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December 29, 2007

Through Rose Colored Glasses - Looking at Puget Sound Streetcars from Portland

Kimberley Marlowe Hartnett is David Brewster's and Crosscut's best hope at avoiding the stereotypical Seattle limousine liberal mindset (including symptoms of xenophobia?) in his current effort to expand his voice beyond the bounds of the 36, 37, and 43rd State Legislative Districts (okay, maybe the 48th as well).

Marlowe Hartnett is a Portland resident, a city, like Seattle, that has not seen a real estate slump (of 3 total nationally) - and perhaps for better reason.

She writes whimsically about Portland's coming year - in a style that owes a bit to Crosscut Editor Knute Berger.

I was in that City over Christmas and commented on her piece at some length - albeit wandering off topic, onto the above subject.

Viewing your city through the perspective of another is important, especially those in your region. This particular 'rambling' of mine looks at the issue of planning light rail - whether it be streetcar oriented like Tacoma's LINK or a regional system like the light rail system with a 'track record' - Portland's MAX.

Having had a favorable experience riding the Sounder this year I decided to try Amtrak - at $25 one way, cheaper than my gas driving alone. All in all it was a very enjoyable, and hopefully also, productive, 'multi-modal' trip. I urge you to become familiar with Marlowe Hartnett (linked above) as well as the details of my comments - though for different reasons.

January 19, 2008

Western Washington's Second City gets to Work on it's South End

The below piece was originally submitted for publication outside of Tacoma, but not accepted. As of today, January 19 it is slightly dated - for instance the refered alcohol impact area has unanimously passed the Tacoma City Council and has been sent to the State for action. This effort is profiled in a lead story in the TNT, January 18th.


Tacoma, in recent history, has had the reputation of being a second class City – growing slowly in the dark shadow of its more prosperous, and influential, neighbor to the North, Seattle. And this was not totally without justification. Tacoma’s Ruston Smelter spewed a plume of arsenic for decades creating a superfund site where the cleanup is just now finishing. The old joke about Tacoma was ‘Kiss me where it smells, take me to Tacoma” – due the once common NW odor of a pulp mill, the source being the Simpson Mill located on the now revitalizing historic Foss Waterway.

Part of that bad ‘reputation’ was in part through negative attitudes towards servicemen in the Vietnam era, locally articulated against members of the nearby Fort Lewis ‘community’. Those attitudes, and the resulting standards and procedures, are changing. Hopefully as Iraq combatants return they will find a City that welcomes their energy and drive. Tacoma will still have a large ‘transient’ military population, but that is not so bad as it might appear in High School statistics and the like. Having an Iraqi veteran as your next door neighbor could be a very good thing.

The revitalization of Downtown Tacoma has been incredible, and if you have not visited in the last few years you are truly missing one of the cultural hot spots of the State. Tacoma native Dale Chihuly gave a major gift to his hometown in building his Glass Museum, also overlooking the Foss. This same area is host to a more general arts museum, the State History Museum, and the University of Washington Branch campus, as well as a new convention center and a not bad Chihuly display in the renovated Union Station, now serving duty as our Federal Courthouse.

Downtown developers have been focusing on creating an urban alternative to Downtown Seattle – most of the Condos in downtown are not for the first time buyer – but just about every second home purchaser could afford them. The stock of historic buildings in Tacoma may well be greater than in Seattle proper – and the new projects being built are well designed to fit the history.

This revitalization has had considerable State and Federal money, no doubt in part due the seniority and moderate politics of Norm Dicks. The important fact about this public money is it appears to be working – unlike the failed urban revitalization programs of the 1970s money here has been spent smartly – first on the list being the UW Tacoma Branch, but also on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and a major rebuild of I-5 through downtown, now about 50% complete.
With some controversy money has also been ‘given’ to the private sector in the form of tax breaks for development in strategic areas. Some might attribute this as ‘corporate welfare’ when they benefit the already well off. Time will tell if Tacoma’s efforts were a wise investment, or not. But so far, so good.

The Hilltop neighborhood once ruled by gangs has been the beneficiary of much of the public money. This area is still at risk, but it has changed considerably and living on its fringes is a very good bet. Most significantly the Sixth Avenue Corridor – stretching from Wright Park at the North end of Hilltop west towards the Narrows Bridge has revitalized itself incredibly in just the last year, and mostly with private money. It’s geographical position just to the south of the Proctor District and other historically affluent North End neighborhoods has perhaps made it the neighborhood of choice.

There are a lot of bars on Sixth – giving it a bit of a Ballard feel from the 1980s, but as a district located near the Tacoma Community College and University of Puget Sound, as well as being within easy Commuting distance of UW-T it works well as what it is.

At the other end of Downtown, towards the historically poor and transient military neighborhoods of South and East Tacoma the first rumblings of this economic momentum are being felt. This is my neighborhood, of the last four years. This article is my attempt to convey what I see is happening, as well as to assist in the area realizing its potential.

South Tacoma is perhaps the best deal in housing in Western Washington right now. For 200k you can buy a house comparable to a Wallingford bungalow. This is a price point that entry level home buyers can afford, even in today’s market. Sure, the plumbing or the electrical might need some work and the finish carpentry could stand some paint – but that’s part of being a first time homeowner – part of life.

The commute back north is doable, but rush hour starts early and ends late on all northbound commutes in Pierce County, as well as South King. The Sounder train though has made that commute enjoyable, if you are so lucky to work in an area it accesses.

The current southern terminus for the Sounder is at a funky little development called Freighthouse Square – comparable to Crossroads in Bellevue, or perhaps the old Fifth Street Public Market in Eugene. It is a ‘3rd place’ not a mall, built in the old rail freight depot for Tacoma. It’s in the Dome District, (we didn’t tear ours down), just at the Southern end of the Foss Waterway. It’s a funky mixture of old industrial and new retail and commercial now just coming into its own . It’s future seems to be comparable to that of the Pearl District in Portland, much like what has been attempted in the SODO area of Seattle, that somehow has never quite been realized, for some reason.

The Dome District has also seen quite a bit of public money lately, mostly transit related. Freighthouse Square is the Sounder station, and across the street is a (6 story) park and ride serving a local and regional bus hub. The Tacoma Light Rail, currently the only functioning element of Sound Transit’s Link project, starts between these two buildings, running north through Downtown to near 6th Avenue in the Theatre District.

The Sounder is planned to continue south to Lakewood – but the crossing of Pacific Avenue has become a major design issue. The small and medium sized businesses of the Dome District felt overlooked, if not bullied, by Sound Transit in this issue, the first ‘appearance’ of that ‘organization’ since their November Prop. 1 defeat. The question seems to have been resolved with the leadership of the Tacoma City Council. The ‘solution’ though has required the relocation of Tacoma’s oldest business, the Star Ice Company.

The first Tacoma residents I met were actually Sound Transit officials – perhaps most notably former City Councilmember Paul Miller and current State Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Southerland. Pacific Avenue, Highway 7, was however my first exposure to Tacoma. Looking at a map highway 7 looks to be the best way to get to the southern entrance and the Paradise area. One however is quickly disillusioned –seeking the solace of green one only finds hundreds of blocks of stop lights and commercial development of varying levels of upkeep – comparable to Hwy 99 north or south of Seattle.

Pacific Avenue as it leaves Downtown Tacoma is no exception. The road is slow and most of the businesses aren’t driver oriented. Currently the best route from the Dome District, and Downtown, is via McKinley Avenue, an I-5 overpass right next to the Tacoma Dome. McKinley Avenue climbs up McKinley Hill to its small neighborhood business district, itself just starting to revitalize, also home to Tacoma’s only dog park. Two dog park regulars have started that areas first coffeeshop, opening any day now. Although health regulations prohibit a dog friendly coffee hangout, the opening of this neighborhood coffeeshop is anticipated by many.

Just to the West , across Pacific, is my neighborhood, Lincoln, also home to the High School of the same name. The two neighborhoods make up what I’ve been calling ‘Presidents Ridge’ – a great area just above Downtown Tacoma with the potential to be a Ballard with a view, er, Admiral District. 34th Avenue is the small arterial connecting these areas and it makes a great view walk of about a mile or so, one way. There are two historic bridges over beautiful ravines in this area. The head of one of these has just been sold by the City of Tacoma to a Downtown Developer, Prium.

This Pacific Prium project has many in the neighborhoods of the South End concerned. Although District City Councilman Rick Talbert claims the housing to be developed will be for ‘firefighters and teachers’ the enabling council resolution which authorized the sale agreement is written to specifically suggest it is replacement housing for the very low income residents of the downtown’s Winthrop hotel. Somebody is lying to someone here, and I feel a bit guilty hoping that it is the housing activists, and not the neighborhoods.

The impact of 100-200 units of affordable housing raises the spectre of the blighted housing project, whatever the subsidized income level. Our neighborhood fears that this may mean downtown is looking at the South End not for revitalization, but as a ‘redlined’ neighborhood to milk as a low-income cash cow. Lincoln High School currently is gang free and we’d like to keep it that way – understanding that the risks of breeding gangs in newer style housing developments is less, it has also not been completely eliminated. The wisdom of placing younger children across the street from the County drunk tank and the methadone clinic also seems a bit unwise.

Most likely the answer will be determined by market forces – Prium is a local developer of high standing but they are having their own housing related financial problems right now – converting one condo project to rentals after failing to sell a single unit at their targeted price. Market savvy folks are betting that the results will depend on how much of a bailout Prium needs – not a bad financial hedge for a good company, all else being kosher.

Personally, I’m hoping for a mix of private and subsidized housing. Seattle is currently discussing the provision of density subsidies in exchange for the inclusion of affordable units – a good strategy. Central to this debate is the question of just how much of a mix can work. Though not directly applicable the desired mix in a privately funded project should also apply to a publically funded one. The maximum any city is doing in this generation of project is 35% - total, moderate income and for the very low.

Perhaps more potential is brewing in the next ravine to the east in that Dome Greenbelt. This is the route by which Hwy 705 climbs to reach Hwy 7 when you are heading South. It is also the alignment for a rail corridor owned by Tacoma Rail which stretches all the way to Elbe via Eatonville.

Just two weeks ago an Interior Department funded multi-jurisdictional study (Norm Dicks is currently chair of the Interior Committee) was released regarding the use of this corridor for Rail/Trail purposes. Unlike King County’s Eastside rail line this multiple use is being seriously, and professionally, studied – NOT decided by dysfunctional partisan political considerations.

Personally I’ve found that idea to be very timely – as I’ve been talking up the idea of a trail as well – not for the rail corridor, but for the Dome Greenbelt – built just above the I-5 soundwall, like the one on Seattle’s Capitol Hill (the BEST place to watch Fourth of July Fireworks shows). We’ll see if the kismet works, I hope you don’t mind the personal plug.

This trail would stretch all the way from the existing trail in McKinley Park to the pedestrian bridge at 38th, near the Tacoma Mall. That western end is the Whitman neighborhood, named after the Walla Walla poet. The proposal is articulated graphically here.

Pat McGregor is the President of the Whitman neighbors, a teacher at Puyallup’s Leschi school. He is perhaps the South End’s most effective leader – largely responsible for the expansion of Downtown’s ‘Alcohol Impact Area’ , scheduled for January adoption. Removing fortified products from store shelves isn’t the cure for all of alcohol’s ills, but it does seem to have some effect – as in Pioneer Square and elsewhere.

Our area certainly has customers for fortified alcoholic drinks – our freeway greenspaces have become homes for the homeless – in one case a nearby encampment was probably well over 100 individuals. These ‘customers’, along with the stereotypical meth addict scravenger regularly use our alleys as travel routes. Thankfully public safety is one issue that everyone agrees on, and efforts in this regard are just starting to build the foundations of solid neighborhood organizations.

Tacoma is building itself a new reputation these days – lets hope it becomes a City where folks who work hard can get ahead – and where everyone can afford a downtown condo once the kids leave. There are risks that the parasites who feed off the poor will attempt to expand their presence here, but I am optimistic. All life is risk, and preserving the history of a City like Tacoma is, in my opinion, a good bet.

Tacoma was once the business center for the State. The history, as I understand was that Tacoma received the first rail line, Everett the second – they joined up in Seattle, which, perhaps due the benefits of competition, became the number one City.

The current word for Tacoma is ‘gritty’. Like the nation’s second City, Chicago, Tacoma is a city of people who work for a living, who earn it. The ridge of the south end may well become the geographical ‘broad shoulders’ of the City – after all a ‘good’ economy is one that benefits everyone, no?

February 11, 2008

U.S. Open & Tacoma's Economy

Last week's announcement of the 2015 U.S. Open to Pierce County's public Chambers Bay course was accompanied by the usual PR endeavors - including a projection of $100 million in 'economic development'. Though the event will be a benefit language like this carries with it the risk of ongoing dependence on public monies in the City.

One thing for sure, the course is both a touch eccentric and stunningly gourgeous - the sunny day view of the Olympics over the Islands of the south Sound is unforgettable. I'm not a golf person myself, but they built a 3.25 mile bike trail around the periphery, from ridge to bay and back. Built on an old sound gravel pit, with remnants of the concrete handling structures, the course, stylisitically, envokes Mad Max. This is the course that Mel Gibson would've built in his retirement, had the recovery of that 'planet' ever taken hold.

If I was ever to take up the game, this could very well be the course.

The course was the pet project of County Executive John Ladenburg, also the most recent gavel wielder at Sound Transit. While Sound Transit may be continuing derailing itself, this project is one that will be a legacy of him, and his family.

The Sound Transit link of Ladenburg does raise a red flag. Pierce County, especially Tacoma, has been the recipient of many, many dollars of economic development money. Here, it seems to be working - there is a renaissance in the making and that is a very good thing. Money spent here has provided benefits, much more than $100 million - or for that matter both Seattle sports stadiums combined.

But such assistance should be transititory. One could easily imagine the course becoming THE place for drunken deals between Olympia and Seattle corporate welfare pimps. Instead of this happening, I think that instead the City should set itself a goal of weaning itself from public money by that date 7 years from now, at least north of I-5.

And hey, Mr. Ladenberg, how about inviting me and Rob McKenna for a golf lesson?

Coverage on the number one Tacoma site, Exit 133, is here.

February 18, 2008

On President's Day

For your consideration, a Presidentially themed proposal - a bike trail through the McKinley and Lincoln neighborhoods of Tacoma: (The Greenbelt above I-5 near the Tacoma Dome, for you out of towners)

President's Ridge Bike Trail

Okay, so the President's name might be a touch hyperbolic - something I've been know to lean towards. It might however catch on, at least hopefully as something that will have the support of more than one neighborhood. (Hopefully also the 'non-presidential' neighborhoods aren't insulted!)

The ridge in the name is at the suggestion of Pierce County Councilmember Tim Farrell supportive of neighborhood efforts at improving the area.

March 2, 2008

Open Government & Business

My local paper, the Tacoma News Tribune, has an editorial on Open Government in this Sunday's edition. This is an editorial series of 12 this year celebrating the paper's 125th anniversary. This theme is also an important one within the remainder of the State, including the Seattle Times, which initiated the Coaliton on Open Government.

As the paper notes:

Advancing the cause of open government is a value, not a business model.

On a similar note the paper hosted a great forum last week on the role of newspapers in connecting with their community in the internet age. Panelists included Michael Fancher of the Seattle Times, David Brewster of the Seattle Weekly/Crosscut, Jack Hart of the Oregonian and two academics. This session was not about business either, however anyone who follows the business knows that the emergence of internet agebusiness models is a current major subject.

I don't have an answer to those related business questions, but I do have some thoughts.

An honest and transparent government may not a business make - however a dedication to same should be a goal of every business whatever their level of operation. As it is a paper's responsibility to advance same it should be a businesses 'responsibility' to support same.

But 'business' is not a monolith - it is merely a name assigned to a collection of very independently minded entities, at least in theory. Up north the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce led by the two big public finance firms, Foster Pepper Sheffelman and Preston Gates might disagree. In practice 'business' to them needs to stand together - both those who serve government (including, first, themselves) and those who work in a more traditional 'free market' sense.

Advertising in the ivory tower theories of Adam Smith is a double edged sword complicating what is otherwise so ideologically simple and clear. On the one hand for markets to be truly 'free' everyone must have access to all information. Advertising is the way to do exchange information, however it is very definitely NOT free.

As such advertising can actually be used to monopolize, to use the word loosely, the attention of the consumer.

Contrary to the opinion of the TNT I'm gonna put forth an idea here - that open competition AND open government SHOULD be the foundation for the next communications business model.

The foundation of such should not be traditional advertising, but rather the yellow page business model, a business which should be transferred from the telcos to newspapers. (or to the telcos, if they establish news organizations with integrity and credibility) This would mean that the advertising basis of every paper should be as broad as that of the historical yellow pages.

I'm imagining a situation where every subscriber continues to pay as well - however with greater revenue accruing to the paper through reduced printing costs. Curling up with a paper is not a bad habit, but it does also have big environmental costs as well.

Rates for inclusion by a business should definitely be higher, but for the smallest business perhaps no more than the differential between a private phone line and a business line. Rates should differ, and setting up an industry by industry pricing structure is the tough part of this idea, as well as is the issue of preferred placement. Google offers one example of how this might be dealt with appropriately.

Newspapers should also give high priority treatment to some businesses NOT based on how much they pay. Rather the paper should establish methods of evaluating businesses of integrity and credibility based on the evaluations of their subscribers.

Put simply this is a business model whereby the local paper becomes more of a trusted broker of information rather than solely a producer of it.

I don't know if this translates to the national market or not. FWIW, Google may already 'own' that market, deservedly. I don't think though that the Google model extends automatically to the local level.

The full feature TNT editorial is here.

March 12, 2008

Is Sound Transit the Energizer 'Bunny' in disguise?

The Tacoma Tribune has an editorial today regarding light rail, noting the faster than projected ridership on the Sounder Commuter train. They imply, but do not articulate, support for Sound Transit. I've submitted a letter to the editor, which I've enclosed below. (I've thought some about delaying the publishing of items I've submitted to others - this case though seems like one okay to put out immediately - it is not like my readership competes with theirs!)

The editorial is here.

Although I was, and am, opposed to Sound Transit I do agree with the editorial board's numbers regarding demand for high capacity transit.

The crucial number to understand at this point in reaching a plan of action is 20-30 years from now - the likely completion date of South Sound Light Rail. I think the case for arguing for a delay in that decision until it actually needs to be made is compelling.

Technology changes. It may well turn out that the best solution for the region's needs in 20-30 years is actually a replacement of the successful and easy to expand commuter rail - perhaps a bullet train or some sort of maglev technology?

Providing guaranteed funding to a single source agency with no real accountability for that time frame is simply idiotic. The power network behind Sound Transit is extensive and quite capable - but are they accountable to the individuals that make up this region? Or are they perhaps responsible for creating a 'hostile' working environment for everyone who choses not to be a corporate lackey(or political party hack)?

It is essential that Pierce County works together to get our fair share of transportation funding - what WE need now, not what appears to be simplest to obtain from a menu put together by a deadbeat agency with no real planning expertise or realistic local connections.

Those items include expanding Light Rail TCC and the Sounder to Lakewood. Personally I'd also like to see the Sounder go all the way to Olympia and a spur line built to Eatonville.

And this is a planning 'philosophy' that works not only in Pierce County but also for the rest of the region - perhaps nowhere more so with our close neighbors in South King County.

Instead of building that long expensive link between Sea-Tac and Tacoma how about connecting light rail to the Sounder Station in Kent? How about doing it in less than ten years instead of 30?

Instead of building light rail across I-90 with questionable engineering compatibility why not delay the building of that crossing until 520 is built, and built right for light rail? Why not, as proposed, extend commuter rail from Renton to at least Bellevue. (and perhaps using the segment north from Bellevue for the first track/technology upgrade).

Building Sounder service to the Eastside would create nearly as much demand as that service to Seattle - and Bellevue should also follow our lead by building their own starter light rail service to provide circulator service among the different areas of that medium density employment center.

The role of the Tribune in the leadership team of the South Sound is crucial. Jumping to easy to reach conclusions motivated more by a desire to grab for the easy pork rather than doing the right thing is a sure bet to create more problems than are solved. But then in 20-30 years, will you care?

After all it is about getting yours, the rest of us be damned, right?

March 19, 2008

Education of an Artist as a Young Blogger

The Tacoma News Tribune makes it possible for any reader to attend both an editorial board and a news meeting. After four years in the City I'm now making my first civic rounds, and made stops at both of these meetings in the last day.

Definitely two thumbs up for both sides of that storied operation. As Pierce County's only major news operation(save perhaps the Fort Lewis Ranger), they are more stable than most dailies in this Country. They also have great staff - including the Security Guard in the Chihuly decorated lobby.

I haven't thought about Journalism as a career seriously, save perhaps for some freelancing, but I do think I'`ll add their listings to my online reading list...

Bailing out Authority: Regents visit the UW-T

If my calendar is correct the UW Regents will be in Tacoma tomorrow.

FYI, as the evidence and their own law indicates, these folks are legally and morally bankrupt, though, unfortunately, not financially so.

No details today, but, FWIW, all I have to is show up tomorrow and and not say a word and your entire credibility will be destroyed as well as that of your associates. That includes your son, Mr. Gates.

Of course it had already happened 15 years ago - even before I attended a meeting of yours quietly, hanging out with David Brewster.

Again, per your law and your actions, just how do you pay back for 15 years of good living when everything should have been taken from you then and you have nothing now, nor will you ever again?

How about you show some responsibility for once and dedicate your genetically defective bodies to science? That would do it for me.

I do realize that you have supporters, and certainly I'll listen to any of them with credibility, but do be aware that anyone who identifies support for you also runs the risk of being accused of conspiracy.

You are, not by my actions but your own, Scum. Scum multiple orders of magnitude worse than a recently released sexual predator. I'll give you one notch over Hitler, at least to date.

If you wish, you can probably kill me to defend yourself. As Clint Eastwood might say to a younger, less dangerous, punk, MAKE MY DAY.

March 26, 2008

Is Pierce County a Second Class Citizen when it comes to Light Rail?

The Tacoma News Tribune has, rightly, taken up the cause of advocating for Pierce County's share of regional transportation funds - including noting the rising need for same due escalating gas costs.

Today's paper has an editorial on this objective, but one that is, perhaps, miscalculated.

I've only lived in Pierce County for four years, and am really only begining to get involved, so it is definitely not for me to have a final say on this. However I have been a regular user of the routes in question, both for work here prior to my move and work north afterwards. I was also quite active during the early days of Sound Transit during my extended college years.

Though, personally, I think Sea-Tac airport should be transferred from the Port of Seattle to the Port of Tacoma it is a fact that connecting Sea-Tac to downtown and Pierce County is among the lowest priorities in Sound Transit's list.

Rather than giving a blank check to an agency, it is most important that we start on the highest priority projects now. Planning for a single source technology more than 20 years in the future is bad engineering and bad business. The TNT's editorial does call for the purchase of right of way for this corridor, and that is a wise position. Taking small steps of prudent planning and business is a good thing. Selecting mass transit corridors is not a reversible decision, nor fiscally imprudent, action.

Though the editorial rightly raises the need for better transit in Puyallup and Lakewood it is a simple fact that light rail works best in dense areas. Sounder service is scheduled for Lakewood already. Planning for a Sounder spur to Eatonville would do much to reduce traffic pressures on Puyallup's Meridian. In addition planning for extended light rail service - perhaps a loop via the EQC and Lakewood would also be wise. Who knows, by the time TCC students can afford to buy a Puyallup home the rest of us can afford to pay for Light rail service to that City as well.

Certainly I doubt, newbie that I am, that Puyallup residents are clamoring for light rail any sooner.

The most pressing issue is dealing with the complex network of business management problems associated with Sound Transit - perhaps best evidenced recently through the closely associated Port of Seattle scandal.

As to the local politics, perhaps we should hear again from the Dome Business District folks about what THEY think about Sound Transit's current management and legal team? And on the subject of roads - how about we get our own road district for Pierce County - or perhaps a reformed DOT service district organized around the Port of Tacoma and extending as far north as Kent?

April 6, 2008

Supply Siders - why, some of them are even my best friends!

Quoting oneself can be a dangerous vanity, that risk though I leave to you dear reader, to assess.

I went to an Economics lecture a few weeks ago. Arthur Laffler, a big Chicago School Supply Sider from the Reagan Administration gave a well publicized speech at PLU. This was my first time to visit this school - a beautiful campus tucked away just South of the Tacoma City limits.

The event was well attended. I though didn't know a soul, save recognizing Dave Muri, from the Pierce County Council.

I like to make it my signature to ask a memorable question, and I felt doubly pressured to come up with something for this event, especially as I kind of missed the target by a shade, in commenting in the News Tribune.

Pardon the vanity, but I do think I nailed it.

My question:

Mr. Laffler, you talk of reduced taxes increasing the incentive to produce, but what about the incentive for a corporate executive to give themselves bonuses they didn't earn, such as at a company losing money? Have your policies in fact created incentives not to produce, but to cheat?

His response was okay, maybe a B-; something about everyone taking what they can get. It is certainly true that there are people who work harder for better money. The important question is what the split is, and, of course, if there is actual collusion from the government with the cheaters.

Go Figure Mr. Laffler!

Just because you are pretty good doesn't mean you aren't a control freak

Or for that matter know what you should be doing.

This is another Sound Transit piece. Discussion is currently underway as to the components of a November submittal, if at all.

The News Tribune's Patrick O'Callahan writes on the subject in this Sunday's edition.

In my opinion, for all the so-called 'expertise' they've hired on they aren't a functional organization. I'm not dissing any individuals, save for the folks that are supposed to be coordinating it all. The conversation about what to do isn't happening - rather it is all an exercise at self-congratulation and control, not doing about what is most important to be done NOW.

O'Callahan's editorial does make a good point about obtaining rights of way for the Tacoma to Sea-Tac segment and I hear there feelings about the priority of this segment, also important to their geographic market. But even this is framed in a way unneccesarily expensive. Instead of purchasing right of way outright why not just get the rights to purchase it 20 years down the road, give or take?

In a companion editorial board piece they acknowledge the problem of people voting for something that won't happen until after they are dead, perhaps as succint a statement of a core problem with this leadership. Instead of asking us to give them a free ride for the rest of their lives why don't they go away and give us some leadership that will respect the needs of small and medium sized businesses to operate unitl they die.

Give or take.

One last comment - though Olympia 'free-riders' going to Dupont to ride the system might be viewed as a problem I'd bet that Olympians might just well vote to join a system - one, say, that was only Sounder Train and Bus?

April 23, 2008

Good Day on Crosscut

Crosscut can put forth some of the worst seattle centric limousine liberal right wing conspirator friendly propoganda - but at the same time they also manage to occassionally publish stuff from some of the best.

Today I commented on three pieces, a great example of this profile.

A piece by Hugh Spitzer is an example of some of the worst:

Hugh Spitzer on the Constitution

An op-ed by former WSDOT Director Douglas MacDonald is an example of some of the best:

Douglas MacDonald on Transportation and Realistic Growth Management

What Crosscut will actually mean to the NW is perhaps best foreshadowed by a piece by Business Manager Yazmin Mehdi.

Yazmin Mehdi writing about business

April 25, 2008

House for Sale


Doug waits anxiously for the Acme Real Estate Agency to bring him a buyer....

MLS Listing of my house

The remodel work is mine. It's a bit rougher than it looks in the pictures, but not bad. It did take longer than I orginally thought, hence the sale right now.

September 23, 2008

Sound Transit - Where's the Bike?

A picture of the Sound Transit MLK alignment, with Station and partial re-development:

Martin Luther King is an acceptable shortcut from Seattle South, during the PM rush. Sound Transit construction has slowed it a bit, but also added to the interest. On my way back from a recent Seattle trip I noticed traffic slowing considerably due a bike on the route.

It's a slightly ironic outcome of squeezing rail transit into a city arterial that bikes really don't work anymore.

Continue reading "Sound Transit - Where's the Bike?" »

October 7, 2008

Main Street - Metropolitan Seattle aka 'Nickelsville'

Main Street in Metropolitan Puget Sound, Metropolitan Seattle, as 'they' would prefer is no longer 3rd Avenue. Main Street in this city-region is now I-5 or 405, with the various malls strong along it's length as our new 'main' street businesses.

The folks at Sound Transit would like to make main street for this region their light rail system, and, though I'm currently an opponent (for financial and legal reasons) they do have a shot at it. Given the current people in charge this is a very scary thing.

Sound Transit is currently controlled by the law firm of Foster Pepper Shefelman. I testified at a recent meeting about the financial and legal practices of this firm, given the recent failure of another institution they control, Washington Mutual Bank. In addition I also pointed out a specific example of managerial ommission in Tacoma/Pierce County the bike trail crossing of Pacific Avenue at the Sounder location, as per the GMA mandated Tacoma Comp Plan under employee Chris Larson.

A telling quote from FPS senior Partner Judy Runstad, former land use czaress at the City of Seatte, from a Jean Godden column in 2001. (Godden and Runstad share hair stylists, as well as money from FPS and hubby Jon Runstad)

Continue reading "Main Street - Metropolitan Seattle aka 'Nickelsville'" »

December 8, 2008

Downtown Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway - A Study in Gray

This is the Esplanade, in progress along Downtown Tacoma's Waterfront. For orientation, I-5 is located between the Tacoma Dome and the hill in the background. I live on that hill, just back from the edge, to the right of what's visible, but still within the boundaries of the frame. This Esplanade/Trail is a work in progress, maybe half a mile at best right now. I'd definitely recommend a bit of exploration, in combination with a visit to Chihuly's Museum of Glass - or a shorter walk near the Foss Waterway Seaport, to the North.

Signs are good for this project to be completed, hopefully some day leading to within a block or two of my house, in future phases.

Click through for a couple more pics.

Continue reading " Downtown Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway - A Study in Gray" »

Digital TV

I've just finished my conversion to Digital TV, and it was quite the journey. The picture I'm receiving is fantastic, but it took more than the spectrum auction covered converter coupon to cover the cost.

Here in Tacoma we're 30 odd miles from the Seattle broadcast towers and this makes a difference - traditional rabbit ears don't work, at least on my ground floor. I researched this a bit, including checking each of our local stations websites. Digital TV is all UHF and rabbit ears work poorly for this band, somethin I was not aware of till ust ow. Local affiliate websites explain this with varying usefulness. I emailed each station, and only KIRO and KCPQ (13) responded - both quite helpful.

The crucial website is antennaweb, which does a great job at showing exactly what you need at your specific address. It is a bit conservative, but very useful at explaining and ranking the various antenna options - costs range from $10 to well over $100 - without installation.

I chose a medium sized directional antenna from Radio Shack, at $30.00 (they stock them, but they aren't on display, you have to ask). I played around with it on my downstairs antenna with poor results. I was also quite surprised at how sensitive the 'directional' is - probably around 10 degrees. My location is relatively good - on the ridge above the Tacoma Dome, but I've also got aluminum siding and new e-glass windows, possibly negatives.

I researched amplifiers and tried the one they sold me at Radio Shack rather than having something shipped to me. That one did nothing - what you need is a pre-amplifier, not a typical cable booster - go figure. Cost for quality pre-amps runs $50-$70, and I decided it wasn't worth it.

What I did do was set up the antenna in the attic - at the correct angle, set up by mounting closet dowel between the rafters and joists - this allows precise rotation for best reception. I set it up inline with one of my cable runs with a splitter combiner so it will still work with cable - although only for about 2/3 of the house. At about ten feet of coaxial run from the antenna the reception is great. I haven't tested drop off down the cable installation, but for now, good enough.

Confidential to Comcast - I'm not particularly interested in paying $40+ a month to get advertising supported TV AND for you to pay for broadcast commercials urging cable as the DTV solution. Broadcast News and Netflix does me fine.

December 12, 2008

The road, bailed out, between Seattle and Tacoma

Twas in Seattle for a bit of a December regional conniviality (sp?) at the Puget Sound Regional Council. The PSRC is just completing another volume of their decade by decade planning document for the bookshelf, and, more importantly, making decisions on funding for the next few years of Transportation funding, both road and transit.

The PSRC does not have real authority, but it is mandated by the Feds as a condition for their dollars, so, the influence is substantial. They attract some of the region's finest electeds, and, unfortunately also, some of the the easiest to manipulate on financial matters. They well may end up being the brokers on the viaduct deal and the approvers of 'economic recovery' monies, the first phase of which is in the pipeline. (500 million for the State, 150 million for the region, tops, if I recall correctly.)

This is the chair of the Transportation Committee, Julia Patterson - she got her start towards the end of my five plus years as an active friend of the group. Patterson doesn't look to happy, she's reacting to a bit of a play by Mark Weed, chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee, in the tone of their recent efforts to push through their preferred alternative for the Viaduct, without paying for it.

Continue reading "The road, bailed out, between Seattle and Tacoma" »

February 8, 2009

Tacoma/Pierce Bar goes to Seattle

Salvador Mungia is the President-elect of the Washington State Bar Association and he has weighed in on a local legal controversy in a manner that raises my hopes for the resolution of widespread corruption in the Seattle/King County Bar.

Continue reading "Tacoma/Pierce Bar goes to Seattle" »

March 12, 2009

Architects of Western Washington Regionalism

The field of potential challengers to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels continues to narrow, however one name remains on the active rumour circuit, architect Peter Steinbrueck. He has not announced a candidacy by any means, but a poll, source unknown, has been leaked that shows him as a viable candidate - beating Nickels 46% to 24%.

In Tacoma an architect is the only current candidate - Jim Merritt for the mayoral position in that 200,000 soul locale (800 in the County, a similar ratio to Seattle/King). Merritt cut his teeth as a young architect being directly inspired by leaders like Victor Steinbrueck. In Tacoma he has been a civic force for decades leading the development of community grounded solutions to such major problems as the Asarco superfund site and the construction of the 705 freeway connecting I-5 to Downtown Tacoma, all while running a successful architectural practice.

While it is the case that junior Steinbrueck might not have the managerial experience to run Seattle it also may well be that his respect in the **community** could easily outweigh any such deficiency. Many hands certainly make for light work.

The election of both Steinbrueck and Merritt would certainly signal a sea change in current approaches to regional decision making - god knows who actually controls that now.

April 18, 2009

For your Consideration - A Light Rail oriented Transit Proposal for Tacoma/Pierce County

I must confess I was once a big transportation policy wonk - hopefully 15 years of abstinence have cured any weaknesses thereof. I have been getting active again over the last year and half here in Tacoma and hopefully can still indulge this obsession with a bit of prudence and productivity occassionally, as such, the following.

Proposed: A Sound Transit 2 Funded Expansion of Light Rail in Tacoma Integrating the Existing High Capacity Light Rail Corridor into the Currently Funded HOV Expansion of I-5 adding Bus service as per the same Design Specs as in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.


Click Here for the High Resolution PDF

Please note that although there is strong precedence for this approach including direct HOV access ramps, as at 320th in Federal Way, and strong general support for multi-modal systems I am not aware of any project that creates a direct HOV-Light Rail connection. Handling the seperation of car pools and HOT lane users from larger vehicles is not designed in this proposal, but is presumably resolvable with a minimum of risk.

June 15, 2009

Newspaper Business Model at the Tacoma Pierce News Tribune

Two coincident experiences with the TNT newspaper and their business practices, both unfortunately not positive. Whether or not there is anything to be read between the two of them, I leave up to you.

First on the business news wire is the departure of long time business columnist and booster Dan Voelpel - off to the Pierce County suburb of Puyallup as director of Economic Development - an interesting switch. His should be a career worth continuing to watch. Hopefully McClatchy can find someone to fill his shoes, but that will likely take time. Hopefully Voelpel can bring some of the can-do spirit of Puyallup to the rest of the county as well.

The second is more subtle - I recently restarted my Sunday only subscription after a vacation hold, a rather typical transaction. Yet somehow my contract was changed to the full week delivery. FWIW, I don't mind being told the news, I do mind being told how to do my business.

Hopefully this second item was an inadvertant mistake and not an indicator in the management environment at this paper, tough as it must be at the moment.

June 19, 2009

Sound Transit and Tacoma's Dome District

Jori Adkins, Jim Merritt, and Apex Engineering have done some great professional work creating a 'post and beam' alternative to the ill-conceived Sounder 'berm' crossing of the Dome District in Tacoma and put it up on a website.

This stands in sharp contrast to the City's current position, as I hear it, that you can't use the area under the Post and Beam for anything. In addition the Sound Transit plan violates the City of Tacoma's Comprehensive Plan on both initial trail planning and the new but promising 'habitat corridor' designation which is designed to work well in denser areas.

Sound Transit does have a plan for a pedestrian connection - at 'A' Street, but this is basically a connection to nowhere, unless there is a major redesign of I-5 in this area.

Berms have construction problems as well - greater utility relocation is a very common place for costs to escalate and building close to the berm has issues with that structures 'load' profile.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Sound Transit design is aesthetics - they are taking a rural rail design and plopping it down through the 2nd largest urban center in Western Washington. Imagine, if you will, a 20-40 foot high 'mountain' of dirt running down the middle of the street by your office - with a trash collecting fence.

The arrogance of Sound Transit in responding to this professionally prepared alternative isn't too pretty either. Not to mention also fiscally irresponsible.

June 28, 2009

My $.02 on Russell Financial

Russell Investments is considering a relocating its Headquarters as part of it's current planning processes - a big topic in the Pierce County media of late.

Seattle is a major suitor for Russell - and there is definitely a logic to it - Russell is an international company, and Seattle, an international City.

But Seattle is also a City marked by major financial scandal and a power structure that has not yet evolved away from that Corruption. Moving into the former WAMU HQ would be an apparent coup for Russell, but if you are bailing out the corrupt and, at least in part, acknowledging even a smidgeon of authority then is that good for anyone?

My $.02 for Russell - punt on this one, for now - turn down both the Seattle and Tacoma offers.

The global finance world is changing - most likely becoming much more decentralized as a response to the corruption in such centers as Seattle and New York City. Your location in Tacoma might turn out to be just about right - very near a large global powerhouse, but far enough way to remain, uh, honest.

When it comes to attacting business, whether it be a firm or a City - it is really only honesty and accountability that matters. Any other strategy will only bring the undesirable, of whatever stripe, and income.

July 28, 2009

Really, Really, Really Hot

It's kind of ironic, in an Alanis Morrissette kind of way, that the Puget Sound is slowly sliding into a record reaching heat wave just as I finalize my bankruptcy, the likely giving up of my home, and, most importantly, documenting the slow build up of causes that created this situation. All, tellingly, absent legal representation.

Some people say I'm a crazy liberal activist (or a right wing wacko - go figure).

Continue reading "Really, Really, Really Hot" »

August 5, 2009

More on the Dome District -
Tacoma/Pierce News Tribune

Peter Callaghan has a great piece on the Sound Transit Berm through the Dome District of Tacoma. Instead of repeating myself I'll leave it to Peter to put his spin on matter. See also the piece in the Tacoma Weekly.

August 21, 2009

Judge Jack Nevin - A "Shocking" Resume?

You be the Judge.

August 26, 2009

Seattle Biz Columnist Bill Virgin

Seattle Business columnist Bill Virgin has made the leap from the failed P-I to a series of contracts, including replacing Dan Voelpel at the Tacoma/Pierce News Tribune.

Bill is every bit Mr. Voelpel's equal, we should be very proud to have him. Who knows, he might even bring a few friends of his caliber with him.

For a measure of this, see his first article in the TNT.

October 7, 2009

Tacoma Berm Bums?

Though it might seem like a minor point, the issue of the Sound Transit heavy rail route design through the south part of downtown Tacoma is becoming the defining issue of the 2009 mayoral race and having regional impacts as important as the defeat of Sound Transit Board Chair Greg Nickels in the Seattle mayoral primary.

The Tacoma Pierce News Tribune did a multi-article feature on the October 4 Sunday front page - including an online opinion poll. The poll is near the bottom of the middle column. As of the writing of this piece on Wednesday morning there have been 2900 votes, 85% in favor of the local business/citizen 'Post and Beam' alternative compared to the Sound Transit 'Berm' design.

Last night was the public hearing.

The crowd here was in support of post and beam in similar proportions, and the testimony and comments both well thought out and dramatic.

Continue reading "Tacoma Berm Bums?" »

November 23, 2009

Procedural Comments on the Tacoma I5 Environmental Impact Statement

Below are procedural comments on the I5 Tacoma HOV project, including a description of my own interests.


Date: August 29, 2009

To: Carrie Berry, Tacoma HOV Environmental Coordinator

CC: Claudia Cornish, Communications Manager

RE: Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program Supplemental Environmental Assessment

The following comments go to procedural issues concerning your current Tacoma HOV environmental review. My substantive comments will follow shortly.

I have received and preliminarily reviewed the IJR report for the Tacoma HOV projects. I had assumed that a report describing the WSDOT analyses direct access HOV ramps for Freighthouse Square and Downtown Tacoma would be included, apparently incorrectly.

Additionally appendix ‘E’, the Wetland and Stream assessment is missing from both the distributed CD and the website for the NEPA assessment. Lastly, please note that although I have lay qualifications read the environmental appendices associated with this project there is too much material to reasonably review in the time allotted.

Continue reading "Procedural Comments on the Tacoma I5 Environmental Impact Statement" »

Comments on the Interstate 5 HOV Tacoma Project

Below are my comments on the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review of the current Tacoma I5 project, from August.


To: Carrie Berry, Environmental Manager I-5 HOV Team

CC: Multiple

Re: Tacoma I-5 HOV NEPA Comments

Some 2 years ago I was walking my dog near my residence, less than 2 blocks from this WSDOT project’s stretch of I-5, and noticed the almost natural grading suitable for a bike trail on the recently completed I-5 projects just to the South. As such I was inspired to restart my civic involvement starting with the analysis of the feasibility of a local connector bike trail at the periphery of I-5 between S. 38th Street and McKinley Avenue.

Continue reading "Comments on the Interstate 5 HOV Tacoma Project" »

June 6, 2010

The Curious Case of Dino Rossi and the Tea Party

I have thought long and deep on the question of whether to support Dino Rossi in his 2010 challenge to Washington State Senator Patty Murray - and the answer that emerged is quite clear - NOPE.

The recent statewide election contests of Mr. Rossi are an interesting story. In 2004 he ran for the open governor's seat as an outsider against the heavily favored Attorney General, Christine Gregoire. His campaign was personally directed and he crafted it with a 'real', sincere outreach to independents and the nicely phrased crossover 'dino-crats'. Surprising all he won that race, unfortunately it was a victory **exactly** like Al Gore's in 2000.

Since that time I've realized (and been reminded!) that his centrist political positions were not at all consistent with his role as a 'neighbor' in the Issaquah/Sammamish area - marked by hyper-partisanship and extreme divisiveness - though likely also not without blame from the opposing camp. That history likely shows the true character of the man behind the facade.

This 2008 rematch against the now incumbent, Gregoire, curiously, foreshadowed the emergence of the Tea Party.

Continue reading "The Curious Case of Dino Rossi and the Tea Party" »

March 1, 2011

'Civil' Government?
- Tacoma Weekly

A piece on civility in government, which doesn't match the reality. Curiously this particular bastion of free speech thinks I might be a robot.

My rejected comments are below the jump.

Continue reading "'Civil' Government?
- Tacoma Weekly" »

June 15, 2011

Commission on Judicial Conduct Complaint against Pierce District Judge Jack Nevin

I've had four 'anti-harassment' restraining orders placed against me, the first two by State of Washington employees retaliating against fully lawful and 'respectful' accountability complaints. The first of these was in 1989, no long after the first of these laws were passed.

Below the jump is my response to the last of these, in 2010, a complaint filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct another such lawless retaliatory accusation coordinated by the Cascade Land Conservancy.

The biggest point of law is the inappropriateness of assigning 'malicious intent' via a civil process, by common law precedent a very difficult thing to do and made too easy through these otherwise appropriate legal reforms. Applying these statutes to constitutionally protected free speech is of course statutorily exempted and the practice of ignoring such law shameful, conspiratorial, extortionary, and criminal.

Most evil in these practices is the way they have been used to take control of land use and transportation planning, and, increasingly, private business via these abusive practices. Many of these practices have arisen in the social service legal ranks, most notably the large number of Attorneys hired by current Governor Christine Gregoire during her tenure as Attorney General. There is an evident, and unfortunate, legal practice of treating some as second class 'trash' before the law in unwritten practice that is neither criminal nor civil in nature. It is the case that many social service clients have been inappropriately subject to these stigma, and worse. But reinventing the cycle of abuse for political and financial control is a whole level of predatory behavior that exceeds that of even a level 3 sexual predator.

There is precedent for standing against this politically convenient abuse, the Duke LaCrosse Player case as handled by the Prosecutor Michael NiFong.

But the situation in Washington State is much worse. It appears, in fact, that this technique has been politically successful, and has also made major inroads into many larger corporate businesses in the state, not just academia, government, and non-profits.

It is sadly ironic and illustrative that many so-called feminists have become 'hate whores' for the man allowing their once righteous concerns to be misdirected and manipulated unto the next generation of younger white males.

Continue reading "Commission on Judicial Conduct Complaint against Pierce District Judge Jack Nevin" »

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