Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Some good did come from the Tyson Seafood plant purchase



We're all arguing about the real fault for the purchase and white-elephanting of the Tyson Seafood plant, but there's something worth pointing out. While the plant itself still sits empty, there was some good done on another piece of the property.

Quixote Village, an award winning and self governing homeless village, has called the site home for just over two years now. The history of Quixote Village is pretty interesting, growing out of a protest downtown and then riding the wave of local politics on homeless encampments and churches for a few years before settling down.

You can read a lot more about the Village and its history here.

So, yeah, I'll admit it. The Tyson plant has been empty and in county hands for going on 20 years now. Some people who first purchased it now support Gary Edwards for county commission. The folks that moved on to another solution support the same people I'd vote for.

But like most history, things are never really as simple as an easy retelling. The entire property the county purchased in the late 90s did not got to waste. Obviously.

Monday, June 27, 2016

EDIT: Emmett, do more research. Gary Edwards should tell the truth about who is responsible for the Tyson Seafood plant purchase

Well, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I was wrong about this one.

From the Olympian in 1999.



My research stopped in 1998 soon after the purchase of the property when Oberquell and O'Sullivan both made steps to move forward and Edwards was largely silent. If I took one more step into 1999, I would have seen organized and vocal opposition by both commissioner O'Sullivan and Sheriff Edwards.
I still think there's a point to Commissioner Oberquell being involved in the original purchase of the old seafood plant. And, I think Edward's implies too heavily that the plant was purchased under the leadership of the current commission. But, that said, I was wrong.

Gary Edwards, now candidate for county commission, gives a long-winded interview to a local conspiracy theorist. It includes this small little gem about a listless county commission, stumbling into a multi-million dollar problem:

 

Gary, you're so smart. Only if we'd listen to you then. Or your supporters.

But, it turns out that not only was Edward's complicit in the purchase of the Tyson Seafood plant in the late 1990s, but two of his supporters help guide the purchase and early development.

First though, I should back up and say that Edwards glosses over the legal situation the county was in at the time, by simply saying "I was running an overcrowded jail."

Back in the late 90s, the Thurston County jail wasn't just overcrowded. It was beyond that, it was inhumane. To the point that the ACLU was pressuring the county to improve the conditions in the jail. Edwards was running a bad jail.

In a letter from that era from the ACLU:

As long ago as 1996, we reported to you some of the complaints that inmates relayed to us. These included:
  • severe overcrowding, with many inmates forced to sleep so close to toilets that they were stepped on or urinated on by other inmates
  • poor sanitation and lack of access to hygiene supplies
  • infrequent changes of clothing and linen
  • denial of prescribed medications and lack of treatment for health care
  • limited indoor or outdoor exercise areas
  • lack of access to a law library
  • inmate kites or grievances not answered
  • broken plumbing and poor ventilation
Most of these problems were directly attributable to overcrowding. We received complaints from corrections officers as well as inmates, who also expressed their concerns that the dangerously overcrowded situation made their jobs unreasonably dangerous due to the enhanced risk of injury from assault, fire, and communicable disease.
So, as a way to push back against overcrowding, the county commissioners spent $3.8 million to buy an old fish processing plant only a few miles from the current county jail.

So, who was on the county commission then? Diane Oberquell, who is listed as an Edwards supporter, Judy Wilson and Dick Nichols (both Republicans). When Edwards was serving as county sheriff at this point, he was also a Republican.

And, since even satellite jails take time to develop, the Tyson plant (though purchased by this point) was still a topic in 1999. By this time Nichols had retired from the commission and had been replaced by Kevin O'Sullivan. Commissioner O'Sullivan was part of the county commission (along with Wilson and Oberquell) that continued to push for the use of the Tyson plant as a jail. O'Sullivan also currently endorses Edwards.

I can't find anything in the record during those years Edwards speaking up against the Tyson plant purchase. In fact, what I did find was advice by the sheriff's office to move forward despite growing public opposition to the plan.

Here is a portion of county commission minutes that show not only one of Edwards' undersheriffs pushing for the Tyson plant, but also Oberquell.




When it came time to decide whether to purchase the seafood plant that Edward's now criticizes, it was his supporters and employees were at the helm. Also, as county sheriff, he was in a choice position to publicly call out what he says now was a horrible waste of money.

By being vague about it now Edwards seems to hint that the current commission (the longest tenure of which didn't begin serving until 2000) is at fault. But, when you scratch the surface just a little bit, the people now surrounding Gary Edwards first dug the Tyson Seafood plant money pit.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Where an independent dies in Thurston County (part 1 of more than 1 hopefully)



One of my favorite all time posts here is the one I did wrote about a year and half ago about how Bud Blake won in Thurston County.

It's my favorite because it showed something new and interesting to me.

For one, it blew up my idea of political party labels and how voters use them. In fact, I could see, voters really did react to a relabelling of a conservative local politician. In recent years a lot of Republicans have taken well funded runs at sitting Democrats on the county council, but have come up short.

But, Blake won, mostly it seems because he decided to label himself as an Independent and not a Republican. The data seems to bear this out. In almost every precinct, from the most liberal to the most conservative, a portion of voters who would not vote for a Republican would vote for an Independent who happened to be conservative.

Since the start of the new campaign season, I've heard more than a few times from liberal folks up here that: "We won't be fooled again. This time we know Independent means Republican."

There are also two new Independents running for county commissioner who seem like they'd probably be Republicans in another setting. Obviously since one of them used to run regularly as a Republican.

So, my question is, how far out from the central, more liberal, part of Thurston County does this story need to travel before an Independent (really Republican) needs to lose.

Turns out, pretty far.




What I did here was sort precinct results by usually most liberal to most conservative (based on 2012 election results) and started replacing the vote totals from Bud Blake's 2014 campaign with an aggregate for a Republican in 2012.

That's a really rough experiment, but it was an interesting practice. I assumed that the map wouldn't extend much further than the main urban core of the county, but it really did pick up most of the peninsulas (if I can call those neighborhoods that) and some precincts in south county (mostly around and in towns though).

And, here is why I think I can do a lot better than this map. I think turnout is going to have a big part to play. Not only was Blake's party label a factor, but turnout dropped a lot in 2014. For the next post I'm going to play around with trying to find out how an increase in turnout this year will change the dymanic.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

5 reasons Bill Bryant could run as an Independent

It sure is a little (R) up there:



1. Use Bud Blake as a template.

A couple of years back an unknown Independent, with deep support from conservatives throughout Thurston County, upset a sitting county commissioner. How did Bud Blake do it?

Basically, in every precinct in Thurston County, from the most liberal to the most conservative, he used the Independent brand to beat the average Republican vote just two years before. In fact, some of Blake's best returns vs. a stand-in Republican average came in some very liberal districts.

The short lesson of Budd Blake in 2014 in Thurston County: party ID can mean a great deal to voters. And, people like the idea of an independent.

It seemed that there was a group of voters that didn't like the idea of voting for a Republican, but were plenty happy to vote for someone who acted and talked like a Republican, but called himself and independent.

2. Bill Bryant is not locked in as a Republican.

He has until the filing deadline on May 20th to lock in his actual party preference.

3. Bryant could use the Top Two primary to build a financially formidable independent campaign.

And because Washington uses a Top Two primary, Bryant doesn't actually need to be affiliated with a major party to move along. He simply needs to build a financially stable campaign and build his name recognition statewide to get through the primary onto the general election ballot. And, Bryant has raised $1.4 to Governor Jay Inslee's $4 million. So, at least he's in the ballpark.

The problem is timing. The May 20th deadline for filing is just four days before the Presidential primary in Washington State. If Trump is predicted to win the Washington Primary, would Bryant buck the tide of Republican primary voters?

4. Organized Republicans aren't exactly running towards Trump.

The Democratic Party in Washington State ready to tar him with his party's presumptive standard bearer. But, it seems like a lot of Republicans are trying to keep their distance from Trump.

No doubt their reticence was influenced by the polls and prognostications that a Trump candidacy could have a damaging domino effect on them and other GOP candidates. The theory is independent voters will be turned off by Trump and vote for a Democratic president, then continue voting against Republican candidates down the ballot.
An Elway Poll released earlier this month found 55 percent said they would vote against a congressional candidate in Washington who endorsed Donald Trump. 
Although the poll didn’t ask about candidates for state offices, Democratic Party operatives drool at the possibility of a coming landslide of victories in legislative races.
At every opportunity, they are pressing Republican candidates to reveal their presidential choice.
“If you’re a member of the Democratic Party state committee, every Republican candidate’s middle name is Trump,” pollster Stuart Elway said.
Unless of course, Bryant doesn't end up becoming a Republican candidate.

So, possibly Bryant could still raise money from conservatives not hung up on party names. And, even though I doubt the Thurston County Republicans were super happy Bud Blake spurned their party, conservatives in the county still gave him enough to win.

5. The ultimate non-establishment candidate

So, here's the crazy thing, and I admit this doesn't exactly make sense, but what better way to show that you're surfing into the anti-establishment wave by dropping your major party identification? Even when the party is nominating the establishmentarian-in-chief? Bill Bryant is such a rebel, he's going to rebel against the rebel.

Here's one last sort of bonus thought.

Between Republicans, Democrats and Independents, what is the largest political group in Washington?

According to a 2012 poll (I know, four years ago), the largest group is Independents. And, that number has been growing steadily since 2004. They've actually been in first place in Washington State since 2008 and in the mix since the start of the poll period.



More importantly, actual Republicans only made up 23 percent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Geography of Opportunity for Olympia

If Opportunity for Olympia gets a little less than 5,000 people to sign a petition by the middle of June, we'll be voting on an income tax to fund at least one year free community college tuition.

The income tax would only be levied on households making more than $200,000 a year. So, my immediate reaction was wondering where those rich folks lived in Olympia.

Here is a map of median income  by neighborhood:


This map tells you what neighborhoods are richer, but not necessarily where the households above $200,000 are concentrated.

Here's a map of the top five percent of household incomes across the city.


Because this map slices away the bottom 95 percent and deals only with an average of the top five percent, I think this is a better map of how the geography of the initiative rolls out.

I'll admit, a lot of this map seems counter intuitive to me. While I get the South Capitol and Governor Stevens are obviously the dead center of the top 5 percent in Olympia, that East Bay Drive didn't do better was surprising. 

Also, Holiday Hills being the most rich? Driving through that neighborhood, it seems like a fairly unimpressive collection of split levels. But, at the same time, there might be a few lakeside or near lakeside households that drive that smallish neighborhood up.

Interestingly, if you slice the geography by block group, you come up BG 011710-2, where the highest proportion of plus $200,000 families live in Olympia (though it includes some streets outside Olympia). Again, this is the area surrounding Ward Lake in southeast Olympia.

But, again, the general trend of the south and east of Olympia being where wealth is concentrated.

The problem is being that these are also the neighborhoods where the most people vote

Granted, there's a reason why this initiative in in Olympia, we tend to support school levies (via property taxes). And, so even rich folks voted their pocketbook, they don't hold enough sway to defeat school levies.

I will say this though: I wonder about the psychology of voting for a school levy that supports the district itself and its operations against voting for individual students.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Expanding truth behind why Ritchie Brothers moved to Napavine



One of the best-loved tales about the Thurston County commission is how they "chased" Ritchie Brothers, an auction business dealing in large equipment (cranes, tractors and such) out of the county a few years ago.

I've poked around before looking for evidence of this, but I never really came up with anything. But, the story keeps getting repeated (without much, if any, citation), so I thought I'd dig down into it.

But, what I've yet to find is any sort of smoking gun, any sort of specific example that anyone can point to as the axle upon which this County Commission vs. Ritchie Brothers narrative can turn.

There's not expansion proposed that the county shuts down because of environmental protections. There's no new expensive sewer system. Nothing.

So, let's take a look back where this all begins when the Ritchie Brothers company starts talking about a possible move from Thurston County.

Centralia Chronicle in 2009:
Even with a stumbling economy, businesses and people still show up by the thousands to place their bids. If anything, Cunningham thinks the recession has helped business. 
"Instead of buying new equipment, more people are looking to buy used equipment," she said. 
Things have picked up so much for the auction company at their location off of exit 95 in South Thurston County that they're potentially mulling an expansion to Lewis County, due to some of the possibilities along Interstate 5. 
Unsure of when or where the auction will move to, Giroux is absolutely certain more space is needed than the current location offers. 
"It's not nearly enough room here," Giroux said. "We're bursting at the seams, and we're definitely interested in finding a much larger parcel. But whether we go north or south depends on the property availability." 
And the price, he added.
In the Olympian, a few years later:
Co-founder Dave Ritchie was on hand for Thursday’s grand opening as was current president Rob Mackay. Mackay said the company simply had outgrown the Thurston County site.
Given the opportunity to throw shade, the Ritchie Brothers' folks did not. At every turn when asked, they'd respond: we don't have enough room, we want something larger. While there were likely parcels in Thurston County that could've been big enough, combining one that would've been appropriate for a commercial operation and near Interstate 5 was likely a hard find.

At least from the company itself, you can't find the narrative that Thurston County government was being mean and chased them out.

Once you start looking down in Lewis County after the auction company moved south, you start to see a new narrative form.

Centralia Chronicle, 2012:
“We love Lewis County so far,” Mills said. 
The company moved to the new site right off Interstate 5’s exit 68 from its previous location at Maytown in Thurston County. The new 200-acre facility quadruples the size of the Thurston County site. 
“The county worked with Ritchie Bros. to get them to come here,” said Lewis County Commissioner Ron Averill of Centralia. “We worked hard to make sure we weren’t posing any unnecessary restrictions on them.” 
The county had to rezone the property for commercial use because it sat on agricultural resource land. Ritchie Bros. will now hold five auctions a year in Lewis County. 
Averill said Ritchie Bros. brought about $1 million a year to Thurston County 
“When you consider the county gets one percent sales tax, that’s significant,” Averill said.
Still the Ritchie Brothers company itself is consistent, there was more room (four times the room) for them to operate near Napavine. Being that it's Lewis County too, the land was likely cheaper while still being right next to I-5.

What you do see is a Lewis County Commissioner throw shade north, at least indirectly. Lewis County wanted to make sure they had a smooth landing, see? But, even there, he's not referencing any specific problem Ritchie Brothers had with Thurston County.

If anything, it was the Ritchie Brothers company that hurt the economic possibility of their old site. When they moved on, they placed a deed restriction on the parcels to ensure another auction company wouldn't move in behind them.

From the same 2012 Olympian story:
The Thurston County buyers won’t be offering auction services on the property because of a deed restriction placed on it by RitchieBros., said Troy Dana of Olympia-based Dana Commercial Real Estate. He said his client, which offered auction services but does not compete with Ritchie Bros., declined to bid after learning about the deed restriction. 
“It took away part of the business model,” Dana said. He said his client, an undisclosed out-of-state business, was prepared to bid up to $2.5 million for the three parcels. Instead, the property sold for $1.47 million. 
“That’s the impact of the deed restriction,” Dana said.
But, despite the deed restriction that limited the use of the property, it sold anyway. And, again it became a going concern, pumping money into the Thurston County economy.

And, this is where the entire County Commission vs. Good Business thread falls apart. When you take a drive down I-5 to what was the old Ritchie Brothers site. Instead of laying empty the site is now occupied by a very similar business, Valley Freightliners. While Ritchie Brothers held periodic auctions for used large equipment, Valley Freightliners is a regular dealer in new and used semi-trailer trucks.

If it were true that the Thurston County commissioners were chasing retail large equipment sales out of the county, they were doing a really bad job of it if Freigtliner was ready to move right back in.

Thurston County EDC in 2012:
Initially VFI was searching for land when broker Don Moody of CBRE brought this high visibility site to their attention. Previously owned by Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, VFI purchased a 34 acre parcel along with the existing high bay structures.

"It presented a great location on I-5 with an existing infrastructure that aligns with our needs," said Bernasconi. The location has good access and visibility, along with ample parking. It also has an existing facility that fits the truck dealership model.

Some minor remodeling and basic updates will be done to optimize its use. "We're hoping to get permit approval from the county in the next couple weeks," shared Bernasconi.
I had one one last place to look for a smoking gun. I thought since permitting and land use records are available online, I'd find some sort of file of correspondence between Ritchie Brothers and the county.

Going through the permits and paperwork online at Thurston County, I was only able to find one active project around that same time. Ritchie Brothers was working on a permit for a septic system for a ten person office building and auction yard. You can search through the documents here (use the tax parcel number 12605330400).

From my reading of the permit file of the parcel, activity seems to drop off as Ritchie Brothers start exploring new opportunities in 2009 and then it picks back up when Valley Freightliners moves in three years later.

Either way, if they were looking to get out of the sewer/septic business by heading south, it looks like they're out of luck.

Longview Daily News:
Two multimillion-dollar auctions that were cause for celebration last year now are the cause of a pricey renovation for Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers at its freeway site between Napavine and Winlock. 
The state Department of Health is mandating that the heavy equipment auction company upgrade its onsite sewage system, which could cost up to $70,000. During two auctions last year, the 3,500-gallon septic tank — the size usually used by small commercial businesses — was overwhelmed, said Denise Lahmann, the program and reclaimed water supervisor for the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection at the Department of Health. 
For Lewis County, the costly mistake could become a lucrative new business venture — if the Richie Bros. goes along.
According to the Lewis County Commissioners, Ritchie Bros. has expressed interest in partnering to build a commercial-level sewage system — one the county could use to encourage further development around Exit 68, where Interstate 5 and state Route 12 meet.
And, a letter to the editor in the Centralia Chronicle:
I read your article, in last Saturday’s issue, regarding problems that Ritchie Bros. are having with the State of Washington regarding its current septic sewer system. 
I have been aware, for quite some time, that Lewis County was wasting time and valuable taxpayer funds in an effort to justify a separate and additional “wastewater system” to benefit not only Ritchie Bros., but “potential” development of “new restaurants and hotels” in the Exit 68 area. 
Excuse me, but Ritchie Bros. is in the city of Napavine service area, and service to that facility is within Napavine’s State of Washington approved comprehensive, water and sewer plans. 
Additionally, Napavine has sufficient capacity within its water and wastewater facilities to service the entire Exit 68 area as is indicated in our water and wastewater plans.
It seems to me that Lewis County, rather than working with the city of Napavine, is participating in a naked power grab in the guise of “helping” Ritchie Bros.
And, lastly, if not for some mysterious sewer debacle that has been left unmentioned, what about the impact of Ritchie Brothers leaving Thurston County. Even if the county commissioners did not wage an open war against large scale heavy equipment auction houses, certainly them leaving tanked the county's sale tax receipts.

Maybe even the appearance of Valley Freightliners didn't save the day for the county economy.

But, if you spread out taxable activity in Thurston County from 1995 to 2014 (the most recent annual data available) the Ritchie Brothers impact in nearly invisible. Here's the data I'm working from and here is the source.

But, this chart I think speaks for itself. It tracks taxable sales activity in unincorporated Thurston County by units and total taxable.


Certainly you do see a dip in taxable activity from 2011 to 2012, and possibly that is the time when Ritchie Brothers was wrapping up and Valley Freightliners was coming online. But, there is no blip in the units line, which consistently shoots upwards.

What this chart does show is a steep increase in taxable activity in unincorporated Thurston County since 2008. That's when Sandra Romero was elected. Just in case you're still tracking me.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Improving Gary Edwards' math


A few weeks ago I took a shot at Gary Edwards' fuzzy math on population change in Thurston County. In this post I wanted to take a closer look at the deeper assumptions in what he's trying to get at.

His point (basically) was that although the population has increased in Thurston County, the number of deputies has stayed the same. The problem was that the population has increased (in unincorporated Thurston County) only half the amount he claimed. Which is okay, from his point of view, I suppose because population still went up while the number of deputies stayed flat.

But, that statement seems to assume a result, such as an increase in crime. So, let's take a look.


1995 Most recent Difference
Lacey 50.00 64.60 14.60
Olympia 67.80 86.30 18.50
Yelm 75.90 78.00 2.10
Tenino 86.00 42.00 -44.00
Tumwater 75.30 84.20 8.90
Thurston unincorporated 32.90 36.30 3.40

So, what it looks like here is that the crime rate did go up in Thurston County, but not nearly the rate that it increased in Lacey and Olympia. If we have a problem with an increase in crime, its in the urban areas, not in rural Thurston County with its stable level of policing.

Also, let's take a look at another metric, the total number of police in each Thurston County city and the ratio of police to population:


1995 total 2015 total Change 1995 ratio 2015 ratio Change
Lacey 38 50 12 1.51 1.08 -0.43
Olympia 67 68 1 1.8 1.33 -0.47
Yelm 9 12 3 4.3 1.47 -2.83
Tenino 5 2 -3 2.38 0.87 -1.51
Rainier 4 0 -4 2.78 0 -2.78
Tumwater 20 22 2 1.93 1.41 -0.52
Thurston unincorporated 79 80 1 0.72 0.57 -0.15

Every police department has seen a decrease in the number of police on patrol compared to the population. By this metric, the ratio of police per person has dropped the least in the Thurston County sheriff's office than anywhere else locally.

So, while Edwards is still right that population went up and the level of policing stayed stable, he's implying a connection that really isn't there. The Thurston County sheriff's department saw a stable cop to resident ratio (compared to other local law enforcement departments) and this did not result in an increase in crime. 

Also, here's the spreadsheet (plus references) I was working from all along, just in case you want to check my math.