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Updated: 16 weeks 2 days ago

Opportunity for Olympia for All

Wed, 11/23/2016 - 8:05am


A week or so ago I took a look at the geography of the failed income tax in Olympia.

And a while back I looked at the geography of voter drop-off in citywide elections.

Now this week, I put them together!

The exercise I did on drop off was to figure out if there were neighborhoods that were more robust in their support of the original statewide income tax and the local version. Where did the vote for the first tax (which passed in Olympia) drop the least when it came to the second vote (which failed in Olympia)?

The purpose is to find out if there is a correlation between a neighborhood a robust supporter of an income tax and a neighborhood where fewer people would vote in a city council election.

It looks like there is a "slight" correlation (in the words of a smarter person that I asked to take a look at the numbers for me):

This chart is not mine (that smarter person did it), but I did collect the data:

So, if you're a local political group that is interested in progressive politics, changing city hall and increasing participation in local elections (like Olympia for All, amiright?) these precincts that ranked both high in tax support and low in local voter turnout would be your main targets, right?

In the map below, I categorized the neighborhoods, combining their rank in voter turnout with tax support, and came up with four categories. Green is the best, then yellow, orange and red.



Except for downtown, this is a very interesting map to me. Southeast Olympia as a broad swath of orange, that's not surprising at all. That's where you'd expect higher turnout and a lot of side-eying of progressive ideas.

But, the green neighborhoods are fascinating. They're mostly newer, non-walkable and high density neighborhoods on the edge of Olympia.  There is a large collection of them along Harrison Avenue west of division and the most of the ones on the east side are east of South Bay Road.

And, a lot of the typical close-in, very walkable neighborhoods rank very poorly. And, this isn't just because they retain participation in local elections. If you go back to the Opportunity for Olympia map, you see less support for the local property tax.

There is opportunity out there, but it's among the newer apartment buildings and neighborhoods on the edges of town.

Drive-throughs are worth it if it means doing something in Briggs Village

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 8:17am


Something is better than nothing at all and we've been waiting a really long time.
Update (11/22/16 (9:22 a.m.): the planning commission voted in favor of the amendment to allow drive-throughs last night.

Last night the Olympia planning commission held a public hearing on allowing drive throughs inside the commercial portion of the Briggs Urban Village. Long the dream of walkability and livability in the SE Olympia sprawl, Briggs has been an urban village in name only. It has been a moderate mix of mixed density housing. But even there, the real diversity of single family homes and high density apartments are kept well separated. Lots of great townhouses though. That's a plus.

Anyway, lacking a core tenant like a grocery store in the commercial core of the neighborhood/development, the idea to encourage smaller junior anchor tenants was put forward. Ralph's Thriftway was supposed to move in at some point, but apparently that plan has fallen off the table. So, these kind of tenants would be drugs stores or coffee shops. In our case, Bartels or Starbucks.

But these folks need drive throughs. From a letter written (pdf) by the commercial broker currently selling Briggs Village locations:
As part of our efforts to attract junior anchor retail tenants, we have had several conversations with representatives of Starbucks and Bartell Drugs. Starbucks has had an interest in the site for quite some time, but the company will not consider new locations without a drive-through, especially in suburban areas.While Briggs is an “Urban Village” under City of Olympia regulations, as a practical matter it remains a suburban site for purposes of retail site selection criteria. An anchor tenant with wide brand recognition like Starbucks or Bartell Drugs would draw other brands and businesses such as restaurants and service oriented businesses, as well as professional office tenants. The variety of such a tenant mix will create synergy thus attracting customers. Essentially, you can put an urban village inside a suburban sprawl, but that doesn't mean the suburban sprawl will suddenly be urban. Southeast Olympia is the least walkable part of town. To get anything done, short of going to school or maybe a park, you need to drive. There is a YMCA down here, but unless you're literally me or my immediate neighbors, you're probably going to drive there too. Also, you're likely to use a vehicle to get to school or the park. Just saying.

Also, this is not a lecture on the value of walkability. You can find that elsewhere.

So, while Briggs without coffee shop or drugstore drive throughs would be nice, in the current reality, we're never going to get a real urban village with houses, townhomes, apartments and commercial development without them.

But, we should still work to infill and rethink the entire landscape of SE Olympia to make it more walkable and more diverse, we should do that too. But, that is a much bigger piece of work. Maybe some day, we'll abandon the drive throughs.

Four things to think about the 2016 Thurston County commission races (2014 all over again, sort of)

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 6:23pm
Over the past couple of years, I've been rolling over how an independent candidate with conservative values was elected in a usually safe Democratic county. Bud Blake's win in 2014 over Karen Valenzuela took a lot of folks by surprise, so a double repeat of that victory for the other two commission seats by Gary Edwards and John Hutchings was supposed to be preventable.

I was thinking that a larger electorate in a presidential year and more awareness of the nuances of an independent campaign would help seal a Democratic win. Anyway, that didn't happen. Let's look at how.

1. Just like 2014, it was a matter of beating the typical Republican

In 2014, Blake was able to beat a typical Republican in every precinct, from the most conservative to the most liberal. In most of these districts, even the very most liberal, there was a layer of voters that would not for a Republican in a down ballot race (attorney general, lieutenant governor) but would vote for an independent against a  Democrat in the county commission race.

 
2. Unlike 2014, core Olympia liberals did not abandon the ballot 

Something I noticed later was that if you looked at 2014 results in terms of turnout, the closer you got to Budd Inlet, the more likely you were to not fill out your ballot when it came to the county commission race. While these lost voters would not turned the campaign to Valenzuela then, it made it practically certain she would lose. Countywide, dependable liberal neighborhoods in Olympia need to turn out for Democrats to win.


While there was a geographically based drop off in voting, it seemed to have happened not in the home base of the more liberal candidates, but in the in-between area of the two camps. In the map of above, higher turnout for the county commission races are darker. So, in my reading, the lighter placemarks are mostly in either politically stratified neighborhoods around south county (Republicans and conservatives) and Budd Inlet (liberals and Democrats). Both camps did a good job getting their base to vote. And, the suburban tweeners stayed home. Well, we all stayed home. It's vote by mail.

3. BONUS: Kelsey Hulse did not improve her mark from the primary

If you take just the precincts that were involved in the Hulse Edwards primary back in August (commissioner primaries are just in the district they represent), she did just a percentage worse. Which isn't bad. Standing pat in the more conservative east district (Yelm to the eastern portions of Lacey) isn't a bad strategy for a liberal candidate.

And, of course, since I have place information for these precincts, here's a map of where she did better.



The darker the pins, the better Hulse did compared to her primary finish.

Looks like a lot of nothing to me. Not that there wasn't some moving around, there certainly were some places that she did better in (and worse in) November to August. But, I don't think it makes geographic sense to me. I'm mostly sharing it because I want to see if anyone else sees a pattern I don't.

4. SUPER BONUS: Hulse did better than Cooper in Olympia

From the brand spanking new Green Pages (which makes it a super special bonus), Steve Salmi writes:
One could argue that this occurred because Edwards was the tougher opponent — but only outside the liberal Democratic stronghold of Olympia. By the same token, one might suggest that Hulse’s campaign materials did a better job than Cooper’s of energizing liberals. This, in turn, may have partially been because Hulse raised roughly $74,000, a good $12,000 more than Cooper, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. One might also wonder whether a robocall that attacked Cooper had an impact. But again the question arises: Why did he outpoll Hulse everywhere else except for Olympia — particularly if the robocalls targeted south county residents? Perhaps other factors may be at play. For example, did Hulse more aggressively doorbell in Olympia because, unlike Cooper, she needed to introduce herself to a core voter base?

The Geography of the Opportunity for Olympia loss

Sun, 11/13/2016 - 7:52am


From what I heard, there were several reasons for Opportunity for Olympia coming to Olympia. The income tax to pay for the first year of college for Olympia high school graduates was run here because Olympia was particularly fertile ground. We had supported the last statewide attempt at an income-like tax and we have a good track record of supporting school levies.

But, in the wash, Initiative 1 ran far worse in Olympia than either 1098 (47 percent to 56 percent) or local school levies (over 75 percent last time around).

So, first let's take a look at how Initiative 1 ran against our 1098 results precinct by precinct.



The lighter the placemark, the worse Initiative 1 did against 1098. In a few places (farish westside and far Eastside) Initiative 1 actually did better than 1098. But, the losses in the close in neighborhoods and Southeast Olympia were too much to overcome.

Let's take a close look, though, at the precincts where Initiative 1 did better. These aren't usually precincts I play close attention to when I think about Olympia politics. They seem to be areas around the malls and hospitals. A few precincts around the South Sound Center St. Petes and then up Lilly Road supported the local income tax over the statewide one, as well as precincts around the Capital Mall and Capital Medical Center. I have no idea what this means.




Again, the lighter the placemark, the worse Initiative 1 did against the last levy in February 2016.

But, again, there were no precincts where the initiative did better than the levy. We can't see a repeat of the South Sound Mall/St. Pete's precincts, since they're inside the North Thurston school district. But we can see some dark spots in the westside near Capital Mall/Medical center. And, again the South Capitol to SE Olympia axis, Initiative 1 did far worse.

Most interesting is that there are a few well off westside, water view precincts on the westside where the levy (property tax) did worse than generally than the initiative (property tax). My guess, people with lower incomes but better home values (water view westside) like Initiative 1 better than people with lower home values and higher incomes in the deep SE side. Just a wild guess based on neighborhood stereotypes.

Why lying is legal in politics here (or isn't, but the courts will probably make it legal again)

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 5:17pm
One quote from the robo-call dustup made me think:


You could read this (as did I) as a simple statement of "I'm telling the truth" or at least "I think I'm telling the truth," but in Washington State that isn't necessarily true.

In Washington State, Glen Morgan and Karen Rogers could well be lying, and know their lying, and still not run afowl of state law.

Twice now the state legislature has tried to outlaw lying in political speech, and twice the state Supreme Court has sent them back.

In the 1990s, there was a state law that barred candidates and campaigns from sponsoring "with actual malice" lies.

The first case that struck down these rules involved an assisted suicide initative, specifically one flier that the proponents of the intiative said were innaccurate about suicide safeguards.  The second had to do with one of Tim Sheldon's state senate races in which his opponent tried to make hay over his weak defense of Mission Creek.

Between the two cases the state legislature tried to clean up the law, making it possibly better able to survive court challenge.

The bottom line of these cases is that the Public Disclosure Commission, which usually regulates political and campaign speech in Washington, can't get into the lie vs. truth business.

The deeper reading of these cases shows a divided court weakly coming to this conclusion. Both cases show a small majority coming to a very thin legal conclusion that the state has no part in the lie vs. truth business.

Justice Talmadge in 1998, writing (sort of) with the majority:
I agree with the majority that RCW 42.17.530 is facially unconstitutional because it sweeps protected First Amendment activity within its provisions by penalizing political speech, even if knowingly false, regarding an initiative measure.   I write separately to emphasize that I am not convinced that the same is true where a statement contains deliberate falsehoods about a candidate for public office.   In my view, there is merit to the contention that the Legislature may constitutionally penalize sponsorship of political advertising of such a nature by enacting a narrower statute than RCW 42.17.530.And Alexander in 2007:
Chief Justice Gerry Alexander joined the majority as well, but in a separate concurrence. He wrote that "the majority goes too far in concluding that any government censorship of political speech would run afoul of the United States and Washington constitutions," but he agreed that the law was unconstitutional because it was overbroad.But, then, two years later, the legislature again tried to clean up the law to make it illegal to maliciously defame a politician running for office. From the final bill report of SHB 1286:

It is a violation of the campaign laws for a person to sponsor, with actual malice, a statement constituting libel or defamation per se under certain circumstances: the false statement is about a candidate and is in political advertising or electioneering communications; a person falsely represents that a candidate is an incumbent for the office sought in political advertising or an electioneering communication; or a person directly or indirectly implies the support or endorsement of any person or organization in political advertising or an electioneering communication when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement.  A candidate is also prohibited from submitting a defamatory or libelous statement to the Secretary of State for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet about his or her opponent. For the purposes of this act, "libel or defamation per se" is defined as statements that tend: to expose a living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to injure any person, corporation, or association in his, her, or its business or occupation.  If a person makes a false statement, with actual malice, about himself or herself or falsely represents himself or herself as an incumbent, it is not libel or defamation and is not a violation of the campaign laws. It is also not a violation of the campaign laws for a person or organization to falsely represent that the person or organization supports or endorses a candidate as persons and organizations cannot defame themselves. If a violation is proven, damages are presumed and need not be proven. So, there. Clear as mud. Each time the legislature tries to make it unlawful to lie, then the courts kick it back and the legislature tries again. If we were to take a broader view in our historical circle, we're at the point where we wait for a case attempting to enforce this law makes it back to the Supreme Court.

John Hutchings (yet everyone knows him as Hutch) preaches ignorantly about how Home Rule and county government works

Sat, 10/15/2016 - 6:53am


During a recent debate with Jim Cooper, John Hutchings told a tale about why he isn't necessarily in love with the idea of county government becoming more representative.

But, he get's most of it really really wrong. A little disclosure, I am a member of Better Thurston, which advocates for Home Rule and a charter form of government. So is Jim Cooper.

1. Hutchings says we would need to amend the comprehensive plan if we decided to have home rule.

Just quickly, the comprehensive plan is a document required by the Growth Management Act, basically where certain buildings will be built and where people will eventually live.

A charter is how county government is organized.

They have nothing to do with each other.

2. He says we'd have an unelected super bureaucrat vetoing decisions by elected officials. Hutchings:

The charter would also have a component of an executive manager for the county. And no matter what the people want and what the commissioners vote on, the executive manager, who is not an elected position would have veto power. And, I don’t think I like that because that takes what the peoples’ wishes are away from the people. 
Oh man, where to start.

First, in the charter process it is up to an elected group (a disappearing committee) to write a county charter, essentially a county constitution of how political power is divided up through the county. How many seats on the county commissioner? Is the clerk elected? That kind of thing. So, that anything at all (like a veto wielding bureaucrat) would be required is false.

If you look at charter counties throughout Washington, you see a significant diversity of how they manage their own affairs. Whatcom has a non-partisan county commission with seven members and an elected executive. Both San Juan and Clallam stuck at three commissioners.  King County has a nine-member non-partisan council.

That said, Hutchings says that an executive manager could veto decisions by an elected body. So, more than a few of these charter counties did decided to go with a council or commission appointed administrator. This is, in fact, very similar to the forms of governments of Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia. The elected officials approve a budget and policy and the manager executes it.

While this gives the administrator day-to-day control of the county government, they can not veto a damn thing. In American government terms, a veto is literally turning back a decision by the elected board and saying "nope, we're not going to do this."

Veto power does not exist with any single unelected administrator with any local  anywhere in Washington State.  Seriously.

Also, while the Washington State constitution envisioned noncharter commissioners as a cross between executive and legislative actors, Thurston County has in fact had one of these unelected administrators for decades. So, if elected, Hutchings would step into a power structure very much like the one he fumbled through describing.

3. I understand that the county charter process is complicated. So it makes sense that people oftentimes don't get the nuances. But, there's a reason why it's complicated. Its serious business changing our form of government.  And, people running for office should be serious enough to understand it.

This late in the game, you'd hope that a county commission candidate would have ironed out any confusion they had with the process.

But, you know. I don't think Hutchings thinks he's wrong. I think he's pretty confident about his understanding of how the charter process would work.

Listen to the confident way he explains his understanding of the relationship between a county manager and elected officials. He's trying to walk the listener through a complicated arrangement that he is just not getting himself. These aren't shades of gray either here, or things that honest people can disagree about. This is literally a question of elements of government existing or not.

By this point in time, Hutchings or any candidate for county commission, should have their facts straight. Especially about such a hot topic (of which, there are many).

Gary Edwards literally does not believe in land use regulation

Mon, 10/10/2016 - 7:02pm
Here's Gary Edwards, candidate for Thurston County Commission, talking about his vision for land use management:I am certainly not in favor of taking through regulatory action. So, if we need to take, we need to compensate.


On the other hand:
You want to be able to do what you want with your land. But at the same time, landowners should not be able to destroy things for the people around them. It shouldn't be a free ticket to do whatever you want.The point of view that Edwards articulates here is an aggressive and far-right approach to land use management that would not only throw growth management into chaos, but was soundly rejected by Thurston County voters ten years ago.

What he's talking about is called "regulatory takings," which is a strictly legal term that has been hijacked by the right. They've started using the term to describe any sort of local land use rule that prevents a landowner from realizing an economic gain from their land.

County is stopping you from building 100 homes on your 10 acres? That's a taking.

City stops you from opening a convenience store? That's a taking.

Basically, and restriction that keeps the landowner from making any money from their property would be described as a taking.

You can see how cities and governments would just give up on trying to preserve natural resources and the livability of our communities than try to enforce now expensive rules against landowners.



Back in 2006 a coalition of right-leaning organizations came to Washington with Initiative 933. This initiative would have forced local governments to pay landowners anytime a local zoning or land use law conflicted with their interests. If the government couldn't pay, the landowner was free to do what they wanted.

What happened that year was that  64 percent of Thurston County voters rejected the initiative that was based on Gary Edward's bad idea of land use management. That was higher than the 58 percent who voted it down statewide.

Even in Oregon (where the idea to give developers a free ride started with a similar initiative a few years earlier) the idea was turned back in 2007. The people there saw how bad the idea really was, allowing development where it wasn't appropriate and where the natural resources simply couldn't support it.

So, what Edwards is describing is really an extreme, and already rejected, idea for how Thurston County should protect communities and natural resources. Giving landowners free reign by holding the county hostage anytime they disagree is a terrible idea.