Weekly Update: 02/23/2020

This Week

Tuesday is a Port Of Seattle General Meeting at Sea-Tac Airport. Any activist will want to attend as it will concern both the whole ‘Port Package’ issue and the SAMP-expansion. In twenty five words or less, the Port is deciding to scale up their Noise Program big time, not just to address HB2315 but to finally get done all the residences that they’ve slow walked for so long. This is potentially huge as they are committing to do the work before getting Federal money and they are asking the airlines to chip in.

Wednesday, I’ll be giving a talk on the status of various airport issues at the Rotary Club at Anthony’s. At some point I need to start videotaping these.

Then it’s back to Olympia for another Stakeholders Meeting on HB2315, presumably to get some final tweaks to the language.

Wednesday night is also the next meeting of the Burien Airport Committee (BAC) at their Community Center (the old Library on Sixth). The BAC has been doing great things over the past few years and I highly recommend that you attend if you want to get a sense of how local communities are working on these issues.

Thursday there is a Puget Sound Clean Air Agency meeting in Seattle. I want to be there to lobby for something pretty basic: a pollution monitor. One thing almost no one realizes is that there are currently no air quality monitors anywhere near Sea-Tac Airport. This is something we should be fighting for because as I keep saying, “If there’s no data, the government thinks the problem doesn’t exist.”

Thursday is also the next City Council Meeting (Agenda). Apparently, the Mayor will be discussing committee assignments–which is a big deal.

Friday I’ll be talking with our King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove (Maybe he can get us the air quality monitor? 🙂 ) He’s a big supporter of transit.

Saturday morning, I’ll be at the Hillgrove Cemetery helping with clean up. If you’re interested in helping out with this essential piece of Des Moines history, please let me know for details.

Last Week

Wednesday was the latest Reach Out Des Moines (RODM) meeting. I’m interested in how much effort the City and schools are putting into making sure that all the new residents at Waterview Crossing will have the services they need to thrive here as the place finally opens in a few months. I’ve made friends with several people who represent immigrant communities from East Africa and South Asia and one thing I keep thinking about is the wide range of languages used in Des Moines now. It feels like we should be doing more to provide translation services for a wide variety of documents. I wonder what are the ‘top five’? You can’t provide for the dozens and dozens of languages, but what are the ones that will be of value to the vast majority.

Wednesday was also Sound Cities Association (SCA) ‘networking’ event. The highlight was a speech by King County Executive Dow Constantine. I gotta say: when Dow gives a speech, he gives a real speechifyin’ speech. 😀 Anyhoo, he talked mostly about ‘revenue’, ‘housing’ and ‘transit’, the eternal trinity of regional politics. Basically, every city wants/needs more of all of the above. More on this below.

Thursday I was back in Olympia for yet another hearing on HB2315 (Port Package Updates). It feels like it’s going to pass. I can’t express how extraordinary it is to get a bill through on the first try. For any number of reasons (not the least of which being the fact that we run a $50 billion dollar organization (the State Of Washington) with a part-time legislation), most legislation takes several tries (years) to become law. If it passes, our own Rep. Tina Orwall is the reason why.

Somewhere in there was another bunch of SeatacNoise.info apts.; taking a look at people’s homes with Port Packages. And now a brief PSA for residents who think they may be eligible:

FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD, FIND YOUR PORT PACKAGE HANDBOOK! If you’re not the owner who had the system installed, you may not know this, but every Port Package is custom. A tech came to the priority and came up with a noise reduction design just for your home. And one of the problems with many Port Packages is that the design was not very good or was not properly followed. If you have your Handbook, the design is inside (in the link it’s on pg. 27) and SeatacNoise.info (or a home inspector) can go through your home and check the design. If the design was not followed or was poor that is another way you should be able to get relief under the new program. (That example? That’s one of the less than adequate ones.)

Saturday I helped out Trout Unlimited to get the Coho Pen assembled at the Des Moines Marina. It’s currently across from the Harbor Master’s office. Come down and watch the fry grow. 🙂 Total tangent: It amazes me that this process even works. If you’ve ever looked at a salmon, they go through these pretty amazing transformations as they grow and move from fresh to salt and then back to fresh water. It’s a very gradual process. The fact that you can just throw these babies from a hatchery into Puget Sound and they live is something. (Double Tangent: Salmon are the national animal of Ireland–kinda like bald eagles are here.)

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

One thing I’ve been noticing at almost every public meeting I’ve been to in the last few years is an almost constant sense of frustration among most local leaders on the issues Executive Constantine spoke of in his speech. And I don’t mean the usual chronic complaining. This is different. This is beginning to sound desperate. Transit is a big one. After years of largely avoiding the issue, most cities are now (finally) falling all over themselves to improve non-auto transportation. And that costs.

See the thing is this: Ya know how most people think that, behind closed doors, all politicians do is try to find ways to get more money, even though in public they all preach, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”? OK, worst kept secret of all time: you’re absolutely correct. Most (not all, but most) local politicians are constantly scheming to get new sources of revenue and it really is only the constant public screaming that keeps taxes under control. But before you start in with all that  “you bloodsucking politicians!” jazz, I’ll just state for the record, I understand both sides.

If you really listen to a mayor or city manager, they will generally talk about this abstract thing called a ‘City’ or a ‘County’. They talk far less about people. Their primary duty is to that institution. And frankly, the institution wants and needs money. More of it all the time. If you’re an elected or a city manager your oath is to safeguard your city–which is often a very different thing from making individuals happy, right? We want to re-build roads, hire more police,  build houses and on and on. These are not bad priorities. They just cost a fortune.

There is this myth that all cities are wasting tons of money. It’s simply untrue. The current State tax system has been extremely unfair to cities over the past twenty years. Cities like Des Moines used to count on property taxes for the majority of their funding. Now? Property tax only makes up about a third of our revenue. So most cities now scramble to build strong business tax bases to make up the difference. And if they can’t? They/we find (cough) ‘creative’ solutions. Some of these are really bad (borrowing from the future), only kinda bad (red light cameras) or merely unpredictable (grants).

The point I’m trying to make is that you will be hearing more and more regionally about proposals to lift property tax limits, add sales tax increases and so on–especially with the passage of I-976. Many of these are for real needs like re-building infrastructure and improved transit. I have no objection to any of these…

(you’ve stopped reading and started getting angry already, right?)

…so long as you get to vote on it.

Happier now? 😀 Look, there are a ton of extremely worthy projects that you should consider funding. But I will never support an increase to your taxes that you don’t get a say in.

In my view, the proper way to go about any touchy issue like taxes is for the city/county/state to get out there and sell it. A lot of revenue increases tend to bypass the public because, frankly, it is hard to convince residents to pony up. It’s much easier to pass legislation for revenue sources that do not require public approval. And that kinda looks like what is on the horizon as regional needs for things like transit and housing become more acute.

(Example: Cities like Des Moines knew I-976 would be a gut punch to our road projects. So in my view, government should have all been getting out there educating the public as to how it would affect those projects before the vote. At least then voters would be able to understand what they’d be giving up in exchange. We did not do that education and we should do better in the future.)

Leaders do hear the message from voters of ‘no more taxes’. But as I said before: their (my) duty is to the institution and that is why they/we sometimes seem so tone-deaf. It’s like taking a kid to the doctor. (You’re the kid in this analogy): you’re screaming ‘I don’t wanna get a shot!’ but the parent is trying to do what’s best so they make you get it anyway. I know how patronizing that sounds, but that really is the psychology at work. So expect even more tension on taxes in the coming year.