Thursday, August 03, 2017

"Olympia's power elite" is probably boxed in

Steve Salmi has a great rundown of yesterday's results in local elections over at Green Pages. But I think that his "rather groggy" assessment of how well progressives did in Olympia might be overblown.

In fact, what Salmi describes as Olympia's "power elite" are probably boxed in.

Take Position 5 as an example, where you see the power elite Allen Miller facing more usual pair of progressives, Deborah Lee and Lisa Parshley. Miller and Parshley will face off in the general in November, but together Parshley and Lee took 55 percent of the total citywide.

November will be a much different election than August. Voter turnout will be up throughout the city in the fall, but not in a uniform manner. Each precinct behaves different and if you look at where Miller did well, the future doesn't bode well.

In the sixteen precincts that Miller won, taking into consideration voter turnout in 2013 and 2015, he can expect a 64 percent increase in turnout. But in the precincts he lost, the turnout would go up 71 percent. If you just narrow that down to his 16 bottom precincts, where he'd do the worst, turnout goes up 79 percent in November. The further Miller goes from his base of support, the more turnout will go up in November. This isn't good news for a candidate who didn't break 50 percent in the primary.

Despite besting his opponents, Miller also seems boxed in geographically:



Here is the clickable map:



Basically, Miller's base of support is on the far edges of the Westside or in the traditionally conservative (for Olympia) unwalkable neighborhoods in the Southeast. He did take a couple of neighborhoods near Budd Inlet, but these were two of his worst performing precincts. Lee and Parshley not only did better citywide, but their geographic spread goes much further, covering practically the entire city, short of the Southeast.

If you take a quick look at Position 6 race where power elite Jeanine Roe and progressive Renata Rollins are both advancing, you see Roe in nearly the same position as Miller. She won the primary, but without cracking 50 percent. Again, the precincts that she won will see a smaller increase in November (62 percent) vs. the ones she lost (73 percent). Also, the geography of her win is isolated to nearly the same precincts won by Miller (plus South Capitol vs. minus a couple of Budd Inlet precincts).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Is Capitol Lake done as a local issue?

Allen Miller scrubbed Capitol Lake from his city council campaign website recently. Does this mean that defending Capitol Lake is no longer an important issue in Olympia?

As recently as June 14, this is how Miller's website read:


How it reads this morning:

He still refers to a Percival Cove Coho Habitat Restoration Project, which is a way that Capitol Lake defenders wrap themselves in pro-salmon rhetoric. But, he took away any actual reference to the lake itself.

This is just less than a year after Miller switched his endorsement from Jim Cooper to John Hutchings in the county commission race almost solely on the lake issue:
I have endorsed John Hutchings in the general election since his views are more in sync with voters. This was a difficult decision, since I am friends with Jim Cooper and worked with him on the successful Olympia Metropolitan Parks District measure last year. But Jim’s advocacy for an unconstitutional city income tax and to return Capitol Lake to mud flats is troubling.
Six years ago Miller went as far as declaring that Capitol Lake was THE election issue in town. In that election, lake supporters Dick Pust, Rhenda Strub and Brian Tomlinson all lost.

And now it seems like the tide has turned for the issue of whether we should restore the Deschutes Estuary where Capitol Lake now is. Both of Miller's opponents are pro-estuary restoration. Jim Cooper likely will retain his seat and is pro-estuary. Both Max Brown and Clark Gilman have endorsed some level of estuary restoration. In the last position, Jeannine Roe (the incumbent) has been historically pro-lake, but certainly hasn't been making an issue of it on her website or voter statement. Both of her opponents though, Renata Rollins and Michael Snodgrass, are pro-restoration.

All of this really shouldn't be that surprising because a 2009 public opinion poll by the city of Olympia laid out the raw material for what we're seeing now. Back then it was clear that eventually the tide would turn against the lake.

The poll showed that while Olympia residents weren't lining up explicitly behind estuary restoration, the values they brought to the debate certainly did. In the Olympia survey, 70 percent said that water quality, fish and wildlife was their most important consideration, and 74 percent said it was “extremely important.”

Fifty-nine percent said that keeping the cost the taxpayers low was either important or very important (44 percent). Only 11 percent said that maintaining the look of the lake was important, 36 percent said it was very important.

Eight years later we see a city that is much more well versed on the estuary vs. lake issue and lake defenders that have stopped mostly talking about the beauty of the lake and are trying to defend it as a good thing for nature.

But, if even Allen Miller is removing references to the lake from his website, what good is Capitol Lake as an issue?

Disclaimer: I work for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and indirectly for the Squaxin Island Tribe, who has a dog in the estuary fight. The above opinions are mine and not necessarily those of the commission or the tribe.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Does Thurston County need a convention district? And why like this?

It feels like we just had this talk. But it was actually ten years ago.


Despite being mentioned by probably nearly no one (or at least not anyone I remember hearing) during last year's campaign, the Thurston County commission has started the slow process of building a convention center.

The weirdest part of the proposal to start a process that might lead to a convention center is that they're choosing to use an archaic mechanism.

Instead of using the Public Facilities District route (of which we already have one), the commissioners are proposing to to a Cultural Arts, Stadium and Convention District. While the law creating public facility districts was passed in 1988 (and expanded to cities in 1999), convention districts were created in 1982 and never seemed to get off the ground.

The primary difference between the older convention district and the newer public facility districts is that the convention districts were much more democratic, and therefore, much easier to oppose funding. Convention districts require a series of elections before they can break down, while public facility districts are created by a combination of willing city and county legislative boards.

While the public can engage with those elected boards, it isn't like they have a direct say in an election.

Today, there are at least 25 operating public facility districts operating across Washington State and not a single convention districts. In fact, in the late 80s Snohomish County struggled for years to use a convention district to build a convention center in Lynnwood. Finally in the late 90s, as city-based PFDs were coming on line, the Lynnwood convention district made one last try and failed.

From the Seattle Times in 1998:
For the third time since 1986, voters this week squelched a district proposal to build some combination of a performing-arts theater and convention hall. But this defeat was the most crushing, with 75 percent of nearly 79,500 voters saying "no." 
The leading theory behind the loss: Voters didn't want property taxes to pay for a project that would benefit private businesses - especially Lynnwood hotels, restaurants and pubs. One study found the project would directly pump $9.1 million per year into the local economy; with indirect benefits, that figure would jump to $16.2 million. 
The next year, the legislature gave Snohomish County the ability to quickly kill their failed convention district, but also the tools to start up a more nimble and less democratic public facilities district.

Using the public facility district model that doesn't actually have to go to the voters for funding, Lynnwood was later able to build their convention center.

From the Seattle Times in 2005:
The $34 million Lynnwood Convention Center opened May 1 with lofty expectations of drawing thousands of people to the city's restaurants, hotels and shops. 
The convention center's success was immediate. Gross revenue through November was $650,000, 15 percent more than anticipated. In its first seven months, the center hosted 208 events, said Grant Dull, the executive director of the Lynnwood Public Facilities District. 
It's not yet known how much of that success has trickled down to the city and local businesses, but they are expected to reap $13 million in annual economic benefits by the center's third year.
So, why is Thurston County choosing a less likely to succeed method to build a public facility?

One reason is obvious, we already have an operating public facilities district in Thurston County. It is run by the three cities and Thurston County and funds, at least in part, the Hands on Children's Museum and the Regional Athletic Center. With that route taken up, the only taxing district option to build a convention center is the old convention district.

Which also sort of begs the question, when the local Public Facilities District started up, why didn't they build a convention center? Turns out it was a pretty unpopular idea. Even in the less democratic process, people in Olympia engaged and turned out to vote for candidates that did not support spending public money on a convention center downtown.

Makes you think it would be hard for something like that to actually survive a public vote.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Property is in fact more valuable in Lacey. Go figure.



Ken has a very Ken-esque post about how he's totally okay with moving the county courthouse, but on as long as it lands in Lacey. Or, in fact, move the entire county seat.

Olympia is old hat at retaining titles like county seat, or say, state capital, so I'm not worried.

But, also with his post, he makes this bold statement: "Land is cheaper in Lacey." Well, okay then, I can take a look at that.

First, let's think about why he might say that. Sure, Olympia is a much older city with nice(r) neighborhoods and some pretty great shoreline properties. But, when you get up into the Hawks Prairie north end of things for Lacey, the neighborhoods tend to get much nicer and much newer.

So, maybe its a bit of Lacey "aw-shucks, look at us, we're so cheap?"

I don't know, but either way, the numbers don't seem to stand up his point. First, looking at recent home sales from Trulia data, there isn't a very big difference between sales of house in Olympia and in Lacey.

Even when I clear away all the other data in the original Trulia map, the main three zip codes in central Thurston County are pretty much the same. Maybe Olympia is a bit higher, but since 98501 isn't just Olympia, it's hard to tell.

Also, this is home sales, which may not be a good guide for the type of land that a courthouse could be built on.

So, I tried to find a way to figure out total land value of each city. Good thing we have a county official whose job that is.

Before you give me the lecture about "assessed value not being actual market value," find a way to figure out an actual market value city-wide. Also, even if assessed =/= actual, it is still likely a good estimate when you're comparing values between two cities.

So, here you go:


-->

Assessed valueAcreageAssessed value per acre
Lacey4,919,604,01910,570465,430.84
Olympia5,785,389,44812,590459,522.59

Olympia as a city is more valuable, but only because it is larger. When you get down the actual value of the land by acres, Lacey is slightly more valuable. And, on a city-wide basis, who knows why? I don't.

Maybe property with newer buildings are more valuable? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

The commuter version of the Cascadian Calm

I see you, Virginia.
We're just too nice out here. We won't ask you to coffee, we'll be nice to your face, but we won't invite you to the barbeque.

And, we are too nice when we're driving. *Too* nice. And, this means we're unsafe, ironically.

But that isn't actually true. We are actually safe drivers around here. Way safer than Virginians at least.

If you look beyond the data provided by All State Insurance in the linked article above, it's hard to find anything that points to Washington or specifically Seattle area drivers being unsafe. In fact, we consistently rank as one of the most safe.

CDC stats are here for the metros (and I ranked them here) and an interesting study by the University of Michigan are here on statewide stats.

So, this Washingtonians-as-nice-but-jerk-drivers things strikes me as a bit of anecdote becoming truth sort of thing. And, it's interesting that this and a lot of other similar stories are framed from the point of view from someone who came here from somewhere else.

It seems to be a different angle on the Seattle Freeze vs. Cascadian Calm story.

Again, from the linked story:
“I grew up on the East Coast,” Tim Godfrey of North Beach said. “The driving there was significantly more aggressive than here, and in particular, if you were going slow or even the speed limit in the left lane, people were on your bumper, flashing lights, honking if you still didn’t move.”
This is just about the nut of it. This story (and most stories about how we are as a regional personality) are told from the frame from people who are just arriving here. This is the same thing I noted when I wrote about the Cascadia Calm, which is in fact our regional personality.

Something I noted back then was that searches and mentions of "the Seattle Freeze" correlates when there is a large influx of new residents to Washington. We don't talk about the way we are here when new people aren't coming to town. It only happens when new residents notice that people here have a different way of being.

So, if you ask me, we're fine out here. We're not like other regions and we don't have to be. I'm not an aggressive driver and I don't have to be. I leave in plenty of time to get where I need to be.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If only the KKK had been worse at lobbying, Honeyford wouldn't have to worry about unmasking anarchists


So, it's possible that running around with a mask on and smash things is impolite and already illegal. But making it illegal additionally to do it while masked is probably a bad idea.

It isn't even a new idea though.

Rep. O.R. McKinney of Pierce County made a valiant effort in 1923 to rip the mask off the Klu Klux Klan in Washington. His bill would have made wearing a mask during a public protest illegal. In the 1920s the Klan was leaking across the border from Oregon and at the time of McKinney's bill, was just about to hit their zenith.

But, in March of 1923 they were strong enough to stand in the way of an unmasking bill.

The Klan was so powerful apparently, that it is almost painful to watch McKinney contort himself not cast shade on them:
I did not introduce the bill as a religious fanatic or because I wish to do away with an klan or any other organization. We have an organization in this state called the Klu Klux Klan. I am not opposed to it, but it is important to have the state regulate such organizations. 
It is a dangerous thing to allow masked men to parade over the country. If we were sure that no one but members of the Klu Klux Klan wore masks we could put our fingers on the men who committed depredations, but the failure to pass this bill opens the way for depredations by masked persons who are not members of the Klu Klux Klan.
When McKinney's bill was first introduced in January, the chair of the house judiciary committee was greeted on his homecoming to a "sheaf" of telegrams from Klan members opposing the bill. “Throughout the entire country we are being persecuted," said at least one.

Honeyford's bill isn't going to pass just like McKinney's wasn't going to pass. But, that is where the comparisons end for something like this. Both groups use masks. But, the Klan was an evil group founded by the powerful to keep people and religions they considered impure out of the American mainstream.

No one is backing up anarchists or trying to bend over backwards saying they aren't opposed to anarchists while trying to pass an anti-mask bill. The power dynamics behind punching up to attack the clan in the 1920s and punching down to the attack the anarchists almost 100 years later is totally different. 

The anti-mask bill won't pass this year because it is a low priority policy for a legislature that needs to deal with real school funding, culvert repair and budget issues. It is a cheap trick. In the 1920s the bill was introduced in the early part of the session and had a real run out before the Klan killed it.

Anarchists won't kill this bill, they can't hardly engage in the legislative process. Good government and higher priorities will kill this year's unmasking bill.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Would $10 have been enough to monitor septics at poisonous Summit Lake?

Not for nothing, but this post was hard to write straight-faced. I feel like this should be a light your hair on fire moment for this county commission and their constituents. I can't believe people aren't screaming at the county commissioners demanding to know why they didn't stand up for public health and institute a measly $10 annual fee. Even the high end of $54 A YEAR seems like a steal compared to toxins in your drinking water.

Google imagery of Summit Lake. Obviously, where else was I going to get it?
The Thurston County commission passed a new plan to manage septic systems last winter.

A new set of county commissioners were seated and voted to strip the ability to actually pay for the plan a few months later. A $10 annual fee was just too much to help ensure clean, drinkable water.

Then there was an outbreak of poisonous algae in Summit Lake. According to the state Department of Health, malfunctioning septic systems are one of the likely causes of a poisonous algae outbreak.
The problem on Summit Lake is that the same residents who live along the lake and use septic systems to deal with their human waste also depend on the lake for their drinking water.

Do we know for sure that septic systems are the cause of excess nutrients in Summit Lake that caused a poisonous algae outbreak? Well, no, we don't. But that we don't know this is the main problem.

Any sort of expanded monitoring or education that could have done anything to prevent a situation like the one at Summit Lake will go wanting for lack of funding.

In the approved, but apparently unfunded septic plan, the county specifically called out Summit Lake as a very vulnerable spot for mismanaged septics. Said the plan:
Summit Lake, which is used by most residents for their drinking water source, shall be designated as a Sensitive Area. All wastewater disposal systems in the Summit Lake watershed shall have required operational certificates and dye testing to assure that routine inspections and maintenance is completed at least every three years and failing systems are identified and repaired. 
The plan also pointed out that Summit Lake, despite being the water source for drinking water for people living on Summit Lake, presents some real issues about how exactly septic tanks wouldn't pollute that source:
Its steep slopes, shallow soils, and generally small lots sizes make siting and functioning of on-site sewage systems around the lake difficult. A 1992-1997 sanitary survey found 58 systems failing (18%) – the majority of which were repaired. Surface waters cannot be adequately protected from contamination to be safely used as a domestic water supply without treatment. A public health advisory issued in 1987 advises against consumption of untreated lake water at Summit Lake. A comprehensive program would ensure routine inspection and maintenance of all OSS within the Summit Lake basin and identification and correction of failing systems. The Summit Lake watershed should be considered for special area designation due to the serious threat posed to the drinking water supply by failing septic systems.
Twenty years ago they knew that 18 percent of the septics were failing because they went out and looked. Just like when they found 14 percent failing on Henderson Inlet.

Here's the underlying point: Since 1997 the county hasn't gone back to take another look at septics around Summit Lake. Now the water has too many toxins to drink. The reason we can't rule out septics as the source for algae with toxins is because we haven't looked.

Nothing that I've seen from the county says that they can do anything to track down the source of the algae. The very least you could say is that $10 a month could have gone to a small bit of dye testing to see if in twenty years any septics around the lake started not working.

Right now what the county is doing is just waiting for sunlight and time to deal with the algae. But, I'm sure a more progressive standpoint would be get out there and start figuring out why we have a public health crisis on Summit Lake to begin with.