Weekly Update: 05/25/2020

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This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle General Meeting. This is a biggee in that the Commission will be voting to proceed with their long-term plan ‘Century Agenda’ which is their long term blueprint for growth. What I am asking them to consider is that they hold off since there is no reasonable way to plan for either air or cruise travel until the dust settles. (The same was true after 9/11–it took Sea-Tac Airport almost a decade to return to 2001 levels of operations–even with a shiny new third runway.)

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda). Spoiler Alert: I will be making a totally pointless ‘no’ vote on the SR-509 expansion which will easily pass. SR-509 has been sold as a way to improve traffic through the area (the constant mess on Des Moines Memorial Drive, for example). But what it’s really about, what it has always been about is to make it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to move cargo onto I-5 and 167. That means more trucks on the road, but more significantly, it enables the airport to run waaaaaay more cargo flights–which primarily operate at night. And I will never vote for any legislation that makes it easier for Sea-Tac Airport to run more flights.

Friday: UW DEOHS Meeting. (A follow up to the presentation discussed below.)

Last Week

Tuesday 9AM: SCATbd Meeting. Short take: Fees will go up. Service will go down. I know you’re shocked. It’s exactly the opposite of what should happen to deal with the ‘new normal’, but like so much of our world, the numbers only penciled out with as many riders as possible. So…

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting

Wednesday: Lunch at Senior Center. My first EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines Zoom Meeting. RODMs works to improve outcomes for school kids in Des Moines and has been incredibly successful at improving school attendance and reducing teenage crime–using very simple tools like after school activities. COVID-19 challenges our community to find ways to engage these kids when social distancing makes these activities difficult.

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council CARES Act recovery webinar

Thursday: 30th Legislative District COVID 19 phone call. Legislators made it clear that they are taking unemployment insurance issues seriously. Once again I was pleased to hear that there seems to be a lot of interest in working to improve Internet access for our community (see RODMs above) not only for remote learning, but frankly because if social distancing remains in place, kids will need the Internet more than ever to keep occupied.

Thursday: UW DEOHS presentation on Airport Pollution. This is an overview of where we’re at in terms of noise and pollution. If it seems like there are more questions than answers, you’re not wrong. The biggest challenge our community has had in reducing noise and pollution is that we have not had proper measurements of all the pollutants since 1997. You cannot get relief on anything with the government unless you have data. Getting proper air quality and noise monitoring is one of those ultra-boring long-term issues I spend a lot of time working on.

Friday: Phone call with our Senator Karen Keiser

Following Directions

Mayor Matt Pina’s letter in the most recent City Current Magazine had a good overview of the City’s actions during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I appreciated his call for residents to hang in there and follow the State guidelines. What I hope to hear from my colleagues at the next City Council Meeting (and what I will certainly mention) is the importance of ‘stay the course’.

But girlfriend, can we talk? Most of the frustrations I hear remind me of how so many of us stop taking our prescriptions and then jump back to work the second we start to feel a little better, rather than following the doctor’s directions. I’ve done that. And then had a relapse. And missed more work. Now that kind of chance-taking may be acceptable if it’s just you, but not when yer talking about public health.

Look: We are re-opening. We’re almost there. The plan has worked. (Don’t believe me? Check other States with similar population densities.) So at the risk of sounding like an annoyed parent: STOP FIDGETING, MYRON!

And to sound even more patronizing, I would say this to anyone thinking about running for City Council next year:  Whatever personal frustrations you have with this whole deal, do not be one of the grousers. Don’t be one of those passive aggressive types who say, “I’m following the rules… even though I think they’re crap!” Don’t be that guy. Be a leader. Your public face right now should be 100% behind the State’s plan. In fact, you should be the loudest nagger in town: SIX FEET, PEOPLE! WHERE’S YER MASK, BOB? Advocate for fixes in private sure, but this is the one issue to not go with the angry natives on.

Because here’s the thing: Reopening is only safe if people follow directions. And let’s face it, we haven’t shown that we’re all that great at that. One of the big reasons we had to shut so many places down was because much of the public simply would not get with the program voluntarily. Right now: walk past any business now and you’ll see maybe half the public not wearing a mask; not obeying the six foot rule–even when it’s easy to do. So the police and business owners and civic leaders and yes, candidates will not only have to model best practice but also do some serious nagging or else the public will never get with the program.

And to close this little rant, I happen to believe in the whole ‘science’ deal, which (again patronizing alert) I don’t think some people understand. Science is about being wrong. Frequently. It’s about being allowed to make mistakes along the way to finding out what’s what. You don’t fire people for getting the wrong answer. If anything, you applaud them and tell them to give it another go. During this pandemic researchers have made many mistakes and had to make many course corrections. Why? Because it’s a novel virus, Gomer! It’s never been seen before. So of course yer gonna get things wrong. You make adjustments and move on. This does not trouble me in the least and nothing has annoyed me more than certain people mocking every misstep as an excuse to abandon ship. As someone who has had to work under pressure, I can only imagine how disheartening it must be for researchers and leaders to be constantly pummeled with snark as they try to find answers and do the right thing.

Please hang in there. And as we re-open, if you haven’t been exactly a role model when it comes to masks, hand washing, six feet, etc. I hope you’ll try a bit harder–and maybe even nag a few other people to get with the program. It’s like just seat belts and motorcycle helmets and all the other things we used to think were so ‘unbearable’ only a few years ago. It’s really not a big deal. But it makes a big difference.

Weekly Update: 05/04/2020

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags ,

This Week

Monday: The City will unveil its  EATS Restaurant Voucher Program to support restaurant owners.  Very cool idea. I have a question about re-purposing the original grant funding from King County (which was intended for something slightly different), but I’m assuming we got permission so that’s fine. Just so long as it doesn’t short circuit another targeted seniors program. I’ll ask. 🙂

Thursday: May 7, 5pm City Council Meeting (Agenda). This will feature  (ta da!) Zoom! Public Comments! Another highlight will be a budget update.

Last Week

Monday: Phone call with 33rd State Rep. Tina Orwall to discuss air quality monitors around Sea-Tac Airport. She had high hopes for getting air filters installed at local schools. But that got killed at the last minute by a line-item veto from the Governor as a response to COVID-19. Here is an article that explains why this may provide amazing bang for buck in terms of health outcomes for our children.

Tuesday: MRSC presentation on how cities can plan for life after COVID-19. I say it over and over, but it’s always great seeing how other cities do things.

Thursday: 30th Legislative District Call with Senator Claire Wilson and Reps. Mike Pellicciotti and Jesse Johnson. One thing that was discussed quite a bit was ‘the digital divide’; the fact that we have so many low-income families in South King County without decent Internet access. If you’re like me (the average voter in DM in their mid-50’s/60’s) you may still think of this as merely an inconvenience. But if you have kids in school today, affordable, reliable Internet is as important to their education as pencils.  We have got to find a way to make that service universal for all our kids. Soon. Whether COVID-19 sticks around or not. It is important for the City to start advocating now for ways to bridge that digital divide.

Friday I had a meeting with the UW researchers working on the MOV-UP study and various air quality issues. I also chatted with Puget Sound Clean Air Executive Director Craig Kenworthy. PSCleanAir is another one of those agencies most people are unaware of (unless you hear about ‘burn bans’) but Clean Air Agencies are a creation of the original Federal Clean Air Act/EPA fifty-ish years ago and they are supposed to monitor and enforce air quality. They have made remarkable progress for us over the decades–well except when it comes to airplanes. (D’Oh!) So SeatacNoise.Info among other groups are pushing to finally get air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport. It seems incredible, but the nearest air quality monitoring station is in Georgetown! Now is the time to get permanent air quality monitoring in placebefore the flights start ramping up again.

The Master Plan

Now near the bottom of that EATS memo, the tone sounds as though there has been sort of a master plan all along regarding the City’s management of COVID-19. Phase one was setting up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). And now that is done, Phase 2 seems to be providing help to residents and small business. Sounds reasonable.

But the City government (and always remember that when I say that I mean ‘the municipal corporation’ led by the City Manager, the City Council is not the government) has done a great job of keeping the Council (or at least me) in the dark. So I am slightly skeptical. I literally read about it on social media at the same time as most of you.

But that said, it feels to me as though the City is simply reacting to activism by a number of local organizations and then myself and Councilmember Martinelli on any number of fronts. I say that because that has been my experience in watching the City over the years, we have typically not been proactive on any number of issues. We tend to respond only after other cities else leaps into the fray (or there is a public outcry.) It’s one of the reasons I ran.

I also tend to think this because the memo credits Mayor Matt Pina and Michael Matthias–stating that this is their joint effort, not that of the Council.  The usual custom is to credit the full Council for any action like this and the City Manager is as un-noticeable as possible (Or at least that’s what they taught me at Councilmember School. 😀 ) I’m a bit puzzled whenever any Councilmember (including the Mayor) takes individual credit for a City initiative. Don’t get me wrong: the program is helpful and if I were a local restaurant owner I’d be thrilled. But it also feels political.

Lessons Learned

Anyhoo, back to COVID-19. I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about things we might have done a bit differently–not to assign ‘blame’ but, again, dumb engineer me, it’s appropriate now to do some lessons learned. These are my thoughts:

First: Communicate. If the City had/has a multi-phase plan (and if it didn’t? See above.), it should have communicated it clearly from the beginning, first to get Council input and then to the public so we would all have aligned goals. A lot of business owners are struggling with high levels of *FUD. So anything the City could have done from the git go to provide a bit of ‘help is on the way’ would have made a real difference.

Second: Collaborate. We already have several local organizations that are dedicated to helping promote the City and business. We could be working together, leveraging their efforts to make promotions with much higher visibility; programs that could extend far beyond just seniors and local residents. In other words, this could be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons and (finally) have a cohesive promotional campaign for the City Of Des Moines–something I’ve been yammering about since about 2012.

Third: Think long term.  Many of our businesses will need planning help. I hear some of your eyes rolling already (yes, I can hear eye rolls over the Interwebs). I read all the time, “the city should not do such and such…”  As a dumb engineer, I gotta tell ya: I hate the word “should”. My belief is that ya use whatever tool works best to solve the problem in front of you. And right now, our small businesses (all of them, but let’s start with restaurants) need new tools because profitable sit down service may not make a come back for a while. Many of them are now doing takeout, but some are executing this much better than others. OK, perhaps take-out is a long-term trend, not just something that gets dropped when the emergency is over. Restaurants that do takeout particularly well will have a competitive advantage (safer, faster, more convenient?) And if we can find ways to help all our restaurants do that better than other cities? Our city (literally) takes their lunch. We don’t have a Chamber Of Commerce, so it seems to me that the City has a role to play in this sort of long-term business support, perhaps by making management experts and seminars available. That’s just one thought. I’m sure there are about a dozen other really good ideas to help our business community adapt.

Emergency Response

I do not want to be overly critical of our City’s response. I have no doubt that all our Staff have performed admirably and I salute them for their service. I’m just saying that I don’t see where our actions have been demonstrably better than our peer cities. And it’s worth noting because our management and the current majority have made that one of their key talking points for the past three years. We even have a special place in our budget for Emergency Management that other cities do not. And at the risk of ruffling even more feathers than usual, I will point out that this is one of those times where having a City Manager who is also Economic Development Director may have not been the best configuration. The City Manager understandably had more than a full plate during Phase 1. If there had been another person in the Economic Development role, perhaps we could have worked on Phase 2 concurrently and, again, provided more immediate support to local businesses.

I’m not trying to be ‘hard’. I’m just saying that this sort of review should be happening at every level of government. Our City Council should be reviewing how we can be doing better in Phase 2 (and beyond) right now. And again we need to do more because we have to expect that COVID-19 will be with us for a good while (and may even resurge.)

*FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Weekly Update: 04/27/2020

Posted on Categories Policy, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , ,

Note #1: I know the web site has been flaky the past week. Sorry. I think it’s reIatively glitch-free now.

Note #2: Yeah, I’m late again. My web server is broken. The sun got in my eyes. My dog ate my server.

This Week

Monday: Phone call with 33rd State Rep. Tina Orwall to discuss air quality monitors around Sea-Tac Airport. She had high hopes for getting air filters installed at local schools. But that got killed by a line-item veto from the Governor as a response to COVID-19. Here is an article that explains why this may provide amazing bang for buck in terms of health outcomes for our children.

Tuesday: A King County presentation on how cities should be planning for life after COVID-19

Last Week

Monday was my Letter To The Waterland Blog (more below).

Tuesday I had a virtual meeting with people from the Port Of Seattle to work on the whole Port Package Update program.  One challenge I’m having is balancing my advocacy against noise and pollution with a certain empathy for the Port’s current predicament with COVID-19. For some background, you have to understand a certain hubris the airline industry has had over the past decade. In 2015 the Chairman of the parent company of United Airlines famously stated that he thought there was no way airlines could ever lose money again. Ever. Sea-Tac Airport has been so successful that the Port must have also felt somewhat invulnerable.

Tuesday those great people from Trout Unlimited released the Coho Fish Pen down at the Marina.  Even without the social distancing it’s not the most dramatic thing to witness. But it does matter. May they return in great numbers in a couple of years.

Tuesday night I volunteered at the Food Bank. I only keep mentioning it because the one thing they need are volunteers. It’s totally safe and it’s one of the biggest bang for buck things you can do to help Des Moines.

Wednesday was a virtual StART Meeting. Like all StART meetings it was pretty content-free in terms of noise and pollution. However, it had some useful metrics from the Port Of Seattle and Normandy Park, Tukwila and SeaTac as to municipal finances. And in two words: it’s bleak. One example: last Tuesday the airport processed 2,500 passengers. A typical day would be more like 60,000! I know there is a big tendency among airport activists towards Schadenfreude, but it affects us in that if the Port is broke, it cuts into their ability to meet their commitments to us.

Friday: Was the King County Climate Collaboration virtual meeting. As they say, we simply cannot let this crisis go to waste. We’re experiencing better air for the first time in decades and I want to keep it!

Follow Up

After the Mayor and Deputy Mayor started attacking me from the dais and in the Waterland Blog I started asking what the specifics are behind their  complaints. So far I’ve only received specifics on one item–and this second hand–referring to my Weekly Update where I mentioned the Joint Emergency Operations Center. I stand by those comments and if anyone has comments or concerns over them, they should speak with me directly. As always, I welcome everyone’s input. 🙂

Now: what I’m about to write has nothing to do with that specific event. It’s just my general feelings about how presentations before the City Council should go.

Towards Better Presentations

City Hall is, for me, something of a sacred space. Over the years I have witnessed waaaaay too many poor presentations at City Hall. In fact, many of them were more performance than presentation. Insiders know exactly what I’m talking about. When I ran for office I told you that I wanted better government. For most of you that sounded kinda abstract. Well, this is one specific, nuts and bolts example of we improve government: better presentations.

If someone speaks before the Council for twenty minutes when a crisp five would have been more appropriate? If they engage in grandstanding or other self-serving behaviors? If they don’t make themselves available for questions? That’s not good for  government and I’m going to say something. Presenters should feel an obligation to be clear, concise, informative and non-performative when speaking before the Council. And when appropriate, presenters should cheerfully submit to thorough questioning.

The above seems commonsense to me. If this irritates some people, so be it. It is definitely not meant to. Presentations should not be about the presenter. Presentations should be about giving the Council (and the public) the information to make the best possible decisions.

Now look, 9x percent of presenters already do all that. They’re great. Most people who speak at the podium are not politicians or public speakers, they’re Staff or the public. They have no desire to accomplish anything but give the Council the best possible presentation. They’re not the ones I worry about. It’s the people who are comfortable at the podium: those are the people you have to worry about! 😀

One last thing: I don’t want to create the impression that I’m a ‘tough audience’. Quite the contrary. And the last thing I want to do is discourage the public from making public comment (we need to do a lot more to encourage people speaking at City Council Meetings in my opinion!) At bottom, what I want is a genuine conversation with anyone who speaks before the Council. No intimidation. But no bells and whistles either.

Weekly Update: 04/19/2020

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Port of the masked artist and dog at North Hill Elementary. Bear maintaining correct social distance.

This Week

Tuesday I’ll be having a virtual meeting with people from the Port Of Seattle to work on the whole Port Package Update program. I’ve cajoled, begged, nagged and wheedled enough to residents to contact SeatacNoise.Info if you have issues. So I won’t do that anymore. 😀

Tuesday is also the release date for the Coho Fish Pen down at the Marina. Swim free, little fish. free! Free! FREE! 😀  Even without the social distancing it’s not the most dramatic thing to witness. But it does matter. May they return in great numbers in a couple of years.

Wednesday is a virtual StART Meeting. Now for those of you concerned with airport issues, next week (April 23) is the deadline for submitting comments to the Dept. Of Commerce Study On Impacts From Sea-Tac Airport. Send your comments to Gary Idleburg gary.idleburg@commerce.wa.gov. Your comments matter because this is a long game. One ‘silver lining’ from COVID-19 is the reduction in noise and pollution. Many of us newer residents have never experienced how our City is supposed to be. So it’s often been tough to get newer residents to understand how bad things have gotten. We’ve just gotten used to it. Well, ironically this quiet and clean air is the real Des Moines. And my goal is to preserve at least a portion of these quieter and clearer skies as one positive outcome of this crisis.

Friday: King County Climate Collaboration virtual meeting. Ditto. As they say, we simply cannot let this crisis go to waste. We’re experiencing better air for the first time in decades and I want to keep it!

Last Week

Monday there was a Virtual Town Hall with Adam Smith at 5:00pm covering some great information on the new State unemployment benefits. I posted some details my Facebook Page, basically how to make sure your app gets processed smoothly. I asked the Congressman to see what he could do to provide a second round of stimulus specific to Cities like Des Moinesspecifically for long term capital projects. I also passed along the frustrations I’m hearing from local businesses regarding the SBA Loan process.

With the help of several activists, I’ve assembled a small  roster of private individuals who are willing to provide free translation service for people who need help filling out and submitting all those forms. I’ve done this after finding out that there are a surprising number of very hard working business people who struggle with paperwork (me too! :)). It’s ridiculous that any valuable business in Des Moines might miss out on any government program simply because of that ‘last mile’ in communication. If you know someone in this situation, please contact me!

Somewhere in there I helped Michelle Fawcett (of Salon Michelle and Destination Des Moines) put together a promo video for the Quarterdeck restaurant where they generously donated all the profits from a full day of service to the Food Bank. Michelle is one of the most tireless boosters of local business in Des Moines and took the footage for the TakeOutDesMoines promotional campaign we’re working on to get people to try Des Moines restaurants.

Wednesday I attended the Reach Out Des Moines virtual Meeting, where we saw a presentation on Phenomenal She, a great program for girls and young women of colour. I wish there had been programs like this for my kids back in the day and I am just thrilled to see it expanding to Des Moines.

Thursday was the 30th District COVID-19 Meeting. The most notable aspect of the meeting was the attendance of our Mayor and our Deputy Mayor. Not much new to report–everyone is still struggling to get basic things like PPEs and tests (more below).

Thursday also saw not an event, but a Letter From Matt Mahoney in The Waterland Blog, which (as with the previous week’s coverage of our Mayor’s beatdown) took up a certain amount of bandwidth. I was curious as to what is called in advertising ‘reach’. So I wrote the editor asking how many clicks and how much ad revenue those two posts generated (hey, I’d like to think that someone was getting something positive out all this.)

Friday I attended a virtual presentation given by the great Ann McFarlane of Jurassic ParliamentAll candidates should get to know Ms. McFarland and JP. It is great training. This seminar was called ” What’s Working On-Line Meetings” and was attended by eighty or so electeds. I attended this one mainly to see how other cities are dealing with ‘virtual city council meetings’. I came away more frustrated with the state of our situation in Des Moines. The overwhelming number of cities have been successfully conducting city business using relatively low-tech solutions like Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc. We are falling further behind other cities in our basic Council functions.

The Natives Are Getting Restless

I am hearing more and more from residents and ‘influencers’ that “It’s time to re-open Des Moines”. To which I can only say, “guys, Guys, GUYS!”

None of the data support this point of view. Every reputable scientist I’ve read or spoken with has said quite clearly that ‘the curve’ has to be going downward for two weeks before we can consider the infection to be controllable. We have not even peaked. We’re still going up, Up, UP! And not just here in small doses, but everywhere. As in planet earth everywhere. Almost every country that looked like it had gotten things under control is now experiencing a second wave. Meaning that, the moment they pumped the brakes, the disease comes back just as strong as before.

Plus: we have nothing like the proper gear to do so and will not for at least a month. The whole thing about ‘re-opening’ only works if everyone has gloves, masks, gowns and above all squillions of tests. We have none of that. We’ll need to be doing millions of tests every day. We currently do like 150k and–here’s the joke: only on people who we suspect of having it. That makes every statistic ridiculous to me. Now, can you imagine going to a hairstylist who doesn’t have PPEs? How about restaurants? Bars? What about that tight cubicle your spouse works in?

And last but not least, there’s you.How many of you are actually wearing masks in public–even in close quarters like the grocery store? Be honest. Do you really think that at least 90% of us will follow best practice after we relax the rules when I can’t get you to do it now? 😀 In short, if you favour re-opening, you’re insisting that we do so without the public having demonstrated the ability to follow some of the most basic rules of prevention. You want to re-open faster? I’ll tell you what you can do to speed the date: start wearing a mask in public. Model best practice. Please.

Now, why am I being so huffy about this? Oh, I dunno. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we have three major senior communities in town? (And they vote! 🙂 ) Plus many, many in-home care facilities. Not to mention a ton of other at-risk groups. And the fact that we have seen how you get one infection in any of these settings and you have problems. And by that I mean the kinds of problems like that Mayor with the snappy suit in Jaws who re-opened the beach too soon.

I will not support any ‘re-opening’ unless and until we are following the above recommendations from the scientific community. When we do re-open we must expect a second wave and it needs to be manageable. I completely understand that businesses are hurting, families are hurting and frankly many of you are just going stir-crazy. But the idea that we might have gone through all this sacrifice and then still have recurring waves of serious illness is galling to me. I feel ya. But please try to hang in there.  When this is all over? The drinks are on me. (Subject to PDC guidelines, of course. 😀 )