Saturday, January 5, 2019

Madrone Announces Olympia City Council Race

Above: Dani Madrone, 35, of Olympia, announced her candidacy for Olympia City Council, Position 3 on Saturday. Little Hollywood interviewed Madrone on issues of homelessness, affordable housing, sea level rise, and neighborhoods.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Dani Madrone, 35, of Olympia, announced her candidacy for Olympia City Council, Position 3 on Saturday.

The position is an open seat because Councilmember Nathaniel Jones, who currently occupies that position, is running for the seat currently held by Mayor Cheryl Selby. Selby is running for reelection.

Madrone, a resident of Olympia since 2004, studied science, sustainability, and public policy at The Evergreen State College. She received her master’s in public administration in 2016 and works for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Madrone met with Little Hollywood in downtown Olympia Saturday to discuss her candidacy and the issues of homelessness, affordable housing, sea level rise, and neighborhoods.

She says Olympia faces big decisions on the environment, including climate change, and the health of Puget Sound. She wants to incorporate environmental priorities into all areas of city government with decisions based on science.

Above: The city-sanctioned homeless mitigation site located on the corner of Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street Saturday morning in downtown Olympia.

Beginning our walking interview at the city-sanctioned homeless mitigation site located on the corner of Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street, Madrone acknowledged that homelessness in Olympia is in crisis mode.

She says she recognizes that social service providers are overwhelmed, potential shoppers are afraid to go downtown, and local businesses are losing customers.

“I love downtown. I feel safe, but I don’t want to tell other people what feels safe for them. There’s a lot of tension downtown and at this point, it takes a lot of courage for businesses to step up and say, ‘This isn’t working for me.’ The conversations just aren’t very good right now.

“I’m hoping to be a bridge builder and to listen to people and say, ‘OK, what does it look like when we’re succeeding?’ and develop a crisis management plan around that. This is a big issue and it’s going to be tense for a while.

“We need a clear problem statement. We need to know if the mitigation site is working, for example. It’s a big community conversation that needs to happen between folks who are homeless, businesses in the area, service providers, and city staff to come up with a shared vision of success. Otherwise, we don’t know if we’re heading there.”

Asked about the mitigation site, Madrone said that it is a good first step but needs to lead to something more permanent. She says she thinks of it as Olympia setting the table, but wonders how the city is going to make sure all are fed and healthy in the long run.

“What comes after this? This is obviously not a sustainable solution. We don’t want people living outside on pallets in tents. It’s not the end-game. That’s the piece I’m not seeing yet and that’s the part I’d like to help bring around – a long term crisis management plan,” she said.

Asked about funding, Madrone said the Home Fund is an important piece of the funding puzzle.

“I’d say by the time the Home Fund was already approved by the voters, it was not enough. We have a growing problem, a problem that is becoming increasingly visible. The city does need more help from the county, state, and federal government.

“We have to ask ourselves, are we putting our resources where they need to go? Do we know at what point we can declare that something is not working so we can free up those resources and put them toward the things that we know are working?”

Housing Options

Madrone has lived in a variety of rental situations in Olympia and has had to leave housing because the rent was suddenly raised so high she couldn’t afford it. She’s also lived in places where the landlord really cared about her situation. 

Madrone says her rent was not raised for four years because her landlord knew she was struggling. She is now a homeowner in the northwest neighborhood where she lives with her young daughter.

Madrone was active in the recent “Missing Middle” housing conversation and sees a need for more diverse housing options throughout the city. She says she will explore renter protections and the barriers created by short-term vacation rentals and long term vacancies.

“The Missing Middle conversation is a big, complicated issue. Calculations from the city say that 1,000 more housing units across the city could be built over the next 20 years due to the recent passage of the ordinance.

“It’s a very small piece of what’s needed. In terms of what’s next, we really need a lot more multi-family housing in the density nodes: downtown, over by Capital Mall, the Eastside, and the high-density corridors. We have to figure out why those aren’t being built.”

Above: Dani Madrone walks along Percival Landing near the childrens playground where soft-armoring of the shoreline with native plants help control flooding.

Sea Level Rise

Another issue facing Olympia is the threat of sea level rise. Discussing the city’s draft sea level rise plans, Madrone says that floodable landscapes are mentioned but not incorporated into the plan.

“I really think the city should be looking at places downtown that will allow flood water to come in and become the receptacle for flood water until everything subsides.

“There are opportunities to take underutilized parking lots and turn them into a park-like area so when it floods, you can direct the water into those areas to contain it. 
There’s a lot of planning to protect downtown from flooding but not enough planning for where that water is going to go if we can’t handle it.

“I would like to see us have a range of flood barrier options to choose from for downtown….We don’t have any options that suggest that we only protect part of downtown. What would it look like if we were to retreat from downtown? Let’s put it out there on the table.”

Little Hollywood asked Madrone if she was suggesting that retreat still be considered as an option and if she was in agreement with the city’s sea level rise plans. 

The city is committed to saving downtown and all its assets, such as the regional LOTT water/wastewater facility.

“Not 100 percent,” responded Madrone. “I think their direction is fine if we only get two to three feet of sea level rise, but if we end up on the higher end of the projections, I think we’re underestimating the issue….

“I don’t think a complete retreat from downtown at this point is realistic, but we might start talking about what it looks like to put new housing over in that direction (Madrone points southwest across Capitol Lake).

“The less we have to protect in the areas most likely to flood the better. What does the community conversation look like in terms of what parts of our downtown is most important to protect? What is the phased approach?

Finally, Little Hollywood asked Madrone if there were any issues she needed to learn more about.

“I could stand to learn more about almost every issue. I would hope everyone would say that. I would love to hear more from businesses throughout Olympia about their experiences and what their needs are,” she said. 

Madrone said she would also like to hear from neighborhoods and their issues. 

“Neighborhood associations are run by dedicated volunteers with limited time and energy. Their issues need to be kept on the city’s radar,” she said.

“I’m going to learn a lot in the next year. One of the biggest challenges I see is how much people talk past each other. I want to be someone who can help with seeing our shared interests and help bring people together a bit more. It’s part of the national politics right now for everything to be so divided and I just feel like we can do better locally,” said Madrone.

Madrone has already received endorsements from some elected officials and community members.

The filing deadline for council races is in May. 

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