Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gigi McClure didn't do well enough in Jeff Davis' territory to win

Other than Renata Rollins winning a seat on the Olympia City Council, Gigi McClure doing so poorly is probably the most surprising result of the last election. Her military logistics background easily translated into an argument for an institutionalist kind of candidate that would bring peace to the port commission. From one angle she looked like a sort of proto Bill McGregor, whose decades in port operations across western Washington is the main element of his campaigns.

But, as McGregor seems to be squeezing out a close win in his race, McClure was beaten handily by incumbent E.J. Zita. While Zita herself had a close race against institutionalist Joe Downing Jerry Farmer (who is also this guy) two years ago, two years on the commission obviously gave her at least a small incumbents edge.

But, most interesting is the geography of where McClure essentially lost this race, where she did a poor job recreating McGregor's map.

On this map, the darkest colors are where McClure did worse compared to McGregor. When you zoom in you see a lot of the same precincts that McClure did the poorest in compared to McGregor are the same ones that Jeff Davis won in against Sue Gunn four years ago. In the same way that McClure was the institutionalist against Zita, Davis was the institutionalist against Gunn in 2013.

Davis' best precincts were in a band of suburban neighborhoods around the more dense areas in northern Thurston County, these are the areas around Yelm Highway and College that make a broad loop around the older parts of the county.

During the recent episode of The Olympia Standard, I made a quick assessment of why McClure didn't match McGregor, but I'm not totally sure I was right. I said that her penchant to equate port protestors with terrorists probably didn't play very well in the suburbs. I think this is still true and I'm also sure that Zita's incumbency had some play in results too. But I'm expanding my thinking. I'll let you know when I get back anything interesting.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 election lesson number 2: How the Oly Progressives boxed them in

This post will play off my last one where I talked about how the power elites (a term coined by Steve Salmi at Green Pages to describe non-progressive or transactional candidates) could not expand their geography after the August primary. What was the most important geography for the slate of progressive candidates in Olympia, especially compared to other recent progressive candidates?

Before I start (again), here is some deeper reading for you (again):

Here are all the spreadsheets and map I've been working from. The data is from only a day or two after the election, so as counts march on, things will change obviously. But in terms of making maps, I think these will more or less stand pat.

For further reference, Adam Peterson did some really great shapefile based maps that he posted to Thurston Progressives.

Marco Ross ran for mayor against Cheryl Selby in 2015. He is the most recent progressive candidate for city council and I'm using his results to compare to this year's successful slate.

Literally, the answer to where they did better is: everywhere in Olympia. The smallest margin of difference between the average progressive percentage two years ago and this year was 14 percent. But even taking that into consideration, there is still a geographic story to tell.

So what I did with this map was isolate the top 14 of 57 precincts (in total) by how much better they did this year than two years ago:

What I see is a band of precincts above the SE Olympia core along the highway on the Eastside (extending to a couple on the westside. Then a series of precincts running up the spine of the upper Eastside and then a few out on the rim of the city.

Progressive candidates this year did do well everywhere, but where they did best was not in their core areas along the water or inside the SE Olympia bubble of their opponents. They carved out their greatest success between the two geographic powerbases along the interstate and then in far outside neighborhoods.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

2017 election lesson 1: Olympia power elites really were boxed in

Where atmforcouncil failed
After Tuesday's election, I did my typical copy and paste job on the precinct-level data and came up with a handful of lessons on local Thurston County politics. I talked about these maps in the latest episode of The Olympia Standard. But because visuals like maps don't play well over the podcast, I'm putting them up here.

Before I start, here is some deeper reading for you:

Here are all the spreadsheets and map I've been working from. The data is from only a day or two after the election, so as counts march on, things will change obviously. But in terms of making maps, I think these will more or less stand pat.

For further reference, Adam Peterson did some really great shapefile based maps that he posted to Thurston Progressives.

Back in August, after some concern that the progressive candidates really wouldn't have a good time in November, I predicted that "power elite" candidates like Allen Miller and Jeanine Roe (and likely Max Brown) wouldn't be able to break out of their friendly SE Olympia neighborhoods to find a majority in November. By "power elite," I'm borrowing a phrase coined by Steve Salmi over at Green Pages when he described the August results.

And, this happened because most of the places were Miller in particular picked up better percentages in November were places he already did well, as illustrated by this map.

Miller picked up more votes along the edges of town, places similar and including his SE Olympia power base. He lost support as a percentage throughout most of Olympia, towards the center of town in older, more walkable neighborhoods.

Compared to Brown and Miller, Jeanine Roe did better, but still not well enough to keep her seat. This map shows where she did better than Miller and Brown, which was slightly further in than the edge of town, making second ring neighborhoods more competitive.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The academic background of why you should hold a ballot party

On the most recent edition of the Olympia Standard (the local politics podcast I host with Dani Madrone) we introduce our ballot party challenge. Basically we want to get as many people interested in local politics to invite their non-political friends to a house party where everyone fills out their ballots.

On the surface, this is meant to be a fun, social way to get people civically involved. But there is a real world, political science backing to this challenge. I am convinced that ballot parties, especially in vote by mail states, can be the most effective tool to boosting local election turnout.

In Thurston County, turnout for local elections is depressingly and not-uncommonly low. In the last primary in August, Thurston County turnout was only just over 22 percent. That's bad.

Study #1 Impact of media on local knowledge

In the past sixty years or so turnout in local elections has been decreasing nationwide. At least one paper I found attributes this trend to the influence of television on the local information system. In short, television has been forcing out local radio and newspapers from the attention span of media consumers. While television is good at covering national news and providing entertainment, it is horrible at doing what local radio and newspapers used to do, provide meaningful local coverage.

I'd also lump in the contraction of newspapers overall and the consolidation of radio ownership as well. Outside the influence of television, radio and newspapers aren't doing the same work they used to.

But this doesn't mean that informed people don't exist. You may know some folks that know a lot about local politics. I mean, I write a blog and co-host a podcast. It is just a matter of getting those people together with folks who may not know much and therefore won't vote.

Study #2 You'll vote if you know your friends are voting

Or, if there is social pressure to vote, you'll vote. In one of the largest studies on voting, researchers in 2008 figured out that when voters realized that there was social shame to not voting, it had an impact. They theorized that the decline in voting had a lot to do with how our political culture has changed since the 19th century:
From an historical vantage point, one could argue that the sharp declines in turnout rates that occurred in the United States after the 1880s reflect social forces, such as rapid population growth and mobility, coupled with institutional changes, such as the introduction of secret balloting and rules requiring that party officials remain a long distance away from where ballots are cast, that diminished both the surveillance of voters and their sense that their voting behavior was being monitored. Concomitant changes, such as the decline of party machines, membership organizations, and party aligned newspapers that openly excoriated nonvoters, also may have contributed to the erosion of social pressure.
Heap on top of these trends the addition of vote by mail. While it made vote by mail much easier to vote than schlepping down to the Church of Christ, it also took away the last social aspect of voting we had.

Study #3 Big surprise, make voting fun and people will vote

More than direct mail, more than calling people on the phone. It was free food, music and family fun that drives up voting.
Researchers partnered with local community groups and Working Assets, a phone company that funds political campaigns, to organize and advertise Election Day festivals. In the week leading up to the elections, they advertised the festivals through local newspapers, fliers, posters, lawn signs, and pre-recorded phone calls. All festivals were open to the public, family friendly, and featured music and free food. The festivals occurred under large tents near polling places. While advertisements described the events as election festivals, attendance was not contingent on voting.
Voters in precincts where a festival occurred were significantly more likely to vote than voters in precincts without a festival. Researchers estimate that in precincts with voter turnout of 50 percent—turnout typical in major US elections—holding an election festival would increase turnout by 6.5 percentage points. In precincts with a 10 percent voter turnout—typical turnout in precincts in this evaluation—election festivals are expected to increase turnout by 2.6 percentage points.

Based on these findings, researchers found that the festivals were a relatively cost-effective way of increasing voter turnout. The festivals increased turnout by 960 voters in total. Organizing and advertising for the festivals cost a total of US $26,630 (in 2006 dollars). This implies that the program spent approximately US $28 on each additional person who voted. If the baseline voter turnout had been 50 percent, the results suggest that 2,339 additional people would have voted and the per-voter cost of the program would be US $11. In comparison, research finds that direct mail campaigns increase voting by US $60 per additional voter and door-to-door campaigns cost roughly US$20 per additional voter.
Now, in this study, it was a polling place festival and we don't have polling places in Washington State. Literally every kitchen counter is a polling place here. So, we devolve to the idea of a ballot party.

What's a ballot party?

While if you google "how to throw a ballot party," you don't come up with very much, WEC Protects put together a timely one pager on everything you'd ever need to think of. But in my experience, ballot parties are pretty simple. You need to:

a) Do all the things you'd do to bring your friend together and have fun. This may include beer. Or pizza. Or music.  Or meet at a bar. Or whatever. I'm not your social director.

b) Make sure everyone brings their ballot. It's like the price of admission.

c) Bring Pens. You. The organizer, bring pens. It's like your one job. People will need them.

d) Bring knowledge. Voter pamphlets, your brain. That kind of thing.

e) Everyone fills out their ballot.

I wish there was a non-profit in town, or this was a regular aspect of campaign or party organizing. But it is not, at least yet. I'm hoping we get there.

For this round of voting, Dani and I are throwing down the challenge. Get your parties going and make sure your friends are all voting. But in the future for a vote by mail place like Olympia, I hope going to a ballot party becomes a regular staple of voting season.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cascadia would have qualified for the World Cup

People are dealing with the USMNT crashing out of World Cup qualification in different ways. This is just one way, but it is my way. So, if you came here to criticize my back-of-the-napkin pining then just keep that in mind. This isn't really a serious analysis of economics or world soccer. This is just me doing what I can to process the loss.

One of the most interesting books I've read in the past 10 years has been Soccernomics, a sort of Moneyball-centered book on world soccer. The authors attempt to boil down the essence of national team success to a handful of factors: total population, per capita income and experience in international soccer. While this doesn't really explain Brazil (poor and really good) or the United States (big, rich and bad) very well, it does explain the difference between Germany and England.

Before I go on, a few notes:

As you might tell, I'm not going to go through the practice of listing players born or somehow connected to Cascadia (Jordan Morris! Kelyn Rowe! DeAndre Yedlin!) and making the bold claim that they'd beat Trinidad and Tobago. We all know they would have. Also I've done that before and that's boring.

The map of Cascadia I'm using is not the bioregional one, but more of the Chile shaped one that Colin Woodard used in American Nations to described the Left Coast. I'm happier with this one, it seems more like a "nation." And if you came here to tell me that I'm wrong, well, this is all made up anyway and this is my blog. I've done this before also.

So, back to soccer and bad math.

So, would a totally fantasy Cascadian Republic have qualified for the World Cup? Short answer: yes. Hurray! I hate you Bruce Arena!

Long answer: absolutely. But we would have had a hard time beating the rest of the United States and Mexico. 

So, first things first, I only took the countries that were in this year's final qualifying round for North America (sorry Canada, punch your weight already) and added in Cascadia. For Cascadia I took all the counties on the west side of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington and added a bunch in California down to include most of the Bay Area (my map, my rules). I also didn't include the Cascadian parts of Canada because even though they'd be part of my Republic, I thought why make the napkin more complicated?

So, population and per capita income were pretty easy to figure out once I decided on geography. 

In terms of soccer experience I decided on World Cup games played since it was the first metric I could find. For Cascadia I decided it would be easier to just average the number of games played of every other team. That seemed fair.  Also, in this fantasy world, Cascadia has had decades of independence and developed a strong league system with well-rooted club teams in nearly all their communities. And promotion/relegation Also, don't tell me how this decades old history would have made my populations and per capita income figures meaningless. 

Then I just ranked the teams by each factor and averaged the rank. Total back of the napkin. And while the United States finished first in this ranking (grumblegrumblegrumble), Cascadia finished near the top, tied with Mexico. 

Average RankPopulationPer capita incomeExperience as WC matches played
United States (-Cascadia)1308,660,79858,03033
Costa Rica54,919,20215,75015
Trinidad and Tobago51,370,11130,8103
This Cascadian Republic is bigger than any of the Central or Caribbean countries and also richer per capita than anyone except the United States. It really did surprise me how much poorer per head Cascadians would be than USers. But our mediocre size and better than average wealth and average experience put us right up there with Mexico.

Mexico, who actually finished at the top of the qualifying group this year. But I'm sure Cascadia would have given them a run for their money.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why downtown Olympia is more productive than the growing edge of Olympia (or Lacey or Tumwater)

Why would you want other parts of Thurston County (Lacey, westside Olympia and Tumwater) to become more like downtown Olympia? Because it is more valuable. Way more valuable.

Take two blocks, one nondescript block in downtown Olympia and another out in the westside.

Here's what you have in downtown Olympia:

These are about as nondescript as you can get in downtown. One story blocks, about six or so businesses. I'm looking only at the north end of this block between Capitol Way and Columbia Street, bounded on the north by 5th Avenue.

Taken together, these businesses cover about 30,000 square feet and pay over $38,000 in property taxes each year.

So, now let's move to the westside. This building is located at near the end of Harrison before it becomes Mud Bay:

In no way is this a new building. It was built in 1981 and the difference between it and the downtown half block is striking. The newest building in the downtown example dates to 1937. This westside building too is one story, but the lot it is one is dominated by road and parking. It was built in an era we're still living through when how you'd drive somewhere was the most important aspect in development. The need for parking makes this much larger parcel (at almost 45,000 feet), much less profitable with only $17,000 in property taxes.

This is a difference between $1.27 in taxes per square foot and $.37 per square foot. The price of providing space for cars and making neighborhoods unwalkable is real.

Strong Towns writes about this phenomenon, the older "blighted" areas of a community subsidizing the newer, shinier and automobile-centric developments. In the Strong Towns example, a series of closely packed buildings were leveled for a single Taco Johns, which removed much and the economic development from the land and replaced it with parking.

In an area like downtown Olympia, with even more housing coming on top of commercial activity, the need for large empty parking lots becomes less necessary. These aren't just people orientate places, but they're more productive by the acre.  

And, because even the dense part of downtown Olympia pays property taxes to both the city and the county, everyone benefits from the high density productivity of these blocks.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

How Olympia's schools rate for immunization rates and why Lincoln is a good candidate for whooping cough

With the pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak at Lincoln Elementary, it's time to take another periodic deep dive into vaccination data for Olympia School District.

The last two times I've written about this I've done much higher altitude views, comparing Olympia and Thurston County to other areas. Now I want to take a deeper dive into the information, and go school by school. The state Department of Health provides data on a school by school basis.

So, I took that data and began cutting it up into smaller pieces. Here's what I was working with.
That last spreadsheet is where I came up with this map:

This is a map that plots non-medical immunization exemptions on file at each school with more than 100 students by rate. No surprise, Lincoln is top of the list. It also isn't that big of a surprise then that Lincoln is near the top of the schools with exemptions specifically citing pertussis at 12 percent.

Here is an explanation on how those exemptions work.

If you're somewhat aware of this issue, you've heard about herd immunity, or how the vaccination rate in a group of people that protects people who can't receive a vaccine. This is why a 12 percent exemption rate at Lincoln is sort of scary.

According to the CDC, an immunization rate of 94 percent is necessary to prevent pertussis from persisting in a community. That is above the 88 percent that the exemption rate at Lincoln would indicate is that school's immunization rate.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Shelton is the hotbed of Sanders to Trump voters in Washington State

A few days ago Brian Schaffner broke down some pretty deep data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to figure out that 12 percent of Sen. Bernie Sanders primary voters ended up voting for Donald Trump last November.

Most of the attention on this data so far has focussed on three rustbelt states where the Sanders voter splitting would have put Hillary Clinton over the top.

But the data set also attached locations to each voter it tracked, so it was possible to draw a map of where these Sanders-to-Trump folks lived.

And, guess what, Shelton I'm looking at you.

Overall, there were very few Sanders to Trump voters. Only 2.3 percent of voters in Washington that said they voted in a primary or precinct caucus for Bernie Sanders said they voted for Trump. That's obviously way less than the national average.

But you can read a few lessons from the map. Because of the low number of Sanders/Trump voters, most zip codes only had one survey respondent. Except for Shelton, which had three.

I was surprised that Grays Harbor and Pacific counties didn't report back any Sanders/Trump voters. One of storylines from last year was that those counties especially were attracted to Trump because of how his rhetoric lined up with their traditionally Democratic roots.

I also noticed a pattern in the Puget Sound zipcodes that recorded a Sanders/Trump voter. Only two of them were urban zip codes, despite having most of the population. The majority of them were in rural areas near the urban core. I wonder if there's something to read into that.

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

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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Three reasons why we should keep Heck in Congress

National Precinct Map by Decision Desk HQ

Or, rather, three reasons why the nascent movement to oust centrist Democratic Rep. Denny Heck is a bad idea.

Tomorrow night there will be a meeting at Traditions in Olympia to talk about the idea of ousting Rep. Heck from Congress. The reasons are what you might expect, that Heck isn't as liberal as we need Democrats to be to really change our country:

The banking and insurance industries are bankrolling his campaign, and he gets the vast majority of his support from the business community. If we are ever going to achieve the progressive change our nation and world so desperately needs, then we are going to have to replace Trump, the Republicans, and corrupt establishment Democrats in Congress with representatives who will reject corporate money, stand up to corporate power, and put people over profits.
Whether Rep. Heck represents "the people" or progressives in general, his only real job is to represent his constituents. And, it's an open question whether his brand of politics is a fair representation of the WA10. Though geographically centered on Olympia, the 10th stretches up into Pierce County, mostly around Joint Base Lewis McChord. So, if any anything defines the WA10, it isn't the culture of liberal Olympia, it is the institution of the military.

A Republican could win in the WA 10. Or, at the very least, a conservative independent could.

1. Since 2012, Heck really hasn't been challenged.  Despite Pierce County supplying a steady stream of down ticket Republicans to challenge Heck, they've all been underfunded. In three elections, he has far out-raised his Republican opponents. I mean far outstripped.

Despite getting close to 60 percent in two Presidential cycle elections (2012, 2016), he has never broken 60. Also, his one off cycle election (2014) Heck got 54 percent, despite out-raising his opponent by over $1.5 million.

You could assume that given a better financed conservative opponent, he'd be in trouble.

2. The WA10 is slightly (I mean ever so slightly) more conservative than the state of Washington. 

If you take every statewide candidate last year and look how they did in the WA10, conservative candidates did .38 percent better than their statewide returns. This doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. But, in a Presidential year when there were certainly more Democrats going to the polls, Republicans did better in WA10 than they did statewide. This isn't saying a lot, but it does underline that the WA10 is less liberal than it should be for a safe Democratic congressman.

3. Independents in Thurston County

This is a sort of constant theme for me, but conservatives can win countywide races in Thurston County. If they drop the Republican label. Sure, typically, Congressional races are much more partisan than county commission races with national party organizations having a ton of input. But, with identified independents in Washington becoming the largest single group in the state, why not run a conservative independent against Heck?

So, imagine a world where a well-funded progressive knocks off Denny Heck in the primary and runs to the left off another well-funded conservative running as an Independent. In this world, I could see the WA10 flipping from a somewhat safe (if ignored) congressional district for a Democrat to one represented by a conservative.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Building Ghosts" is a really good book, it's a freaking pillar of light. You know?

I dropped the library copy of "Building Ghost" by Jim Burlingame into my nine year old son's lap, hoping he'd hold onto it as we pulled away from the library. He immediately started flipping through it as I explained it was a book about a part of Olympia's history.

Specifically, it was a book with pictures of new buildings placed next to photos of the same location in the past.

"Building Ghosts" pairs a series of photos Burlingame took in 2014 of vacant buildings with historic photos of the the same location at some point in the past. Also included in the book is a well thought out essay on why he did what he did.

[By the way, you should buy this book. You can do so here.]

"How can this be the same building," he said, thinking hard on pages 28 and 29 (the former Last Word Book location at 211 E. 4th). But, then he realized it was taken from a different perspective. And, then it all made sense to him, especially 3900 Martin Way East, one page further in. That page shows a series of small houses on the former side paired with a former Subway franchise location in an anonymous strip mall on the more current side.

Burlingame's book is like that, it makes you think harder about seemingly anonymous corners of Olympia. It's easy for us to roll around in the prettier and more stately buildings in town, but much more of our human history revolves around small anonymous houses on the edge of town replaced by strip malls on roads like Martin Way.

He starts the essay in the front of the book talking about the experiences at the old video store on the westside, how anonymous strip mall commercialism is unrecognized human history:

All around us, we have chances to see the literal infrastructure we pass through and spend time in every day as aspects of another kind of infrastructure altogether: the brick by brick accretion of details that sustain the meaning of those locations, both for individuals and the community they're a part of. Of course, the latter is made up of an ever-changing set of members, most of whom don't have much knowledge of the earlier incarnations of the places they frequent. Thus the near-invisibility -- yet ubiquity -- of these pillars means there's a phantom palace overlaid upon the mundane world we know.
I bolded that last phrase, because I'm trying to set up the criticism of my next point nicely.

This book makes me want another book. As much as I like Jim's effort here, it seems like more of a proof of concept than a finished piece. That he took his 2014 photos before researching what historic photos were available of the same locations means (as my son figured out) that they're often of different perspectives.

I would have also like there to be a way for his essay to not be separated from the photos. The ideas are so powerful that reading them across the same wide pages the photos were laid out on was tiring. I've read and reread the essay and it speaks to me. I really like it, but laid out narrower, next to the photos, would have been better.

The way he talks about trying to draw out the mundane past into the mundane future and the phantom palace (and later in the essay his "pillars of light" vs. Springsteen's darkness on the edge of town) makes me want more. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Washington had a surge of Independent voters. What does that mean?

Here is the last 10 years of Survey USA statewide poll results charted out (background data), focussing only on how the respondents identified their partisan affiliation.

Basically, following the trendlines, both the Republican and Democratic parties have lost marketshare and three times since 2006 there have been more identified independents than anything else. Also, in the most recent survey from last fall, the independent identification has a big lead.

It is worth noting that independents have always been strong in Cascadia, but I'm convinced we're seeing something different in this trend here.

What could have caused this?

I have a couple of theories, but I'm far from totally convinced by them.

I think the Top Two primary had something to do with this. Especially, in combination with a redistricting process in 2010 that had a lot to do with protecting incumbency and not with creating competitive districts between the traditional left and right.

So, since the first Top Two primary in 2008 and redistricting races in 2012, we're seeing more legislative level races that aren't competitive between the two major parties. So what do member of a minority ideology do when left in the cold without a standard bearer? I think it's possible they drop the partisan standard all together.

I think there's also something wrong with how we structure party politics around here that encourages not identifying as a partisan. Basically, political parties, the local county and legislative district ones, aren't forces in the lives of most voters or even most activists.

Campaigns can be built, volunteers recruited and advertising funded, without a lot of help from local party officials. The web has a lot to do with this, but the fact that the basic party structure is an obscure elected official called a precinct committee officer probably doesn't help.

What does this mean?

I think we're already seeing the impacts of what a possible non-partisan identifying stable plurality or even majority could mean in Washington State. With little buy-in with their actual policies, the Thurston County commission is now made up of conservative independents. There is was also an independent election on the Grays Harbor County commission, a more conservative but still usually solidly Democratic county.

Also, in Grays Harbor, you saw them support a Republican for president for the first time since the Democratic party was near its death in the 1920s in Washington State. My guess is that they voted for Trump not because was running as a Republican, but because he was running as a non-partisan under a partisan label.

What could this mean in the future is two things:

One, maybe Bill Bryant could have won if he'd shed the partisan banner. With 41 percent and growing, the independent population in Washington serves as a much handier base than a shrinking third place identification. It also seemed to me that Bryant ended up not running as really a conservative, but as a better version of the centrist pro-government governor we already have.

And two, on the local level, even more independents. I hope.

 It is one thing for three anti-growth regulation independents to be elected in a county that voted overwhelmingly for an urban environmentalist of lands commissioner. That (plus the way we voted for the independents across the county), means that enough voters didn't know what policies they were actually supporting and just pulled the lever for the non-partisan.

But, what happens when there are two non-labeled candidates in the race? What shortcuts do the voters use to make their decision? Or do low information voters drop out and leave the election to the voters who have their minds made up?

Monday, March 06, 2017

What went on with rural growth in Thurston County?

Grand Mound from highway to today:

It wasn't a member of the Thurston County commission, but there was a county commissioner at a recent hearing on exempt well bills last month. One of our commissioners was there too, but the Mason County commissioner said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the county's economy needed a boost.

What she was talking about was that building houses, more people living in the rural parts of Mason County would give their county a boost.

Despite evidence to the contrary that rural residential development is good for the government bottom line or anyone's economic well-being (I mean other than homebuilders and realtors) it did get me thinking about the rural landscape and how it's either being put to work (with farms or logging) or put to rest (by building houses).

Here's an interesting chart I've been toying with for the last few weeks. It plots the acres of land in Thurston County in farms and logging against the population in the non-city parts of the county:

What I see are a couple interesting things.

One, no one seems to keep track of land in active forestry by county, which is really weird since it is literally taxed differently in Washington and county assessors should really care about that. I was able to find two data points, so it's just sitting on the chart as something I'd like to add in if I can find it.

Also, I also wasn't able to find was any sort of description of residential zoning by acreage, so I used general non-incorporated population as a stand-in. This might be slightly unfair since most of this population is concentrated up in Tanglewild. But, as you can see in the gif at the top of this post, even Grand Mound has seen some significant changes since then.

Two, the 1960s seem to be a big turning point in the change of how Thurston County's rural areas were in terms of a shift from farming to rural growth.

If you zoom in on the 60s, you see the drop off of farm acreage happening just as non-city residential growth picks up.

What is also interesting is that even as no it seems like farm acreage has stabilized, the non-city population continues to increase, which means the rural areas are either getting denser or they're overtaking acreage that isn't in active farming.

Lastly, and this is more of a fun fact than anything. I wrote years back about the unincorporated area east of Lacey was Thurston County's invisible city.

I used to talk about this when I was on the Timberland Library board of trustees about how we should expand library service between Rochester and Grand Mound (which is currently served by a kiosk). But, that if you took the two census tracts that surround Highway 12 between I-5 and the county line, you'd have the fourth largest city in Thurston County at almost 13,000 people.