Weekly Update: 03/30/2020

This Week

Late again! Same excuse as last week: waiting for information.  This time I’ve been waiting for details on the City’s new ‘Joint Emergency Operations Center’, which I just found out I’ll be touring on Friday. More below.

You may have noticed that I’ve cobbled together two new links on the home page. Coro’na Virus and Restaurants. I hope you find them useful.

SUPER IMPORTANT: Congressman Adam Smith’s office has a private e-mail list for small business owners to find out how the Federal Government can help. Please contact me to join up. Congressman Smith is concerned that there is such a fire hose of information (and skepticism) that many people are leaving money on the table. Like I’ve been saying, some of the new programs are very generous. Your participation will not only help you, but also other businesses with similar questions.

For the rest of the week, I’m going virtually everywhere and physically nowhere. And I suggest you do the same. I’ve gotten a bunch of messages and e-mails complaining that the restrictions are too severe, some with lines like, “I’m never voting for you again!” And I’m like. “May you live long enough to do so!” I’m probably one of the few people in Des Moines who’s actually had a long-term nasty illness. And brother? You do not want it!

Actually, I’m doing a lot of research. And I’m kinda surprised that so many people are ‘on hold’. This is the perfect time to be thinking about ‘the day after’. Yeah, it’s rough. But when this is over, there will be tremendous opportunities to build stuff. The time to plan is now.

Last Week

On Monday, Governor Inslee put us all on lockdown.

Tuesday was the virtual Port Of Seattle Special Meeting (agenda). Although it will be of great interest to people in Des Moines and I urge you to watch it with me. Not on my couch, of course. But here. It included a contract to (finally) sound insulate Villa Enzi condominiums on 216th and allocates the first money to the new sound insulation initiative I keep banging on about and finalizes the Flight Corridor Safety Program (aka ‘tree cutting along 200th’). Though originally slated to chop down 3,000 trees, it’s been reduced now to 170. Whew.

I also participated in a virtual City Council Meeting (agenda) at the extra-special time of 5pm on Thursday March 26th.

Virtual City Council Meeting 03/26/20

The last City Council Meeting (video) gave me the feels. The annoyed kind. It was held by telephone (fine), but the agenda was severely truncated (not as fine) and the highlight was over thirty minutes of reporting from our City Manager, South King County Fire Chief Vic Pennington and Police Chief Ken Thomas on the whole COVID-19 thing (not fine at all).

Joint Emergency Operations Center

Look, I know I’m asking for trouble, but the three of them talked about this new thing called a ‘Joint Emergency Operations Center’ (JEOC). With a logo and everything. I did not hear one word of information on what it actually is and why we need it. I thought I was being too harsh in my assessment so I went back and listened to the whole thing over again and I wasn’t off in a fog. In addition to being almost content-free, there was no opportunity for questions which ticks me off due to the curtailed meeting agenda. What there was was a lot of backslapping about how fantastic our emergency management is. But so far, I honestly see no difference in our response to COVID-19 and other Cities. I hope that when I see the JEOC I will eat my words. 🙂

Status Report?

Look, I know I sound cranky, but I can only reiterate what I’ve been saying for a while now: I feel blind. And I know at least a few others on the Council feel the same. We were told to expect an update from Finance at the April 9 meeting and I gotta say I’m not thrilled with that speed. Yes, I know everything is ultra-stressful for City employees right now, but I feel like Council should have some idea of what this State Of Emergency is doing to our finances. Getting a first report on that almost two months into the emergency seems wrong. I’m not blaming anyone. I’m just saying that we need to do better. We should consider how to provide better information to Council faster in future emergencies.

Late Fee Motion

The only substantial part of the meeting was a motion injected into the Consent Agenda by Councilmember Martinelli. This motion was to ask the City Attorney to study the possibility of a moratorium on late fees for renters during the emergency. It was voted down 5-2.

I voted ‘yes’ for the same reason I just finished grousing about the lack of information on finances. And the lack of information on the JEOC. I will always vote for more information if the request is reasonable. Councilmembers deserve to have their requests for information honored as part of their job as legislators, full stop. Even if I disagree with an idea, I will almost always want the Council to be able to utilize the power of the City to do the research.

So I was not happy that this was voted down, and not just because at least two Councilmembers are landlords and have a vested interest in the issue. They should have been more generous in at least studying the issue.

But on the other hand, I am also not happy with being blind-sided on this. I would prefer not to have any motions ever involving public policy injected anywhere into a meeting (like, oh I dunno… to triple the City Managers severance package?) Grrrrrr….

But in this case Mr. Martinelli had no choice. There was no reason for the Agenda to be so restrictive since our Governor relaxed OPMA rules last week. So if Mr. Martinelli wanted to get his idea out there he had to do it this way. I voted for this, again, as a courtesy. If it had been a vote on the real issue, without specific data I probably would have voted ‘no’. Not because of the merits, but for the fourth time: because there was no data. (Are ya sending a pattern here? 😀 )

Because here’s the thing: I have no idea how many people might be affected by this: either tenants or landlords. And neither the City or Councilmember Martinelli showed up with any stats. I don’t want to vote on anything where I don’t have data. Right now, I have no idea where the City is at and that makes me wary of any ad hoc spending. And frankly, just saying “They’re doing it in <CityX> doesn’t fly. It may be a huge problem. It may not be much of a problem. I have no idea.

One Size Does Not Fit All

An idea that is very easy for one city might be a terrible idea for another city depending on their finances, impacts to business, the jerks (er ‘Distinguished Councilmembers’ 😀 ) running the show, legal fees, etc.  And here’s an example that I relate to:

Until 7-8 years ago, we had a really good landlord training requirement in Des Moines, run by CSO Tonya Seaberry. I was a part of it. It protected neighborhoods from crap renters by making landlords more accountable. It cut down on Code Enforcement complaints dramatically. But the City dumped it (2012-ish?) after the law was challenged by the Rental Housing Association (RHA). We actually paid them a settlement of over $100k. So that went away. Now: I dearly want to see that law return. But I know we will likely have to be prepared to fight to get there. We have a huge pool of tiny landlords in DM who live off rental income  and they pay dues to RHA.

Anyhoo, when the majority says they’re worried about having to defend a ban on late fees they ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. It’s a legit concern, especially when there was no specifics as to how many people might be helped or hurt.

Do tenants deserve a break these days? You bet. But all policy ideas should be data-driven in order to obtain support.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this, and any little ol’ thang you might want to talk about of course. 🙂