Saturday, August 25, 2018

Tumwater Educator Union Members Rally

Above: Jillian Emerson, 17, and Jessica Bowerman, 17, will be seniors at Black Hills High School in September. They rallied in support of their teachers and others represented by the Tumwater Education Association outside Tumwater School District offices on Saturday afternoon.

“I really believe that with the numbers we have right now, over 90 percent of our members will vote to strike,” says Tim Voie, Tumwater Education Association union president.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“The last thing we want to do is strike,” said Tim Voie, Tumwater Education Association president at a rally held outside Tumwater School District offices on Saturday afternoon.

Inside, union representatives were working on a contract while Voie and union members were outside calling for lower class sizes and professional pay and respect.

Many families are on vacation squeezing out the last bits out of summer or shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies while educator union members around the state are bargaining for fair wages.

In its January, 2012 McCleary decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution.

This past June, the court ruled that the state is in compliance with the McCleary decision. The Legislature increased state funding for public schools by billions, including $2 billion to increase educator salaries in the 2018-19 school year.

Although the money is there, pay raises at the local level in each school district need to be negotiated.

An educator for 26 years, Voie is a teacher at Secondary Options, Tumwater’s alternative high school. This is his fifth year as president of the Tumwater Education Association.

The Association has been in negotiations with the Tumwater School District since May. 

“At that time, they offered us a 3.1 percent pay raise. Then we spent the summer watching districts around the state get significant pay increases. We believe that the teachers of Tumwater should get a fair portion that the state allotted in the McCleary decision for teacher’s salaries.”

The 3.1 percent figure, Voie says, is an imaginary number.

“So many districts have flown past that percentage that the district finally agreed yesterday that the 3.1 percent number is a non-factor. Now we’re trying to bargain a contract to get us to an equal footing similar to our like-sized districts from around the state. What we’re finding is that in order to attract and retain great teachers, we’re going to have to offer a salary that’s going to do so,” said Voie.

“Right now, the offer the district has put on the table will not be ratified by our membership when we present the numbers to them. We’ve got a strike authorization vote for Monday. I really believe that with the numbers we have right now, over 90 percent of our members will vote to strike. That doesn’t mean we’re on strike then. We’ve still got until August 31 to work on it. That’s when our current contract expires, so we so could vote to authorize a strike and we could keep working on negotiations.

There are about 6,000 students in Tumwater and about 400 certificated staff. Members of the union include not just teachers, but psychologists, counselors, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and nurses.

Tumwater Education Association negotiators include five certificated members and one representative of the Washington Education Association.

Voie was asked if Tumwater union members have ever before reached this point of contention.

“Not to this point. We went to mediation a couple of years ago and had to use a mediator to settle but we’ve never reached a point where a strike was imminent. We’re there now. Again, that’s the last thing we want to do. That’s not good for anybody, but neither does settling for a salary that we think doesn’t value and honor the teachers. 

Above: Tumwater Education Association members rally on Saturday.

Jillian Emerson, 17, and Jessica Bowerman, 17, both students at Black Hills High School, spent their Saturday supporting their teachers and Tumwater school district staff.

Amid noisy, supportive horn honking by cars driving past the rally, Bowerman said she moved to Tumwater from Minneapolis when she was in the eighth grade. She says she wants to be an engineer.

“I really like math and took calculus last year,” she said.

Emerson, who has attended Tumwater schools since kindergarten, says she wants to go into the medical field, perhaps as a physical therapist.

“I love all my teachers. They deserve fair pay. We’ve lost some good teachers to other districts because of the pay. I dont want them to go on strike. My dad is a bus driver and I want my dad to work. I definitely support what the teachers are asking for,” said Emerson.

Olympia Education Association Bargaining Session on Monday

Adam Brickell, president of the Olympia Education Association, was at the rally in support of the demonstration. Brickell represents about 700 union members.

Brickell, a speech and language pathologist, works with special education students with speech delays. He’s been an educator for 22 years and has held his position as union president for almost six years.

Brickell says Olympia is still having good, constructive talks at the bargaining table. His union is not considering a strike and his members are out supporting others. 

The Olympia Education Association has an all-day bargaining session scheduled for Monday. He hopes they can get a temporary agreement so they can ratify it at their general membership meeting on August 29.

“Everyone is bargaining right now and trying to wrap things up before school starts, so you’re going to see a lot happening in this next week,” said Bricklin.

Above: Jennifer Hyer-Long, a physical education teacher at Tumwater Middle School, with her son, Chase, who is almost 13 years old, on Saturday afternoon. Holding her homemade sign, Hyer-Long said she has lived in Tumwater since the fourth grade. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Justice Sought for Yvonne McDonald

Above: Family and friends of Yvonne McDonald gathered with hundreds of community members at West Central Park in Olympia Thursday night. McDonald died amid suspicious circumstances on August 7.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The life of Yvonne McDonald was honored and remembered by family, friends, and community members at West Central Park in Olympia Thursday night.

McDonalds death on August 7 under suspicious circumstances has shocked the community.

Hundreds of people, many bringing bouquets of flowers, filled the park on the corner of Harrison and Division in west Olympia. As the sun went down, candles were lit, hugs were shared, and stories about McDonald were told from the heart.

McDonald, 56, was found alive and partially clothed with significant injuries to her body on Olympia’s westside the morning of August 7.

At about 7 a.m., Olympia Police and the Olympia Fire Department were dispatched to a report of a woman lying in the yard of a private residence in the 900 block of Division Street NW.

According to a press release, fire personnel provided immediate medical care to McDonald and she was transported to St. Peter Hospital. There, she received further medical treatment but died that evening at the hospital.

Above: Hundreds of community members gathered to support the family of Yvonne McDonald on Thursday night in Olympia.

Without going into details, McDonalds eldest niece, Talauna Reed, said her aunt’s death has left the family with many questions about what happened and the answers theyve received so far arent “lining up.”

She described McDonald, an African American woman, as a ball of energy who knew how to draw a crowd and stand up to bullies. Born in Houston, Texas, she lived in Washington State for over 40 years.

McDonald valued education and instilled her beliefs into her many family members and nieces, many of whom spoke at the vigil.

Reed said McDonald was known to talk a lot and would debate anything, a comment which elicited laughter from family members.

“She liked to be heard, and that was ok, because of what she stood for. It was amazing….She didn’t have kids, and I wanted to be just like her. 

“Yvonne taught me to push forward…and persevere, liking what you do and how you do it. My aunt embraced her beauty, her African American culture, and her intellect…she was beautiful, said Reed.

McDonald had worked for several state agencies, including the Department of Ecology and the Department of Employment Security. She also worked for the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and South Puget Sound Community College. 

She received her Masters of Public Administration from The Evergreen State College.

One of her faculty professors, Peter Bohmer, said he learned from McDonald as much as he hoped she learned from him. She was his student in the master’s program in the fall of 2000.  

Bohmer said she was an independent thinker, an outstanding student, and the most outspoken in class. He said one of her favorite books was The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

“She would know paragraphs by heart, particularly about labor movements, civil rights, and reconstruction. She had really, really strong views, particularly about economic and racial justice. She was a big believer in labor movements as helping improve the dignity of all people,” he said. Bohmer said she later worked as an organizer for unions. 

They maintained their friendship until her death, enjoying deep conversations.

“Yvonne McDonald will be missed. Yvonne McDonald present√©,” he said.

Lanessa Inman, racial justice director of YWCA Olympia, thanked the community for holding space in support of McDonald and her family. YWCA Olympia has a mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.

“Yvonne’s life deserves justice…this (vigil) needed to happen,” said Inman. She said her heart sank when she first heard the reports of what happened.

“Black women, brown women, and indigenous women are murdered or disappear or just vanish. They are silenced and there is complacency, and we were adamant that that would not happen….We have a lot of work to do in this community,” she said.

In a written statement issued earlier this week, Olympia Police Department Chief Ronnie Roberts said the death of McDonald has raised many concerns and questions in the community.

“When a member of our community dies under suspicious circumstances, it leaves us all shaken and understandably in need of answers. There is currently much that we do not know and cannot know yet. There is also information that we will not share out of respect for Ms. McDonald’s family and her personal and medical privacy,” said Roberts.

Olympia police detectives have been assigned to the case and Roberts said the detectives are in communication with members of McDonald’s family.

The Thurston County Coroner’s Office conducted an autopsy and the results are pending. The coroner has not yet determined the cause of death.

A Facebook site, Justice 4 Yvonne, has been established. Fundraising efforts in support of the family for expenses related to McDonalds death are also underway.

If anyone has any information that may be useful, contact Olympia Police Department Detective Al Weinnig at (360) 753-8300 or

Above: A vigil for Yvonne McDonald of Olympia was held Thursday night in Olympia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Unhealthy Air Quality in South Puget Sound

Above: In a photo taken from Madison Scenic Park, the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia is barely visible through the smoke Wednesday morning. 
Unhealthy air quality throughout South Puget Sound is making many people feel dizzy, head-achy, and short of breath this week. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Dizzy and head-achy? If you woke up Tuesday morning in South Sound feeling like you were experiencing a lingering weekend hangover, you were not alone. 

For many, those symptoms, along with a shortness of breath, were related to poor air quality. The conditions that adversely affect public health continued on Wednesday.

According to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA), which serves Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties, air quality reached unhealthy levels due to wildfire smoke around the state and Canada.

ORCAA monitors air quality stations in Aberdeen, Cheeka Peak in Clallam County, Lacey, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Shelton, South Bend and Yelm.

At 11:00 a.m., the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) level reached 191 in Lacey. According to a chart legend, a range of 151 – 200 is considered unhealthy. A range between 201 -300 is considered very unhealthy.  

Yelm registered a level of 44, within the “good” air quality range of 0-50.

By 4:00 p.m., the WAQA reading for Lacey was 155.

The Washington State Department of Ecology created the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) information tool to advise the public about air quality levels. It advises the public on measurements of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution and fine particles and sulfur dioxide.

The data is collected and reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The WAQA bases its advice about air quality on lower levels of fine particles than the Environmental Protection Agency's national information tool, the Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories ranging from good to hazardous.

Studies show that certain levels of particles such as smoke and dust in the air can cause illness and death.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Just Housing, Homeless Camp Residents Organize

Above: Michelle, a former medical assistant, lives at the Nickerson encampment for the houseless off Eastside Street in Olympia. She has gastroparesis, a digestive system disorder, and other chronic illnesses. 

By Invitation, Little Hollywood Visits Nickerson Camp

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“I had two closets full of shoes!” Michelle laughed, but then paused. “It almost makes me want to cry,” she added.

Michelle, a former medical assistant, has lived at the Nickerson homeless encampment, a wooded, 2.5-acre property located on Wheeler Avenue off Eastside Street in Olympia, for about three months.

She has always worked, and is waiting for her Social Security disability benefits to start.

From Pierce County, Michelle became homeless after a divorce, but says she is healthier now in spirit than she was while married.

Her decline into chronic illness began after colon surgery in August, 2014. She has gastroparesis, a digestive disorder in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion.

Then she suffered her first heart attack in July, 2015.

She needs regular colostomy supplies but has no address for them to be delivered. Instead, she uses sanitary pads as a heavy duty, makeshift bandage for her stomach so she doesn’t soil herself. She is in pain, which perpetuates vomiting.

“I’m used to being the one who takes care of others, but I’m resourceful,” she says. “I grew up on a farm in Lewis County.” 

Michelle is just one of nine residents at the Nickerson Camp who has a story, illustrating how easy it is to slip into a life of homelessness and lose access to the everyday conveniences of modern life.

Above: A meal of ravioli at the Nickerson Camp.

Nickerson Camp History

The city recently bought the Nickerson encampment area for use as a future park.

Camp residents were served a 72 hour notice of eviction on July 12. The area has been a homeless encampment for many years, but this was the first time this specific property had been served with such a notice.

Last month, Olympia city council members put off the eviction until further notice.

It was the same evening the council declared homelessness a public health emergency and the optics didn’t look good to take action on both actions on the same night.

Then, on July 24, the city announced the proposed locations of two city sanctioned sites for the homeless. A council finance committee met July 31 to discuss financing options for those sites and other homeless response efforts.

Councilmembers will hold a study session on August 21 to discuss those financing options, which include current operating and capital budget monies, and the possible use of Home Fund sales tax dollars, parks funds, and emergency reserves from the city’s operating budget.

City manager Steve Hall says the Nickerson site is not an ideal site for a permanent camp due to the environmental sensitivity of the area. In reality, hundreds of Olympia residents are living in wooded areas around Thurston County and all of them are environmentally sensitive.

Residents of the Nickerson Camp are interested in being part of the solution.

Prior to the eviction notice being served, they had collected numerous bags of trash to take off the property. The bags have been removed by members of Just Housing, an all volunteer advocacy organization, without the assistance of the city. 

With boots-on-the-ground, the group works directly with the homeless on daily and long-term solutions to local homelessness issues and urges councilmembers to adopt realistic, cost-effective approaches to managing the city’s unhoused residents.

Above: Tye Gundel of Just Housing takes a call while sitting at the Woodland Trail trailhead near the Nickerson Camp. 

Tye Gundel of Just Housing visits the Nickerson camp and other homeless encampments several times a week. She not only listens to residents, she washes their laundry at laundromats, brings needed supplies, and facilitates communication among residents, councilmembers, the faith community, and other community social service providers.

“City staff and councilmembers are gradually taking steps to embrace some of our ideas,” Gundel said diplomatically this week.

Gundel has suggested numerous goals, policies and procedures regarding local homelessness since the group started its work advocating for open 24/7 restrooms in November 2016.

Recently, the group created several half-inch binders, one for each city councilmember and some for staff, chock full of solid local research and practical strategies. Gundel gave them to councilmembers prior to their July 24 study session on homelessness.

For example, Just Housing provides suggestions for regulating camping rather than imposing an outright ban.

One approach includes a “shelter-in-place” plan to working with existing encampments, in addition to the creation of alternative legal and safe encampments, like the two recently proposed emergency housing locations.

People will camp even if it is banned, because some people have no other choice, says Gundel.

The study session fell flat, as Just Housing and other community social service providers were not offered a seat at the table and the material did not appear to be used.

Now, as the days inch toward cold weather months, councilmembers are increasingly interested in making sure community partners and social service providers are included in future conversations.

In the meantime, Gundel will continue her efforts.

“I have had some great meetings with folks about structure and organizing the camp. 
We are also continuing to look for a partner for a camp. So far, two churches are interested. Our next step is to arrange a meeting with some representatives from the churches, the city, the camp, and some of our folks to go through more of the details of how we should move forward,” said Gundel this week.

Nickerson Camp Residents Speak to Little Hollywood

Above: Micky Nelson, 34, a resident of the Nickerson Camp, has twice addressed Olympia city council members during public comment time, and has ideas for organizing the camp.

Little Hollywood visited the Nickerson Camp property, by invitation, with Gundel in late July and last week.

Many residents of homeless encampments do not want to or cannot live in an enclosed shelter or camp-like environment.

Mickey Nelson, 34, moved from Texas to Washington State in 2009. He and his girlfriend, Jackie Taylor, 39, have lived at the Nickerson Camp since January, making them the longest, consecutive resident campers on the property.

Nelson is a jack-of-all-trades and has worked in construction, remodeling, steel fabrication, welding, auto body, detailing, lawn care, dog services, and cook.

Nelson has back issues which began with a motorcycle accident, then a car accident, in which he was a passenger, three months later. He is on state disability and is reapplying for Social Security. He says he has a long standing mental health history and is a participant of Capital Recovery Center programs. 

Capital Recovery Center is a community nonprofit, peer-supported agency that has special programs such as Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH), a point of contact for adults experiencing homelessness who also suffer from mental illness.

Nelson says the camp is on good terms with its housed neighbors, and one neighbor brought them trash bags. He credits Taylor for cleaning up the camp, almost single-handedly. Trash is gradually taken off the property by individuals with Just Housing, without the assistance of the city.

“Evicting us off the property would push us back into downtown, or on other city property,” he said. “Since we have been here, foot traffic and noise has gone down. It’s a safe place for the sick, youth, pregnant women, and domestic violence victims.

“We are looking to be a camp that has a positive impact on society. Not all of us have the desire to live indoors because we’ve been homeless for so long. We have to do the best we can with the best we have.”

Nelson hopes to start a nonprofit whose mission it would be to purchase property for homeless people to camp on and use as a safe place.

He is co-director of InReach, an organization organized by the homeless community. In collaboration with James Joy of The Jungle, Olympia’s largest homeless encampment of about 200 residents, Nelson is creating a practical survival guide for the houseless. The guide would be updated every six months.

“I’ve done so many bad things in my life as a kid. Doing this is my way of atoning for the people I can’t ask forgiveness from, for whatever reason. I’m making it up to the universe,” he said. Nelson has an eight year old son and a 21 year old cousin living elsewhere.

“I want this world to be better than mine was,” he said.

Jackie Taylor, sitting nearby, was born and raised in Olympia, and patiently waited to tell her story. 

To relieve her stress and anxiety, she likes to bicycle at night.

“I don’t do daytime. I can’t be around traffic and people,” she says.

She says the state department of social and health services provides outdated information, such as telling women who are homeless to go to Bread and Roses, a former shelter for women that has been closed for years.

It is her goal to create a donation supply drop off center at the Nickerson Camp, similar to the one at The Jungle.

She also wants a more organized camp. All the area camps are currently self-managed through peer-support but Taylor wants the city’s support in establishing a resident list and process for approving people as new residents.

Taylor brainstormed a Nickerson resident code of conduct and her wish list for the camp: it must be clean and sober, no theft, no bullying, and no violence. She would appreciate it if the city would provide the camp a small dumpster and a porta-potty with a sink.

“This is my safe haven – a small community where people follow the rules and help out. I don’t want the city to spend a lot of money,” said Taylor.

Taylor says the Just Housing organization has been supportive of their work. “You couldn’t ask for anyone better,” she said.

Little Hollywood often writes about homelessness issues, and unsheltered, street dependent individuals. For more information about these issues, go to Little Hollywood and use the search button to type in key words.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Olympia To Consider Spooner Berry Farm Land Purchase

Above: Mona Michaelis of Spooner Berry Farms was doing brisk business at the farm stand on Yelm Highway Friday afternoon. The Olympia city council will consider the purchase of the 83-acre parcel on Yelm Highway for a future community park.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was just a matter of time.

The Olympia City Council will consider the purchase of an 83-acre parcel, home of Spooner Berry Farms at 3323 Yelm Highway SE., at its regular meeting August 21.

The cost of the property will be $10.7 million.

The fact that the city has had its eye on the farmland for future public use as a community park has perhaps been one of the city’s worst kept secrets.

In a 2014 city assessment of undeveloped land within the city’s urban growth area, the Yelm Highway parcel stood out.

City negotiations with property owner Jim Zahn have been underway for several months.

For years, the Zahn family has leased the property to Spooner Berry Farms, who uses it for a U-Pick strawberry farm and berry stand.

Spooner’s operates multiple berry farms in the area, but as the county's population increases, acreage for farmland in Thurston County decreases.

The county has lost over 75 percent of its working agricultural lands since the mid-1950s, when Thurston County was primarily farmland. 

According to a 2015 study by the Thurston County Planning Council, 6,500 acres of farmland has been lost to development since 2000 and 22,600 acres are at risk of being lost to development.

The average age of a farmer in Thurston County is 58.9 years old and seventy percent of farmland is expected to change ownership in the next 20 years.

There are no immediate plans for the proposed future park.

Above: The 83 acre farmland on Yelm Highway in Olympia.

Future Park

The community identified the acquisition of a large, community park site for soccer fields as a high priority in the 2010 and 2016 Parks, Arts and Recreation Plans, said a city press release.

In 2004, the community voted for a parks and sidewalks funding measure that included parks acquisition. The proposed purchase moves the city closer to the goal stated in that measure of increasing the city park system by 500 acres.

If the Zahn property is acquired, the city will have acquired 440 acres since 2004.

The city says a parcel the size of the Yelm Highway site could accommodate several full-size soccer fields and associated support facilities. It could also accommodate additional community park amenities, from community gardens and trails to sports fields and courts.

The city would begin a planning process in 2019 and seek the community’s input as part of the process.  Park development would likely be done in phases, with the first phase tentatively scheduled for 2024.

The city says it is interested in developing a relationship with Spooner Berry Farms and would continue to lease to the business prior to park development.

Mona Michaelis, a lead employee at Spooner Berry Farms, has worked for the Spooner family for 16 years and hopes the news doesn’t hurt business. 

As customers jumped out of their cars and got in line at the farm stand, she said, We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We have two weeks left for the blueberries and one week left for marionberries!”