Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year 2016!

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2270, the “Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act,” which redesignates the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Olympia Heron Preservation Group Becomes Land Trust

Above: With the donation of two land parcels on Olympia’s westside by Alicia Elliott, the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation (OlyEcoSystems) organization is now applying for certification as a land trust. The Pacific Great Blue Heron makes nests in these trees during the breeding season of February through August and visit at other times. The nests, seen here, make the trees look like the Truffula trees in the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. Daniel Einstein, chair of OlyEcoSystems provided Little Hollywood a tour of the property on Wednesday. 

By Janine Gates

The powerful story of a few dedicated community members with the Olympia Coalition for EcoSystems Preservation (OlyEcoSystems), a group on a mission to save and restore a local heron rookery on Olympia’s westside, continues to unfold.

Alicia Elliott, Olympia, recently donated to the group two parcels, totaling 4.7 acres, that she acquired last year to protect Olympia's lone colony of Pacific Great Blue Heron. 

With her donation, made in early December, OlyEcoSystems announced this week that it is becoming a land trust, thus protecting the woods in perpetuity. Elliott is a board member of the group.

The rookery parcel is about 1.9 acres, and the adjoining parcel, which will act as a buffer for the rookery, is about 2.8 acres.

In two years’ time, when the group is eligible to do so, it will apply for certification from the Land Trust Alliance, said Daniel Einstein, chair of OlyEcoSystems, on Wednesday as he gave Little Hollywood a tour of the property.

“Certification is going to be good for us…it will hopefully invite more donors, and we can turn those donations into land transactions. To be eligible for certification, we need to hold two or more parcels for two years,” said Einstein.

Land trusts enhance the economic, environmental and social values of their communities, and the support of the Land Trust Alliance will be crucial to the local organization for fundraising, legal support, and other benefits.

Founded in 1982, the Washington D.C. based Land Trust Alliance represents more than 1,100 member land trusts nationwide.

According to a 2010 survey by the Alliance, Washington State has 37 state and local land trusts, owning a combined 32,852 acres. The Alliance will conduct another survey in early January, the results of which will be available in Fall of 2016.

Above: Daniel Einstein today on the property adjacent to the rookery near Dickinson Avenue on Olympia’s westside. The property provides a critical buffer habitat in an urban setting for Pacific Great Blue Herons, and is also home to Cooper’s hawks, peregrine falcons, coyotes, red fox, deer, and many small mammals and reptiles.

Grants Focus on Restoration, Water Quality

Rounding out a successful year for the group, mature alders on the rookery property are now freed of 100,000 tons of ivy, thanks to teams of volunteers at regular work parties, who have also replanted the area with ferns, Oregon grape, and vine maple. 

The property also used to be a holly farm, and about 40 mature holly trees have been taken out because it too is an invasive species.

“The holly trunks are so big, it looks like we’re logging, but we’re not….It’s going to take some years to get it where we want it, but it’s really important to get it out now,”  said Einstein.

With a $10,000 grant from the Rose Foundation, they will be putting in 5,000 additional plants on the property.

Einstein pointed out the direct, stunning view of Mt. Rainier and explained that the group will be placing a picnic table and benches here for the public.

Einstein said the organization is also looking forward to creating a rain garden and planting 2,000 Pacific Willows and vine maples around it that will line rock-lined swales for untreated stormwater from Dickinson and Hays Avenues.

“In our neighborhood, all stormwater goes into Budd Inlet. None of it goes to LOTT - not a drop…most of it just runs off through the woods, or is dumped there by the city through a pipe. The woods act as a filter for the whole system as it moves through to Budd Inlet…. so our grants focus on water quality,” said Einstein.

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance is the regional wastewater system comprised of the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Thurston County.

Besides stormwater issues, legacy dioxins from Olympia’s industrial past are known factors along West Bay Drive. The OlyEcoSystems property is directly upland of the former Reliable Steel on Budd Inlet, and property owned by local architect Glenn Wells. 

Einstein says that for now, the organization is focused on restoring and maintaining what it has, but if purchased by the group, the Wells property could provide neighborhood connectivity to and from West Bay Drive. Wells is asking a price that is double its assessed value of $100,000, says Einstein.

OlyEcoSystems currently pays about $1,500 in property taxes on the rookery parcel and received a conservation easement on it from Thurston County. 

“We were able to get that because of the heron’s nests. That reduced our property tax by 70 percent on this parcel. We could have gotten more of a property tax reduction, but we don’t allow year round public access because of the rookery….If it were a city owned property, there would be no way to close it, so that’s one reason we prefer to hold onto the property ourselves,” said Einstein.

Herons are sensitive to disruptions, and their breeding season starts in February and runs through August. The public is not allowed at the site during those months. The site has been used by herons for about 35 years, and thirty herons came back this past February during the breeding season. The herons also visit in the off breeding season.

“This year, they spent two to three months here, then were chased away by eagles to a location about 800 feet south of here. They were chased again and ultimately ended up on the other side of the inlet….that site is also part of their memory. They move around as needed based on safety and other reasons," said Einstein.

The OlyEcoSystems group has a solid vision and plan to continue their environmental efforts, with the community's help, for years to come.

“As we transition to a land trust, we also intend to remain a forceful advocate for habitat and water quality in our urban core,” said Einstein.

“The idea is that we need to preserve these trees and create a habitat for the herons that gives them flexibility to adapt, particularly as we change their landscape as we become more urbanized. That's why we don’t just want these two parcels, we want as much of the woods as we can get. We’d love to buy the woods on the other side (of the inlet), and work on the shoreline, where they can forage….There’s a connection between the fish and the birds….”

January Work Party

On Saturday, January 2nd, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., volunteers will be clearing ivy from the trees on the parcel in back of Hays Avenue, and clearing ivy off the remaining flat areas on the parcel at the east end of Dickinson Avenue NW. What to bring: gloves, a rain coat, hand saws, chain saws and clippers.

February Fundraiser

The OlyEcoSystems annual fundraiser will be on February 27th at 7:00 p.m. at the Abigail Stuart House (Women's Club), 1002 Washington St. SE, in downtown Olympia. There will be live music, refreshments, beverages, and a silent auction of works by Olympia artists. The event is open to the public. The group says that even if you cannot make a donation,come and celebrate another year of successful advocacy for our environment.

Above:  Olympia's westside as seen from the Fourth Avenue bridge today. The rookery is directly upland of the Reliable Steel site located on Budd Inlet at 1218 West Bay Drive, as illustrated by the vacant metal warehouse on the right. The site was originally developed as a lumber mill. From 1941-2009, the site was used for boat building, steel fabrication, and welding. From 2010 - 2013, the former owner and the Washington State Department of Ecology investigated the site and found contaminants above state cleanup levels. In 2014, Ecology held a public comment period on a draft partial cleanup plan for the site. Under the plan, Ecology will clean up some contaminated upland areas of the site.

OlyEcoSystems is committed to environmentally restoring its 4. 7 acre property, but also has other goals related to improving the water quality and health of Budd Inlet. “…The time is now. OlyEcoSystems is dedicated to affecting public policy and educating the community, but there is no ignoring the fact that our window of opportunity is closing.” – OlyEcoSystems website.

Past articles about Alicia Elliott, the rookery, and OlyEcoSystems can be found at Little Hollywood,, by typing key words into the search engine.

For more information about the Olympia Coalition for EcoSystems Preservation, go to its website,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Olympia City Council Vacancy Attracts Eight Candidates

Councilmember Nathaniel Jones to Stay on Council

By Janine Gates

Eight candidates have applied for the appointment to Olympia City Council, Position #4, which will be vacant January 1 due to the election of Cheryl Selby as Mayor. The deadline to apply for the position was December 14.
The applications are now posted on the city website at

The candidates are Max Brown, Chase Gallagher, Clark Gilman, Karen Johnson, Paul Masiello, Allen Miller, Marco Rossi, and Peter Tassoni.

The person who is appointed will serve for approximately 23 months, until the November 2017 General Election results are certified.

Interviews will be held at 5:30 p.m. on January 4, 2016, and January 6, 2016, if needed, in the Olympia City Council Chambers, 601 4th Avenue East. The sessions will be open for public viewing and taped for replay on Thurston Community Television (TCTV).

After completing the initial interviews, the city council will decide the next steps in the process, such as whether to select an individual that evening, develop a short list of applicants for a second round of interviews or solicit additional applicants.

The city council has up to 90 days to make a selection. If a selection is not made within 90 days, the decision rests with the county board of commissioners per RCW 42.12.070.

The council intends, however, to appoint someone in time to participate as a member at the council’s annual goal setting retreat on January 8-9, 2016.

Jones Decides to Stay on Council

In an open letter provided to Little Hollywood on Monday, Olympia city councilmember Nathaniel Jones announced his intention to stay on the council, and not seek the state House of Representatives for the 22nd District.

“The enthusiastic support I have received from all corners of the district has been extraordinary.  I have been moved by the trust placed in me to represent the needs and the values of our community and our state,” says Jones in his letter.

“…I am not disappointed in my decision to stay with the City Council; this is not a concession, rather, the Council provides the best fit for me at this time.  I am excited about serving the City and I am convinced that this is the place where I can be the most effective.

“It was only a month ago that Olympia voters reelected me to the City Council.  These next four years present unique challenges for our community. The South Sound region is making a meaningful comeback from the Great Recession.  Olympia and its partners are at the heart of it all.  Rebuilding our economy and our community requires local leaders and an understanding of how this region works.

“…As we enter 2016 and the presidential campaign year, there are many local races and issues which need your attention.  Public policy issues affecting our community are at a cross-road; our education system depends on upon unreliable local districts across the state to meet basic needs, our energy systems are not evolving fast enough to overcome the negatives of fossil fuel dependence, our regressive tax structure does not reflect our intent, and both economic development and social equity lag.  Yet there is good news.  We know how to fix these issues; they can be addressed within our existing systems.  All we need is people who are willing to get involved and get creative.  We can affect the outcome of critical policy issues,” said Jones.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

LOTT: Water Revolution Will Now Be Televised

Above: LOTT Clean Water Alliance board meetings will be televised starting next month, and the LOTT board members and Karla Fowler, LOTT Community and Environmental Policy Director, are ready for their big screen debut. LOTT and Thurston Community Television (TCTV) held a practice run with camera angles and technical fine tuning at Wednesday night’s LOTT Clean Water Alliance meeting.

Fowler, who joined the LOTT staff in 1996, is scheduled to retire from her position in July 2016. The community relations department is currently being reorganized as selection processes are underway for a public communications manager and an environmental project manager. New websites for LOTT and the WET Center will also be unveiled in 2016.

By Janine Gates

Lights! Camera! Action! At long last, the local water revolution will be televised starting next month when LOTT Clean Water Alliance board meetings and activities will be televised.  

Not only will there be plenty of technical bathroom talk about biosolids, reclaimed water, and total maximum daily loads, community members will also learn how the LOTT board of directors spends millions of dollars per year to maintain the region’s massive wastewater system.

Installation of the necessary equipment began in October, and four cameras will provide video and audio recording capabilities in the LOTT board room, training room, and classroom to serve a broad range of public events. 

The video equipment installation cost $168,375. The two year contract not to exceed $60,000 allows for Thurston Community Television (TCTV) coverage of LOTT board meetings and other events held by LOTT.

Meetings will not be televised live, but are expected be available the next day through the LOTT website. Work sessions are not currently scheduled to be televised, but TCTV executive director Deb Vinsel said the recording of work sessions would easily fit into the budget contract already created between LOTT and TCTV.

Meetings will also be broadcast on TCTV on a schedule that has not yet been determined on local Comcast channels 3 and 26.

Meetings and events other than LOTT’s could also be documented, and those entities would contract separately with TCTV for services, said Vinsel.

Vinsel said the LOTT meetings will be the first governmental entity broadcast in high definition in the county. The City of Olympia council meetings are expected to experience the next technical upgrade, scheduled for about June, 2016.

The work session and board meeting on Wednesday was taped as a practice run while LOTT board members discussed protocols as TCTV staff worked out the bugs regarding lighting, camera angles and microphone positions. 

Vinsel asked the LOTT board to ask its legal department for clarification and definition of “official record,” as Vinsel said the public sometimes contacts TCTV for meeting videos. 

Vinsel explained that TCTV simply documents meetings and is not a news agency. There is no ‘editorializing’ with the cameras, meaning they do not change camera angles to catch the reactions of individual speakers, for example, nor do they edit video.

The next LOTT Clean Water Alliance Board meeting, which will be video recorded and televised, is January 13, 2016.

LOTT Has A Lot of Business To Cover

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance operates a complex system of facilities worth an estimated $750 million and televised meetings will help increase the transparency and public oversight of staff activities and LOTT board decisions. 

The LOTT Board of Directors consists of four elected officials, one from each of the partner jurisdictions – cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater, and Thurston County. These positions are currently held by Cynthia Pratt, City of Lacey, Steve Langer, City of Olympia, Tom Oliva, City of Tumwater, and Sandra Romero, Thurston County.

The Wednesday night meeting was Langer’s last meeting, as he is leaving the Olympia City Council at the end of his term this month. City of Olympia councilmember Julie Hankins, his designated alternate, may take his place, and was present in the audience Wednesday night.

LOTT staff members are organized under four division directors who report to the current executive director, Mike Strub.

Wastewater treatment is an expensive business and infrastructure costs are huge. With 76 full-time positions, LOTT treats an average of 13 million gallons of wastewater each day.

LOTT’s assets include the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, Budd Inlet Reclaimed Water Plant, Martin Way Reclaimed Water Plant, Hawks Prairie Reclaimed Water Ponds and Recharge Basins, and three major pump stations. 

LOTT serves over 52,000 acres within the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater urban growth area. LOTT also owns and maintains 28.3 miles of sewer interceptor pipelines, and 10.7 miles of reclaimed water pipelines. The three cities own and maintain 53 miles of sewer collection system pipelines, which convey wastewater to LOTT's interceptors.

LOTT Budget

Very few members of the public attend LOTT meetings, even when it comes to the review of a multi-million dollar budget. Currently, the public can physically attend a meeting, listen to audiotapes of meetings on the website, and read meeting minutes to keep up with regional wastewater system projects.

In October, the board conducted a public hearing on the proposed 2016 Operating Budget, 2016 Capital Budget, and 2016-2050 Capital Improvements Plan. Board President, Olympia city councilmember Steve Langer, opened the public hearing at 6:41 p.m. and closed the public hearing at 6:42 p.m. because there was no public testimony.

And so, the LOTT Clean Water Alliance board of directors approved the 2016 combined Operating and Capital Budget in the amount of $39,941,715, an increase of about four percent over the current 2015 budget. 

The Operating Budget contains all the costs necessary to operate LOTT’s wastewater and reclaimed water facilities and administrative functions. The 2016 budget includes $11.8 million for operations and $8.9 million for debt payments.

The 2016 Capital Budget was approved in the amount of $19,190,920. The Capital Budget includes costs necessary to construct new facilities and upgrade, replace, and rehabilitate existing facilities.
The board also approved the 2016 - 2050 Capital Improvements Plan which identifies $89 million in projects anticipated through 2021. The 2016 Capital Budget is about 22 percent of that total, at $19.2 million.
In case of emergencies, LOTT maintains approximately $10.8 million in reserves in the bank. 

Reclaimed Water

LOTT has many ongoing projects of concern to the public, including a large-scale upgrade project for the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant and several projects related to reclaimed water.

A five year Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study, now in its third year, is examining the potential risks of infiltrating reclaimed water into groundwater. Reclaimed water contains residual chemicals from medicines, personal care products, household cleaners, fertilizers, and more.

The study’s activities for 2016 include extensive field data collection and analysis. LOTT has hired a firm to do water quality sampling at the Budd Inlet and Martin Way Reclaimed Water Plants, groundwater sampling in the Hawks Prairie and Henderson Boulevard areas, a tracer study involving sampling work in and near the Hawks Prairie infiltration site, surface water sampling in select water bodies, and analysis of potential risks to public and environmental health. 

A citizen advisory group to the study was next going to meet in early December, but that was postponed.

We do not have a date yet for the next meeting. We will be sending out a project update soon to the study list serve, but may not call the advisory group together for a meeting until early spring, when we have more data to share,” said Lisa Dennis-Perez, LOTT public communications manager, earlier this week.

Reclaimed water has been in use throughout the region for 10 years and is currently being used by the State of Washington at Heritage Park and Marathon Park, the Port of Olympia, City of Olympia at Percival Landing Park, Hands On Children’s Museum, East Bay Public Plaza, and the City of Tumwater at the Tumwater Municipal Golf Course.

Potential new uses over the next five years include irrigation of the Capitol Campus, which could utilize up to 250,000 gallons of reclaimed water a day.

In Lacey, the Woodland Creek infiltration facility is now in operation and LOTT is now developing a Deschutes Valley reclaimed water system master plan on 45 acres on the former brewery property in Tumwater. This project is anticipated to begin in 2029 at a cost of about $50,600,000.

The Washington State Department of Ecology, in conjunction with the Department of Health, has been working on the development of a Reclaimed Water Rule since 2006 and LOTT has been a participant from the beginning.

Since both of LOTT’s reclaimed water permits are due for renewal in 2016, LOTT is likely to be among the first utilities affected by the new rule, which is expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

Growth and the Bottom Line: Your Utility Bill

If you are a homeowner or renter in Lacey, Olympia, or Tumwater, the wastewater service charge on your utility bill is broken down into the city’s wastewater fee and LOTT treatment. This charge funds the operating budget and the portions of the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) that involve system repairs and needed upgrades.

The 2016 budget includes an increase of $1.08 in LOTT's monthly service rate from $36.06 a month in 2015 to $37.14 per month in 2016. This is a three percent increase to cover inflation.

The fee for connecting new customers to the sewer system has also increased from the current rate of $5,136.38 to $5,354.57, to cover inflation and support large-scale capital projects.

This fee, called a capacity development charge is paid when users hook up to the sewer system, and it is the primary funding source for projects that increase system capacity for new growth.

LOTT Looks Forward

Special meetings are occasionally held to share and discuss significant program and capital facility changes and challenges that are likely to face LOTT and its four partner jurisdictions.

After Wednesday's board meeting, Kelsey Browne, LOTT community relations program assistant, said she hopes the public is able to take advantage of learning more about LOTT, and lamented that the Septic Summit 2 meeting held in April was not televised.  

According to the forum minutes, seventeen elected officials were present. The first Septic Summit was held in 2011.

“We had three city councils, county commissioners, agency public information officers, and citizens here for a forum to discuss urban density septic systems. It was a full house. It just illustrated to us how we were held back by not having it televised,” said Browne.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the evening of December 13. Significant corrections were made to budget numbers and LOTT assets on December 14 after an article review by LOTT staff. Little Hollywood apparently used 2015 budget figures instead of 2016 numbers and regrets the errors.  

For more information about LOTT, or to get on their Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study email list, go to the LOTT Clean Water Alliance website at LOTT is located at 500 Adams Street NE, Olympia.

For more information about LOTT, the Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study (formerly called the Groundwater Recharge Scientific Study), compounds of emerging concern, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search engine button.

Above: LOTT board meetings and the water revolution of South Puget Sound will be televised starting in 2016, thanks to the technological skills of staff at Thurston Community Television (TCTV).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Karen Johnson Seeks Olympia City Council Appointment

 Above: Dr. Karen Johnson of Olympia has announced her application for appointment to the Olympia City Council. File photo. 

By Janine Gates

In a video released at Dr. Karen Johnson introduces herself to the community and shares why she is seeking appointment to the Olympia City Council. The video is three minutes and twenty-five seconds.

The Olympia City Council is accepting applications for Councilmember Position #4, which will be vacant January 1 due to the election of Cheryl Selby as Mayor. The person who is appointed will serve for approximately 23 months, until the November 2017 General Election results are certified.

Johnson has lived in Washington State since 1997 and in Olympia since 2005. She works for the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services as the agency's Strategic Initiatives Executive.

Johnson is president of the Olympia-Centennial Rotary Club, a co-founder and president of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, a member of the Thurston Thrives Governance Committee.

In the video, she explains that she is an ordained minister, a hospital administrator by training, and has a doctorate in urban management. 

Her focus will be on homelessness, downtown economic development, and fair and impartial policing.

“I see Olympia as a diamond in the rough and the reason why I want to be a city councilmember is so I can help polish this beautiful diamond in the rough. I envision Olympia as a city that is beautiful, productive, and thriving – a place where all its residents want to live and work and play and stay….” says Johnson.

Johnson says her strengths are inspiring trust, working collaboratively, and having good common sense.

In what seems to be an unprecedented approach, Johnson also has a website,, urging supporters for her appointment to contact current city council members.  

The annual stipend for the council position is $16,640. Signed applications and required documents must be received by the city council’s assistant at Olympia City Hall, 601 4th Avenue East, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, December 14, 2015.

Interviews will be held at 5:30 p.m. on January 4, 2016, (and January 6, 2016, if needed) in the Olympia City Council Chambers, 601 4th Avenue East. The sessions will be open for public viewing and taped for replay on TCTV.

For more information about the vacancy or to apply, go to

To read an October 4, 2015 article about Dr. Karen Johnson and the Black Alliance of Thurston County, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Downtown Olympia Building Demolition Scheduled

Above: City demolition has begun of the former GHB Insurance office building and the Little Da Nang Restaurant, seen here, on the corner of 4th and Water Street in downtown Olympia. The building is adjacent to the popular Heritage Fountain. Photo taken December 5, 2015.

Draft City Parks Plan Deadline For Public Comment on Friday

By Janine Gates

The fences are up, the equipment is in place, and building demolition has begun on the southwest corner of 4th and Water Street in downtown Olympia across from Percival Landing. 

The buildings housed the former GHB Insurance business and Little Da Nang Restaurant. The city cleared vacant buildings on two acres of the west part of the isthmus in late November.

“The Heritage Fountain was envisioned to encompass the entire block, so the city acquired these two sites as they became available, Kip Summers, City of Olympia’s Parks, Arts and Recreation project manager told Little Hollywood on Wednesday.

The city purchased the GHB Insurance site in 1997, which was the same time it purchased the properties that are now Heritage Fountain. The city purchased the Little Da Nang restaurant site in 2007,” he said.

“The intent was to continue renting the buildings until major repairs were needed. That time has come and the buildings were in need of new roofs, heating systems, and other miscellaneous repairs. Therefore, we decided it best to remove the buildings, rather than invest money into structures that are ultimately slated for demolition,” said Summers.

Building demolition is expected to take two weeks.

The next development for the site is still in question. The site is part of the City’s Community Renewal Area (CRA) Water Street Redevelopment Request for Proposals. That request is on the city’s website at

For more information about the project, contact Kip Summers, City of Olympia, (360) 570-5834 or

Above: Demolition equipment appeared to be ready on Saturday to take down the vacant, nine story Mistake on the Lake, also known as the Capitol Center Building in downtown Olympia. Equipment was instead ready to demolish the buildings on the corner of 4th and Water Street. 

Park Plan Public Comment Deadline

The public comment deadline for the city’s 2016 draft Parks, Arts, and Recreation plan is Friday, Dec 11th at 5:00 p.m. The Plan is available at  

Public comments can be made in the following ways: e-mail comments to or or at

The Parks, Arts and Recreation Plan provides a 20-year vision for parks, arts and recreation. The plan identifies the general location of future parks and open space, and includes a capital investment strategy. The draft 2016 Parks, Arts and Recreation Plan proposes acquisition of 417 acres of new park land, an increase of more than 25 percent to Olympia’s existing 16-mile trail inventory; elimination of the existing four million major maintenance backlog and more.

For more information about the Plan, contact Jonathon Turlove, Associate Planner, City of Olympia, at or (360) 753 - 8068.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Police-Community Ad Hoc Committee Forum Focuses On Social Service Providers

By Janine Gates

The Ad Hoc Committee for Police and Community Relations held another community forum Monday night to gather information, this time at First Christian Church in downtown Olympia, to hear from area social service providers.

The committee is tasked by the Olympia City Council to receive information from the community about methods for engaging under-represented and minority groups on police practices, and seek input on a preferred process for engaging the public on implementing police-worn body cameras.

About 20 community members and social service provider representatives and volunteers participated, including Interfaith Works, the YWCA, the Crisis Clinic, Community Youth Services (CYS), United Churches of Olympia, PFLAG, Sidewalk, the Salvation Army, Capital Recovery Center, and others. They discussed and provided examples of ways there are levels of collaboration, not competition, that currently exists among organizations.

All members of the Ad Hoc committee were present, as well as three longtime members of the Olympia Police Department.

The evening’s conversation, as at previous forums, asked two questions: What has been your experience with the Olympia Police Department, and how can the Olympia Police Department better serve you? The conversation was followed by small group discussions.

No one shared any stories of direct difficulties with police, and several shared their organization's positive interactions. Others expressed questions and concerns about the May officer-involved shooting of two young African American men in Olympia.

Watching the videos of police activity and shootings in other cities nationwide, Pavel Mikoloski, who lives in unincorporated Thurston County, said he kept thinking, “Thank God we don’t have that…that doesn’t happen in Olympia…we have great police....” Then he described his thoughts when he saw the video of the officer-involved shooting of a man in Pasco. It really upset him, but then he dismissed it.

“….I thought, that’s Eastern Washington, that’s like a different state, that’s a whole different climate over there….And then when this shooting in Olympia happened…it hit too close to home. I thought, ‘Is this systemic? What is going on?’ I know policing is a very difficult job, don’t get me wrong, but I’m really worried. What’s going on? I need some answers….”

Later, in a conversation on how to improve the condition of downtown, he said Olympia needs to attract a major high tech company.

“There’s room downtown for a major tech revival. If that were to happen, then a lot of these social services would be better funded and we could find a better way to help the homeless situation,” he said.

Jessie of the downtown YWCA said she was new to Olympia and has heard many stories from YWCA clients that she would like the police to hear. She says the level of compassion, empathy, and understanding depends upon the officer. She suggested that the police “ride along” with social service providers in much the same way police encourage community members to ride along with them to see what their work day or night is like.

Scott Hanouser, chief executive officer of Community Youth Services, says the agency has over 20 programs that interact with each other, and provide services to about 4,000 youth per year between the ages of 14 to 24. He said that the agency has a positive relationship with the police department.

A resident of the Fleetwood Apartments near Sylvester Park said that when fights break out in the building or when someone is off their medication, the police are polite. 

“I know if I show them respect, I'll get respect...but respect looks different to different people, she said.

Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, which operates the Emergency Overnight Shelter located at First Christian Church, downstairs from the forum’s meeting place, described his organization’s perspectives.

“…On behalf of staff, we are pleased with our interaction with police and have many success stories, however, for every success story, there is a story that we hear about….While I'll add to the praise (such as) the level of responsiveness and the ability to have honest and frank conversations with officers when need be, there are some cases that are troubling…situations that require officers working with severely mentally ill people….I want to work with the department to enhance our capabilities, to enhance training, and preparation for dealing with this populace.”

Kadden described a group of about 30 street folks who met in this same room a few weeks ago to discuss their experiences with police.

“…What they have to say is so important. They have a history of harassment and bad encounters with police. There is so much to talk out. I wish we could replicate that - so much of it interfaces with race…class…trauma….Let’s find a way to talk about the culture of our community, and how different cultures have a hard time communicating, sharing, understanding each other, and I’m also talking about the policing culture….I think we have an opportunity here to grow and mature as a community…to prepare our professionals and those receiving services, who can have some trust that their experiences are valued,” said Kadden. He added that Interfaith Works and the faith community are committed and ready to assist in these efforts.

Committee member Alejandro Rugarcia reported that committee members are meeting with groups or individuals who may not feel comfortable meeting in formal settings. 

Since the forum focusing on Hispanic experiences with police at CEILO in early November, committee members have met with 17 Hispanic individuals who were afraid to speak at or attend the forum, said Rugarcia. He urged those in attendance to reach out to others that the group should hear from but may not feel comfortable attending a forum. He assured the group that the work of the committee will result in positive outcomes.

The committee’s next two, and final, community forums will focus on youth and body cameras, respectively.

To learn more about the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, go to Future community forums are scheduled for January 18 and February 11, topics, times, and locations to be determined.

Upcoming: The Black Alliance of Thurston County and the Olympia Police Department will cosponsor a community conversation about race, racial bias, and institutional racism on Thursday, December 10, from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at South Sound Manor, 455 North Street, Tumwater. According to the release, the goal is to build trust between communities and to promote fair and impartial policing in Olympia.

To read past stories about the Olympia Police Department, the Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Community Relations, the May 21 shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin in west Olympia, the Black Alliance of Thurston County, body cameras, and community conversations around race and implicit bias, go to Little Hollywood, and type keywords into the search button.

Above: The Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations held a forum focusing on the police experiences of the Hispanic community on November 5 at CEILO, Centro Integral Educativo Latino de Olympia, (Integral Hispanic Educational Center of Olympia), a local non-profit organization that promotes community, self-sufficiency and leadership of Latinas/os. The Committee also held a forum on October 10, reaching out to the African American community.