Happy Fathers Day!
The world seems to be getting back to normal. Ish. I was honored to attend the first unmasked event I’ve been to in over a year: a combo Fathers Day/Graduation party for the son of one our residents. This is a real American success story. The father immigrated here, started a business, bought a house in Des Moines that had been a code enforcement problem for years and transformed it into something you’d see in the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine. So to celebrate the first member of his family graduating college, he did it right: He hosted a full-on Banda–a traditional Mexican group with tuba, accordion, mariachis. It’s gonna take me a bit of work to get used to hearing people celebrate in public like that.
Public Service Announcements
There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.
- The Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market is now officially open every Saturday. And parking on Saturdays is free, Free, FREE!
- Sign up for the UW Airport Communities Solutions Summit Friday, June 18th and learn what we can do to reduce the noise and pollution
- Downtown City Cleanup, sponsored by Destination Des Moines is Saturday June 19th, 10:00AM at Big Catch Plaza! Email Michelle to sign up: email@example.com
- You like running, right? Biking? So sign up for the Running Of The Flags and support the Legacy Foundation, Destination Des Moines and Rotary!
- We’re embarking on the redevelopment of the Des Moines Marina. This is the largest capital project in our city’s history and we need your input! Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
- City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
- Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
- And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!
Monday: I attended a seminar on Chronic Homelessness hosted by former Governor Christine Gregoire. Here is the presentation. I’ve been studying this for a good while now and I asked a question that I can never seem to get an answer to: “How many?” How many homeless people are there specifically in Des Moines? The only data anyone ever points to is this ‘one night count’ the County does every year. It is wildly inaccurate but no one ever proposes anything more rigorous. At the risk of being my usual cranky pants, this is obviously intentional. People in the field seem not to want to do such detailed mapping because they don’t want NIMBYism to get into the discussion. They’re terrified of the common resident complaint against any affordable housing “If you build it they will come.” ie. that we should never do anything because all that would do would be to act as a magnet for homeless people from all over. I strenuously disagree. I think that the public is deeply cynical about the entire issue. They see how much money has already been spent, without great results, and that lack of transparency only feeds into their skepticism. At some point, we need to get public buy-in and we need the same analytics to this issue as we would demand from any other public policy.
Monday: Destination Des Moines meeting. Apparently, the Fireworks are canceled. Now: this was the first time I’ve actually said anything since I’ve been attending. I brought up the notion of printing restaurant flyers to distribute to Wesley, Judson and the FAA people. That was the whole point of creating TakeOutDesMoines last year. But for a bunch of stupid reasons, the flyers never got distributed. I hope the group makes that happen this year because I keep trying to tell people that there are a lot of people in these three places who have no idea about our restaurants but who are potential lunch customers. 🙂
Tuesday-Thursday: Association Of Washington Cities (AWC) Annual Conference. I love this thing. It’s a get-together of local electeds from all over Washington. What always puzzles me is how very few people attend from around here. Some attend their first year just to see what’s what, but every year there are a gazillion seminars on local government that are extremely helpful. When you hear me talk about ‘how other cities do things’, this is the value. You learn that every city is facing similar challenges and its fascinating to see how many different ways there are to tackle them.
Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Commission Meeting (Agenda) Many of you are objecting to the parking lot project which would eliminate North SeaTac Park. The advocates don’t particularly need my help, but I commented because I felt like I needed to emphasize for those activists that the Port’s standard line “we’ll address this fully in the environmental review process” is simply disingenuous and they should not be distracted by that. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but the NEPA/SEPA process is not meant to save that park. If the Commission does not act pro-actively, the likely outcome would still be a parking lot–but with some doodads to make it more ‘environmentally friendly’.
Thursday: South King County Housing Homelessness Partners Executive Committee. My comments re. Governor Gregoire’s Webinar would apply here as well. SKHHP has been at this now for almost two years and I honestly can’t see anyone, you know, building any housing any time soon: market-rate or otherwise. I’m no rocket scientist, but my guess is that, if you want to deal with a chronic shortage of affordable housing, you’re gonna have to actually start building some affordable housing. (Actually even before that, you gotta stop making ‘affordable’ a dog whistle for “crappy”.)
I’m cranky about it because, as the pandemic comes to an end, we’re about to see a whole lotta disruption. Eviction bans will end. The utility districts will come looking for all their back due money. Average rent in DM is now pushing $1,600. In Kent, it’s over $2,000. You’re starting to see these signs now, right? I saw them in 2008 and I am concerned.
You should care about this, because instability in any neighborhood makes every neighborhood less safe.
Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd). There was a presentation on the national legislative agenda of the Biden administration on transportation planning. It’s fascinating at a macro-level.
Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee Meeting I’m continuing to pitch the SeatacNoise.Info Remote Works Better proposal to all the airport communities. Basically, let’s get every government to start thinking about remote work and reducing the number of flights by continuing to use Zoom.
Thursday: Both the Environment Committee and Transportation Committee meetings were cancelled with no explanation. For those new to the show, although these are labeled as ‘Council’ Committees, the staff actually runs the show. So staff can (and do) cancel meetings. Or the Chair will do so without asking fellow Committee members. And if a Committee member asks, “Why?” the response will be, “Well, the staff had better things to do.” Add this to the list of things that will change.
So, JC, why does that bug you so much?
Glad you asked: These meetings are max forty five minutes. A new Councilmember comes into any of these committees and struggles to learn the material. The meetings are a venue to learn about the nuts and bolts. And I don’t think asking staff to spend 45 minutes a month educating the Council (their bosses, mind you) is a lot to ask. Long time City watchers (you know, all three of you 😀 ) will recall that immediately upon leaving City Council in 2017, Dave Kaplan was hired by the City Manager as a transportation consultant. CM Kaplan had been the CM assigned to SCATbd. And the explanation given for his consultant contract was that the City “needed Mr. Kaplan’s transportation experience at a critical time in the SR-509 process. New Councilmember Mahoney was “not ready”. Uh huh. So, if committee experience is so danged valuable, we should do everything possible to get CMs trained up as quickly as possible.
Also, committee meetings are the time when CMs can bring forward new business. We’re supposed to legislate from time to time. So when staff cancels a meeting, it cuts off any CM from an opportunity to present their ideas.
Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video) See below.(you can sign up to watch or comment from the Agenda.) There’s some Consent Agenda stuff that actually mattered–we’re moving ahead with the bulkhead replacement.
Saturday: I attended a candidate forum at Wesley Terrace with Gene Achziger and Soleil Lewis and about a dozen residents. The residents asked some great questions and what struck me was the fact that all of them were about things not having to do with Wesley. They asked about homelessness, public safety, programs for kids, the downtown and a lot of nuts and bolts about how Council-Manager government works.
I have railed many times about how difficult it was for me to campaign at Wesley and Judson in 2019 (I was constantly being ordered of the property by management, even when invited by residents.) The fact that the residents of Wesley were able to do this with the blessing of management is a very positive step! Seniors vote in the highest percentage in Des Moines so it’s critical that candidates get to know them.
Council Meeting Recap
We voted to approve the Marina North Seawall replacement on the Consent Agenda. Candidate pro-tip: One of the many procedural things I hope to change is that we do this weird thing where we have items on our Consent Agenda, but still have a full presentation and discussion. My feeling is that, if an item of business has a presentation and a discussion, it should not be on the Consent Agenda.
Anyhoo, there were several rhetorical questions from my colleagues and I had one myself: I bothered the City Engineer to note that four items from our Capital Budget, totally about $350,000 were being pushed off into the future in order to fund this project. I did this to make a point: We’re strapped!
Thank you. 🙂
Seriously, one of the ongoing disagreements I have with my colleagues is how to characterize the state of the City’s financial health. Yes, the City was on the edge of bankruptcy six years ago. Yes, we pay the bills now and have the proper reserves. Great. But we struggle to do anything more than that. Even with a generous grant from the State, we still had to stop work on things like playground equipment and Barnes Creek Trail and a road improvement project in North Hill that people have been waiting on since for-ehhhver. I want the public (and candidates) to understand where we’re really at. Candidates tend to promise stuff, not realizing the money has to come from somewhere. And the public often gets confused–they hear the City saying how ‘well’ we’re doing, then wonder why more things don’t get fixed.
Farmers Market Kerfuffle
I pulled the Farmers Market rental agreement item from the Consent Agenda. It was yet another one of those, “The City Manager won’t answer my question” deals. The City Manager decided to reduce their annual rent from $35,000 down to $100 for the second year in a row. I simply asked,
“Did the FM Board request this or did you offer it?”
And the reply I got was basically “Why do you want to know?” (sigh). So CM Buxton then replies with, “I talked with their board. I know the answer. But I won’t tell you until you first tell me why you want to know.”
I replied to both as follows:
It. Doesn't. Matter. If -you-, or any other CM, asked a question of the administration (and -especially- if it concerned an agenda item), I would expect that you receive a full and cheerful response. 'Why do you want to know?' got nothing to do with it.
If a CM wants to know? Don’t argue. Just answer the question. When I’m filling out my taxes or some other government form I can’t put “Why do you want to know?” on line #29.
But how’s this: We’re effectively giving them a $34,999 grant. I’m not used to giving people organizations money unless they ask for it. And if they ask for it, I then want to know, “Why do you need it?” That’s not a nosy question. It’s your tax dollars. There’s supposed to be an application and a process.
And then there’s this: A lot of the public has a natural curiosity as to how well the FM is doing. Last year, it was obvious that they needed a break. This year? I have no idea. So my hope was to gain some general sense of how they expect to do this summer.
Plus, remember that a big part of the sales pitch for the Marina Redevelopment is “Year Round Farmers Market!” Which sounds pretty fab, right? But the other part of that sales pitch is that the Adaptive Purpose Building is meant to be a primary revenue generator for rebuild the docks. That being the case, we need to know the realistic cash flow potential of all potential tenants.
Now: everyone loves the Farmers Market. Including moi. I shouldn’t even have to say that. But one of the things I truly resent is the fact that every time I as perfectly reasonable questions regarding your tax dollars, I get push back like, “Oh, you must really hate the Farmers Market.”
LGBTQ Pride Month
The City read a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ Pride Month. I kinda wish we had members of the public show up and give us some ideas on how to do more to celebrate. If you have some thoughts, please let me know. I’ll just mention again, on my auto-play rant on ‘volunteerism’ that, if you want some other form of celebration (parade, etc.) you gotta show up to make it happen. 🙂
Chief Of Police Ken Thomas did a presentation called ‘Police Update’. Ahead of the meeting I asked our City Manager: “Can you give me a one sentence preview of what this will be about?”
To which he replied:
Not sure what value a quick preview will provide to you prior to City Council hearing this Police report.
Ignoring the rank insubordination, I’ll tell you, Dear Reader the ‘value’. In the past two weeks the City Council received more letters concerning public safety than at any time I have served. If the public knows the general subjects to be covered, they are more likely to tune in and feel like they are being heard. Add this to the list of things that need to change.
There was a presentation on WRIA 9, salmon habitat recovery, which for you, largely concerns ‘de-armoring’–getting rid of hard seawalls near places where salmon spawn. Salmon are seriously picky when it comes to procreation. They hate seawalls. If we had tried to build a Marina today, I doubt we could get permitting because any man-made barrier lowers fish counts. The only good news is that, by participating in these programs, we are eligible for all sorts of grants to redevelop areas like Massey Creek at the south end of the Yacht Club.
Under New Business, I proposed that the recordings of Committee Meetings should be made public. As I’ve been saying for a while, everyone would see the little red ‘recording’ light on the Zoom window, but the City would insist “Nope, we’re not recording ’em. No sir.”
This is another flavour of the kind of routine frustration I just mentioned with the Farmers Market. The job of Councilmember is at least ninety percent oversight. You gotta be able to ask reasonable questions about everything without having to worry that you’re being insensitive or unsupportive.
Now just as a review, New Business items are not votes to take action. They are decisions to put a proposal on a future City Council Meeting Agenda. You propose something and, if you get the support of two other CMs (DM Mahoney and CM Martinelli in this case), it moves forward. The entire discussion consists of making the Agenda item specific enough so that the administration can research the particulars of cost and language.
We decided to move forward on two related but separate items:
- We will vote to make any existing Committee Meeting recordings public and also to make any future Committee recordings public. I was a bit of a stickler for language on this because, as you can tell if you watch the Mayor’s comments, the Council still does not know exactly when the City began recording Committee Meetings. (See above frustration. 😀 )
- The administration will come forward with a budget and technical requirements to record future meetings when we go back to conducting committee meetings ‘in real life’. One objection to doing this was always that the North Conference Room (where meetings are held) is kinda small and the IT guys said it was challenging to set up video gear. Not sure I always bought that 100%, but we’ll see. 🙂
The rest of my comments were basically to encourage the public to get organised. I make comments like this all the time, I know they annoy staff (as an engineer, they would annoy me) but… tough noogies. 🙂
At bottom, a City is a customer service operation: We respond to customer requests for police, transportation, permitting and on and on.
Every week the City Council gets complaints/suggestions about various neighbourhood problems–often traffic or public safety. We seem to be getting them a lot more these days for various reasons.
Most of the time these letters read to me like the resident is trying to inform the City of something they assume it doesn’t already know.
I dunno if this will be comforting or annoying but, NEWSFLASH! 99.99% of the time, whatever you’re reporting or wherever you’re reporting about, it’s something the City has already heard about between one and four squillion times. 😀
City engineers periodically take an inventory of roads, accident reports, traffic data, etc. They use a data-driven scoring system to prioritise what/when/how to address these things based on how much money we have to spend every year. It’s technocratic and fair.
But, let’s be real girlfriend. If you look at the Transportation Improvements Project sheet or any ‘analytics driven’ City service, there are a lot of projects that score similarly. So there is absolutely no reason why, if your neighbourhood is more engaged, that you shouldn’t get your project done first. And in fact, that is exactly what happens here on Planet Des Moines.
The neighbourhoods that are better organized get more attention. You can call it ‘democracy’, ‘the squeaky wheel’, but if you care about your neighbourhood, you should pay attention.
DPW Carver was right to say that ‘this is not a popularity contest’. But this is democracy. If your neighbourhood wants something enough, all things being equal, it deserves a bump on the priority list.
Redondo is getting attention now, frankly not based 100% on ‘analytics’. I love y’all, but if you think Redondo is objectively ‘worse’ in some regards than any of a number of DM neighbourhoods? That’s because you don’t get around as much as I do. 😀 And that’s fine. Again: that’s democracy.
Reporting is not complaining
That said, the City (including policing) has a fixed number of resources. We have to know what’s going on in order to allocate properly.
What concerns me is when residents say, “I don’t like to complain.”
This whole notion of ‘complaining’ has gotsta go! The word ‘complaint’ has become code to shut down perfectly reasonable discussions. Stop saying “complain”. Instead, say “report”. Every time you have an issue? Report it. You’re not ‘complaining’. You’re providing the raw data, the police or the engineer needs to move your issue to the top of the stack.
When people tell me, “JC you complain so much.”, I politely tell them to stop complaining so much. 🙂
It’s your neighbourhood
And one last thing: I’m trying to get you to build your neighbourhood. I first got involved in local politics because my street was going downhill. I bought my house because I loved my neighbours. But after the Great Recession one guy sold his house to some no account landlord–who rented it to a copper-thieving tweaker. And all it took was that one guy to ruin the entire street. One by one, all my long term neighbours moved. It’s taken a decade for my street to recover. Sound familiar?
Your issues are probably quite different. Doesn’t matter. I want you to report and advocate for your street because I want you invested in your neighbours and your neighbourhood. This is as essential to securing the future of Des Moines as any City service we might provide.