Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012: A Busy, Rough Year for Olympia's Police Department

"People don’t call the police because they are having a good day...."

by Janine Unsoeld

On a daily basis, an on-duty police officer is potentially tasked with responding to reports of vehicle thefts, loitering, drug related offenses, suicides, traffic accidents, home and retail burglaries, disorderly conduct, domestic disturbances, and, in the summer particularly, loud parties.

Add to that public service calls such as welfare checks on the elderly or others in need. Add to that the responsibility of being put on the front lines of an increasingly deteriorating economic situation that puts more homeless and mentally ill on the streets, and officers also become required to be all-round social service workers.

Add five homicides to that, and you have a department that is strapped, both emotionally and financially.

It's been a busy, rough year for Olympia's police department.

Dealing with a diverse population with growing needs is challenging for officers in cities across the country, both in large cities, and smaller ones, such as Olympia.

Recently, when Olympia city manager Steve Hall urged the council to create an emergency ordinance to not allow camping on the grounds of city hall, it was an effort to better protect city staff and the public entering the building, and move a homeless population elsewhere. The council did not pass the ordinance and the homeless are still able to camp there -  for now. The homeless are escorted away from the front of city hall by staff and sometimes police officers and the area is cleaned every morning with pressure washers at 6:00 a.m. City hall doors open to the public at 8:00 a.m.

As Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said during a recent city council meeting, "we have an outstanding (police) force - I think they do a good job. Unfortunately, police are too often on the front line of social issues and are forced to manage a situation with too little resources."

Referring to homelessness, he said, "This is not an Olympia problem, it's a national problem...Olympia is not alone...most are homeless out of other issues. It's not a problem of homelessness but health and safety...."

A Quick Profile of the Olympia Police Department

Creating a ever-growing laundry list of questions and concerns earlier this month, I met with Sergeant Paul Johnson and Laura Wohl, public information officer for the Olympia Police Department (OPD).

Based on those interviews, several clarifying, follow up emails, and other research, here is a quick profile of the department and other issues and challenges facing the Olympia Police Department.

  • In 2011, OPD responded to about 50,500 calls for service and, as of six days ago, is on track to respond to 52,000 calls for service in 2012. That’s more than one call for service per capita. 

  • The Olympia police department is composed of 64 commissioned officers, including Chief Ronnie Roberts, a commander, four lieutenants, eight sergeants and 50 police officers and police recruits.The department also has nearly 29 civilian and limited commissioned employees. "Limited commissioned" employees are jail staff who have some, but not all, of the same authority as police officers.

  • Officers are divided into four shifts: daytime, two swing shifts, and one graveyard. The number of officers on duty per day varies, with no lower than four. All shifts overlap in time. Right now, one or two officers work three days a week downtown. The city is divided into four sections: westside, downtown, northeast, and southeast. Scheduling is "incredibly complicated," says Wohl, due to the shifts, contracts with labor unions, vacation schedules, and sickness and other issues.

  • The department is not fully staffed, and there's no "borrowing" of officers from other cities. Officers work overtime, providing the department with safety and financial concerns. The department has hired six new officers in 2012, with seven left to fill.

  • Officers can retire at age 53, which puts them on the leading edge of the baby boomer age, causing real problems in recruiting and hiring. Officer tenure in Olympia is very long, and rarely has someone left the department. It takes one year to fully train an officer so that he or she is able to operate as a solo officer.

  • There are no African American police officers in the department. There is one Asian American officer. Wohl did not know the answer about the number of Hispanic officers, because she said she is not sure which officers meet that category.

  • There are seven women officers in the department, and two currently in the police academy.

  • There are two Spanish speaking officers, one of whom is from Spain and speaks Basque. Wohl did not know what dialect of Spanish the other officer speaks. The department has one Russian speaking officer, and one certified American Sign Language speaker.

Johnson said an interpreter of some sort is needed "once every couple of weeks." Officers are needed who speak Spanish and Asian languages, particularly Vietnamese and Cambodian, to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in the area. When needed, out of area interpreters are contacted through a national commununications center and patched in on a telephone. "There's a cost to it...and the defendent speaks to him or her. It's OK for certain things but it can't be used as evidence, so if we have a crime, we need a certified interpreter to testify," says Johnson.

  • Officers are paid an average of $61 an hour in overtime (time and a half). Sergeants receive more per hour. When asked how much overtime has been expended by OPD in Thurston County's pursuance of their case against Scott Yoos, Wohl says the department has no way of tracking regular hours or overtime related to a specific case. (For more information about the Scott Yoos case, see other articles by Janine Unsoeld at and type in key words into the search button.)

  • There are gangs in Olympia, with an uptick in their presence in the last two years. They come primarily from Pierce County.

  • Residential burglaries are "huge," says Wohl, much larger than in previous years, mainly in the northeast and westside, and a recent rash in the southeast neighborhoods. The department is not clear why, but a large percentage are drug related. Olympia has a huge heroin and methamphetamine problem. Sixty-nine percent of residential burglaries this past summer were due to unsecured homes and garages. Vehicle prowls are also rising.

The best advice the department can give residents, Wohl says, is to "secure your homes and cars." Neighbors looking out for other neighbor's homes and property is also key.

The department receives hundreds of calls a day. "People will call the police for everything, even to ask for directions on how to get to Best Buy. We do our best to direct people, because they are used to calling the police department for everything," says Wohl.

Wohl said dealing with the mentally ill is one of the biggest responsibilities currently facing the police department.

"They are disruptive, scary, and threatening...the police are caught between a rock and a hard place," says Wohl. "There doesn't seem to be a single social service agency that can deal with them...these are often people known to us, and they've been declared incompetent. Then, they end up in jail. That's not the place for them."

She said the police chief is trying to build a net for the mentally ill by working with the city prosecuting attorney.

"It's necessary to find solutions....for example, we have not one, but two individuals who are paranoid, and call 911 hundreds of times a day. Not only does this tie up 911 resources, but it ties up officer's time," said Wohl.

How Does One Find Out About An Incident Involving the Police?

Wohl said that the department has two databases. One is a computer-aided dispatch log, called a CAD log, which documents every call responded to by the department. For example, following a public records request, I looked at a CAD log summary from June 1 - July 1, 2012. It was 168 pages, with about 27 listings on each page. That's about 4,536 calls in the month of June. If a call becomes a case, then it is assigned a case number.

Meeting with Wohl a couple weeks ago, I inquired about a situation I had heard about and had done a public records request based on the information I knew: a big, deaf man was Tasered by Olympia police on Percival Landing in July. You'd think that would have garnered the necessary report, but since I did not know a case number, I was given a massive file of calls reported in July. I could not find the actual case.

After our interview, Wohl provided me the report.

Deaf Man Tased On Percival Landing - Mentally Ill or Just Singing and Dancing?

The case I specifically requested information about seems to illustrate many challenging issues facing the Olympia police department. Although the case is a matter of public record, Little Hollywood is choosing not to identify the individual or the officers. Whether the man involved in this case is actually mentally ill was not determined.

In a case the police classified as a "mental problem," Olympia police were dispatched to Percival Landing for a report of a disorderly adult male on July 4th. The caller who reported the man said that the person was running around yelling and screaming, appearing to be under the influence of something.

According to the officer's report, the man was large. The report says the man was 6'4 and 242 pounds. The officer says he made "several attempts to draw his attention to me, before I was immediately upon him. I yelled to get his attention, but he did not respond....He looked away from me, walked about 15' to the base of a tree, where he knelt down and started digging in the dirt with his hands...." The officer again attempted to get his attention, to no avail. The officer attempted to secure the man. The officer says,  "(I) drew my Taser CED, pointed it at (his) upper back" and directed (the other officer) to handcuff him. The man resisted, and (the first officer) again Tasered the man. The CED produced the desired affect, in that (the man) immediately stopped resisting and rolled to his back. He did remain tense...there was no further use of force, and no injury, other than 2 CED probe wounds."

"(The man) had now stopped screaming, but took a seated position on the ground and kept trying to scoot away from us. He still ignored all attempts to try to communicate with him. One citizen approached and told us she believes (the man) is deaf. That does appear to be the case. Medics responded to the scene and attempted to evaluate (his) condition. He was transported to St. Peter Hospital by private carrier. Upon medical clearance, (he) will be committed to Crisis Services for a psychological evaluation."

The report goes on to say that a supervisor was called to the scene, and conducted several interviews of people who witnessed the incident. A woman on the scene felt the officers used inappropriate force. The woman said that the man was "just singing and dancing on the grass, and said she didn't know why officers were called or what they were told, but did not feel that the male deserved the actions she had witnessed from the officers. She further stated she had not heard verbal commands given to the male."

Another woman interviewed said that she, her husband, and a friend did observe the male for about ten minutes and it did seem that his behavior was "odd."

Another person, the man who made the initial phone call to the police, said that it wasn't his intention to get the man in trouble, but that he thought the situation should be "checked out".

Another man approached the police officers and the supervisor and said he knew the man was deaf because he had witnessed an incident involving the man at the Salvation Army the day before.

In closing, the report by the supervisor, the acting sergeant of that shift, states, "The actions of both officers were within policy and met with the reasonable officer standard based on the totality of the circumstances."

According to Wohl, the case was also reviewed by the patrol lieutenant for the team involved, the professional standards lieutenant, the commander and the chief.

Wohl said the department does track the number of Taser uses by the department, and that information will be provided to Little Hollywood in January.

Police Oversight: Citizen Review or Police Auditor...or Neither?

According to Wohl, the Olympia police department does not have a police auditor - the position was cut for budgetary reasons in 2009. The department has never had a citizen review panel, although there has been discussion about it.

"It is very unusual for a department of our size to have a citizen review panel. If a citizen makes a complaint, a professional standards lieutenant does a complete investigation into policy and law. For some complaints, a dispute mediator is used, for example, if a complainant feels an officer was's different than any other employment situation. It's a full investigation when a complaint is made of any kind," says Wohl.

"After the professional standards lieutenant makes his or her findings, it is reviewed by the commander and chief of police. If it is sustained, disciplinary action is taken. If somebody doesn't like the determination, and feels they have been harmed, they can make a claim with the city, or file a civil liability tort, and sue us."

In the past, a police auditor reported directly to the city council. The auditor, hired on an annual contract, reported on a quarterly basis, and conducted an internal affairs investigation, looking into use of force and other complaints.

It is not clear from the July police report regarding the incident on Percival Landing how or whether training protocol designed to help police deal with the deaf and hard of hearing was followed. The report does not describe how the officers attempted to get the man's attention, how they missed the fact that he was deaf, nor does it say that the man attempted to use sign language or indicate to officers that he was hearing impaired.

Crisis Intervention Training for Police Officers

A 13 minute training video to help police deal with the deaf and hard of hearing has been viewed by all Olympia police department officers, says Sergeant Paul Johnson. The video and training course manual was reviewed by this reporter through a public records request in September.

The video is part of a 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) course curriculum created in 2008. It is sponsored and prepared by several agencies including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Providence St. Peter Hospital, Behavioral Health Resources, the Olympia Police Department, and United Way of Thurston/Mason County. The material is taught by guest instructors and adapted from Seattle, Portland, and Memphis police department curriculum.

Sergeant Paul Johnson says that "most officers" have been through the CIT course training. "My hope is that everyone can (take it). It's pretty expensive - it takes a week to put an individual through the class, and they have to be compensated by state law. So, getting off-duty officers to come in and take it is difficult," says Johnson.

Training Video to Deal With the Deaf and Hearing Impaired

According to the video, which outlines several scenarios and procedures for getting the attention of the deaf and hard of hearing, about 12% of the population has some form of hearing loss.

The video says that "when people have a hearing loss, they should let you know of their situation and how they will need to communicate...the individual may be very expressive with their hands and facial gestures. Be prepared for this as it is part of their communication. Also be aware that some persons who are hard of hearing may speak in a very loud voice. This has often been wrongly interpreted as someone who is angry and contrast, the person who is smiling at you and not responding may not be understanding you."

The video continues, "When giving instructions, keep in mind they cannot understand you if they cannot see your face. Explain procedure and demonstrate facing the person what you want them to do. This can also be a problem when applying handcuffs to the person. Again, first explain what you are going to do before you do it. Handcuffs will also not allow the person to use hand signals when trying to communicate."

The video also states that "just because they (those detained) are hard of hearing or deaf does not mean they cannot pose a threat," pointing out that there is a need to communicate differently without compromising one's safety.

Challenges and Future Conversations

Olympia compares itself to other cities based on city population, rather than department size. Some of our comparable cities are: Auburn, Bremerton, Federal Way, Lacey, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Marysville, Renton and Richland. However, Olympia is unique in several ways.

"For our size, we have a lot of activity - not necessarily criminal - but because we are the state capitol, we have an active citizenry. Other communities are not as active. One of our biggest challenges too, unlike other cities in the county, is that we have a downtown. It's a gathering place. We also have a traveling population, due to having a major transit station (Greyhound), and they don't necessarily have ties to the community," said Wohl.

Asked last week if there was anything else she'd like to add to help community members better understand the Olympia police department, Wohl said, "One thing that I don’t think most people understand is the nature and volume of work we have...people don’t call the police because they are having a good day – they call them when something has gone wrong. Officers often deal with people at emotional extremes and they do it calmly and effectively day in and day out."

For more information: The Olympia police chief meets with community groups, neighborhood associations, social service and civic groups upon invitation. If you would like to meet with Chief Ronnie Roberts, call Laura Wohl at or (360) 951-8889, or go to the police department webpage at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emergency Shelters for the Homeless Go Year Round

Emergency Shelters for the Homeless Go Year Round

by Janine Unsoeld

Advocates for the homeless are a devoted, seemingly tireless, loose connection of social service organizations, faith communities and people concerned about homeless issues.

Recently, many have eloquently spoken up, some for the first time, at Olympia city council meetings in response to ordinances that move homeless campers away from city hall property and criminalize sitting or lying on sidewalks.

Much of their work is behind-the-scenes for most of us, but very much on the front lines for those who need it most.

In a spot of good news in what is a daunting, ongoing issue for the community, these advocates, along with area congregations, have now made it possible for emergency shelters to be open year round. Funding to take this new step came from Thurston County and United Way.

The new shelter coordinator, Laurian Weissner, coordinates locations and their schedules. His part time paid position with Interfaith Works is currently funded for one year.

"Traditionally, the shelters for homeless men and women have operated seasonally during the cold weather months, ending in February for men, and ending in March for women," said Weissner, in an interview today.

Weissner says that in order for the shelters to be operational year round, current participating churches host twice a year. He has the women's shelters tentatively scheduled through the beginning of May and is appealing for two or three more congregations to "step-up" and help host the shelter.

Weissner urged that anyone needing emergency shelter should call (360) 515-5620. He also emphasized that people will not be denied shelter for theological reasons, meaning, they will not be required to participate in any religious ceremonies sponsored by the host church.

The women's shelter provides 18 beds for the homeless women, while the men's shelter provides 12 beds. Unused beds at the women's shelter are also available to families when the Family Shelter is full.

Local churches shelter homeless women in two week rotation cycles. St. Michael Parish on Olympia's eastside and Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey shelter homeless men. Coordination and screening to house the men and women is done through Sidewalk, Olympia's homeless advocacy and support center, and Interfaith Works.

The women's shelter is currently at The Lutheran Church of Good Shephard, on North Street in Olympia.

Partnership Organizations

The women's emergency overflow shelter provided 1,786 bed-nights of shelter in winter 2011-12, hosted on a rotating basis by 12 different congregations. The shelter is now officially called the "Women's Interfaith Shelter."

"Usage of the shelter in November 2012 was about double the volume of the previous year," said Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, in an email to Little Hollywood yesterday.

"After 22 years of operating various types of winter-only shelters, we heard a growing chorus of our faith community members seeking ways to serve the year-round needs of unsheltered people. With funding in hand from the County and United Way, Interfaith Works will begin in Spring 2013 operating the faith-based shelters for both men and women every night of the year. This will require significantly more volunteers and participating churches and temples than ever before, but we are all determined to fill this gap in our shelter system," said Kadden.

There are few alternatives for women without Interfaith Works' shelter involvement. The Salvation Army has only 14 beds for single women and has limitations on the length of their stays. Bread and Roses can only serve 12 women at a time and sometimes has a waiting list.

The system is complicated for all who are involved. Apart from the Salvation Army and Interfaith Works' shelter, youth 22 years or younger are served by Community Youth Services. Families are served by the Family Support Center, and women fleeing domestic violence are served by Safeplace.

When and if Olympia's Smith building on 8th Avenue is operational, it will have family transitional housing on top, and a family shelter on the bottom. That's the long-range vision. Funding for it is significant.

Advocate Christie Kruger

Christie Kruger, a longtime, trained volunteer advocate for the homeless, urges more churches to become involved in hosting the homeless.

"Churches do not have to be a member of Interfaith Works to participate in the rotation, but they preferrably need to be on a bus line."

Kruger serves the homeless in multiple roles as an in-take coordinator at Sidewalk, conducting brief interviews with people who walk-in needing housing or referrals to other resources. She also assigns clients to other volunteers for longer term advocacy. Sidewalk advocates help clients fill out applications, apply for state and federal benefits and find housing.

"There's layers and layers of work, depending on their situation. It can be overwhelming." Kruger does suffer from burn-out from time to time, but it doesn't last long.

She's also an overnight host at the women's shelter operated by Interfaith Works. Volunteer hosts check in the shelter guests, spend the night at the church with them, and do laundry. Two hosts sleep over each night. One of the hosts needs to be a woman. Shelter hours are from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. with lights out at 10 p.m.

As if that's not enough, she also schedules volunteer hosts for Camp Quixote, the homeless "tent city" that rotates from church to church.

Kruger, who has an approachable, friendly style, spent several nights with the women when St. John's Episcopal Church hosted the women's shelter from November 30 to December 13.

"Reaching out to the poor is a basic tenant of almost every's in their ministry," says Kruger.

"One of the benefits of doing this type of work is breaking down stereotypes and stigmas. Participating congregations will find they create and enrich a sense of community in their hosts as well as for the guests who might otherwise be outcast or socially isolated."

"If the homeless don't get screened into a shelter, where can they sleep safely, or at all? That's what it comes down to...." says Kruger.

SideWalk will be having a volunteer training in January. Go to and click "volunteer" to sign up for training or find out more information. 

Sidewalk is currently looking for volunteers to serve as greeters, hospitality volunteers, volunteer support specialists, advocates, and intake specialists. Volunteers can give as much or as little as they are able, though most of Sidewalk's work is done during business hours, Monday- Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

For more information, contact Emma Margraf, Community Outreach Manager at Sidewalk at (360) 515-5587 or

Interfaith Works has comprehensive information, including a calendar of events and activities, on their website at

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

by Janine Unsoeld

Homeless campers can stay put for now on the grounds of city hall and other city properties, such as the Olympia Center. Upon hearing the news during the city council meeting, many started bedding down for the night near the doors of city hall about 10:00 p.m.

On first reading, the Olympia City Council passed a proposed ordinance Tuesday night against camping on city property, which means there is time to put to work several ideas addressing homelessness issues before the ordinance will be heard again on January 8, 2013.

Councilmember Cooper voted no against the ordinance.

After thanking city manager Steve Hall for his efforts, Cooper said, "I do think there are other ways to do it. When I ran for this office, I promised my wife I would use my power for good...I have a feeling in my gut that this doesn't reflect the community's values...." Cooper endorsed a Homeless Bill of Rights proposed by homeless advocate Rob Richards at last week's council meeting.

If the ordinance passes on second reading, the ordinance would become effective on February 8, and the homeless will have to find other places to sleep.

After an impassioned public comment period dominated by numerous advocates for the homeless, and discussion by council members, the resistance to not pass the ordinance tonight on first and final reading signaled a compromise in hopes that several ideas to address homelessness issues will have a chance to be put in place.

One such idea is a youth shelter tentatively called Rosie's At Night. Operated by Community Youth Services (CYS), Rosie's is a place in downtown Olympia where youth 21 years and younger can hang out, get food, obtain supplies and gain access to other community resources. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he has been in conversation with CYS executive director Charles Shelan about it for three months and thinks the shelter could be activated around January 23.

Buxbaum also said that additional council monies could be allocated to Interfaith Works for use by homeless outreach organizations like the Emma Goldman Youth Homeless Outreach Project (EGYHOP), and Partners in Prevention Education.

Buxbaum also said the Union Gospel Mission is exploring their own enterprise to create a shelter. He also said that there is a conversation with the Salvation Army to address a change in guest in-take procedures. "We need to find out what's wrong with the system that there are empty beds."

Meg Martin, an EGYHOP outreach worker, in her public remarks addressed the fact that the Salvation Army has vacancies at their shelter despite people being on the street because the organization has barriers that "take away people's respect, dignity, and choices."

She said that while she kept homeless people warm last night, offering them hot coffee, she spoke with 22 people who filled out questionnaires about their needs. In response to unmanaged camping, she presented the council a detailed proposal for a low-barrier emergency overnight shelter for those who do not utilize current shelters.

Another portion of the ordinance addressed a change in the use of sidewalks. It passed on first and final reading and restricts laying down on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight. Again, Councilmember Cooper voted no, joined by Buxbaum, because it did not contain a sunset clause, which would allow it to expire in a year. The ordinance against busking was repealed.

This was the last city council meeting of the year. The next meeting will be Tuesday, January 8th. The proposed ordinance will be scheduled on the agenda under other business.

Land Use Committee Meeting

The minutes of the council's Land Use Committee meeting on Thursday, December 6 have still not been posted on line on the city's website or been made available to the public. The committee, chaired by Steve Langer, also includes councilmembers Julie Hankins and Jeannine Roe.

The December 6 meeting followed the contentious city council meeting of Tuesday, December 4. Councilmembers invited community members to come and provide input into what could be done about the many issues surrounding the proposed emergency ordinance to prohibit camping outside city hall and on city hall property. The meeting is said to have generated a great deal of input and a long list of creative ideas developed by homeless advocates. About 20 people were in attendance, including Meg Martin of EGYHOP, who proposed her outline for a low-barrier emergency overnight homeless shelter.

The meeting minutes, according to assistant city manager Jay Burney today, are said to still be in draft form and cannot be released until they have been approved by the committee. The committee cancelled its next scheduled meeting for Thursday, December 20. The meeting minutes are scheduled to be approved at their next meeting, January 24.

The meeting minutes could help other homeless advocates and community members not able to be in attendance stay informed and engaged in the current conversation. During tonight's council meeting, Jeannine Roe said the December 6th meeting was so good, she wished it could have been televised. However, it was not televised.

For more information about the proposed ordinance, go to and use the search button and use key words on this blog.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Witnesses To High Tide in Olympia

Above: Olympia experienced a 17.6 foot high tide event this morning. The Welcome to Percival Landing sign, barely seen above, is half underwater at about 8:30 a.m. The words were fully underwater just minutes later.

Witnesses To High Tide in Olympia

by Janine Unsoeld

A group of about 30 community members met early this morning in Percival Landing's warm and cozy Harbor House for sweets, hot coffee, and conversation. Folks gathered not just to enjoy each other's company, but also to serve as climate change witnesses.

Olympia experienced a high tide this morning that literally threatened to lap at the walls and doors of at least one downtown business. Tides are everyday occurrences, of course, but their impacts are magnified when combined with sea-level rise and storm events.

While it wasn't the highest tide on record for downtown Olympia - Jim Lazar said he remembers an 18.1 foot tide in December of 1978 - the brief meeting prompted a renewed awareness and action in the face of climate disruptions and its causes.

"There was a predicted 16.6 feet high tide this morning, but it measured 17.6. It's the highest as I've ever seen it," said Andy Haub, city of Olympia's public works planning and engineering manager, as he walked along Percival Landing this morning.

"The barometric pressure was below 29 this morning - that's why we're seeing it this high. A low barometric pressure - that's what we've seen yesterday and today - can add a foot and a half, " he added.

Stephanie Johnson, city of Olympia's arts and events program manager, said the new portion of Percival Landing was designed at a height of 19 feet.

Above: Glen Anderson and TJ Johnson walk on the parking lot this morning behind the Oyster House restaurant, surrounded by the sea water of Puget Sound's Budd Inlet. On the far left is the Capitol Building.

Giving a whole new meaning to waterfront dining for downtown restaurants, the water elevation of Budd Inlet was higher than Olympia's street elevation, so Budd Inlet was flowing up into the stormwater pipes. Electrical outlets and wiring were visibly underwater near the Oyster House.

A truck driver with Food Services of America, delivering food to the Oyster House, attempted to maneuver his truck close enough to the business to avoid getting wet. He was not successful. His shoes and feet, up to his ankles, became fully soaked.

Stormwater and combined sewer drains were also seen backing up near Anthony's Restaurant and Budd Bay Cafe. Budd Inlet was also seen perilously close to Bayview Thriftway.

Above: Bayview Thriftway and Budd Inlet.
Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela were also at this morning's gathering to discuss sea-level rise issues. The gathering was hosted by the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation Climate Crisis Group, which also discussed the possible construction of a sea wall to protect downtown.

Buxbaum said that there is no doubt we are facing sea level rise "due to a lethal overheating of the planet Earth" and that it's time for a community conversation about the issue.

"We're dealing with antiquated planning systems...On a state and federal level, we need large scale infrastructure's really a challenge. Public awareness is's probably not going to be about one solution. We need to stick to the facts and not jump to conclusions. We need creative solutions and not assume that we have a solution, because we don't," said Buxbaum.

Former city councilmember TJ Johnson commented on the amount of money currently being proposed to rebuild the East coast areas recently hit by Hurricane Sandy. "There is not enough resources on the planet to retrofit all coastal based communities...we need place-based investments."

Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said she appreciated the conversation, saying it's one the community has not yet had. "Is a sea wall possible? Do we want to pay for it?"

Former mayor Bob Jacobs said that, in the past, the knee-jerk reaction was to say 'we're not going to abandon downtown' and protect downtown Olympia at all costs.

"But when the underlying factors change, it's time for all options to be on the table. It may be that some level of abandonment may be appropriate for some portions," said Jacobs.

For more information about confronting the climate crisis on a local level, go to the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation's website at: The organization has started a new climate action group that meets every second and fourth Tuesday at the Olympia Center.

Above: Sherri Goulet braves the wind and rain this morning along Percival Landing. During the gathering this morning, Goulet said that peace and justice issues are part of the climate change discussion, and "we need to bring it to folks so it's on their radar."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Flag Lowering In Olympia To Honor Victims in Connecticut

Flag Lowering in Olympia To Honor Victims in Connecticut

by Janine Unsoeld

Above: Rick Stacy, a staff member with the Association of Washington School Principals in Olympia, lowers their flags earlier this afternoon in honor of the multiple victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It is currently being reported by national news media that 20 children and six adults were killed, including the principal of the elementary school.
In a formal press release issued moments ago, Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire has directed that flags at all Washington State agency facilities be lowered to half-staff per President Obama's proclamation as a mark of respect for the victims of today's tragic events.
Flags should remain at half-staff until sunset/close of business on Tuesday, December 18. Other government entities, citizens and businesses are encouraged to join this recognition.

Monday, December 10, 2012

No Interpreter: Scott Yoos Case Delayed Again

Above: Scott Yoos communicates using a white board and marker with Desdra Dawning, this morning at Thurston County Superior Court. Dawning came to meet Yoos, and hoped to schedule a time to interview him for the next issue of the Olympia Food Co-op newsletter. Yoos is a regular volunteer for the Co-op. 

No Interpreter: Scott Yoos Case Delayed Again

by Janine Unsoeld

The Thurston County Superior Court case against Olympia resident Scott Yoos has been delayed again. Another hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, December 19th, at 1:30 p.m. 

Yoos, accused of a felony assault against a police officer, was initially cited for criminal trespass and obstructing justice on June 1, 2011 at 2302 Fourth Avenue in Olympia. (For more information about Yoos' case, use the search button and use key words on this blog at

This morning, Yoos was upbeat before the hearing, writing on his white-board to communicate his thoughts with several supporters who were gathered outside the courthouse.

Yoos, who can hear, but cannot speak due to a head injury from a beating he suffered in 1984, responded to my morning greeting and question asking how he felt. He wrote, "As good as can be expected."

Yoos then wrote, "Today is Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day! It's a great day for a dismissal!"

Yoos' case was scheduled first on the docket this morning for 9:00 a.m.

After repeated delays in his case, many of them because a court-appointed sign language interpreter was not provided or available, Yoos' attorney, Larry Hildes, today intended to ask the court for a motion to dismiss the case.

It was not to be.

Judge Richard Strophy, who retired in 2009, was serving as judge pro-tem this morning and asked his court assistant to explain this situation.

According to administrative assistant Amy Hunter, the court appointed sign language interpreter she had arranged to be there this morning had left a voice mail over the weekend, cancelling his/her availability to be there Monday morning.  Hunter, who coordinates the interpreters, checked her voice mail this morning and discovered the message. By then, there was not sufficient time to notify all parties involved. Hunter said she proceeded to "scramble to find an interpreter from two sign language interpreter agencies, calling one in Seattle and one in Tacoma," but no one had yet gotten back with her.

Strophy wondered how next to proceed, saying he realized people were inconvenienced.

"This is at least the fifth time an interpreter hasn't been available," Hildes said to the judge. "We cannot go forward without an interpreter." Strophy then asked that his client join Hildes at the table to discuss the situation.

Yoos, holding his white board, momentarily lost his black marker, which had dropped to the floor, and it was handed to him by a supporter sitting nearby. Yoos joined Hildes and Strophy asked Hildes how well he can communicate with his client. "It's impossible  - - it's a violation of his rights under the American Disabilities Act."

Strophy said there were only three certified sign language interpreters in the state who sign the kind used by Yoos.

"My client is extremely frustrated, I'm extremely's getting to the point that the court cannot support Mr. Yoos and the case should be dismissed based on that alone," said Hildes.

Strophy agreed that the situation "was distressing, without pointing fingers, that it hasn't been resolved." Strophy then pointed out to Hildes that Yoos was writing on his white board. "I see Mr. Yoos is writing things on his white board that maybe you should know...."

Frustration was expressed by all parties as Thurston County Prosecutor Andrew Toynbee then took the opportunity to say that he didn't want the case dismissed, and that the court can accommodate Yoos' disability.

"I don't think his case is prejudiced....we have four witnesses here, officers, one who's been on duty since yesterday, one is missing a training, one is off duty, and one is on duty," said Toynbee. 

Hildes said he doesn't know why the state doesn't have more interpreters, saying, "It's not an uncommon language."

Hunter asked if she could check her voice mail to see if she's received a response. Strophy urged her to do so, saying, "Yes, make a last ditch effort...and take the most direct possible route."

Again Hildes asked for a dismissal, citing his future scheduling conflicts, if the court cannot manage to accommodate Mr. Yoos' disability.

Strophy called for a recess to meet with both counsels in his chambers to discuss items off the record. Upon their return, Strophy apologized for the inconvenience to all and postponed the hearing.

A spokesperson for Yoos said later that the case will be continued to Wednesday, December 19, 1:30 p.m, at Thurston County Superior Court. 

In a conversation later with Olympia Police Department Sergeant Paul Johnson, Johnson confirmed that the four police officers involved with the case were subpoenaed to be there as witnesses. "One sergeant was off duty, one sergeant was on duty, one officer was just getting off graveyard, and one went off duty at 3:00 a.m."

Friday, December 7, 2012

From Farm To Table: A Lively Conversation

Above: The Flaming Eggplant Cafe at The Evergreen State College is a worker collective that isn't afraid to walk the talk on several issues. The cafe, which is open to everyone, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday, and accepts only cash - not debit or card cards.
The college uses Bank of America as their banker and creditor. A poster at the cafe says, "Aside from evading millions of dollars in taxes a year and preying on the working poor with sub-prime mortgages, one way Bank of America makes its money is through transaction a result of this predicament, we will remain a cash-only service until an acceptable alternative presents itself...."
From Farm To Table: A Lively Conversation

by Janine Unsoeld

A diverse panel of six local food and beverage producers met at the Thurston County Fairgrounds for a couple of hours on Wednesday night, but it was clear they could have gone on all night. The speakers not only succeeded in forging new alliances amongst each other, but helped the audience gain a whole new appreciation for just how hard, but rewarding, it is to get local food to local tables.

The event was sponsored by the Olympia Lacey Thurston Visitors Convention Bureau, the Port of Olympia, and the Thurston County extension of Washington State University. About 50 farmers, community members interested in local food sustainability issues, and elected officials listened as the panel members discussed their businesses, their challenges, and future prospects.

Panelists included Jeff Schilter of the Schilter Family Farm, Mike Johnson of Johnson Berry Farm, Tom Bloomfield of Chelsea Farms, Will Taylor of Acqua Via Restaurant, Sara Rocker of the Flaming Eggplant Cafe at The Evergreen State College, and David White of Whitewood Cider Company. Each one expressed a deep passion and persistence for the continued success of their company.

Schilter Family Farm

Schilter Family Farm is most visible, the spacious 180 acre land you see on the right as you go north on I-5. Their pumpkins, clearly visible in fall, are great advertising. A former dairy farm, the Schilter family found that they could not continue to compete with the world market, especially after the Nisqually Valley flooded in 1996.

"We were looking for things we could do that would allow us to continue farming...." said Schilter. Pumpkins came first, then to extend the season, they started planting strawberries, raspberries, and sweet corn. Then, they brought in cherries and peaches from Eastern Washington, and started planting flowers and making hanging baskets.

Now, they are successfully "celebrating the four seasons" and have Christmas trees. "It has worked out well for's a real benefit to have customers come out in October, then have them come back in December....Our focus is agritourism, the experience of it. Sure, you could go to Costco, but we provide a farming experience - bring the kids. A grocery store can't replicate that. For us, it's building memories with families, a connection with the consumer."

Johnson Berry Farm

Jim Johnson, a third generation berry farmer, started selling berries at age nine, and is now best known for his family stall at the Olympia Farmer's Market and his roadside farm stand on Wiggins Road. In addition to his property on Wiggins Road, he leases 20 acres in the Nisqually Valley. He described his brief foray in providing berries to Top Foods.

"They were just beating us down, also getting berries from California and Argentina. I have no idea how those guys get product to market for $2.99 - it's crazy." Expressing his appreciation for the Olympia Farmer's Market, he said, "If I didn't have that market, I don't think that I'd be farming. The rent, for what they charge, is amazing. There could be a lot more markets." He added that he is aware there are parking issues at the market downtown. He would like the market to be open more days and longer hours. 

In a theme that was echoed by other panelists, there could be more markets on Olympia's Westside, Lacey and Tumwater. "Fifteen organic vegetable farmers all growing the same thing - they're killing each other - the competition is crazy," said two panelists.

Johnson said he doesn't think he wants his business to get much bigger but wouldn't mind offering more to restaurants. "In my business, I guarantee my berries for 24 hours. A California berry? Shoot, it's good in the refrigerator for a month! So if they want them, I'll give them a deal and deliver it whenever you want."

Above: This Johnson Berry Farm jam is a favorite in our household. Watch out! It's hot!

The segue was perfect. Two panelists were restaurant staff in charge of food purchasing.

The Flaming Eggplant Cafe

Sara Rocker, a staff member at The Evergreen State College for the student-run Flaming Eggplant Cafe, is also a co-founder of the successful Westside Farmer's Market that operated on the grounds of Gloria Dei Church this last season.

The Flaming Eggplant Cafe is a worker collective that started when students were tired of a lack of healthy options by corporate providers. Students wrote their own business plan and held a vote to successfully pass a one-time student fee of $125,000 to support its start-up. They voted on the name and opened on Red Square in 2008. Able to seat 85, they are now located in the student activity building. Rocker says the restaurant works with 30 vendors and students learn basic restaurant skills, produce identification and use with the development of a seasonal menu.

"We are very deliberate on knowing how far food comes to us, with over half coming from within 20 miles of the college." Calliope Farm, for example, is within five miles of the college. "For them to be so close reinforces a relationship - it's more than just a transaction."

Rocker said she is looking forward to seeing how local and seasonal she can go with the restaurant, and is working with CoFed, a national coop network of student collectives. She said the college is also producing graduates who are seeking jobs in local food, thus creating a whole new workforce.

Above: A map at the Flaming Eggplant cafe shows exactly where its food is coming from.
Acqua Via Restaurant

Acqua Via Restaurant chef Will Taylor wore a Kirsop Farm T-shirt, "stained with local food" and perhaps gave everyone the biggest lesson of all: persistence pays off. Taylor is a busy guy, doing his part in keeping his restaurant running smoothly, and said there is often a disconnect between the restaurateur and the producer of local food.

"Genine (of Kirsop Farm) would always call me and after a couple years, it paid off." Now Taylor buys most of his produce from Kirsop in what is clearly a win-win situation.

"Her marketing persistence was smart and influential. Other vendors, I never hear from them again. Building a relationship is really hard - she was willing to come deliver to me - you can't find that with big companies. Sure, it's easier and faster to go through a 1-800 number, but it's all the same crap all the time. We're not buying everything local, but I am trying and we make the effort to call each other, so hey, if you're four blocks away at the farmer's market and you're about to close up for the day, give me a call!"

Taylor said he is interested in hearing from local protein producers as well, and will start getting one cow a month butchered to his specifications from Thurston County's Colvin Ranch.

Above: Fresh Kirsop Farm cauliflower at Acqua Via Restaurant on Thursday.

Whitewood Cider Company

David White of Whitewood Cider Company is a third generation Washingtonian and began his journey with cider around 1999. Like many other panelists, he used plenty of humor in his presentation, and described how he built his specialty alcoholic beverage business from scratch.

White now has a cider processing plant on Rich Road off Yelm Highway and a cider blog,, documenting his journey of what he was tasting and experiencing. He has since been featured in national beverage magazines. White's apples are locally sourced, with contributions from Lattin's Country Cider Mill on Rich Road in Olympia, and from the farm of Jim Goche' in northeast Olympia.

Pressing apples is a slow process, and White pressed 300 gallons in 2012. Up to 80% of his cider was sold locally. White says his intent is to stay small, but he has more heirloom varieties coming in early January, and the small cider business category is poised for rapid growth. "It's an up and coming beverage," says White.

After the presentation, Goche' was pleased that his Friendly Grove Farmwas mentioned - it provided over a ton of apples to Whitewood Cider. 

"It was a great year for apples and they were extra sweet and juicy...I am looking forward to trying the cider when its ready. It's wonderful to work with an artisan like Dave," said Goche' after the event.

Goche' added that the panelists offered some useful tips about how to market locally-grown produce and work with local restaurants. He said that he especially appreciated the comments of Acqua Via Chef Will Taylor. Goche' said that the farm has sold raspberries and chestnuts to Acqua Via in the past but then took a laid-back approach to marketing so as not to be perceived as a "pest".

"Based on the comments this evening, however," he said, "it's clear that chefs are busy and local growers have to be persistent in marketing their produce to local restaurants."

Lucas Patzek, director of the Washington State University Thurston County Extension office, served as moderator, and wrapped up the lively conversation by saying that there are many options and opportunities. 

"We're at the point we need to be more deliberate, speak to growers and potential buyers, and partnerships will develop...I feel pretty good that things will move along...."

Several urban agriculture and agritourism efforts are underway by a wide variety of South Sound non-profit organizations, state, county, and local agencies.

One local non-profit organization is Slow Food at Community members are also organizing a Thurston County food council. For more information, go to

For more information about urban agriculture at the city of Olympia, go to or contact Jennifer Kenny, Associate Planner, (360) 753-8031 or

Thurston County has several agritourism efforts underway. For more information, go to Commissioner Sandra Romero leads monthly Agritourism Planning Committee meetings. This month's meeting will be held on Monday, December 17th at 4 p.m. at the Scatter Creek Winery in Tenino. The committee is different from the county's Agricultural Advisory Committee.

The Washington State University's Thurston County extension office leads the county's Agricultural Advisory Committee. For more information, go to or 867-2151.
Editor's Note: Little Hollywood just wrote an article this week about Tom Bloomfield, manager of Chelsea Farms, the world's third largest geoduck shellfish operation, and did not re-capture his comments here, as they were near-identical to the article I just wrote. Use the search button to find it at

Above: Acqua Via Restaurant in downtown Olympia on the corner of 5th and Capitol Way.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Elizabeth Smart To Come To Thurston County in January

Elizabeth Smart To Come To Thurston County in January

by Janine Unsoeld

Elizabeth Smart, Utah child abduction survivor, is scheduled to speak on Thursday, January 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m., at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. 

Smart was taken from her bed in June of 2002 and rescued nine months later in a community 18 miles from her home.  Now married, Smart will share her story of survival and hope with others. 

The event is sponsored by the nine Rotary Clubs of Thurston County, in partnership with Capstone Investments, South Sound Bank, and the two area Zonta Clubs.

Elizabeth Smart will be joined by Olympia resident Rani Hong, the United Nations spokesperson for Human Trafficking, as they share an important message of hope and survival and urge the community to continue to protect children and others against exploitation and abuse. 

Elizabeth Smart knows what it is like to be a missing child. She knows how it feels to think that one false move may lead to her death or that of her family. In the wake of her ter­ri­ble expe­ri­ence, she estab­lished the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to prevent future crimes against children.

Rani Hong

Rani Hong is a survivor of child trafficking and one of the world’s leading voices in the fight against modern-day slavery.

At the age of seven, Rani was recruited into the slave trade in India. By age eight, her physical condition and emotional state were so dire that she was near death. No longer of any value to her slave owner, she was sold into illegal adoption. Rani was adopted into a stable American home in Washington State, where she began to find healing and a sense of personal freedom. She was finally reunited with her mother in 1999, and began her advocacy work against human trafficking.

Tickets for the Elizabeth Smart/Rani Hong event are available for sale online by visiting the website for The Community Foundation South Puget Sound at: Tickets cost $15 for students & seniors and $20 for general admission. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. 

Proceeds from this event will benefit local programs and The Tronie Foundation to support exploited and trafficked survivors in Southeast Asia.

Resource and Information Fair 

Prior to the evening program, area parents and law enforcement will participate in a Resource and Information Fair on Thursday, January 10th from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Saint Martin’s University Worthington Conference Center.  

Sponsored by the Olympia area Zonta clubs and WA Engage, the Resource and Information Fair will feature experts from the Washington State Patrol Missing and Exploited Children, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Rick Scott, lead investigator for the Lindsey Baum case in McCleary, Washington, and other leading experts will be available to speak about state of the art methods to keep children safe in an era of Facebook, Twitter, and internet relationships. 

Policy leaders and community activists will provide parents, educators, and policy leaders with information from more than forty organizations and agencies.

The afternoon fair is free to the public. Local law enforcement agencies will be on hand to offer fingerprinting and retina scans of children.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shellfish Farmer Tom Bloomfield: A Canary in a Coal Mine

Above: Tom Bloomfield, center, is indeed at the center of managing the third largest geoduck operation in the world at Thurston County's Chelsea Farms shellfish company on Eld Inlet. Crew member Theo Walker is at left.
Shellfish Farmer Tom Bloomfield: A Canary in a Coal Mine
By Janine Unsoeld
“The shellfish industry is like the canaries in the coal mine – without shellfish, you have no baseline to monitor a healthy ecosystem," said Tom Bloomfield, shellfish farm manager at Chelsea Farms on Steamboat Island's Eld Inlet.

Canaries were used to determine the level of dangerous gases in a coal mine. If there was enough oxygen, the bird in the cage lived and the miners mined. If the canary died, then the miners knew to beat it out of there.

Bloomfield made the analogy as part of his testimony in support of three geoduck farming permit applications by Taylor Shellfish Company and Arcadia Point Seafood at a hearing on November 26 at the Thurston County Fairgrounds.

The applications are being recommended for approval by the Thurston County planning department. The hearing was significant because these are the first geoduck aquaculture applications recommended for approval by Thurston County since 2007. (For the story, go to Little Hollywood,, November 28, 2012, “Proposed Thurston County Geoduck Farming Applications Heard”)

In his testimony, Bloomfield was brief but pointed, explaining his role as a fifth generation shellfish farmer, responding to earlier speakers Susan Macomson and Laura Hendricks, both of whom brought shellfish industry debris. Saying he has spent thousands of hours out on the beach and in boats picking up debris, Bloomfield said it was a frustration that he has never seen Sierra Club members out there doing the same.

In Bloomfield's opinion, the shellfish industry is alive and well: Chelsea Farms is the third largest geoduck shellfish operation in the world, right behind Thurston County’s Seattle Shellfish Company, and Mason County’s Taylor Shellfish Company.
And Bloomfield seems to be one of those canaries in a coal mine, leading the way.

A Day In The Life of Tom Bloomfield, Shellfish Farm Manager

Above: The day begins by hauling up oysters and manila clams out of Eld Inlet at Chelsea Farms.  Here, crew members haul up 50 bags of oysters and 12 bags of manila clams. Bloomfield says oysters breathe water like a fish - and each one filters about five gallons of water a day.
Bloomfield starts his day when it still looks like night, at 4:30 a.m. His crew of eight starts at 7:30 a.m., hauling out black plastic bags of manila clams and oysters from the shores of Eld Inlet. I met him this morning at the more civilized hour of 8:00 a.m., just as two crew members were hauling up 50 bags of manila clams and 12 bags of oysters that will be sorted, rinsed, and packed up today according to customer orders.
Oysters and clams are processed twice a week, and shipped out every day. The shellfish I witnessed coming out of Eld Inlet this morning will be going in vastly different directions - some are in response to specific orders while others are sold wholesale and redistributed to restaurants nationwide.
Chelsea Farms ships its manila clams to San Francisco and its oysters to the East Coast, Chicago, New York and Washington D.C.

Do any shellfish stay here? I asked.
“I used to sell some to Anthony’s restaurant, and some to Elliott’s Oyster Bar in Seattle from time to time, but there’s just not the market here. I do have a call of interest coming in from Walrus and the Carpenter, though, so I’m waiting on them.” Who? What? Walrus and the Carpenter, Bloomfield had to explain to me, but apparently not to the rest of the shellfish eating population, is a premier oyster bar in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

Today, an order of clams will be trucked to California and will be at San Francisco's Fresh Fish the day after tomorrow. Another order is going to Elliott's (a "little order" of 80 dozen), another set is going to Portland, Oregon and yet more are being shipped by air to New York.  Each bag displays a tag indicating the harvest date, location where they were harvested, and other department of health details.
Above: These are Chelsea Farms' "boutique oysters" known as "Chelsea Gems." 
Above: Daniel Bevier, a former logger, was laid off from the timber industry and was hired several years ago by Bloomfield. Bevier gets the job of writing addresses on boxes, in addition to other duties, because "he has the best penmanship," says Bloomfield. This order of manila clams is going to San Francisco.
Above: Juan Robledo, left, and Miguel Baltizar rinse mud from the shellfish and cull broken ones from the batch. Bloomfield says shellfish farming is labor intensive, working to stay one week ahead in production and orders.
Nearby, a geoduck diver for Chelsea Farms was underwater, harvesting geoducks that will be in China by tomorrow. This aspect of the business is contracted out to a third party.
The diver, wearing a dry suit and gloves, will be underwater for eight hours a day, feeling around for siphon holes in 10 - 12 feet of water. Using a pressurized water hose, a "stinger," to loosen the sand around the geoduck, he'll pull it out, place several in a bag until it gets heavy, bring the bag on board, and go back, repeatedly. This is done by feel alone, working blind, as the silt is constantly stirred up. The diver stays warm in the 49 degree waters because he also wears a polar fleece. "Plus, he's sweating a's hard work," says Bloomfield.
Today, and everyday, this diver will harvest 700 pounds of geoduck for Chelsea Farms. Bloomfield manages about 80 farms for the company.
As huge as those numbers sound, Chelsea Farms isn't producing all it's capable of right now, Bloomfield says, because of a lack of geoduck seed. Bloomfield buys seed from California, Oregon and Washington, but says "it's really shot right now because of ocean acidification. We're working at half our capacity right now." (Editor's Note - 12/6/12 - see comment section for correction/clarification by Bloomfield of this paragraph.)
Ninety percent of farmed geoduck is sent to Asia.
"It's a commodity market, based on supply and demand. The quality drives the prices, and the quality is graded 1, 2, and 3, with 1 being the best. To be graded 1, they want an exact shell to neck length ratio: the siphon has to be 1 1/2 times the length of the shell. And it has to be blonde, like the color of your hair, not orange or black." It has to be two pounds - anything more or less than that gets graded 2 or 3. The smaller ones are called babies, and the bigger ones have tougher meat. They pay out less."
Bloomfield says divers might get paid about 70 - 80 cents a pound, so if the diver harvests 700 pounds a day, the company might make about $500 a day. That may sound lucrative, but Bloomfield says it's an expensive business to get into, plus paying for the equipment, boat, fuel, and crew members. In general, the business is not for everybody.
"The hours suck, especially in the winter," says Bloomfield. "Your schedule changes every 45 minutes to an hour every day, every other week, because of the tides. Every other week, we work a series of low, low tides at night, then every other week, we're on days. So, we'll start work at, like, 9:30 p.m., work five to six hours, then every day start a half hour later, until we're starting at 2 a.m. Sometimes we're walking around like zombies...." Winter is September through the end of March.
Deep Roots in the Shellfish Industry
“I was a fish monger in Tacoma. If it smells bad, it’s bad. Fresh fish isn’t fishy smelling. I’ve eaten oysters all over the world, even in Australia. And you know what, they prefer our oysters, because they’re the best.”
A fifth generation shellfish farmer who has been with Chelsea Farms for 10 years, Bloomfield wishes he could just do what he does best – farm – but in this highly politicized and litigious world of commercial shellfish growing, he can’t.
“It’s frustrating. I have to be a politician, a lawyer, and a public relations guy and I’m not the most polished guy,” he says. Bloomfield has a nine year old son, and he says he is not necessarily encouraging him to follow him into the business.

“I studied and received a B.A. in marine biology with an emphasis on fisheries, but then I was a machinist in the aerospace industry, then I was a truck driver…I wanted to get out there first, before I came back.”

His family has deep roots in the area. Bloomfield lent me a book, “The Oyster Was Our World: Life On Oyster Bay, 1898 to 1914,” by Bloomfield's great-great aunt Cora Chase, who farmed Olympia oysters. The beds are now farmed by Taylor Shellfish. The book is available at the Mason County Historical Society. 

I asked him about competition between local shellfish companies for what is limited, and now quite crowded stretches of available acreage along south Puget Sound shorelines. According to the Sierra Club and other sources, a mile along the Nisqually Reach is currently being privately farmed out to commercial industrial shellfish growing operations, as is 40% of Henderson Inlet, 70% of Eld Inlet, and a whopping 91% of Totten Inlet.
Bloomfield downplayed the competition question, saying he’s never worked for Taylor, but his father did, until Tom was five years old. “Taylor is a good player. They’re successful and take pride in what they do.”

Asked about the hearing on November 26 and the shellfish industry debris brought by permit opponents, Bloomfield had strong words and said he could tell exactly whose debris that was.

“Our equipment is unique – we all cut our tubes a little differently, use different colors and diameters, tie off our nets differently…we’re self-policing and deal with it internally…If there’s a problem with someone’s gear, I call them up and say, 'Hey, come pick up your stuff…'" Each shoreline is different and the equipment needs to adapt to that particular environment and stuff can get loose. We don’t want stuff out there – it gives us all a black eye.”
Above: Piles of PVC pipes. Bloomfield says pipes are expensive, costing a little over $1.00 a tube, although there is a discount when purchased in bulk. He says it's in his best financial interest to retrieve his tubes, scrape off the barnacles, throw away broken ones, and reuse the good ones. The black, plastic oyster bags are also reused. He said that the ones I saw in use today are over 10 years old.
I asked him how much a property owner can earn by leasing out his or her shoreline for development. He said about 10-15% of gross sales. “They don’t see money until harvest, but some receive payments of $1000 per acre per year, like a rent or lease agreement.” That can add up to big bucks.
But geoducks can take five to seven years to mature after planting, so it seems that can be a long wait for all parties to bring in the big bucks. I asked him about this, since geoducks are especially prized by international markets. The Taylor Shellfish website order form, for example, charges $30 for just one, two pound geoduck.

Bloomfield said that for a long time, he made the same assumption, that geoducks were his cash crop, but, he recently penciled it out and realized that he makes more money, net, per acre, farming oysters than geoducks.

“Oysters mature in one to three years, manila clams mature in two to three years, and like you said, geoducks take the longest. But throw in the cost of labor, equipment, and time, and geoducks cost more.”

Given a shellfish farmer’s hectic schedule that’s dictated by the tides, I thanked Bloomfield for graciously giving me a lengthy personal tour of his operation on Steamboat Island.

“It’s very flattering that people have been so interested the past couple of years in what we do…it’s humbling.” For years, he says his tours have been primarily for Steamboat’s fifth-grade Griffin School students, Thurston County pre-schools and Tumwater’s New Market Skills high school classes.

Now, in what seems to be the story for so many other environmental issues regarding the Pacific Northwest, the whole world is watching. In this case, we'll have to see - like a canary in a coal mine - who ends up the winner of Puget Sound's shorelines.