Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mayor Meets with Isthmus Group - Isthmus Bill ESSB 5800 Moves Toward the House

Above: Downtown Olympia, Budd Inlet and the Olympics

Olympia - With both parties making an effort toward finding common ground, Olympia Mayor Doug Mah met with about 20 people gathered at a meeting of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association on the evening of March 12. Mah, who said he had just eaten at the Olympia Oyster House with his wife, got right to the issue. Mah explained his new proposal to fund an isthmus park and Percival Landing and said, "We would like to capture the energy you have already started and build off of that base."

At the city council meeting on March 10, Mah proposed a plan to fund the isthmus park and Percival Landing by asking Olympians to approve a property tax levy. The levy, if approved, would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $105 for a period of 20 years. The proposal, as it currently stands, does not include the critical parcels owned by Triway Enterprises.

Mah acknowledged that some people may be skeptical of his proposal. "We have a unique and unprecedented opportunity in what I proposed Tuesday night," Mah said. "We have an opportunity to address current city needs...and address a strong desire to see a park on the isthmus. It makes sense to move in an orderly fashion, east to west, instead of hopscotching around."

In response to a clarifying question, Mah said that his proposal is "west-parcel neutral" meaning, it does not take a position on, or include, the parcels owned by Triway Enterprises.

Mah was hopeful city voters would approve the tax, mentioning that the recent fire district and Timberland Library levies passed in Olympia by over 60% of the needed vote.

Meanwhile, SSB 5800 passed the Senate on March 5, moving closer to save the isthmus area from an Olympia city council approved rezone to building heights of 90 feet. The strong, bipartisan vote, from all regions of the state, was 36 yes, 10 no and 3 excused. Senator Karen Fraser of Olympia sponsored the bill and, with the help of statewide constituents, succeeded in impressing senators from all over the state that Olympia's views are worth saving and that the thin strip of land connecting east and west Olympia is a shoreline of statewide significance.

Now the bill goes to the House of Representatives, where it will be scheduled for a hearing in the Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Geoff Simpson, the week of March 22nd.

Mah said to the group last night that he does not support ESSB 5800. "Local control is a big issue. If Senator Fraser had wanted to raise the heights there, we (the city) would have been all over it." Mah also disputed the idea that the isthmus is a "shoreline of statewide significance," as stated in the bill. "The isthmus is has public infrastructure that goes all the way up the bridge."

Representative Sam Hunt was also in attendance. Hunt is sponsor of the companion bill to ESSB 5800 that did not get a hearing. Representative Hunt said he will be working with Representative Simpson to arrange two groups of panels to present the perspectives of both sides of the issue.

Gerald Reilly, Olympia Isthmus Park Association chair, asked Mah if a combination of private, public and state funding, including grassroots community philanthropy, could be blended to reduce the amount the city is requesting of its residents.

"It's possible, but the city doesn't have a good record for this. The Hands On Children's Museum is a good example of public and private funding because they address both education and conservation efforts, which is what funders like to see...."

Reilly is hopeful that more city-community interest group conversation will take place and that the Senate bill will pass the House. "Let's continue to extend the hand of cooperation and stick to our values," he told the group later, after Mah left. "The first thing that has to happen is an enlightenment of the city with our perspectives, and this is just the beginning of that...."

Above: Daffodil buds on the Capitol Campus signal Spring is coming.


  1. So Mr. Mah wants to "work with" the broad-based opposition to elitist Triway debacle so long as everyone takes a neutral postion on Tri-way?

    Seems to me that supporting a neutral position is the same thing as supporting Triway, unless of course the state legislature succeeds in imposing its 35 foot limit, and then the neutral position is opposed to Tri-way...

    Maybe Mah better realize that his position is one or the other, but not both or neutral! And I'm sure the people he met with know that and explained that to him? Right

    Long live the trees, Deane

    Linked In:

  2. Hi Janine. It's not surprising that the mayor would say "local control is a big issue." The city council has demonstrated its reverence for control by denying the citizens what they've said they wanted: to not develop the isthmus!

    I think a lot of people are disappointed with the conservative city council we're currently stuck with. Next election should be interesting, though.

    You didn't specifically say so, but with the exclusion you mentioned, would the Triway monstrosity still be developed under Mah's proposal? If so, this is really outrageous, how these corporate shills are slapping us citizens in the face.

    I think a good campaign could result in some reliable community grass-roots funding streams to support a park, for what that's worth.

  3. This is a scam.

    If Mah were truly interested in passing a ballot measure, he would have worked with the community, including park advocates, before sending it to the Olympian editorial board. This is just an effort to cover his own butt politically, and to "prove" that the public won't pay for a park.

    And yes, Triway would still get to build his building on the west end of the isthmus.

    Let's elect some new councilmembers who will take the idea of a park seriously.

  4. I'd agree with Matt. The trouble is that, as Matt knows all too well, getting a progressive majority elected is a huge challenge. All too often we blame external factors, such as The Olympian or deep-pocketed conservatives, rather than looking at how we can do a better job.

    It's terribly depressing when our candidates aren't 1) ready for prime time, and/or 2) they don't have an experienced campaign staff. That just wastes everybody's -- and lets the bad guys insist they've earned a mandate.

    No more "symbolic" candidates, please! The incumbents have a significant built-in advantage with regards to name recognition, support from The Olympian, and the ability to raise significant amounts o f money.

    Matt would know better than me how much it would take to launch a viable challenge to one of the incumbents, but I'd guess that it would be a minimum of $25,000. If you can't raise that amount, then don't run. Better to get behind one or two really good candidates with a solid chance of winning than a larger number that dilutes our resources -- both in terms of money and people.

  5. Janine - Again, nice piece. You mention a hearing the week of 3/22. Can you provide more information on this? Is it scheduled? Where did that info come from?

  6. I am in total suppport of a low ceiling on the isthmus and have voiced it so to the appropriate folks.

    My question is...where was the creativity in design in relation to location by TriWay? If they had given the community a creative, green, unique to the amazing location architectual design a bit lower...instead of the BOX they promoted, who knows..maybe citizens wouldn't have been so ticked off and maybe we could have embraced a project there. But, the building promoted was uninspiried, boring and looked EXACTLY like a building with NO VIEW in Bell Town, Seattle that I myself took a photo of when I saw it because I couldn't believe it. Where was their heads/hearts thinking no one would care? Were they thinking at all that no one would be offended that they spit (sic) in a sacred place?

    I write to bring to your attention and maybe stir some conversation and support for a project that I have been working on for about 6 years that conjoins the isthmus and raises many of the same concerns and issues of which you speak.

    I can't provide all the public access desired to my photo collection nor to what people want/need in local history education and visual entertainment. We need a place open to the public for historic exhibits and other visitor information that is close to where our visitors are. That would NOT be on Plum street. Sorry OLTVCB, but your last 2 locations were not where the people who need you are. Ever heard of location location location?

    A number of years ago I looked around and found that the last remaining building in Little Hollywood was perfect. In fact, at one time it WAS the location of the VCB. We also used to have Visitors info in the Hotel Olympian - and once where Starbucks was.. on Capitol Way..where folks come down from the Capitol into town.

    So I have been trying to save the old (white) BNSF railroad building/depot on Columbia Street at Amanda Smith Way to be renovated into a Tourist Attraction and I would donate visual exhibits on local and state history to put in it. It could be 'tricked out' to look like and old railroad depot and in an accessible location - in our State Heritage Park!

    This useable building on a very very historic spot going back to the 1870's in rail history, along an existing rail line that was once and someday could be again ...a PASSENGER rail depot...has been in General Administration's cross hairs to destroy for awhile now. However, it could be a valueable and much needed educational/tourism/visitor services amenity.

    Last budget period, 2006, after much effort and with the support of then Mayor Mark Foutch and a few other organizations, I was able to interest legislators into putting enough money into GA's budget for a new roof and to hook it up to city utilities. The Olympia Heritage Assoc. took a neutral position and gave it their usual passivity - as they do with all things to do with HERITAGE except maybe building signage and color. However, I can show prove in pictures how many historic buildings the city has let the state TEAR down without even a whimper.

    But incredibly and without any notice..GA decided NOT to spend the money and let it go back into the General Fund! Not worth saving. Then this year GA requested in the Governor's budget for $113,000.00 to TEAR IT DOWN!! Unbelieveable; and in this depression. Heck GIVE me the building and I will get it fixed up and OLTVCB can PAY RENT. For half that and right now it would have been OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

    I grew up here and I have studied local history diligently for 30+ years and I want to say that NEVER before in Olympia's history has so many spent so much money and time...accomplishing SO LITTLE. Olympians of the past were PROUD to be a Capitol City and WELCOMED visitors in thought and deed and ACTION. Is it because most of our population work for the State and really don't care that our businesses NEED tourism dollars? Does the City understand that more business is MORE taxes? Why do they seem to work against simple economic development projects. How many meetings can one stand where not ONE thing is really accomplished of value?

    Is it because the Olympia Brewery did most of our promotion for us and now that they are gone we don't know how to do it? Or, that the "Capitol" will take care of us? Not.

    Is it because most don't care or really WANT our city to look like any other town in California? Is it because almost everyone on the city councils in our region work are bureaucrats so they are so used to meetings and studies with no progress made or even expected..and are so jammed up with regulatory issues and endless meetings that they are numb?

    Is it really ok that ALL our tax money is spent with little to show for the thankless hours of time and effort they put in? Why is it that we are content with so little progress?

    Why do little projects never happen anymore? Why does it cost a 100x more than it should?

    Although many Olympians have seen or are aware of my historic photograph collections many times donated for city/state/news publications and sometimes purchased by local businesses for display. I donate images for use by many organizations in promoting Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater my home towns. They are very popular and one of them even is used in name by Janine here in her blog i.e. Little Hollywood.

    However, most people are not aware that I am also a past Visitor Services Director for the State Capitol having worked for both the Legislature and General Administration and have been very involved in tourism at the Capitol Campus for 30+ years even in establishing the Capitol Visitor Center; so I have proven experience in what visitors want and need.

    And, I am very aware of the results of state, VCB, national and regional tourism and private funded studies on the dollars generated by tourism and what those tourists WANT and need in order to stay and spend locally. And, that is CULTURAL HISTORICAL ENVIRONMENTAL ATTRACTIONS.

    And, as in the case of 'wallin off the view' of Puget Sound and the Olympics...people come here from ALL over the world to see what we see every day. We are without question one of the most beautiful regions on earth. And, those same people want to SEE FEEL TOUCH AND EXPERIENCE what we have. And, they want to learn about it. We can do better.

    Why can't we put two and two together to keep this CAPITOL CITY alive creatively. This is done is other towns with much less IQ than we have collectively. They pull together for a common goal and and see the benefit in the little things that are more easily accomplished.

    The city needs money....well, ALL the studies tell us that there is economic stimulus in tourism - and, yet city and state agents want to destroy these same amenities without vision for the consequences. When that little railroad building is gone...there will never be another built there.

    When the old sawmills that spoke to our past along Westbay drive were torn asunder ...destroyed was the oldest gang saw we had. Are we ashamed of our history? Is logging a bad word now, is our BLUE COLLAR heritage not cool?

    In my capacity in capitol tourism and working diligently on the local level talking to anyone in a positon to do something about it...I have witnessed first hand the incredible disconnect between State Government, City Government, local businesses and citizenry, historic organizations and so-called tourism/economic development organizations that exists within this very small region of our Capitol City.

    How many people does it take to screw in a light-bulb? Why can't people within a 3 mile radius talk to each other and get anything done positively anymore? We need to look in the mirror and wake up soon.

    We simply don't think of how others SEE us. I challenge everyone reading this to drive away and then come into Olympia as if you don't live here and are a tourist thinking of staying here instead of Seattle or Portland. What do we have that works. What doesn't. What do we need...certainly not another study by outsiders with results we don't follow.

    Our downtown rents are too high and owners/leasing agents too inflexible so instead of having a small start-up business located in a building owners let their buildings stand empty and run-down than lower the rent so a start-up can occupy it. Who's is profiting by this? We know. Real Estate is a funny business folks...once sold or leased...that agent has made the money and looking for another sale. The higher the value - regardless of how it got there - the more the commission. Just the way that business works.

    Our unique structures are torn down or allowed to go into disrepair and too many, for one example the Old Capitol, are simply not visitor friendly or made accessible.

    Back to my project that has had its own ups and downs. No one lives forever and I certainly want to be able to leave a legacy in photographs for future generations out of my collections. But, where? We don't have an Olympia like Lacey or even Shelton does so I decided to go after the Old Capitol for a Heritage and Art Center. But, when Mayor Foutch and I tried to talk to SPI..we got nowhere. And, when they decided for the umpteenth time to try to build a new Heritage Center...they went for a CASTLE and now the economy has all but dashed hope. Again, if I had but 100000000th of that money spent on plans...we would have a display in that railroad building.

    All our local history was 'stolen' out of the State Capitol Museum and taken to WSHS and our school children see nothing of our history. Our schools don't have the money to take them there either. But, then Tumwater and Olympia history is mostly put away anyway if they did get there.

    And we, the ONLY Capitol City in the State and Tumwater the OLDEST American settlement on the Sound. I am incredulous!

    Our regional heritage organizations put up placques on the spot..after an historic building is torn down. And, spend their precious time telling folks what color paint to use or what dimension their porch rail should be but are incredibly passive about everything else except nitpicking the regulatory codes.

    What have we done to ourselves? Why were our ancestors able to do so much more with so much less? Why is it so hard to do even the smallest of projects? All I can say that in my 58 years living and my 30 years of looking at our history...we have regressed in very uncomfortable ways.

    If you have read this far to my rambling...and, would like to support my railroad depot project..please write me at