Weekly Update: 04/25/2021

Public Service Announcements

There are now vaccine appointments available every day now, including Walk-Ins at Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid, SeaMar and Healthpoint.

  1. Sign up to attend the Port Of Seattle Commissioner Candidate Forum July 22nd at 7PM!
  2. Hopefully you’ve already seen the Christmas In July post.  Please send me your ideas before our August 5th Budget Retreat!
  3. The City is preparing a survey to update its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Master Plan. You may get something in the mail or you can fill one out at the Farmers Market any time Saturday July 24th. You can also comment by email: parksmasterplan@desmoineswa.gov
  4. Destination Des Moines is also also sponsoring the  Virtual Waterland Festival on July 24th!
  5. 216th Ave bridge Closure starts July 19th and runs through August 23rd!
  6. 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 marinamasterplan@desmoinewa.gov.
  7. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

Last Week

Monday: Destination Des Moines. Planning their summer and fall events, which sounds like a lot of fun after the past year.

Tuesday: South County Transportation Board (SCATBd).

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Meeting (Agenda) There was a discussion of the Marina Redevelopment and and update on the passenger ferry.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting (Agenda) Marina Redevelopment and an update on the passenger ferry. No I did not accidentally hit Ctrl-V.

Thursday: Council Meeting Clerk’s Recap Agenda Packet Video The main order of business was something you did not see–an Executive Session involving an employee annual performance review. One is not allowed to discuss specifics of Executive Session, but there is only one employee that the Council reviews and it is the City Manager. And boy oh boy, I wish the public had seen it this discussion.

Century Agenda

I moved to amend the language on an item on the Consent Agenda involving a grant we received from the Port Of Seattle. The actual uses of the grant are fine. But I had a couple of problems with this thing: one having to do with process and the other with our City’s goals.

Process Matters

First: Our Council only sees grants after we win them and then legally the Council must vote to accept them. Our Council currently has no input in the application process or the language. So if one finds something objectionable in the grant, you’ve got two bad choices:

  • You can (maybe) go back to the grantor (the Port in this case) and beg them to redo the whole thing. That was the City Manager’s reply to my amendment.
  • Refuse the grant.

The City Manager was able to scoff at my amendment by ignoring the fact that there was no way for me to have objected earlier in the process. There should be at least some Council input on important grants during the application phase. The first time a Councilmember reads about the strings attached to a particular grant should not be at the acceptance phase.

Symbols Matter

In this case, the grant application mentioned that the City had previously shown it’s support for the Port’s Century Agenda–which is the Port’s list of big strategic objectives. Two of those goals are:

  • Double the number of international flights
  • Triple Air Cargo flights

Translation: More flights over Des Moines. More noise and more pollution. The official policy of Des Moines should never express alignment with those goals.

My objection to the language mentioning the Century Agenda was simple: it was unnecessary to obtaining the grant. All that was required was for the City to say that we were going to use the dough to increase tourism and economic development. Wonderful.

Hopefully, whoever filled out the form did it unintentionally–just to add a flourish to the application. But even if that is the case, it demonstrates a lack of policy.

Almost all arguments about not pushing back against the airport always come down to “We can’t do anything about it, so stop complaining!”

First of all, that’s untrue, but second and most important: symbols matter. Cities carefully structure the language of their official documents to show the public what they value–whether they can do anything about them or not. We discourage racism. We encourage various causes supporting the needs of women, children, seniors, veterans and many other constituencies. And we enact many proclamations to show our support of an array of goals where we in fact have no authority.

Now to effect any change, you need to start with simple, declarative sentences: This is what we want. How to achieve it comes later. But if you aren’t clear on where you want to go, you can never get there.

The SAMP ain’t just symbolic, pal…

This year, the Port Of Seattle is beginning work on the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) a plan to dramatically expand the number of flights at Sea-Tac Airport that very few residents are aware of. Each of the surrounding Cities has been and will continue to engage with the Port on your behalf to minimize its environmental impacts.

Increasing the number of flights would be bad for our City in any number of ways (health, property values, quality of schools, etc.), while providing only token benefits (a very few jobs, small grants like this.) Those are inarguable facts and we need to start educating the public a lot better because I know a lot of you believe otherwise. And when we as a City do anything that sends  an ambiguous message, it calls into question what your City actually believes.

Removing that one sentence about the Century Agenda may seem ‘only symbolic’, but symbols matter. We can’t create good policy if we don’t have a clear message ourselves. The public is often (understandably) confused as to how the airport actually affects them.

The Port is very clear about what its objectives in relation to Des Moines. So we must be equally clear about our objectives in relation to the Port.

The Minority Report (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Councilmember Martinelli and my response to the State Of City presentation, published in the Waterland Blog last week.

This is the second half of our response to the April 15th State Of The City presentation. Part 1 discussed our objections to the way it was carried out. Here we’ll talk about some specific policy differences. For those of you short on time, you can follow along with this presentation packet.

As noted last time, one of the many ways the presentation was unusual was the fact that our colleagues were also presenters! That risks making our comments sound personal. We can also hear howls that we are somehow criticizing our great staff. Neither could be further from the truth. This is about policy, which is set by the Council and City Manager. The discussion stops there.

The big picture

Over the years, the number of Des Moines residents hasn’t changed much, but the composition has. Most notably, we are now younger and more diverse. Also, remember that the original City was very small and the current town is actually the result of many small annexations. But the majority of services and programs are still focused around that original core.

The City must recognize these changes and adapt to better address the needs of residents in all neighborhoods.


In Part 1, we stated that the presentation was ‘all positive and no negative’ but at first glance a few slides imply otherwise. For example, Slide #6 showed an assessment of the City from a 1962 report outlining many of problems we still see today.

But far from (finally) offering some solutions, the message seemed to be that we just have to learn to live with most of these structural problems. We disagree. Most of these challenges come down to choices as much as ‘fate’. Governments decide which issues to tackle aggressively–and which to avoid.

The Past 5 Years

As Slide #7 states, the City is now on much better financial footing than after the 2008 financial crisis and our credit rating is now solidly competitive with comparable cities.

But what the presentation referred to as ‘diversified revenue streams’ actually means strategies like raising your utility taxes to the highest allowable rates. This disproportionately affects low and middle income residents and turns away businesses.

Balancing the books shows operational skills (good), but it does not automatically signal a long term strategy that benefits you or business.

Marina Redevelopment

The Marina discussion is being driven by the fact that the docks are at their end of life. This will be the largest and longest capital project in our history. But there is a separate discussion concerning the land side which is, unfortunately, being sold together as a ‘package deal’ and that is wrong.

To be clear: the Marina docks do require replacement and that work (and that work alone) should begin now. 

In 2017, the City installed a highly flawed paid parking system despite ongoing public opposition. That same year the administration held a single open house to gather public input on land side redevelopment. Four years ago. Last month, City Currents Magazine published a highly misleading editorial about passenger ferry service–with no vote or presentation to Council. And this month, the City finally unveiled its Marina redevelopment proposals, which appear identical to the renderings shown at that 2017 open house.

There is a pattern here: of poor public engagement, questionable decision-making and no transparency. The current majority is using the legitimate urgency of dock replacement to rush through a land side development with inadequate information, oversight or public buy-in.

The City should engage an independent professional to review any land side plans before moving ahead. We at least deserve a second opinion to confirm that we are headed in the right direction on such a large decision.

Economic Development

We are always happy to see new businesses in Des Moines. However, the essential challenges to the downtown and to all our business community are still not being addressed. Frankly, we have watched many small shops come and go over the decades and very few have been sticky. Almost none have leveraged more visitors to Des Moines.

We also appreciate the continued investment in Des Moines by Wesley and we look forward to their continued partnership. At the same time,  the City should be focusing economic development efforts far more on our increasingly youthful population.

We were far ahead of our colleagues in advocating for business grants at the start of the pandemic. The City responded too slowly, finally offering a program with no independent oversight. We gave over $500,000 to only 26 businesses located almost exclusively in our downtown. In fact there were hundreds of businesses throughout Des Moines completely unaware of the program. That was not only unfair and unethical, it’s just bad for business. All future business grant programs should be run independently.


One thing to understand about transportation spending in Des Moines is how little of it there actually is. Almost all road improvements comes from highly competitive regional grants, currently limiting us to only one or two projects every few years. It may seem obvious, but the two best ways to fund more projects are to improve the business environment and increase our  presence in regional government.

The Community Connections Shuttle was a wonderful addition to Des Moines–five years ago. However, the majority of residents who need transit live in other areas–where services are poorest. We urgently need another such shuttle and we need much stronger advocacy for transit throughout the City.

Public Safety

We fully support our police department. In fact, we’d like to see more police deployed in your neighborhood. Although the administration refers to our department as ‘fully staffed’, the number of officers is now far smaller than in 2007.

We applaud the administration’s vocal support for police reform–such as adopting the #8Can’tWait campaign. However a recent letter of resignation from one member of the Diversity Advisory Committee raises concerns as to the City’s true commitment.

Parks, Recreation, Senior Services

The City groups several very important (and very different!) functions into one block called ‘human services’ and these are all undervalued. $175,000 out of a $24.5 million dollar general fund is simply not adequate–especially during a pandemic. Programs serving kids, seniors, families and people with special needs should never be outsourced.

We also acknowledge the recent work the City has done to improve places like Midway Park. But it is important to note that these upgrades began only after great volunteers laid the foundation. Currently, volunteerism for all City-related groups is at an all time low. We must do more to reverse that trend–including making the process much easier. It is volunteers who do so much to keep Des Moines running.

The Masonic Home

The Masonic Home is one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire state and has tremendous strategic potential. Yes, it has been problematic for years, but repeatedly the City chose to leave its fate to private developers–as if it were just another building. If and when a new opportunity appears we should be ready to provide every resource to support its rebirth as an economic engine for South Des Moines.

Sea-Tac Airport

The airport has been and will continue to be the single biggest threat to the City and its residents, having contributed to declines in our schools, property values and the health of our residents. Despite the public perception, very little of the airport’s money or well-paid jobs are in Des Moines.

The City has repeatedly made this situation worse for residents, publicly bemoaning the noise and pollution, while supporting the Port’s agenda in policy. Our Airport Advisory Committee resigned last year in frustration.

With little fanfare, Sea-Tac will soon begin a new expansion referred to as the SAMP. Unless vigorously opposed, this will add tens of thousands of flights over Des Moines.

There is a great deal we can do to improve this situation, but we must change our approach immediately.

In closing

This message is firm because the circumstances demand it. However it includes not only constructive criticisms but also solutions for improving our government and making your City better. In a letter like this, it is impossible to go into detail. But we welcome discussion of those details with both our colleagues and the public. It is offered to our colleagues and to all residents of Des Moines with sincerity and with absolutely no rancor.

It is our honor to serve Des Moines.

Councilmember JC Harris,
Councilmember Anthony Martinelli


  1. Again I am overwhelmed with information. Thank you . And you really make a good case for transparency in Government. .,

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