Thursday, October 03, 2013

Two examples of trying to merge Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater (sort of)

Over direct message on twitter a few days ago, someone asked me if anyone had ever tried to get all three nothern Thurston County cities to join together. Off the top of my head, I could come up with two examples, sort of. As far as I know there's been no wholesale effort to join the cities together, but I found two partial ones:

1. Fire service in 2009. As far as I know, folks just lost interest and this effort just died off.

2. Merging city and county planning in 1990. This idea went down in flames. It was part of the home rule effort that year, and with the rest of the charter, it was voted down.

This entire idea of why the cities should merge is one that comes up every once in awhile. It isn't a bad one on its face, just one I know will never happen, mostly because there are bigger evils that three cities bordering each others.

The reasons the cities won't merge are numerous.

Separate school districts for each city mean people grow up not necessarily crossing city borders socially.

Cities have different histories, interests and trajectories. Tumwater was founded at the base of the Deschutes River before Olympia (on the shores of Budd Inlet), but didn't become a city until much later. Lacey on the other hand, came along almost 100 years later. And, if you look at how far down Martin Way Olympia stretches, you could almost assume Olympia tried to kill Lace at birth.

In the blocks north of North Street, you can see this kind of municipal racing laid out in the checkerboard border between Olympia and Tumwater.

These histories, interests and trajectories have created three different local cultures (political and otherwise). From Matthew Green in OP&L:
This result is no shock. Olympia voters have supported tax levies for a new fire station, the library system, and schools by similar or larger margins. However, it presents a contrast with Tumwater, which approved a public safety levy by just eight votes (50.11%-49.89%), and Lacey, which rejected a fire district levy 47%-53%, both in 2011.

This result is yet another reason (approximately reason #12,000,003) why Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey should not merge. A few local political leaders pop up once a year or so, like groundhogs, to suggest that the municipalities merge into one city government. They imply that city governance is about just managing a few departments. They pretend that city lines are mere arbitrary administrative boundaries.

In fact, the three cities contain electorates with distinct and often irreconcilable political views. They fundamentally disagree about what is important to their community – in this case, about what public safety measures are important enough to justify raising taxes. None of them is right… well, okay, Olympia is right, but the other cities are entitled to decide for themselves. Rather than stuff three different electorates into one mass, in the name of false efficiency, let each community make its own democratic decisions.
 So, for the time being, any merging will happen under the surface. We already have our sewers all merged and transit. Other things like fire might come along, but we'll likely always have our own cops. And, we'll always have our borders and separate civic identifies.

Hoquiam and Aberdeen should merge. No reason why not.

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