Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Momentum Builds To Bring "Three Cups of Tea" Author To Olympia: High School Group Reaches First Half of Fundraising Goal

Above: Greg Mortenson meets children and signs books after a speaking engagement at Seattle Pacific University on December 15, 2009.

By Janine Gates

The Olympia High School student Rotary club, Interact, successfully reached the first part of its goal to raise $12,500 by December 28 to bring “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson to Olympia. (See related story dated December 14 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.)

The high school group needs to raise another $12,500 by April 13. Mortenson is scheduled to appear in Olympia on May 13. Mortenson’s honorarium goes towards his non-profit, Central Asia Institute, to build schools, primarily for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A total of $12,515.00 came through by the December 28 deadline, according to Norma Schuiteman, Executive Director of The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound.

Donations for Mortenson are being accepted by The Community Foundation, a local non-profit organization. To make a donation towards Mortenson’s honorarium, checks can be made out to: "The Community Foundation," and mailed to: The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, 111 Market St NE, Suite 375, Olympia, WA 98501. Be sure to write “Greg Mortenson Project” in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

Kaycee Keegan, 18, is excited to achieve this first hurdle. Keegan originated the idea of bringing Mortenson to Olympia for her senior project and has been speaking in front of several South Sound area Rotary clubs and other organizations to raise thousands of dollars toward the honorarium.

Keegan, who is in Virginia for the holidays, said in a phone interview, "I'm really, really excited about it because now we can move on and we know we can get him....We did get a big donation - $2,000 - from a doctor's medical group and that really helped us, but we also got lots of $20 - $25 donations that really helped too. We still need people to help. We hope to get some corporate sponsors - a few companies have expressed interest and I'm going to go visit them in the next few weeks."

Above: Kaycee Keegan, Olympia High School Interact student group co-coordinator, briefs the Interact club on her speaking engagements with several Rotary clubs to raise money to bring author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May.

Sean Padget, president of the downtown Rotary Club, echoed Keegan's comments. "I'm pretty excited about it. I've read his first book ("Three Cups of Tea") and I'm working on his latest one. There's lots of angles to this, but it's a great story that really teaches young people about the power of one and the value of community service." Mortenson's publishing company required that an adult be the official event coordinator for Mortenson's visit, and Padget is fulfilling that role.

At a recent Interact student group meeting held just prior to the holiday break, Olympia High School principal Matt Grant suggested to students, “We have to start organizing as fast as we can...we need separate committees, such as food, publicity and entertainment....There’s a lot of room for creativity and leadership.”

Teasha Feldman, Interact group co-coordinator, said she will work on the international dinner, which will serve as a fundraiser for Mortenson’s children's program, Pennies for Peace. Pennies for Peace encourages elementary and high school students to spend time with their elders and introduces children to philanthropy.

Ticket and event location details for Mortenson's appearance in Olympia will be forthcoming.

Mortenson Speaks in Seattle

Above: In his new book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mortenson describes how his daughter, Amira, 13, discovered there were no playgrounds at any of the schools he had built. Playgrounds are now required at every school. When Taliban leaders saw this playground at one of his schools, Mortenson says they ran over to swing on the swings, and Mortenson was successful in gaining their cooperation in the area. "They had no chance to play as children....We don't need troops, we just need playgrounds," Mortenson said.

Author Greg Mortenson spoke in Seattle on December 15, packing Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Broughton Hall with 2,000 people. Recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson was greeted with a standing ovation. Gracious and humorous, Mortenson told the audience many stories while giving a slideshow of his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and described his recent interactions with current U.S. military leadership.

Mortenson began by saying that he is not a political person but expressed concern with President Obama's current strategy in Afghanistan. "You can't run a democracy in secrecy...and we didn't consult the elders there...they are the real integrity of the country. The country itself is quite fragile and corrupt. We have to consult the elders, and our military (leadership) is ahead of our state department right now."

Mortenson, an Army veteran, says he is impressed that military leaders such as General David Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have "listened and taken notes," and have each visited Afghanistan over three dozen times in the last three months. On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden have each visited the country once, for a few hours, Mortenson said.

Mortenson's humanitarian efforts not only include the building of schools, but has recently expanded to include a midwife training program in Pakistan's Charpursan Valley, near the Afghan border. Twelve women are in the program. Afghanistan has the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world, and Pakistan the 32nd highest. In Pakistan, 297 of every 100,000 women die giving birth. In Afghanistan, the maternal mortality rate is 1,600 for every 100,000 live births.

Mortenson admitted that he does not like public speaking, but realizes that people want to see him. After his presentation, Mortenson met with all the children who wanted to meet with him for book signings, before meeting with adults. Mortenson said it is his interactions with children that gives him the most energy and hope for the future.

Describing his initial efforts to raise money to build his first school, Mortenson said, "it wasn't adults, it wasn't celebrities, it was children who would raise 62,000 pennies," that gave him his start. Mortenson related several stories of specific children who have begun organizations that make a difference in the world.

Mortenson said he is often asked why he focuses on building schools primarily for girls. "There is an African proverb I learned as a child in Tanzania, 'If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate a community.' We have a goal to educate a girl to at least a fifth grade level to reduce infant mortality, reduce a population explosion, and improve the basic qualities of health and life itself." Just under half of the population in Pakistan and Afghanistan is under the age of 15.

Mortenson says girls are more likely to teach their mothers to read. Mothers, also, are usually asked by their sons for their blessing to participate in a jihad, "and educated women do not give it."

According to UNICEF, thousands of schools have been destroyed or shut down by the Taliban or other groups in Afghanistan and an additional 850 schools in Pakistan. Only one Central Asia Institute school has been attacked by the Taliban, and that was two years ago in Afghanistan. The girls were back in school within two days.

Above: Greg Mortenson in Seattle December 15.

For more information on efforts to bring Mortenson to Olympia, contact Kaycee Keegan at mortenson.project@gmail.com.

For more information about Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, go to www.ikat.org.

For more information about Pennies for Peace, go to www.penniesforpeace.org.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Design Review Board "Tables" Triway's Larida Passage Plan

Above: Design Review Board members Goularte, Laclergue, Findley, and Daniels at last week's meeting on December 10 in the Olympia city council chambers.

By Janine Gates

By a vote of 5 - 2, the city Design Review Board tonight decided to table the context plan for Triway Enterprises’ proposed Larida Passage project. Board chair Thomas Carver and board member Spencer Daniels voted no. Two board members, Katie Cox and Robert Findley, were not present. The meeting lasted about two and a half hours.

Asked to comment on the evening's decision, a tired city senior planner Cari Hornbein said, “I am unclear as to what we do with this decision,” as she was putting away the evening’s technical equipment at 9:30 p.m.

Board member Jane Laclergue read a prepared statement and made the motion to table the context plan and ask Triway Enterprises to come back with a new one. Triway staff members Jeanette Hawkins and Gail Merth made comments to the board throughout the evening that they would be unable or unwilling to make any changes to the building’s massive size, which was a major source of discussion tonight.

Jeanette Hawkins, Larida Passage project manager, was perfectly clear about what tonight's vote meant. Asked for her opinion, Hawkins said, “She (Laclergue) was trying to stop the project…it was confusing, but our project is moving forward."

Hawkins and Gail Merth, BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises, were given ample time to address the board’s concerns and questions and provide new materials to the board such as view scenes from various angles.

Above: New materials presented to board members at tonight's Design Review board meeting includes Larida Passage views from Triway's perspective. These view scenes, also included views looking south from Rotary Point on West Bay Drive and from the 400 block of Sherman towards Heritage Park.

Carver hoped to deal with the context plan, the preliminary building design and the landscape design as three separate components of the project. Although Carver outlined at the beginning of the meeting what the board was going to do, “wrap it up with three motions and recommendations,” the board expressed confusion on their role and responsibilities and reviewed code language from the beginning of the meeting to the end.

The context design discussion started with board member David Goularte setting the tone for the evening's deliberations: “…I feel like I’ve been baited and switched. At first I was thinking, ‘Here’s an interesting design for the isthmus’…but now they don’t match…what am I supposed to comment on?

Board member Spencer Daniels agreed. “I keep seeing the schematics and the pictures and I’m concerned about what governs what…

Jane Laclergue, who has served on the Design Review Board for 15 years, said she has reviewed about 100 cases, and read a prepared statement saying that she feels "the board is being put in a position of huge conflict between the city’s code for design review and the land use code for this project.” She said she could not vote for a project “that is only in context with a building which so many people want removed.”

Laclergue read Design Review OMC 18.76.010, which states that the board’s purpose is “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community; to preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historic significance.” The code also says that the board is to “consider applicants’ needs and goals and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

Laclergue also read Design Review OMC 18.110.060 which discusses view preservation. “All development must reserve a reasonable portion of such territorial and immediate views for significant numbers of people from public rights-of-way.”

Laclergue said that the words, “significant numbers of people,” meant, to her, those at the Capitol Campus and those arriving by boat, “not those finding their way to a viewing tower obscured on two sides by Building B. When I saw the picture of what Building B (the 90 foot building) would do to the view of the Capitol Dome from Budd Bay, I knew there would need to be changes to the building’s shape before I could vote for it.”

The subject of view angles was discussed at length. Daniels said, "Whatever we do has to be justified within the code - to deny this project, we have to find specific language in the code to do that. Regarding view preservation, staff looked over this matter and we were told they were considered...."

Carver said he agreed with Daniels. "...I've had the worst time of where to go with this. I could not find a reason to deny (the applicant) based on view...."

Boardmember Thomas Muller said, "...It's a great building, it has everything the city needs design-wise but although it meets the specifications...this project would so negatively impact views and does not fit in this space. Move it downtown. It has everything we need, just not here."

Daniels countered, "Then why did we approve Union Heights, which is taller than anything around it?"

Laclergue said, "(Because) there will be other buildings around it. This one won't."

Several members commented that they drove around the city to study various view points. Board member Goularte said "This is a very unique view....in fact, I was driving around up to the Eastside, seeing the impact of Larida Passage, so I'm having a really, really, really hard time with this...."

Triway Enterprises' staff were invited to address board concerns. Hawkins stood up and asked if they read the email she had sent board members. Seemingly irked that several board members did not appear to know what email she was referring to, Hawkins took a deep breath and gave a lengthy, pointed presentation about views, saying, "The views of Larida Passage are complicated, I'm not going to deny that...In our view study, we do not impact any residential views, but we do impact views from the Temple of Justice...we do not impair the Olympics at all...."

Muller said, "I purposely drove to Heritage Park and Marathon Park...I absolutely wouldn't see them (the Olympics)...it affects the views from everywhere...."

Above: Stunning Olympics as seen from the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in Spring.

Cari Hornbein, city senior planner, said she printed out the scenic vistas map and reviewed the checklist for view preservation from public rights of way. "...It all gets mixed together...it seems like there's so many moving pieces...I appreciate the predicament you're in...."

Board member Dwight Hollar asked Hornbein if there are any public rights-of way views from the Capitol from a historical perspective that will kick in if they approve the plan. "I hate to say this, but no...that is not in our purview...." said Hornbein.

During a meeting recess, Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, said, "This is huge. This is the first time an official agency has sides with the people instead of with the developer. What also became apparent is that the city has no ability or interest in protecting views from the Capitol."

Resuming the meeting after they voted to table the context plan and have the applicant come back with a new context plan, some board members could not see how they could move forward with voting on the preliminary building design and landscape design.

For a full hour, Carver pursued the point of moving forward with the remaining issues. Finally, Carver made a motion to approve the preliminary building design, with the modification of the roof lines on both buildings and provide the board with more details of the mechanical equipment screening on the rooftop. The motion passed 4 - 3 with Muller, Hollar and Laclergue voting no.

Then, Carver asked for a motion to approve the landscape plan. The motion passed 5 - 2 with Muller and Laclergue voting no. Confusion ensued on when the context plan for Larida Passage would come back to the board. It remained unclear.

After the meeting, some audience members questioned, amongst themselves, the evening's process.

"Why did the applicant get a chance for rebuttal tonight? There's obviously been new material submitted by the applicant - new material that the Design Review Board has had to digest, and there's no chance for more public comment...." said community member Susan Ahlschwede.

According to Hornbein, the next steps for the Larida Passage project is for the site plan review committee, made up of city staff, to review the project for development regulations, engineering standards, Shoreline Master Plan regulations, and the Urban Waterfront plan for views, and prepare written comments on all those pieces to give to the applicant to respond.

"Typically, there’s one round of revisions, then we review the plans, create a staff report, do a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, and it goes to the hearings examiner who will make a decision. This will all take several months.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Olympia High School Student Group Works To Bring "Three Cups of Tea" Author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May: They Need $12,500 by December 28

Above: Interact student group coordinators Kaycee Keegan, left, and Teasha Feldman sit on either side of Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant.

By Janine Gates

Olympia High School’s Junior Rotary club, Interact, is working to bring “Three Cups of Tea” co-author Greg Mortenson to Olympia on May 13, say student group organizers Teasha Feldman and Kaycee Keegan. Logistics for Mortenson's arrival to Olympia is still being worked out, but it is expected to include a major public speaking opportunity and an international dinner.

"Three Cups of Tea" is now required reading for all officers enrolled in counterinsurgency courses at the Pentagon. Mortenson's new book, released December 1, is called, “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

According to Mortenson's publisher, “Stones into Schools” picks up where “Three Cups of Tea” left off in 2003. Mortenson recounts his ongoing efforts to establish schools for girls in Afghanistan; his extensive work in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan after a massive earthquake hit the region in 2005; and the unique ways he has built relationships with Islamic clerics, militia commanders, and tribal leaders even as he was dodging shootouts with feuding Afghan warlords and surviving an eight-day armed abduction by the Taliban.

Mortenson receives about 2200 speaking requests per year and his honorarium is $25,000. The honorarium goes towards Mortenson’s non-profit foundation, Central Asia Institute, to build schools, primarily for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mortenson's organization has established more than 130 schools, serving 58,000 students. In his new book, Mortenson says that, "$20 is enough to educate a first grader for an entire year, $340 can send a girl to four years of high school and $50,000 can build and outfit an eight room schoolhouse and endow the teacher's salaries for the first five years."

The student group has raised $5,700 so far, much of it pledged by four local Rotary Clubs and several local banks. Keegan says they just found out that they need a total of $12,500 by December 28. The other half of Mortenson's honorarium, $12,500 is due by April 13.

The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, a 501(c)3, has stepped forward to be a fiscal co-sponsor for the event. Checks can be made out to "The Community Foundation," and mailed to: The Community Foundation, 111 Market St. NE, Suite 375, Olympia, Washington 98501. Be sure to write "Greg Mortenson Project" in the memo section of your check. Donations are tax-deductible.

"I think it's going to be a great event. This is an ideal community for Mortenson to reach to - he appeals to a very diverse audience," says Community Foundation program coordinator Anne Kirske.

According to Keegan, the first half of Mortenson's honorarium must arrive in New York by December 31st. For more information on how to contribute towards Mortenson's honorarium, the public can email Keegan at mortenson.project@gmail.com.

Above: Last week, Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant met with the student group, Interact, which is hoping to bring "Three Cups of Tea" co-author Greg Mortenson to Olympia in May.

Student Kaycee Keegan, 18, was inspired by reading "Three Cups of Tea," and contacted Mortenson last June to see if it was possible for him to come to Olympia. For her senior project, Keegan says, “I wanted to do something that really mattered.” Mortenson recently confirmed his availability to come to Olympia.

"I thought it was a long shot to even get him. I wanted to promote service in our community - he gave us his whole life and I hope it will inspire us to do more in our own community. Every little thing helps. It will educate us, and build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Keegan said in a recent Interact student group planning meeting.

The Interact student group meeting gathered 12 students and various group advisers last week, including Matt Grant, principal of Olympia High School and Martin Meyer, Rotary Club liaison. Meyer says the Rotary service club seeks the “bring youth ages 14 - 18 together in an organized fashion to promote leadership, awareness of international and local issues and have fun along the way.” This is the club’s fourth year of working with the Rotary.

The Interact group is involved with many projects. Last year, the group held an international dinner for the Malawi Clean Water Project and raised about $2,000 for the project.

Mortenson will be speaking at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. The free event is open to be public. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. to the first 2,000 people.

Above: Two Cups of Tea in Turkey: "The first cup of tea you share with us, you are a stranger. The second cup, you are a friend. But with the third cup, you become family...." - Balti Saying.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"All We Want For Christmas is...A Health Care Bill!"

Above: Olympia physican Stephen Albrecht speaks at a health care rally in Sylvester Park in Olympia today.

by Janine Gates

A few dozen health care reform activists met downtown today in Sylvester Park at a rally that urged passage of a health care bill before Christmas.

"The Patient Protection and Affordable Act is, to a great extent supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians," said local physician Stephen Albrecht of Olympia Family Medicine. "We are long overdue for this and we want Santa Murray, Santa Cantwell, Santa Reid and others to know we want it for Christmas! So that's the doctor's prescription - you need to call Murray and Cantwell....Let's wrap it up before Christmas!" yelled Albrecht. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Senator Reid's health care bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "is fully paid for, will provide coverage to more than 94 percent of Americans while costing some $894 billion over ten years and reduce the deficit over the next ten years."

Representatives from labor, senior, women's health care, and other organizations also participated at the rally, sponsored in part by Health Care for America Now! Olympia's rally was one of nine occurring today in Washington.

Holiday cards were made available to participants to write to Washington senators Murray and Cantwell, and congressional representatives Adam Smith and Brian Baird, to urge their support of current health care legislation.

Above: Trying to keep warm, Debby Pattin accepts food bank donations and hands out health care related information at the rally today in Olympia.

For more information and daily updates on the current national health care legislation, go to: www.healthcareforamericanow.org

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Design Review Board Hears Larida Passage Application - Board Continues Meeting To December 17th

Above: Sunrise over Mount Rainier from the Fourth Avenue Bridge in Olympia yesterday morning. When asked by Design Review Board member Daniels about specific view corridors, city senior planner Cari Hornbein said that the view corridors of Budd Inlet, Capitol Lake, the Olympics, and the Capitol Dome were studied. She did not mention that any view of Mt. Rainier was studied. This is the precisely the view that would be obstructed by Triway Enterprises' proposed Larida Passage development on the isthmus as you come down Harrison Hill and cross the Fourth Avenue bridge. Click on picture to enlarge.

By Janine Gates

After receiving two and a half hours of information and testimony, the city's citizen advisory committee charged with reviewing the design of Triway Enterprises’ Larida Passage project decided to continue tonight’s meeting to Thursday, December 17th.

City senior planner Cari Hornbein gave an overview of the project with staff recommendations, the applicant gave its presentation, represented by project manager Jeannette Hawkins and three others, and an overflow gathering of concerned citizens gave testimony until 9:00 p.m. Seventeen members of the public gave testimony against the project design. Two approved of the project: former city councilmembers Holly Gadbaw and Joan Machlis.

“Normally, we get zero members of the public….” started Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver, looking out at the crowd. The nine member board had two absent members.

The Design Review Board was established by City ordinance (OMC Chapter 18.76) to apply design review requirements and guidelines in the review of public and private projects throughout the City and the Olympia urban growth area.

Most board members were actively engaged in the discussion. When landscape architect Alan McWain described the living “green wall” which is proposed to be featured down the full length of the 90 foot building, he mentioned that he had designed one in Tacoma. Board member Robert Findlay asked, to chuckles heard throughout the audience, “Have you seen what it looks like (now) in 6 degree weather?” McWain admitted he has not seen it.

Board member Spencer Daniels asked for confirmation that the only public viewing site is from a viewing platform on the 35 foot office building and said that the 35 foot building looked separate from the other and very plain. He expressed concern about the tunnel-like view corridor between the two buildings. The space between the two buildings is 40 feet.

Two other board members noted the discrepancy in scale between the two buildings. Gail Merth, a BCRA architect hired by Triway Enterprises for the project, said, “Well, we would love to do 90 feet on both buildings…we are maximizing what we are allowed to do at this point….in my mind, the building are siblings, but not twins….”

Above: Gail Merth, BCRA Architect hired by Triway Enterprises, explains the Larida Passage project to the city's Design Review Board tonight.

As part of their presentation, Triway Enterprises showed a three dimensional aerial view “movie," of Larida Passage’s conceptual design of the buildings. The computer simulation, which did not show any context to Olympia, the isthmus, Capitol Lake, Budd Inlet, the Olympics, or Mt. Rainier, seemed to go over like a lead balloon for board members and the audience.

Finally, after Merth's presentation, board member Robert Findley said, “This is a very massive, bulky structure. I’m concerned about the impacts of that…This may sound na├»ve, but what were your considerations regarding height?

Board member Katie Egland Cox commented that it would have been helpful to see some elevations to show the building in context with its surroundings.

Board vice-president Jane LaClerque commented on the lack of setbacks. “It’s the same square, rectangular block shape like the building to the east that everyone despises….”

Merth jumped up to point out a setback on a visual display, saying, “There’s a little one here….” Unconvinced, LaClerque added, “Well, you don’t see it in the scale of the building….I’m disappointed that the building looks so much like the other building.”

“Eek, I’d have to disagree with that,” said Merth, at which point, Carver called for a recess.

Above: Design Review Board members during a recess of their meeting in council chambers tonight. Chair Thomas Carver is in the center.

The Public Has A Chance To Comment

Nineteen members of the public had three minutes each to provide their comments to the board.

Diane Wiatr, a member of the city’s Heritage Commission and a former member of the Design Review Board, said, “I’m one of three people in the city who was not opposed to this project…(but now) I see recycled mixed-use of Kirkland, Bellevue and Seattle (in this design). It looks like the kitchen sink has been thrown into this design….”

Former city councilmember Holly Gadbaw, representing the group Oly2012, supported the project and the design. “The most exciting part is the structured parking…the design standards are finally starting to produce the kind of buildings we want….”

Steve Segall said, “What you have here is a rush job…this is out of place, out of character, graceless…and at odds with the landscape. The building design is almost Stalin-esque….”

Local artist Janice Arnold said, “I am saddened and a little speechless…the size, lack of setbacks, scale, and height are all incongruous with the setting. Olympia deserves better. We deserve a building that we wouldn’t want to demolish in 30 years.”

Allen Miller, local land use attorney, spoke on behalf of himself, six former Governors, former Secretary of State Ralph Munro and others. He and his clients asked the board to deny the project due to its conflicts with the historical design principals of State Capitol Campus architects Wilder and White and the Olmsted Brothers.

Miller also told the board that the project is unlawful under Sato v. Olympia, a decision of the Shorelines Hearings Board which held that a seventy foot building in the isthmus area violated the Shoreline Management Act by irreversibly damaging the public views of the Puget Sound and the Olympics from the Capitol Campus.

The municipal code (OMC 18.76.010) that establishes the Design Review Board states, in part, that the Board is established “to promote those qualities in the natural environment which bring value to the community;…preserve the special character and quality of Olympia by maintaining the integrity of those areas which have a discernible character or are of special historical significance;…and consider applicants’ needs and the broader public impact of any proposal.”

“This project violates the public trust of preserving the view corridors from and to the State Capitol Campus from the Temple of Justice and the Law Enforcement Memorial out to Budd Inlet and Olympics,” said Miller.

The Olympia City Council voted to rezone the isthmus area to 90 feet last December. The rezone of the property is now under appeal with the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

Alan Hardcastle, a member of the Heritage Commission, opposed the project design, questioning the possible negative economic impact to city tourism because of the compromised views from and to Budd Inlet. “This design is out of proportion…downtown is not a series of mini-malls. This building does not add to the historical character of downtown….”

Jerry Reilly, former chair of the Olympia Planning Commission and current chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, also opposed the project. “While many features of the design have merit, its fundamental problem is that the building is in the wrong location….Under the very terms of your code responsibilities, we believe that you should find that this design is not approvable.”

Joan Machlis, former city councilmember, approved of the project design. “I believe the development has creatively handled a variety of requirements such as the public viewing area and a partially covered trail. The landscaping meets tree requirements…this is the kind of urban…design we will see in the future….”

Bonnie Jacobs, representing Friends of the Waterfront, commented on the lack of context shown to the board and the public by the applicant's three dimensional computer program. “Obviously, the architects are proud of the buildings, but the movie is a perspective that I will likely never see. It’s massive - sidewalk to sidewalk - right by the Mistake on the Lake….We will indeed be walling off the waterfront. What particularly affronts me is the “viewing platform.” To say that a little platform that we might be able to get to during certain hours is almost laughable if it didn’t anger me so much.”

Former Mayor Bob Jacobs said that he felt that the design is "OK," but the project would be better suited down by the Farmer’s Market, the transit center or city hall. “It’s massive, out of scale with the surrounding area - it’s twice the size of the General Administration Building. Historical views will be blocked, and the exterior lighting looks good until you realize it will upstage the Capitol Building.”

Gail Merth, in response to a question from a board member, concluded the evening by saying, “Design is a very subjective thing…it’s impossible to make everyone happy….”

By 9:00p.m., board chair Carver called the question to move toward a recommendation or continue the meeting on December 17th. Board members Cox and Daniels said they wanted to continue the meeting and make a recommendation.

Board member David Goularte said he got a lot of information tonight and wanted more time. LaClerque agreed. “We were given more handouts tonight from staff that I’d like to look over.” A quorum won out, and board chair Carver adjourned the meeting, which will be continued December 17th.

Above: View from Budd Inlet of the Capitol Building obstructed by the Mistake by the Lake building. The proposed Larida Passage project would be built to the right of this existing, vacant building.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Larida Passage Lives As a Land Use Application - Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input at Thursday Meeting

Above: Landscape architect Alan McWain, right, shows Thad Curtz a three dimensional view of Larida Passage on a computer program at tonight's open house at the Olympia Center.

Despite developer Tri Vo's reported financial woes, his project in downtown Olympia called Larida Passage lives on paper as a real land use application to the City of Olympia.

City staff held an open house with Vo's development firm, Triway Enterprises, tonight at the Olympia Center to give the public an opportunity to view the land use and design illustrations and plans, submitted by Triway to the city in late October.

The massive, controversial mixed-use project is located on the narrow "isthmus" area between 4th and 5th Avenues. It is proposed to be two buildings: a 50,000 square foot building containing a mix of retail and office uses and a 273,000 square foot building containing retail space, 141 residential units and private parking for 433 vehicles. The buildings are proposed to be 35 feet and 90 feet. There is no 65 foot building as originally discussed in Triway's conceptual plans.

Landscape architect Alan McWain was brought onto the project with BCRA, the architectural firm hired by Triway, he says, to bring a "human scale" to the project. The project, for example, contains a water feature, a green wall, and green roofs. Asked to describe 'green walls,' McWain said that there will be planted fabric attached to a concrete board which will be irrigated through drip lines down the entire 90 foot building. "I believe it will be one of the largest green walls in North America...certainly it will be the largest in Washington."

Asked to describe the water feature, McWain said, "It will an eighth of an inch thick and very still. It will reflect the clouds and be lighted...it's supposed to represent the Puget Sound ecosystem where the water trickles down. You'll be able to see it from the Fourth Avenue bridge." The water feature will be chlorinated and contained inside the private courtyard area of the residential building.

McWain lives in Seattle but grew up in Olympia near Olympia High School. He left Olympia to go to college. Asked if he is excited about the project, McWain said, "Yeah, I am actually. I think it's a great project. It meets all the requirements and pushes the limit to bring green design to downtown Olympia....I'm trying to bring the environment back to an urban setting and create a human scale."

Design Review Board Welcomes Public Input

While Triway Enterprises is optimistic the project will go forward, there are a few hurdles to clear. The Design Review Board, a city advisory committee composed of nine members, will meet on Thursday, December 10 in the City Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. SE, at 6:30 to formally hear the applicant's proposal.

The public is invited to come to give comments to the board regarding the project, says Thomas Carver, chair of the Design Review Board. Carver attended tonight's open house. "We will hear a presentation by the applicant, a presentation by city staff, and take public comments. Then we will deliberate and give a recommendation to the site plan review committee." The site plan review committee is composed of staff from the city's Community Planning and Development department.

"If it gets too late to deliberate and make a recommendation because we receive a lot of public comment, we will continue the meeting to December 17," explained Carver.

Asked how long it could take to deliberate, Carver said it depends. "We just got our committee packets (containing the application) last Friday. This is a very involved project, but it is a single project. We could make a recommendation at the end of Thursday's meeting or carry it over to December 17."

Above: Design Review Board chair Thomas Carver is serious about his role on the city's citizen advisory committee. Serving on the board since 2002, Carver says he cannot talk about the actual design of the project until Thursday. "We don't want to be lobbied by anyone - we want to be as independent as possible."

The Design Review Board, created in the early 1990's, reviews projects for pedestrian friendliness, site and building design and aesthetics. Asked if aesthetics were a rather subjective judgement, Carver admitted, "It is...it is, but there is the letter of the code, and the intent of the code. We look for projects to meet the intent of the code because it is very possible for you to build a concrete box and paint it different colors, but it still looks like a concrete box."

The board meets to review projects proposed to be over 5,000 square feet, anything downtown, and anything along major corridors and arterials," said Carver. Recent projects reviewed by the board includes the Washington State Employees Credit Union building, the Washington Public Utilities building, and Union Heights, all on Union.

"We're different from other city citizen advisory boards," says Carver. "We are scheduled to meet twice a month, but due to the slow down in the economy, we've only had a third of our usual meetings because we review projects. If there are no projects to review, we don't meet."

Asked if he, as an architect, has any vested interest in the Larida Passage project, Carver laughed and said no, that if he did, he would recuse himself from the review.

Asked if he gets calls from people freaked out about some project going up, he said, "No, it's usually the other way around. A few of us were freaked out about a car wash being built on Black Lake Boulevard in front of Evergreen Christian Center, but we found out it is under 5,000 square feet."

For more information about the Larida Passage project, contact Cari Hornbein, Senior Planner, Community Planning and Development at 753-8048 or chornbei@ci.olympia.wa.us.

For more information about the history of the Larida Passage project, go to stories on Little Hollywood from earlier this year.

Above: The annual Toy Run in downtown Olympia along the isthmus area and Deschutes Parkway. With a proposed 433 additional vehicles driving in and out and around the isthmus area, traffic congestion will be increased.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jeannine Roe Sworn In - Says "No" in Vote on Bentridge Development

Above: Jeannine Roe being sworn in as a new Olympia City Council member Tuesday night by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander.

by Janine Gates

Tonight's Olympia City Council meeting started off with the swearing in of newly elected Jeannine Roe to replace councilmember Joan Machlis. Machlis had been appointed to the council to fill a vacancy and lost to Roe by 96 votes.

Roe gave a statement thanking her daughters, Julia and Allison Dellwo, and her parents, Marilyn and Charlie Roe. She also thanked Machlis for her dedicated service to the city. "I take my seat on the council with humility and with confidence...I am humble to be assuming this leadership role and along with it the obligation to serve all Olympia residents - not just those who voted for me," said Roe.

Roe's first issue on the agenda, along with other councilmembers, was to decide whether or not to proceed with approving a proposed 72 acre neighborhood village project, called Bentridge, located off Boulevard Road near LBA Park and the Chambers Lake basin. This area is located where high groundwater, flooding, and stormwater runoff threatens existing homes. The proposal includes 501 residential units on 348 lots with a 12,500 square foot commercial building. The project proposal includes the building of 160 single-family homes, and other multi-family duplexes and townhomes.

According to a staff report dated July 13, 2009, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) map for the area identifies two flood zones on the Bentridge property.

The controversial project concerns neighboring residents and others who care about Olympia's future growth and development.

Gus Guethlein, a property owner on Wiggins Road, testified during the public participation portion of the meeting. "The site plan shows almost no stormwater capacity and the city is already facing dilemmas with several development projects that are stalled due to the current economic situation. And there is also the impact of added traffic from 500 new households on the Boulevard Road traffic system," said Guethlein.

Another member of the public expressed concern that the council was unwilling to consider the combined impacts of the multiple large developments that are already proposed for this area of the city.

The council discussed a report from the project's hearings examiner, Tom Bjorgen, who had reviewed the project proposal. Bjorgen recommended that the project be rejected on the grounds of "school concurrency" issues. He was concerned that the project was going to result in the arrival of more children than could be serviced by the existing schools. The staff and councilmembers debated whether the children moving into the proposed development should be served by schools in the neighborhood or in schools throughout the Olympia school district. In the latter case, students could be bussed across the city to attend a school.

In a protracted, technical discussion on this matter, Councilmember Rhenda Strub asked the clearest question of the evening that went unanswered by the city attorneys. She expressed concern about busing students and queried how this would fit into the Olympia comprehensive plan's emphasis on sustainablity, walkable neighborhoods and limiting unnecessary transportation.

Another issue of concern involved a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) migated determination of non-significance (MDNS), dated June 16, 2009. This called for specific measures in response to projected increased traffic. These included offsite traffic and pedestrian improvements within the city, and some traffic improvements in the county on the old Yelm Highway.

One concern was that the hearing examiner had not considered, or even been aware of, the MDNS for the project. Tom Morrill, the city attorney, said that it is not clear if the hearing examiner saw or even knew about the MDNS. "He didn't say if he had seen it or not."

"If he didn't see the MDNS, that's stunning," said Councilmember Jeff Kingsbury.

In the end, Kingsbury offered a motion, which was seconded, to approve the project master plan with a request for some clarification on whether the examiner had considered the MDNS. Councilmember Joe Hyer said that he wanted to more forward with the project but he would have to vote against the motion to support neighborhood schools.

Strub said, "I'm voting against the motion. There ought to be neighborhood concurrency (for schools). I am loathe to give the green light for development that will crowd schools or bus kids to the other side of town. I don't think 'horrified' is too strong a word...."

Although she did not participate in the discussion of the issue, Roe's first vote cast as a city councilmember was a "no" to the questionable development project. The motion passed with a final vote of four to three with Roe, Strub and Hyer voting against the motion.

Above: Mary Nolan, Executive Secretary to the Olympia City Council, left, and Terry Gregerson, middle, of the city's Information Technology Department, help Jeannine Roe get ready for her first city council meeting on Tuesday night.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Your Olympia (So Go Downtown, Things'll Be Great!)

Above: Patrick Mapp thanks Tas Jones for coming into his shop, Danger Room Comics. The store is celebrating its 15 year anniversary with a party on December 4th, 7:00 - 10:00 p.m. There will be food, beverages and video games, says Mapp.

By Janine Gates

They weren't exactly singing the 1965 Petula Clark song, "Downtown," but about 25 downtown business owners did get together on Wednesday night to socialize and commiserate on how they are managing to survive economically. They also heard details about a new downtown marketing campaign, “It’s Your Olympia,” at the Parking Improvement Business Area's (PBIA) fourth year anniversary annual meeting at the Phoenix Inn.

At one table, business owners Patrick Mapp of Danger Room Comics, Daisy Anderson of Pizzazz, Sarah Swartz of Fire & Earth, Ron Vansickel of Peppers, and Nancy Caifa of Nonna Rosa Cafe and Tea Room, met each other and chatted.

“For me, it’s been slowly getting better this year. We have to be optimistic…stubbornly optimistic,” said Mapp.

“We have to be nuts,” added Anderson, who has co-owned Pizzazz on Washington Street with her daughter Theresa Anderson, for 17 years.

Above: Theresa Anderson, owner of Pizzazz. Pizzazz’ business relies largely on the making of gift baskets using a wide variety of "Made in Washington" products, but would sure appreciate more foot traffic. Pizzazz has lots of affordable stocking stuffers! Pizzazz is located across from the Washington Center for the Performing Arts at 513 Washington St.

“It was a different city 15 years ago. It's gotten more busy - there are more people downtown. It has its ups and downs," says Mapp. Mapp has been in the same location in the Oddfellows Building on the corner of Columbia and Fourth Avenue at 210 West Fourth, for 15 years. “Our landlords are awesome. They are very invested in the community.”

Asked what the secret to his success is, Mapp said, “We work in a business with low overhead but I have to be careful about what I stock, and I have to sell a lot of it by knowing the product intimately and making good recommendations. Our business plan is really simple: we find good stuff and we try to sell it,” says Mapp.

The relationship between the city, the Olympia Downtown Association and the PBIA got off to a rocky start in 2006. The PBIA is a geographic area with an advisory board elected by the businesses in that area, and the city collects from each business an assessed yearly amount between $150 - $750. The PBIA advisory board makes a recommendation to the city on how to utilize the funds. The fee is based on number of employees and what downtown "zone" their business falls within. The PBIA's goals are: a clean and safe downtown, civic beautification, marketing, holiday focus and business retention.

Katherine Mahoney, outgoing president of the PBIA organization, gave an overview of the organization, its marketing efforts and budget situation in 2009 and 2010. The PBIA proposed budget to the city is $100,000 in 2010, as opposed to $143,500 this year. The budget is typically about $125,000; the extra amount this year reflects a rollover amount from 2008.

Next year, downtown will lose city employee Peter Spotts who operates the Green Machine sweeper, which helps keep downtown clean. "Peter has been an amazing ambassador for downtown...we will see a real difference in cleanliness next year and I encourage all of you to get out and clean up the area in front of your shops," said Mahoney.

The Green Machine will be off the streets and kept in storage to await possible budget improvements in the future. A total of $10,000 is still budgeted in 2010 for the Green Machine's maintenance. The cost savings for not having Spotts and the Green Machine will be $40,000.

Other 2010 budget priorities include downtown cleanliness projects to be identified ($10,000), a steam cleaner ($2,000), flower baskets ($8,500), art bench project ($4,500), downtown marketing ($30,000), Olympia Downtown Association administrative support ($10,000), downtown cleanup ($5,000), holiday displays and support ($10,000) and probabtion crews/cleanup ($15,000).

Above: Artist bench project of the PBIA. This is one of 10 benches the PBIA spent$7,500 "beautifying" in 2009. This one is outside Last Word Books on Fourth Avenue. The PBIA has budgeted $4,500 on the bench project for 2010. The money went towards artist supplies and fees.

The marketing campaign of "It's Your Olympia," was designed by an Evergreen State College graduate, Eben Greene, who used to work at Archibald Sisters and now lives and works in Seattle. The words and logo are copyright free, which means anyone can use it. Banners with the theme are now hanging in the Olympia City Council chambers, and were hanging downtown, but were quickly damaged in last week's windstorm, so they were taken down for repair.

Lighted snowflakes, which made their debut last year, will be put up downtown next week. The city no longer lights the trees downtown for the holidays. "Finding access to power and weatherproof power boxes downtown is incredibly difficult," said Mahoney. The city will be placing more snowflakes on State Avenue this year, as well as Capitol Way. Businesses will not be hoping for a white holiday season, which ground downtown sales to a near halt before Christmas last year.

Joan Machlis, who recently lost her election campaign for Olympia city council to Jeannine Roe, attended the PBIA meeting and said to the group, "I've been very inspired by the PBIA. The city is cutting every discretionary program - programs that this community loves. This program assesses yourselves and you control the programs...this is only the beginning...."

Machlis also said that the former Department of Transportation lot on State Avenue will be striped and available for free parking for the holiday season. Machlis, who is now working for the Hands On Children's Museum on grantwriting and their capital financing campaign said, "I'm impressed and hopeful that the PBIA can build on their work. I intend to stay involved...I know the thrills and struggles of entreprenership."

The "P" is for Parking

“I was initially opposed to the PBIA when it was first pitched - it was different than what it became...it’s been kind of bumpy,” says Patrick Mapp of Danger Room Comics. Many downtown business owners would call Mapp’s description an understatement. Parking, the "P" in the Parking Business Improvement Area organization, is a major sore spot for many downtown business owners.

Many businesses refused to pay the assessed fee and late notices were sent to an out-of-town collection agency. Now, the PBIA's collection agency, Grimm Collections, is locally owned, and provides an option of paying in installments or by credit card. Some still don’t want to pay it.

Daniel Furrer, former president of the Olympia Downtown Association and manager of Archibald Sisters, is adament that the PBIA's assessed fee is a cost of having a business downtown, and says, "This is a constantly evolving process. If businesses have suggestions on what the fee is going towards, come get involved with the PBIA and help determine priorities. It's a volunteer board of 13 - 15 people...come talk to us and get involved."

Ron Vansickel, owner of Peppers, at 114 Cherry Street, was one of those businesses that did not pay the PBIA fee. Vansickel says, “I’m dismayed in general by the city council. Parking is a problem - and my business was headed to the Westside because of the perception of downtown being unsafe. On Friday, for example, there were zero nearby parking places available. We’re wedged between the port construction on State Avenue, and the building of the new city hall on Fourth. To add insult to injury, parking enforcement doesn’t give us a break. I feel like the enforcement is just a revenue stream for the city….it’s bizarre that we can have a downtown without parking.”

Vansickel, who first opened Pizza Time downtown 20 years ago, says parking was rarely a problem before. “I’ve heard that we’ve lost a total of 52 parking spots with the loss of Safeway, and parking on State and Fourth due to the construction….I can't believe we don't have a parking garage.”

Above: The new Olympia City Hall under construction, November 20, 2009. No doubt, Peppers (Mexican restaurant) will enjoy great foot traffic business once the new city hall is scheduled to open January 31, 2011, if they can hang in there until then.

An estimated one third of downtown's 337 free parking spots are used by owners and employees. Theresa Anderson of Pizzazz says she and her mom have witnessed for years the activities of one man who works at the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) in the old Capitol Building on Washington Street: he comes out every one and a half hours to move his car to a new free location. Anderson described the man and his car. "He must have a timer on his computer because he comes out like clockwork. Think of the amount of company time he wastes to move his car every 90 minutes!" Free parking is scheduled to end in March with the installation of new meters.

Theresa Anderson said that 200 residents live in the Washington block of downtown Olympia. The old Hotel Olympian above Pizzazz has 50 apartments, and about 20 of those residents have cars. About ten of those residents are disabled so their cars are allowed to stay parked in one spot for several days in front of her store. Daisy Anderson added, "If the new city council doesn't see eye to eye on downtown issues, nothing will change."

Above: Signmaker Ira Coyne uses his talent on Saturday night to help Quality Burrito look spiffy.

Above: The PBIA and the Olympia Downtown Association is sponsoring a wide variety of activities downtown throughout the holiday season, November 29 - December 19. Come on down! Click to image to enlarge.

For more information on the Olympia Downtown Association and the PBIA, go to www.itsyourolympia.com.

For bus schedules, contact Intercity Transit at www.intercitytransit.com or 786-1881.

For more information on City of Olympia parking, go to www.olympiawa.gov/parking.

For a schedule of downtown activities, go to the Olympia Downtown Association at www.downtownolympia.com.

Janine Gates often walks downtown. Feeling uncharacteristically lazy, Janine drove downtown on what turned out to be a busy late afternoon on Saturday. She circled around and around for a free parking spot because she did not want to pay money to park at a Diamond parking lot, although there were many, many, many spots available. In fact, Janine has never in her 26 years in Olympia paid money to a Diamond parking lot. Parking is free downtown on Saturdays and Sundays and weekday evenings. Finally, she found a spot right in front of Old School Pizza and, being able-bodied, walked around for a couple hours to do some of these interviews. Afterwards, she got two great slices of pizza from Old School and headed home to write this article.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Imagine Olympia: Community, the Comprehensive Plan and Cake

Above: Mayor Doug Mah revs up the crowd to get excited about Olympia's upcoming Comprehensive Plan process.

By Janine Gates

"We're going to do it right, we're going to do it well, and we're going to invite all of you, and because this is Olympia, we have cake!" exclaimed City of Olympia Mayor Doug Mah at the Olympia Center downtown today.

The City of Olympia kicked off its “Imagine Olympia” campaign this afternoon to get the community engaged in the city’s update of its comprehensive plan. Mah's comments about 'doing it right' referred to the public participation process, perhaps acknowledging skepticism expressed by some on the city's ability to handle a major campaign using in-house resources and staff to effectively listen to and incorporate citizen input into a document that needs to be completed by 2011.

The Washington State Growth Management Act requires that cities develop plans to manage population and urban growth. The Olympia comprehensive plan is the city's blueprint for how it grows and accommodates citizen desires for the city to be a beautiful place to live, work and play. The city’s current plan was adopted by the City Council in 1994 after a two-year community involvement effort. As required by law, it is now time for the city to review and update the plan.

Above: Yea, the current Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map is kind of complicated, but it tells you exactly what's zoned where in Olympia.

About 200 people attended the event to learn more about city programs and priorities, meet city staff, and contribute their vision for Olympia's future. The city had staff at numerous tables around the room to discuss topics such as climate change and sea level rise, housing affordability, shoreline planning, and transportation. The Comprehensive Plan has thirteen chapters, but not all chapters will need to be extensively updated. Chapters on land use and the environment, for example, will take significant effort and time to update.

As City Councilmember Karen Messmer wandered around, she revealed an auspicious fortune inside her Dove chocolate wrapper: "Shape the future by dealing with the present."

City associate planner Jennifer Kenny handed out cloth bags that contained Imagine Olympia "home kit" host instructions for gathering comments from friends, family and neighbors on what they value about life in Olympia and what they would like the community to be like in the future. The kit contains information on projected growth statistics and visioning questions to use as talking points. The self-guided home meeting discussion should take about an hour or two. There is no firm deadline for hosting a discussion, but "the sooner the better," would be good, said Kenny.

Kenny says "Imagine Olympia" teacher curriculum packets are also available for teachers to use in the classroom and that she and Erin Scheel, Intercity Transit youth education coordinator are also available to come into classrooms to guide the process. "The goal of the curriculum is to get kids to think about the built environment and the big picture," said Kenny.

Above: "I'd like to see Oly retain its small town independent, quirky charm - I'd like buildings to be kept on the short size on isthmus or better yet a park - don't lose the artsy edge too!" (click on image to enlarge)

The only portion of the day's event that actually allowed community members to publicly express their vision for Olympia's future was on a wall of butcher paper. City staff member Kraig Chalem encouraged people to write their responses, on multi-colored sticky notes, to three city-offered questions that asked for their vision of Olympia with an assumed significant future county population growth.

The Thurston Regional Planning Council projects that Olympia and the Olympia urban growth area will grow by 20,000 people between 2010 and 2030. Some question this figure. A question posed by the city asked: How can we accommodate 20,000 more people and achieve the atmosphere you hope for? Some offered suggestions such as, "If we don't build it, they won't come," or "Send them to Lacey."

As Chalem struggled to keep the sticky notes affixed to the paper throughout the afternoon, he explained that the comments will be tabulated into general themes. "This is just a shotgun approach...we're going to have more events - we don't want to be leading people, we want people to give us their reactions."

Above: Butcher paper and sticky notes are pretty cheap - The City of Olympia has allocated $30,000 to develop and implement the two year Comprehensive Plan process. This note says, in response to what a city means to you, "This means where I know people wherever I go, where I feel kindness/friendliness (a hello and smile), where people care about their environment by keeping it clean and beautiful (more parks)."

Above: Kraig Chalem and Carlos Gemora at Saturday's "Imagine Olympia" event.

Carlos Gemora, 21, has lived in Olympia for five years and works in residential construction. Gemora says he came to the event because he has opinions on how the city should be run and likes the idea of neighborhood village zones that allow small retail areas within a neighborhood.

Gemora's mother, Teresa Staal, said, "I'm here because I feel like there is so much potential in Olympia that we are not fulfilling. We have intelligent, creative people here that we need to tap. We have the advantage that we are the state capital and have the potential to be the shining example of the state of Washington."

Above: Keith Stahley helps newly elected city council candidate Jeannine Roe get on board with the "Imagine Olympia" campaign by giving her an Imagine Olympia Home Kit.

Above: Kathy McCormick of the Thurston County Regional Planning Council speaks with former City of Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch.

Looking at various mixed land use models, former Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch ran down the list of options. "Look at this current land use menu - we can see what hasn't worked, and what has...Downtown housing hasn't panned out yet (but) when the market improves, and lending improves, we might see some action on those lots," he said, pointing to areas throughout downtown.

"These haven't worked not because the comprehensive plan is faulty, but because the market hasn't caught up with the vision of the last comprehensive plan. There are so many variables - what is the price of motor fuel going to be in ten years? Can we concentrate more jobs in Olympia so that we're able to provide a market for high density corridors without spilling over into neighborhoods?"

Asked what his vision of Olympia is, Foutch said, "I'd like Olympia to remain a place where everyone feels welcome, valued, safe, secure and heard. These things are not expressed just in the built environment - and this may sound corny - but by the hearts of the people who live and work and go to school here. Over the decades, I think we've done a good job in striving for that goal."

Longtime city Planning Commissioner Roger Horn attended the event and later said, "Clearly, there's a lot of interest in the process and we can maintain this (if) people feel like they are being heard. They are contributing to something that will have a big impact - it's a 20 year plan, but its impact will be felt for a long time - 50 years or longer."

The city will hold neighborhood meetings from January through March, 2010, and public hearings will be held at by the Planning Commission and the city council in 2011.

For more information, go to www.imagineolympia.com or call city Community Planning and Development staff at (360) 753-8314.

Above: For some, the day's events really was just about the cake - a little boy eagerly watches Keith Stahley, city Director of Community Planning and Development, serve up cake at the Olympia Center this afternoon.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jolene Unsoeld and Citizen Activism: "What Are You Going To Do About It?"

Above: Former U.S. Congresswoman and citizen activist Jolene Unsoeld.

by Janine Gates

Former Washington State Third District U.S. Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld still won't be told what to do as she fought valiant attempts by Shanna Stevenson, Director of the Women's History Consortium, to attach a corded microphone onto her blouse. Unsoeld, telling Stevenson that she needed freedom to move around when she speaks, of course, got her way.

Not only does Unsoeld move around when she speaks, she gestures with animated excitement and passion. Her trademark smile and energetic spunk was warmly welcomed by a roomful of community members and local activists seeking her insight, guidance and advice in a freewheeling one hour conversation of current topics.

Unsoeld, 77, who lives in Olympia, was an unpaid, independent citizen lobbyist from 1971 to 1984, served in the Washington State Legislature from 1985 to 1989 and in the U.S. Congress from 1989 to 1995.

Unsoeld was the guest speaker today at the Washington State Capital Museum in a program coordinated by the Women’s History Consortium. The Consortium, an initiative of the Washington State Historical Society, recently funded the processing of Unsoeld's papers at The Evergreen State College. In 2008, Unsoeld received the Washington Coalition for Open Government's James Madison Award for her lifetime work protecting open government.

Unsoeld explained the beginnings of her activism, which, for many mothers, often begins with their children's interest in political affairs. "I got married young and had four children while my husband was in graduate school...then we went to Nepal with the Peace Corps....When we came back, we were really thrown off center. Our family was exposed to television for the first time - starving children in Biafra and the Vietnam War."

Unsoeld described the pivotal moment that led to her future political activism: "My eldest son, then 16, was so (emotionally) decimated by world's affairs, and had many discussions with his parents about what he could do. His queries were usually answered, 'No, I don't think that will work; no, going to jail won't stop the war...' "Finally, out of absolute disgust, he asked at the dinner table one night, "Well, Mom and Dad, what are you going to do about it?"

When they moved to Olympia in 1970, Unsoeld says she literally wandered into the state Capitol Building out of curiosity and it wasn't long before she got involved in the political process.

From her first hand experiences, Unsoeld says the lesson she learned, one that will remain constant despite the era or issue, is for activists to learn to follow the money in political campaigns.

Unsoeld's early work included helping successfully spearhead I-276, the Public Disclosure Act, which later resulted in the establishment of the Public Disclosure Commission, which monitors candidate fundraising activities.

Describing her research work in pre-computer days during the election cycles of 1974 and 1976, Unsoeld monitored and tabulated about 400 candidates on a daily basis as reports came in, using card files and large notebooks.

"I was learning a lot as I looked at these reports coming in," as Unsoeld noticed significant conflict of interest connections in an Eastern Washington race. The local newspaper ignored her information, but Unsoeld says she appreciated the fact that KING-TV and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer took notice of her work.

Almost singlehandedly, Unsoeld then created a grassroots booklet on her Underwood typewriter called, "Who Gave, Who Got, How Much?" which summarized her findings. Many names and addresses of contributors were, at first glance, seemingly unconnected, but were discovered, through Unsoeld's research, to be directly connected. "What I learned is that the grassroots efforts that is represented by lots of small individual contributions could overcome the mass of high contributions by vested interest groups."

Audience member Alan Mountjoy-Venning asked Unsoeld about the impact of Glenn Beck forcing certain candidates forward when more reasonable candidates are available who are actually interested in true dialogue. Unsoeld responded, "I think the liberal wing of the media and the public is not fully recognizing the danger here. There is just enough of the extreme element to stomp on the majority...."

Unsoeld said that the Democrats need catchy slogans like those created by Republican wordsmith and strategist Frank Luntz, whom she described as "a genius the Democrats have never had." Luntz creates small focus groups and finds out what phrases people will respond to, "although they have nothing to do with reality," like "death tax," "public option," and "government takeover."

"Words are words, and they can be positive ones, but Democrats have not found their words to make their message on healthcare, or Wall Street or any of those issues, to find a solution."

Speaking of Tim Eyman and the initiative process, Unsoeld said, "The initiative process used to be a process of the people rising up and speaking out on an issue. Do you think it is anymore? No....We are all interest groups, but I'm talking about monied, vested interest groups that have the wherewithall to take over the process...Eyman is making a permanent living off of it - I think it's a real fluke, fortunately, that he didn't succeed this time, but there is a real danger there, and there is a lesser ability for people to make more of a difference...."

Unsoeld asked the audience to ask themselves, "What is it that's coming up this next session? The money is already flowing...there are those forces at work....We must follow the money ahead of time, before the issue arises...(but) with the lack of investigative reporting, the news media can't do it right now...the people need to lead. There isn't any shortcut...."

An audience member asked what are the sources of truth. Unsoeld, who had read passages from the New York Times, the Washington Spectator and quoted "her hero" public affairs commentator Bill Moyers, said, "The problem is that there are a lot of good public interest groups that do good, but when an issue gets too hot and costs them membership and contributions from good government types, they back off...."

"There is no substitute for an informed, participatory public. It just takes dogged, dogged work, and we're all tired, our age group particularly, so we've got to get those youngsters going. They were out in the last campaign but they've got to stay there....it's a long haul. Those are the battles that have to be fought for social justice and they are so important. If you try to stay on the sidelines, you're just deceiving yourself...so you have to find that that inner strength to keep going."

"We have to be willing to get muddy to understand how it all works...as long as you have people on all sides who have (gotten muddy), then things will be fairly balanced and honest...There is no absolute right or wrong on any issue. You have to struggle with every step to keep your values and goals in your mind...."

And as people left the room and went out into the blustery weather that left some areas without power this afternoon, Unsoeld, whose talk was punctuated by applause several times, had clearly succeeded in delivering the challenge to her audience to get muddy and make a difference.

To learn about the Women's History Consortium, contact the Washington State Historical Society at www.wshs.org or www.WashingtonWomensHistory.org for more information.

To "follow the money" and see who contributes to candidates and how much, go to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission at www.pdc.wa.gov.

Above: Former U.S. Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld speaks with audience members at the Washington State Capital Museum today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Night's Not Over....

Above: Karen Rogers, Candidate for Olympia City Council Position #4, and John Whalen, video producer for Thurston Community Television (TCTV). Whalen called TCTV to let the station know that Rogers was available for an interview.

by Janine Gates

Olympia City Council candidates held election night parties at local venues such as the Urban Onion, Oyster House, Procession of the Species and Rambling Jack's, but city council candidate Karen Rogers held her party at a private home in the Eastside neighborhood.

At 9:30 p.m., Thurston Community Television (TCTV) completed its coverage, and Karen Rogers, candidate for Olympia City Council Position #4, held a slim lead tonight with 4,662 votes to Karen Veldheer's 4,421. Although the race is too close to call, Rogers was asked how she was going to celebrate. Rogers, with her typical dead-pan humor, said, "I'm going to get a cat after Thanksgiving. I'm going to go visit my family in Florida. Then I'm going to go down to Animal Services."

Turning serious, she said, "I'm honored that the Olympia voters have put their trust in me - what I can promise is that I will continue to work as hard on the council as I have on the campaign and continue to listen."

The final city council race numbers for the evening in other races are:

Position #5:

Stephen Buxbaum 5,595
Jeff Kingsbury 4,049

Position #6:

Jeannine Dellwo Roe 4,649
Joan Machlis 4,566

Position #7:

Joe Hyer: 5,514
Tony Sermonti: 3,564

Above: Janine Gates takes a picture of Karen Rogers while she is talking with Thurston Community Television (TCTV).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Senior Citizens Conference Raises Health Care, Taxes and I-1033 Debates - Senator Rodney Tom Says He Would Vote For a Tax Increase

Above: Governor Christine Gregoire addresses the day-long Senior Citizens Foundation Conference in Seattle on Friday.

by Janine Gates

Passions and tensions ran higher and higher as the day worn on at the Senior Citizens Foundation 2009 Annual Fall Conference held in Seattle on Friday.

Health care dominated the discussions as the interconnectedness of senior issues, the national health care bills, the potential impact of Tim Eyman’s I-1033 on Washington State, the pending state revenue forecast and talk of various revenue raising options hit home.

The Washington State 2010 Legislative Session will be grim as the state faces a $2 billion shortfall, and there is a temptation to eliminate state-only funded services such as the Senior Citizen’s Services Act and the Family Caregiver Support Program. Debate ensued on all aspects of revenue and expenditures and there was even mention of a possible state income tax.

Governor Christine Gregoire welcomed 400 health care and senior advocates and agency staff to the conference and when the topic soon turned to health care, reminded the audience that even she, as a recent breast cancer survivor, could be excluded from future health care coverage because of her now “pre-existing condition” even though, she says, “she’s as healthy as a horse.”

Above: The Washington State Council on Aging named Margaret Casey, lobbyist for the Seattle-King County Aging and Disability Services, as a recipient of the 2009Excellence in Action Award for her work and service to senior citizens. Governor Gregoire presented her with her award on Firday.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler also addressed the group saying, “It is critical that we see Congress act on health care before they recess. If we fail, we’re putting it off for another decade.” This prediction was agreed upon by many health care area experts, legislators, and advocates in the room throughout the day.

One in five Washingtonians do not have health care insurance, equaling one million residents, “but that number doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Kreidler. One out of four don’t have enough money for full coverage and choose between paying their mortgage or coverage. The number one reason people go into personal bankruptcy, Kriedler said, is because of health care costs.

“The ones who are most impacted are those 19 to 64 (years of age). They are working, they are contributing, but they’re the one’s getting shafted the worst. They are supporting us - the rest of the population….We’re in a position right now to bridge the generations….We need change - we need universal coverage. The system is failing and the opportunity is now. There’s a lot of agreement out there that doesn’t make the news…I believe we’re going to have transformational health care reform,” said Kreidler.

Kreidler said he is putting together a commission called, “Let’s Make It Real,” a coalition of 15-20 doctors, advocates, local elected officials and administrators to present recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature about how the state can best implement health care reform. “It won’t be a ceiling, it will be a floor…” said Kreidler.

“When I go to bed at night, I think about what if we (as a country) don’t take this step toward health care reform - we’ll spend $33 trillion dollars in the next decade and look like a Third World country. We’ll be outspending our competitors two to one - that’s a recipe for disaster for the U.S. economy.” said Kreidler.

Above: Washington State Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Denny Heck moderated two health care discussion panels, saying he too, is not immune to the health care crisis. As a former legislator and chief of staff to Governor Booth Gardner, Heck, 57, says he retired six years ago and has a well-known health care coverage carrier, but has seen his rates go up from $700 a month to $1500 a month for his family of three. “And it’s not a high end plan. Now you know why I’m looking forward to Medicare,” Heck joked.

National HealthCare Debate

There was considerable discussion about the two bills now facing the U.S. Congress in the House and Senate. The House released its consolidated bill today and could be voted on next week. The Senate version is expected to be released soon. And when could a final bill be forwarded to the White House? “If we’re lucky, it will be a Christmas present,” said panelist Lee Goldberg, Policy Director for the Long Term Care Division at Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“Is this really going to happen?” asked Heck.

“If I had a farm, I’d bet the farm that this is going to happen,” said Goldberg.

“With all due respect to Kreidler and the Governor, they are way too optimistic but we’re on the right path…this is the first of a series of efforts and luckily our commander in chief is still a community organizer,” said panelist Aaron Katz, University of Washington lecturer, Department of Health Service.

Ingrid McDonald, Advocacy Director for the AARP Washington, said that there was a delay in the progress of the conversation because "here has been a tremendous amount of fear-mongering to scare seniors - there is nothing in these bills that will cut Medicare benefits,” McDonald assured.

“Anytime you hear ‘The Medicare sky is falling,’ consider the source,” agreed Goldberg. “No matter what, states are going to be the big winners in this health care reform because it will pump money into state programs.”

Representative Sherri Appleton, D-23 District, said she is a big supporter of universal health care and detailed amendments Senator Maria Cantwell dropped into the Senate bill.

Aaron Katz lamented that there is nothing in these bills that will actually reduce health care costs. Ingrid McDonald said cost reduction would require more federal involvement than we would want, saying “unfortunately, there is a financial incentive to over-serve.”

So what can we do? Get in touch with your representatives on a national and local level, write letters to the editor, and emphasize, if you are, a senior citizen and that you support health care reform, panelists suggested.

On the House side, Representatives Rick Larson, Brian Baird and Adam Smith are still hold-outs. “If you live in their district, you need to break their arms,” said Appleton.

“I’m sure you mean that figuratively,” clarified Heck.

“Just don’t break the arm they vote with,” joked Goldberg.

“The only way we’re going to get health care reform is if the people demand it, so get out there,” said Katz.

Washington’s I-1033, Taxes, and the 2010 Legislative Session

The conference's afternoon session got even testier as State Senator Rodney Tom, D-48th District and Vice Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee expressed frustration with I-1033, asking the audience, “If I-1033 passes, do you want me to break the state’s obligation to K-12 or do you want me to break the initative?”

Nora Gibson, Executive Director of Elder Health NW was blunt, saying “People will die if this goes forward - if you whittle down their level of support, bad things will happen.”

“We are a humanitarian society…we need real, non-hysterical, non-finger pointing conversations with the public that says we have to have revenue. What are you willing to pay for? Do you want our most fragile population out in the ice? We have to tell it like it is,” said Senator Rosa Franklin, D-29th District.

“If I-1033 passes, “it will force a tax increase this session,” said Senator Tom.

Tom says he would vote for a tax increase. “We need to get real. We have a lot of corporate loopholes to look at.” Tom suggested that he would close the car trade-in allowance, saying “it’s a $200 million giveaway. That’s real money. The problem with that is there are car dealers in all 49 districts who will say ‘that will put us out of business’ but I don’t think it will make a difference - people will either buy a car or not.”

“If I-1033 is defeated, we are not going to fill the (state budget) hole with taxes. “There will have to be a mixture of loophole closures and sin taxes,” suggested Tom. Tom pointed out that churches and synagogues do not pay property taxes. “We need to look at these loopholes…we are making cuts we’ve never dreamed of.”

Franklin added, “These cuts (we made to the budget) were not easy…there were tears.”

“I’ve committed myself to not be part of an all-cuts budget. We’ve done all the harm we can do. We need to be compassionate. Maybe we can’t have a balanced budget. Maybe we should bond that debt,” said Representative Appleton from the back of the packed room, which caused a major stir of conversation.

“I’m brave but not stupid,” responded Tom. “We have a lot of bonds out there. We have one of the best bond ratings out there and if we change that, they will downgrade…We need to be straight with the public: this is how much government costs, and here’s the revenue…Mathematically, we have to take everything off to get to $2 billion. You are going to see some new revenue.”

“People have to take leadership, overcome fear, say the “T” word (taxes) and have a state we can be proud to live in,” Nora Gibson agreed.

When asked what will happen during session, Franklin said that the Governor will eventually say, “Bring me a bill…." Franklin added, "We have no where to go. We have no money (and) we can not have an all-cuts budget. The Governor has a heart and she will do the right thing.”

“We can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing - we have to bite the bullet and have a real conversation about our state tax situation without the rhetoric and talk show hosts,” Franklin said. This was greeted by applause from the audience. “We have to engage the community: What do you want? What are you willing to pay for, and what are you willing to delay? We have an unsustainable tax structure that does not support the services you expect,” said Franklin.

Asked by Heck to make a prediction on I-1033, Senator Tom replied, “I predict on Tuesday we’ll reject I-1033.”

“We can’t let people like Tim who feed on fear to control what happens,” concluded Nora Gibson.

A State Income Tax?

An audience member asked about a state income tax, to which Tom replied, “We are going to be forced into that conversation. The B&O tax, which is unique to Washington, is 19% of our revenue. Do we lower a business's rate or do they leave the state? They have a gun to our head every time….Microsoft came to us last year asking for a tax rebate in Quincy and we said no and they went to Texas! We’re seeing that more and more - that's what’s going to force this change.”

Another asked about the Boeing decision to take its business to South Carolina. Senator Tom quickly retorted, “I do not believe Boeing left because of the B&O…Boeing is a military contractor. That’s what this is about - this gave South Carolina taxpayers $175 million and Boeing gained two new senators in this deal - it was not about our tax structure.”

South Sound Activists

Ruth Shearer of Lacey, came to the conference as a member of the Senior Citizen’s Lobby to help with registration. “Health care - it’s so important to understand what’s going on. Shearer said one of her grandsons was born with tumors that, at age three, turned cancerous. A treatment was successful and her grandson, now 26, is healthy, but “has a pre-existing condition that will affect him forever.” Her grandson’s health affected his parent’s job choices his whole life because they needed a large enough company that has a group plan, at a high cost for very little coverage, that would cover the whole family and his pre-existing condition.

Former Senator Don Carlson lives in Olympia and is now a lobbyist for the Washington State School Retirees Association. “I have kids and grandkids. Health care is not just an old person’s problem - it’s the young person’s, too. (They) need to protect their children."

Carlson said he is helping to coordinate a health care forum series in Olympia that will be sponsored by all Olympia faith congregations. It will start January 12, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at First Christian Church, and run for eight sessions over a period of two months. “The House and Senate leadership, professionals and advocates will participate, encourage civil dialogue and answer people’s questions about health care,” said Carlson.

Gene Forrester, 81, of Olympia is the immediate past president of the Washington State School Retirees Association. Forrester also served on the AARP National Policy Council for eight years and says he’s most concerned about cost reduction of the health care system.

“I’m a rarity that I don’t have to take any prescription drugs but it’s currently illegal for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for reduced prices, and that’s something I’d like to see changed in the final bill,” said Forrester.

Above: Olympian Gene Forrester is quite a guy. Besides volunteering with the Kiwanis Club's Food Bank, he just returned last week from Phoenix where he played seven games in the World Softball Tournament. His team, the Northwest 80's" came in third place.

For more information, contact the Washington State Senior Citizens Lobby at www.waseniorlobby.org, or (360) 754-0207.

Above: Senator Rosa Franklin chats with a participant of the Senior Citizens Foundation conference on Friday.