wearing masks, but I’m losing patience. We in Des Moines are super-vulnerable due to our senior citizen populations living in such concentration. So it’s my strong feeling that we need to be conservative in our approach and I ask for your help.

George Floyd

As I mentioned above with the VSWAT, we need more information on police activities. Yes, we’re a relatively small city, but we have the ability, right now, to make significant improvements in policing while spending almost nothing. The problem is that the entire conversation has (like all issues, right?) instantly become ‘all or nothing’. If you ask for more data, people immediately get defensive and accuse you of being ‘soft on crime’. It’s about transparency. You don’t have to choose. What’s telling to me in this moment is how many people are willing to talk about everything except: increasing basic accountability.

For example, all the studies show that something as trivial as having a Customer Comment form on the web site works. Just asking the public to submit comments on policing makes a difference.

And publishing complaint data also makes a big difference. Knowing that there were ‘x’ complaints every month (and what type) and having a clear and public policy makes a difference.

Finally, it’s telling that any sort of civilian oversight is not even in the discussion–even thought that has been shown to be the single most effective way to reduce police complaints. Not cameras, not town halls or changes in use of force procedures; just being more transparent. Here is a good article from MIT describing why so many high dollar interventions haven’t worked.

Redondo

Redondo. It was great to see a new resident: Karen Steinhaus and lifetime resident: Rick Johnson, both comment on problems at Redondo. It’s time that the City recognize that the noise and speeding have become chronic and come up with some long-term solutions. Redondo will only continue to grow in importance to the city so we must figure this out. I applaud their efforts to organize residents and help the City figure it out.

*On the other hand: Our meeting still clocked in at a sprinty 1:45, which is much faster than meetings in other cities. So maybe I’m going along a little too much? Who knows. I’m new on the job. 🙂