Monday, March 31, 2014

The deep politics of Oso

The thousands of tons of mud aren't dry, the recovery isn't complete. But, people are alrady scratching their heads why more wasn't done to warn or prevent people from living beneath "slide hill."

When I look at the hear of the area covered by the slide, a neighborhood along Steelhead Road in an oxbow of the Stillaguamish River, I can see a neighborhood already familiar with the perils of living at the business end of nature.

Riverside living and the floods that go along with it is already ignoring the risk that you'll face floods every once in awhile. Living in an oxbow is just asking for floods.

So, asking why the county didn't do more to warn or move these people from the riveside or from below the slide area is asking a big question. It centers on the difference between the perspective of rural landowners and suburban and urban people that make up of Snohomish county civic life.

Plainly said, the people who run the county and the people who lived on Steelhead Road are the faces of two radically different parts of Cascadia. This is more than a traditional right/left or red/blue political and social divide. While in many ways it follows that dichotomy, it has its own Cascadian flavor to it.

And, the answer goes back to the founding of the non-native society out here. There are two major groups that put down early roots and still define much of our society: New England capitalists and Appalachian farmers (mostly from the Ohio Valley).

For much of our history out here, the New Englanders migrated to the urban Puget Sound. They founded timber companies, ran the Republican political machines and owned the newspapers. Before the Democratic surge in the 1930s that wiped away the Republican political advantage, these New Englanders were political life in Cascadia.

But, the Appalachians were always there. While they identified as Democrats nominally early on, they stuck to the well-spaced rural areas of the state. Their influence on our political culture has been the strain of what we'd now call libertarianism that stretches pretty far across our political spectrum. In the recent election returns on gay rights and marijuana (that included both rural and urban votes) and one recent local election for me, it is possible for this libertarian strain across both liberal and conservative politics in Cascadia to unite.

So, back to Snohomish County and the folks on Steelhead. What was it about our political origins that caused this tragedy?
  ...there were discussions over the years about whether to buy out the property owners in the area, but those talks never developed into serious proposals.

“I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move..."
Take a simple look at it like this. Urban and suburban Snohomish County (and Cascadia) are the decedents of townie Republican New Englanders. They're business friendly and with a deep seeded civic mindedness that has sprouted a sense of environmentalism. That sense of doing what is right for the good of the community brought them to point out that slides happen were they do and to map flood areas.

But, the ability to do anything about it stopped where it became obvious that no one wanted to listen to them. The deep sense of individualism that came west with the Appalachians in Cascadia still rules the point of view, especially along the Stillaguamish River.

Sadly, one of the former political leaders on the Appalachian end of the spectrum likely died in the Oso mudslide.

Sure, it is possible to offer enough money to make anyone want to move. But, it isn't like Snohomish County had magic public funds growing fairy dust. And, when it came to spending that limited public money on someone that really didn't want to move in the first place. Well, you see where the attention of Snohomish civic leaders can be distracted.

Its easy to point to the available evidence and blame well intentioned people for not doing more. But, it is worth looking back at our origins here and seeing that it isn't simple.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm not sure if it is true, if it matters. But, in any case, people of Chinese descent have had a long history on one particular block of downtown

This letter to the editor (actually just one passage of it) in Olympia Power and Light bothers me more than it should:

Columbia Heights Partners LLC, a Chinese backed company...
 Backed by the Chinese? Why does that matter? Is it the implied xenophobia that matters to me? Probably.

Yes, the major investors behind the project have Chinese names, but live in Washington.

The person seemingly managing the project was born in China, but went to school in North Carolina and is an American citizen.

But, now in terms of who builds what downtown, we're concerned about what country they come from?

Especially when the Chinese connection to that particular block of downtown runs way deeper than I assume the letter writer knows. If there's one particular block of Olympia where people with Chinese names should build, its that one.

Ed Echtle, as always:
As downtown expanded in the late 1880s, Chinese relocated their businesses to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Columbia Streets, on what was then the waterfront.  Five two-story wood frame buildings, housing the Hong Yek Kee Company, the Quong Yuen Sang Company and the Hong Hai Company were built on piles over tide flats.
Here's a couple other views of the block, where you can see the layout of Chinese businesses on the block where now a group of Chinese-American businessman want to build a new building:

1888, mostly down on 4th Avenue, ironically where the New Moon Cafe is located.

And now, just one labelled "old Chinese" in 1896 on the southwest corner of the current parking lot:

By the way, these maps are Sanborn maps and are available online at the Timberland Regional Library.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Everyone hates the Olympian, everyone hates Nazis. These two things are very much not the same, obviously (Olyblogosphere for March 24, 2014)

1. On one hand the pro-People's House people hated the Olympian's editorial.

2. On the other hand, the anti-People's House people hated the Olympian's editorial. At least we all can agree on something.

3. Here's Rick taking us on a ride around South Puget Sound CC.

4.The person who runs the Nuit House (who knew it existed?) points out that 200 people would like to relocated to a low cost home for artists.

5. Hey, go back up to #3 and think to yourself, speaking of old time Olyblog people. Our favorite Sarah from McCleary is back. Apparently spurred by the reappearance of Nazis in Olympia, which is obviously a sad event. But, its good to have Sarah back in the saddle. Boy, it was almost 8 years ago now that the Nazis and Sarah first crossed swords.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Empty downtown Olympia

No one lives there:

Seriously, downtown Olympia is in the same category as my neighborhood, and I live in an unbuilt wasteland where people wish there were taller buildings

 WastBut, of course, when someone talks about building a seven story building in our empty-of-people downtown, people speak up, because this is some sort of horrible thing. Like we should be protecting parking lots from the evil expansion of multistory housing.

I can't speak to his stats, but David Scherer Water, makes a striking point about how downtown has changed as Olympia has expanded:
Less than four percent of Olympia’s population lives downtown. This is the lowest this ratio has been in the City’s history. A hundred years ago more than half the population of Olympia lived downtown. Fifty years ago it was about ten percent. Today 96% of our population comes downtown to visit, to shop, to party and they leave. I believe this is the source of most if not all of the complaints commonly made about downtown. We need more people to live downtown.
 Density is good. People living downtown is good. More people living in a dense neighborhood means fewer cars, more people walking and more services and good things downtown.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Irish Day, Seattle Celtic were local champs 99 years ago

Back in the dark forgotten history of Cascadia, soccer used to be a pretty big thing around here. In the first decades of the 20th century, there was a thriving local soccer culture. There were several clubs in Seattle and the surrounding towns, especially logging or coal towns dotted around the cities.

Seattle Celtic lifted the cup in March of 1915:

You can read my much longer birds-eye-view piece about the early history of Puget Sound soccer over at GoalWa. Here is a peak into the period of the Celtic club's championship run:
The Post-Intelligencer Cup was won by the Seattle Celtics; Tacoma was second, Carbonado third, and Black Diamond fourth and last. These teams and the Seattle Rangers and Woodland Park clubs competed for the McMilan Cup. Both cups are played for in the league system.

The McMilan Cup competition was a seesaw affair from the beginning to the end, and the winner was only decided after the last game had been played. The Tacoma team finished ahead of the Celtics by one point ; Black Diamond, Carbonado, Rangers and Woodland Park followed in the order.
Boy, lifting the knockout tournament cup, but missing the league title by one point to Tacoma? Ugh. I feel for the Irish today.

Mostly because I assume the Celtic brand is a powerful one (that goes way further than the borders of Glasgow), there is a Seattle Celtic club still.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why one issue elections are the dark side of local politics

Karen Veldheer signed to put R-71 on the ballot, to overturn same sex domestic partnerships in Washington State. But, when talking about equal rights during her city council campaign, she failed to mention this.

I was thinking about five years ago in Olympia recently. At the time I was posting a lot about Karen Veldheer's candidacy, and some other folks were responding:
I hope you can look past a candidate's religion, and not stereotype conservative Christians as a people unable to accept or respect homosexuals, or uphold legislation or benefits that aid others who hold differing beliefs.
During campaign, Veldheer clarified in a closley phrased manner that even then seemed to contradic. someone that signed an R-71 petition:
I support the city policy for equal benefits for same sex domestic partners.  I am a member of the orthodox Presbyterian church and my religious faith will have no bearing on the decisions I will make as a civic leader on the Olympia city council.  I believe in a separation of Church and State.  Further, the state of Washington provides over 200 civil rights, many of which are very important to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered communities, and I support these laws as well. 
 But, she was willing to work towards overturning one of those rights.

Anyway, Veldeer lost that November to Karen Rogers who maybe even better embodies what I'm actually trying to write about. That when politics of a community are narrowed down to a single issue, you get really crappy politics.

2009 in Olympia politics was all about development on a strip of land downtown called the isthmus (its really an urbanized earthen dam, but who's really counting?). Even the secondary issue of council relations with the public was also about the isthmus, because some in the public thought they weren't being listened to.

Both Karen Rogers and Karen Veldheer came from the side of town politics that were hard against the isthmus development and thought the council was being pretty tin-eared. But, Veldheer would have been an odd fit in Olympia politics had she won or continued being involved. And, Karen Rogers really did end up being an odd fit.

As she settled into her seat, Rogers eventually became the lone vote against any sort of government activism. Its hard to think that Olympia had elected a small government, fiscal conservative, but there she was. The fog of the isthmus issue had obscured Rogers' politics.

Too the point that when she ran for county commissioner, Rogers sometimes acted more conservative than the Republican:
Her initial campaign spin for county commission builds common cause with conservatives and south county residents. In an interview with Janine Unsoeld, Rogers even played up how STOP Thurston organizers thanked her for a city council vote. While this may disturb lefties who supported her mayoral run, pivoting to the right makes electoral sense because that could discourage a Republican candidate from entering the race. Rogers’ chances increase from iffy to decent if she doesn’t have to run against both Wolfe and a Republican candidate in a primary.
Then again, some described Rogers  then (where libertarian left and right meet) the same way I described Sue Gunn here. And, Gunn did pretty well in Olympia against a typical business friendly Democrat.

That said, I still think local elections are better when they're broader than one issue, one building or what we should do on one single block. We elected local politicians to do a lot of things. And, with the collapse of the economy in 2008 and the quick council action, it didn't take long for any development in downtown to disappear.  We still expect these people to govern well outside of hot button issues.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring is rebirth and passing (Olyblogosphere for March 10, 2014)

1. Everyday Olympia is back! And, pointing to a really nice Sunday morning conversation about Olympia.

2. Berd's ears were hurt by the fairly common sign of spring, the Pacific tree frog.

3. The late Joe Dear honored in a Youtube upload at Evergreen. Apparently Dear didn't like being called "John Dear." I once heard about an interoffice delivery that was sent back from the governor's office because it was addressed to John Dear. Nope, no John Dear here.

4. There was a stickup at out SPSCC and some sort of system didn't work.

5. And, the rebirth of a massive awesome building project in downtown Olympia, covered by Janine's Little Hollywood.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The biggest issue with the bioregional map of Cascadia

Is that it isn't a bioregional map of Cascadia. Fellow Olympian Matthew Green commented awhile ago:

The upper Columbia watershed has more ecological similarity to the upper Colorado watershed than to the lower Columbia. Consider that a relatively modest (geologically speaking) change in topology could join them into a single watershed, thus radically altering the watershed-defined "bioregion" but without fundamentally changing their ecology.
 So, to illustrate this, here's that classic map of the Cascadian bioregion:

Here's the Forest Service map of eco-regions, zooming into Cascadia:


This map looks much more like the coastal Cascadia map I was rooting for here.

The larger bioregional map, I think, is a much more expansionist idea of Cascadia, pushing the borders out towards where Cascadia doesn't really exist right now. Or may ever. I don't think its a coincidence that this map is also more attached to those folks that are also expressly seccesionist. These are both Cascadia's that don't yet exist.

But, I'm more worried about Cascadias that already exist, socially, politically and ecologically. Or, at Matthew would say:

I don't think it's a coincidence that the map which emphasizes human cultural similarities actually does a better job of showing ecological zones than the bioregion map does.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The paywall to public records in Washington State

If you request a digital public record from a city, ditch district, or state agency in Washington State, they're instructed to turn it over to you for free.

If you request a public record from a court, say a 16 page court filing on a medical marijuana case, that is going to cost you nearly $30. For a record that already exists in a database.

Until recently I'd assumed Thurston County was a special case. That our clerks office was one of the few charging outrageous fees for public records. But, because of a bill passed in 2005, every county clerk in Washington State is required to establish a paywall to digital public records.

Being able to read a 16 page public document shouldn't cost almost $30.

Court funding in 2005

SB 5454 was introduced to the legislature in January after years of discussions and meetings by judges and other court officials throughout Washington. The Board for Judicial Administration established a task force on court funding in 2002. At that point, judges had complained that local governments routinely stripped courts of funding when times got tight.

The idea was to give local and other courts more stable and dedicated funding. After just over two years of meetings, the end result was a bill that increased existing fees established a long series of new fees for citizens interacting with the courts.

One of the fees included being able to access county clerk records:
For preparing a certified copy of an instrument on file or of record in the clerk's office, for the first page or portion of the first page, a fee of five dollars, and for each additional page or portion of a page, a fee of one dollar must be charged. For authenticating or exemplifying an instrument, a fee of two dollars for each additional seal affixed must be charged. For preparing a copy of an instrument on file or of record in the clerk's office without a seal, a fee of fifty cents per page must be charged. When copying a document without a seal or file that is in an electronic format, a fee of twenty-five cents per page must be charged. For copies made on a compact disc, an additional fee of twenty dollars for each compact disc must be charged.

Certified copy for lawyers vs. non-certified for me

I highlighted the passages up there that I consider important for this discussion. The fee for a "certified" copy many be high, but that is because there is an extra level of human review for those copies. Only certified copies of court records can be used in courts, so lawyers accessing those records need to have them looked at by a clerk official before they're deemed certified.

On the other hand, non-certified digital versions (which can't be used in court and are only informational) have a fee of 25 cents per page. This is where the paywall to public records goes up.

Let's take a step back and talk about what sort of records we're talking about. Clerk records include any sort of action or filing with a local court. These could be a lawsuit filed against your town's largest employer. It could be a court order against an elected official. These are the raw data or an entire portion of our government, and they are hidden behind a special paywall that no other public record in Washington is allowed to use.

Like the Thurston County Clerk's office, many county clerks maintain a database of all clerk records. If you made a similar request to a non-court government agency with a similar database, the Washington Administrative Code strongly suggests that "(t)he agency cannot attempt to charge a per-page amount for a paper copy when it has an electronic copy that can be easily provided at nearly no cost."

PRA vs. Common Law

As surprising as it may sound, court records are not covered under the Public Records Act. That said, "common law right of access to judicial records is well recognized in this country." This means, that while no legislation exists specifically allowing public access to these kinds of public documents, enough traditional and case law exists to assume there is a right.

That said, there obviously isn't enough of a right to make it easy for citizens to access their own court records. You should have to pay almost $30 to read a 16 page court filing in a case regarding statewide ballot initiative.

Easy fix

The fix is easy. All we need to do is drop the fee for non-certified copies of court records that already exist in a digital format.

This wouldn't exactly be a hit to the budget of county clerks throughout the state. When I contacted my clerk last summer, I learned that while it cost $60,000 to maintain the entire records system, requests only brought in about $40,000. And, just over a quarter of those documents came through the sytsem's online database (or ecommerce system).

Even if half of the e-commerce documents were non-certified, then it would be a very small portion of the income coming from citizens literally looking to read a public document. The vast majority of the fees would be from lawyers or other folks looking for useable in court certified documents.