Saturday, February 24, 2018

‘Oly Mountain Boy’ Attorney Announces Race for County Commission

Above: Tye Menser is a candidate for Thurston County Commission District 3. Little Hollywood interviewed Menser and covered law and justice issues, growth and the environment, county public health issues, and the need for a new county courthouse complex.

The county has to be right there knee-deep with the cities in solving the county’s problems,” said Menser.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Tye Menser announced his candidacy for Thurston County Commission District 3 on Saturday.

Menser, 47, is a bluegrass, banjo-playing member of the acclaimed Oly Mountain Boys and a Harvard and University of California-Berkeley educated public defense and criminal law attorney.

Menser made his announcement at the Thurston County Democrats’ annual Champagne Brunch at the Rivers Edge Restaurant in Tumwater.

The seat is currently held by Commissioner Bud Blake, a self-described independent. Blake unseated Karen Valenzuela, a Democrat, in 2014.

Menser says he is running to improve the county’s financial management and partner with cities to work on solutions to regional problems such as affordable housing, poverty, addiction and mental health services. 

He also wants this partnership to create sustainable land use policies.

Interview with Little Hollywood

Menser sat down with Little Hollywood earlier this week to discuss his journey to Thurston County and approach to the issues.

We covered a lot of ground: the budget, growth, housing, environmental issues, the proposed new county courthouse, the proposed expansion of the county jail, and law and restorative justice issues.

Born in Southern California and raised by public school teachers, Menser is married to a public school teacher and father of two children. 

While a law student, he studied in Mexico, Argentina and Chile, learned Spanish, and served three years in large law firms. He traveled around the world in between jobs and met his wife while traveling in Bulgaria.

Menser is a ten-year singing and songwriting member of the Oly Mountain Boys. In a Northwest Music Scene reader poll, the band’s album, “White Horse” was voted as one of the top ten Pacific Northwest albums of 2014.

Set in Grays Harbor, the album, written by Menser, tells a life story from beginning to end, centering on Washington’s frontier past. One song is called, “They Cut Down the Trees.”

Menser first discovered his appreciation for environmental issues while living in Alaska nearly 15 years ago. 

“I went to Alaska in 2001, after three years in big-law firm private practice. Those three years showed me that I would only survive as a lawyer if I was in a more public service type of practice. At the same time, I became interested in environmental issues….I combined the two goals and joined the Alaska Public Defender Agency, representing the interests of indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle and throughout interior Alaska. I stayed for nearly seven years.

“I traveled all over the Alaskan wilderness, and developed an abiding appreciation for wild places and a deep understanding the value of pristine natural landscapes,” he said.

Coming to Olympia in 2007, Menser served on Thurston County’s Water Conservancy Board from 2010 to 2013. He has extensive training in Washington State’s complex water law.

With that knowledge, Menser pledges to enhance Thurston County’s unique features and preserve water quality, county farmlands and open spaces.

“I appreciate how smart, sustainable land use planning provides security for people and our irreplaceable lands as we continue to grow. We must provide for both prosperity and preservation. We have to be mindful of how we grow, and our current commissioners are trying to roll back protections for our prairies, groundwater and shorelines. We’re in a sweet spot here and need to retain its character. We need county commissioners who are going to fiercely protect that character,” he said.

Digging deep into the details of the county’s Habitat Conservation Plan currently under review, Menser wants to remind voters that all three current commissioners ran their election campaigns saying the Plan was unnecessary.

“The Habitat Conservation Plan is a way to help our landowners and property owners not run afoul of the law…Now the commissioners realize it’s needed, but they are questioning the science behind the need to protect endangered species and questioning the acreage for mitigation, so we’re pretty far back in the process. They have taken an obstructionist approach and I don’t think that is responsible leadership for the county. They are not asking the right questions.

“They are also looking at a reduction of protections in low impact development standards and the critical areas ordinance and considering the reduction of buffers,” he said.

Highlighting the interconnectedness of the county’s challenges, Menser says the county budget is in trouble and “it is time for the county to take a stronger role in joining the cities to work on regional issues.”

The county’s criminal justice system, including the courts, prosecution and defense, policing and the jail, currently consumes 76 percent of the county’s general fund.

“The commission has squandered two-thirds of our budget reserve with no plan to replenish it –that’s not responsible financial planning. We’re one emergency away from financial insolvency. A long term financial plan is key,” he said.

“Thurston County faces increasingly complicated problems with fewer and fewer financial resources to solve them. The anticipated population growth that we can see all around us is only going to further strain our ability to provide services and protect natural resources. The voters need someone who can safely lead the county through these challenges and I believe I’m the person for the job.”

With the commissioners also acting as the Board of Health, Menser says he will provide greater county leadership on issues on issues such as affordable housing and homelessness.

“The recent Point-in-Time count indicates that the number of unsheltered homeless on the street has spiked. Partnerships with the cities on these issues with a collaborative approach may be slow, but produces more solid, long-term solutions. Nearly a third of people in the county are under rent pressure, struggling to just meet their basic housing costs. The county has to be right there knee-deep with the cities in solving the county’s problems,” said Menser.

Menser’s practice includes court-appointed work with Thurston County Public Defense.

Despite the drop in crime, the population in the county jail is increasing, particularly those with special needs.

“We have 45 percent of the people in our jail with diagnosed mental health issues and 75-80 percent with addiction and substance abuse, so, to me, that statistic jumps off the page. If we’re concerned about why our jail is full and we’re housing people believing there’s going to be some rehabilitation, we are accomplishing a lot less incarcerating someone when they really are in need of mental health and addiction treatment.

“So, if we’re looking at the gap between revenue cap and the rising cost of government, we have to look at these issues. I’m well positioned to do that with my background. The plan to expand the jail is not the best use of our money….We could be looking at investing in other parts of the system that will have a better effect,” said Menser.

“The interconnectedness of these issues is one of my themes….You have to think of all our main issues - economic development, the environment, the budget, and law and justice. You have to see the whole system in terms of how to spend your money. I will work to implement reforms, find efficiencies and cost savings, reduce criminal recidivism, and make our communities safer and healthier,” said Menser.

Regarding the needs of the current county courthouse complex which was built in 1978, Menser agrees it needs to be replaced and says all the reasons presented are valid.

“The case that the courthouse is in disrepair is pretty clear. To me, the space concerns are the tipping factor. Three times the amount of space is needed to deal with the anticipated population growth. The space issue is acute. We have to figure out as a community how to make this project work. The judges have given a number of presentations. They are mindful of the fact that this very large expenditure needs to have corollary benefits to the community. That’s why the thought of having it downtown could be another way to revitalize our community.

“The downtown concept is good but the financial possibilities that have been presented are going to eat up capital expenditures. Whether it can it be done on a smaller scale is the challenge. Even the current commissioners are acknowledging the need. The location is the next big decision that needs to be made,” said Menser.

After covering a lot of ground on serious issues, it was time for Little Hollywood to ask Menser if he would be offended by me closing out the interview with a carefully chosen banjo joke. Menser laughed and braced himself.

Little Hollywood: So why is banjo playing like a courtroom trial?

Menser put his head in his hands, and thought for what seemed like half a minute. He was stumped. What? Had he not heard this one? He gave up.

Answer: Everyone is relieved when the case is finally closed.

But Menser was quick with a challenge:

Menser: Why do some people hate banjo players instantly?

Answer: It saves time.

Menser is hoping voters will like this one.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Carbon Free Thurston Efforts Underway

Above: Tom Crawford, chair of the Thurston Climate Action Team, stands near a City of Olympia stormwater bypass pump station in downtown Olympia near Capitol Lake. Crawford is working on a regional climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Regional elected officials met January 31 to discuss the threat of sea level rise and begin planning efforts to save downtown Olympia.

After being presented with sobering predictions and graphics showing most of downtown Olympia as we know it under water, Thurston County Commissioner John Hutchings asked: is there a natural, self-correcting way to mitigate some of the damage caused by climate change?

His question fell right into the lap of many climate change activists who work hard to educate anyone who will listen, improve public policy, and change personal habits to reduce contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Thurston County Commissioners, who also act as the county board of health, will face a myriad of health impacts that will result with climate change: poor air quality,  asthma, heat stroke, food and water contamination, stress, barriers to health services, and issues with mold, bugs and disease.

Although a regional sea level rise response effort is currently underway, one group is working toward the development of a more holistic, regional climate action plan.

Carbon Free Thurston, a subgroup of the nonprofit Thurston Climate Action Team (TCAT) led by Tom Crawford, is actively working to influence the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater and Thurston County to focus on community-wide reductions in greenhouse gases. 

The group will participate in recommending a set of clean energy strategies to help the region hit greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Their efforts seem to be working so far.

In light of a meltdown on the federal level where it seems no action is going to take place, TCAT members met with regional city staff and attended council meetings and budget hearings to support the setting aside of money in 2018 budgets for climate action planning.

The City of Olympia contributed $80,000 and the City of Tumwater contributed $40,000. The City of Lacey has expressed interest in participating but has not yet decided on funding toward the project.

The group is still looking to Lacey to contribute at least $80,000. 

For their part, the Thurston County commissioners have set aside a half hour on their February 28 work session agenda to discuss the issue and possible funding.

It is estimated that the total cost to develop a regional plan would be $200,000.

Crawford, a retired consultant on Native American curriculum and education and information technology issues, addressed the Olympia city council during public comment on Tuesday night and thanked them for their financial commitment. 

Above: Andy Haub, City of Olympia water resources director, and Lacey Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt visit after the sea level rise planning meeting of regional elected officials on January 31. Last year, Lacey adopted a carbon reduction and resiliency plan that included community wide goals and possible strategies for reducing carbon emissions.

The Thurston Regional Planning Council’s sustainability plan, Sustainable Thurston, includes a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The numbers are based on recommendations of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We’re way behind….We’re not going to even make the 2020 targets because we’re just starting to plan. If we keep the present policies in place, our total won’t increase greenhouse gas emissions, but they won’t decrease them either. We have to start significant action now,” Crawford said during a recent interview with Little Hollywood.

Crawford says the region doesn’t need to start from scratch to get this done: the homegrown Climate and Clean Energy Work Group of Thurston Thrives has already done a lot of the homework.

Thurston Thrives is a county-wide initiative composed of community members who work together to improve public health and safety.

A January 12 email from the Climate and Clean Energy Work Group to county commissioners and city councilmembers of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater outlines a comprehensive list of climate planning recommendations.

“We believe a regional plan will provide a good foundation to regional action…this collective impact model is central to our work…and supports the physical and social health of our residents, and the health and vibrancy of our economy,” it says.

Crawford served as chair of the work group for about two years and is still an active member. He knows climate action planning is an overwhelming concept, but says getting to work on a regional plan dovetails well with current sea level rise planning efforts by the City of Olympia, the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance and the Port of Olympia.

“Sea level rise planning is just one element….A regional plan has other benefits. Most helpful would be to get Puget Sound Energy off coal and then getting them to produce carbon free alternatives. Other climate action planning angles are to make it feasible for more city residents to drive electric vehicles and obtain energy efficient retrofits to their homes.”

Puget Sound Energy says it intends to shut down four Colstrip coal plants in Montana by 2027, but for many, that’s not soon enough.

“That is the biggest part of the solution. We will not be able to achieve our targets without that happening…. Nature is telling us you can’t do this anymore. Unless we address the root causes, we’re not going to get ahead of climate change. It’s going to overwhelm us,” said Crawford.

Thurston County Emissions

Identifying the most effective opportunities to reduce carbon emissions in our community can come from the data. 

The Clean Energy Transition/Stockholm Environment Institute did a recent study in October 2017, developing an energy map and carbon analysis for Thurston County. This group also did a similar analysis for the City of Olympia.

The carbon analysis includes the use of coal, petroleum, natural gas, and hydro, and indicates what kinds of actions to take to reduce emissions based on current national fuel efficiency standards and Washington State clean energy standards.

New standards would include cleaner transportation fuels and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Most of our county greenhouse gas emissions, 44 percent, come from vehicles. Fifty three percent comes from the built environment.

In terms of one’s individual carbon footprint in Thurston County, car fuel takes up, on average, 17 percent of the pie, and electricity takes up 36 percent.

Single occupancy vehicles are still the preferred mode of commuting for Thurston County residents despite carpooling, bike-to-work, and public transit efforts.

According to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, single occupancy vehicle commuting has actually increased, possibly reflecting the impact of urban sprawl.

Housing is a major component of the issue. Residential emissions make up 30 percent of county’s total emissions. Because rental units equal 34 percent of affordable housing units, providing incentives for landlords to invest in efficiencies is one piece. 

The county’s total cost for energy for residential is $166 million a year.

For more information about Thurston Climate Action Team and Carbon Free Thurston, contact Tom Crawford, or (360) 280-0242, or

Thurston Thrives: Begun in 2013 by the county’s board of health, community members representing local businesses, governments, foundations, nonprofits and neighborhoods are involved with eight action groups to examine the root causes undermining community health. Since 2015, it has operated under a public-private council. For more information, go to

Above: City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, left, speaks with Olympia City Councilmember Lisa Parshley after the January 31 sea level rise response planning meeting. Other elected officials representing Thurston County, the Port of Olympia, the City of Tumwater, the City of Lacey, and the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance were also present.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sea Level Rise: Olympia is not Alone

Above: Regional elected officials met last Wednesday evening at Olympia City Hall to discuss sea level rise response planning efforts. Members of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater city councils, the Port of Olympia, Thurston County, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance were in attendance.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Regional elected officials met January 31 to discuss the threat of sea level rise and began planning efforts to save downtown Olympia.

A sight rarely seen to discuss a singular issue, members of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater city councils, the Port of Olympia, Thurston County, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance were in attendance at Olympia City Hall. 

Over 100 assets in downtown Olympia have been identified and categorized and a plan for phasing in specific actions, with an eye toward long range strategies, will begin. 

Justin Vandever of AECOM, the consultant firm hired by the entities, presented the latest sea level rise science specific to downtown Olympia. 

“We know the science is going to change…every few years we’re going to get new information. The likely sea level rise scenario will be 13 inches by 2050, and 36 inches by the end of the century…but there’s a lot of uncertainty…the high range is 24 inches by 2050,” he said.

Reminding officials that Olympia is not alone, Vandever provided examples of other cities, port districts and water and wastewater treatment plant facilities that are also facing sea level rise challenges.

Despite his experience in working with various entities, Vandever said Olympia is unique and its plans and ideas need to be relevant and flexible to the area, which includes three miles of shoreline.

Most of the graphics were overwhelming, eliciting a range of emotions, questions and comments.

Port of Olympia Commissioner EJ Zita expressed her views on mitigation and adaptation. 

“...Much of the hometown we love is going to flood. We have no choice but to adapt. Meanwhile, we can still make choices to mitigate - to slow or reduce climate change. By choosing to encourage dense urban development, especially on higher ground, we can make transportation more efficient, and preserve farmland and open spaces. By choosing renewables instead of coal in Washington State, we can make electricity cleaner. And by installing more charging stations, we can electrify vehicle transport.

“Ports can play a major role in mitigation. By cancelling the biggest oil terminal in the U.S., the Port of Vancouver discouraged oil transport and burning. Our own Port of Olympia could choose not to support fracking for fossil fuels,” she said.  

Lacey Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt focused her concerns on infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, fire and police stations, and the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance water and wastewater treatment plant.

“The plant represents a community investment of over $500 million dollars, and it is critical infrastructure that is essential to the continued protection of public health and our environment. It needs to be protected from sea level rise.”

She said she often hears from Lacey residents that they don't have to deal with sea level rises issues and asked Mike Strub, executive director of the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance, to explain what the impact would be to Lacey.

When Lacey toilets back up, then they will care, he quipped. Quickly getting serious, however, Strub explained how sea level rise will impact the whole region.

“There will be an impact on all communities. The process (of inundation) would cause the system to shut down. The Budd Inlet Treatment Plant is the mothership of the treatment system. We can keep it going for a little while, but if we lose power, we cant get water through the plant. It wouldnt go anywhere. It would be a serious situation. Its a fragile line. Once thats crossed, there are serious consequences.

Pratt, who serves as Laceys representative to the LOTT Board, elaborated on her concerns to Little Hollywood after the meeting:

“LOTT will need to keep updating equipment, such as generators and pumps, which will add costs to ratepayers. I think that is an important element for Lacey because they don’t get the connection between us and Olympia’s “problem.” It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue. Obviously, if LOTT fails, there will be issues, but it also means that wastewater spills untreated into Budd Inlet....I truly think this conundrum needs to be addressed in the outreach plan. It isn’t just an Olympia, LOTT facility, Port problem but rather a system-wide issue.” 

Olympia City Councilmember Jessica Bateman asked several questions about Capitol Lake, and the assumptions used, given the possibility it could revert back to an estuary. 

The state Department of Enterprise Services is responsible for lake management. 

Andy Haub, City of Olympia water resources director for public works, responded that Capitol Lake is in the inundation zone and the intent of a plan is to accommodate whatever Capitol Lake becomes.

Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor mentioned his concerns about the protection of Cascade Pole, the former wood-treating site on port property that requires an on-site pumping and treatment system to remove contaminants from groundwater. He wondered why the state wasnt involved in protecting its investment, since it has spent millions cleaning up the area. 

Haub admitted that Ecology nor the Department of Natural Resources has expressed interest.

Olympia City Councilmember Clark Gilman said it was hubris to try and defend what downtown looks like now and urged that environmental and social justice organizations be involved in the public planning process.

City of Tumwater councilmember Tom Oliva asked about plans to finance sea level rise planning strategies.

Haub said governing a financing plan will be hard to sustain for decades, and an umbrella organization, such as a levy or flood protection district, could be implemented.

Above: The nine-story Capitol Center Building in downtown Olympia is reflected in Capitol Lake. The artificial lake was created in 1951 through the creation of a dam that impounds the Deschutes estuary. A hearing examiner recently approved a redevelopment project for the site that would add two new, 35 foot buildings. The proposed project is within 1,000 feet of Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake.

Clarification, February 8: Lacey Deputy Mayor is on the LOTT Board and serves as the board president.

Little Hollywood regularly writes about downtown Olympia sea level rise issues. For more articles, reports, and photos, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Approved: Mistake on the Lake Redevelopment

Above: The 100 foot, nine-story Mistake on the Lake obscures the stunning Olympic Mountain range, as seen from the Washington State Capitol Campus in January. Adding two 35 foot buildings to the scene, a City of Olympia hearing examiner approved a redevelopment proposal for the building. A public hearing on the project was held January 9 and lasted nearly six hours.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“The Capitol Center Building is unattractive and its location is truly unfortunate. In a perfect world it never would have been constructed, and it could not be constructed today....Although I share in the popular dislike for this building I am left with no alternative but to grant it the same protection given to every other nonconforming building,” wrote City of Olympia hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir. 

Scheibmeir’s decision, dated February 2, approved a controversial, proposed mixed-use redevelopment for the building by developer Ken Brogan.

Although the application could have been handled by the city, the nine-story building on the isthmus in downtown Olympia is so controversial that the city deferred to a hearing examiner to determine whether the proposed project is a permitted use within the urban waterfront-housing zone and complies with all city codes. 

Approval for the proposed housing and commercial project, Views on Fifth, is subject to some routine conditions.

In a previous case upon which Scheibmeir based some of his decisions, another city hearing examiner, Tom Bjorgen, called the building an errant thumb on the landscape. 

A nearly six hour hearing about the proposed project was held January 9 at The Olympia Center with over 200 community members in attendance.

Refusing to allow this project to go forward in the absence of any conflict with the Comprehensive Plan or noncompliance with development regulations, just to encourage the removal of the building, would constitute a taking. This would impose a significant, involuntary burden on the city – a burden it has declined to voluntarily take,” wrote Scheibmeir.

In June, 2017, representatives for Views on Fifth submitted an application to change the proposed use of the existing Capitol Center Building from an earlier proposed hotel to a multi-family residential development, and to develop the rest of the project site into a mixed use commercial residential project called “Views on Fifth.”

The city made a State Environmental Policy Act determination of non-significance for the project in early December, 2017, which was appealed by attorney Allen Miller, on behalf of several clients, that same month. That appeal was denied by the hearing examiner on January 25.

Above: David Nicandri signs in to testify at the proposed Views on Fifth land use public hearing held January 9 at The Olympia Center in downtown Olympia. Nicandri testified in favor of the redevelopment.

Numerous individuals and representatives of organizations testified against and in support of the redevelopment of the Capitol Center Building. 

Supporters said the project contributes to sustainability, economic revitalization in downtown, and long-term Growth Management Act goals.

Todd Cutts, executive director for the Olympia Downtown Association, said his board endorsed the project, saying more foot traffic is needed downtown. 

Joanna West, chair of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, which also endorsed the project, called it a “unique moment for Olympia.”

David Nicandri challenged testimony about the original Wilder and White and Olmsted concept plans and spoke to the environmental challenges of demolishing the building.

Nicandri spent 25 years leading the Washington State Historical Society, was the founding president of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and currently sits on the City of Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission.

In the late 1970s, he incorporated Citizens to Save the Thurston County Courthouse, resulting in an effort that successfully sued the state of Washington to preserve the building on Capitol Way. 

“In that case, you had another building…so incongruous, so ugly, so poorly designed in comparison to the state capitol group that it did not deserve to remain on the landscape. It was intended to be demolished because it would obscure views of the capital from the east campus, what eventually became the state Department of Natural Resources building. Of course, in the greatest irony, at present the state office of archaeology and historic preservation is housed in that building.”

Scheibmeir stated that the proposed redevelopment meets all codes, even to scenic views.

“It might be argued that the two additional buildings, the Southwest Building and the Northwest Building, impair existing scenic views, but the view analysis provided by the applicant…adequately demonstrates that the views toward Capitol Lake and the Capitol from 4th Avenue are not worsened by these additional buildings,” wrote Scheibmeir in his decision.

Above: A screenshot of the proposed Views on Fifth and two additional 35 foot buildings as seen from the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Simmons Street. 

For more photos and information about Views on Fifth, or the Views on 5th, Mistake on the Lake, Capitol Center Building, owner Ken Brogan, downtown Olympia, sea level rise, flood events, King Tides, the proposed hotel, or the isthmus, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.