Eminent domain and water rights

Via OlyBlog, “local ownership of local resources“:

today’s paper reports that the Olympia city council took action to reclaim our water rights at the brewery.
As I understand it, the current owner is in danger of defaulting on his loan. If he does, then the water rights will go to his lender in California or to the highest bidder.”

Interesting local use of power of eminent domain. Using eminent domain to save a resource like the water rights should be applauded. This also highlights the way that eminent domain empowers local governments to work toward the greater good.

I do believe that the government should reserve the rights of eminent domain and the ability to escheat the land for the common, greater good. This ability has been steadily chipped away, so there is a value in the Kelo decision. However, the SCOTUS decision seems to implicitly link the common, greater good to economic interests, essentially extrinsic use of property. This tends to deny the intrinsic value of property, such as the value to future generations and other needs which are balanced in a triple bottom line. I have a concurring opinion on this issue. While I tend to agree with the overall decision, I do not follow the logic or reasoning that was used to get there. And, I likely don’t agree with how the decision will end up being used. Kelo does seem to lead down a road that parallels the misuse of the 14th amendment by the courts. It is a good outcome that will come to no good.

So, seeing the power of eminent domain used for the greater good, in the case of securing the water rights for the old brewery, seems to be a welcome surprise. There needs to be a tension between either individuals or governments having unbridled power. I see that as an essential check an balance: the government and the people need to watch each other.

Just as 25% of the pollution in LA on some days (NYT via Boing Boing) is from China, the decisions that a property owner makes has wide ranging effects, and without the coordination of a community, a government, there is likely an unavoidable slide into patterns of failure like the tragedy of the commons. At the same time, current events should clearly indicate the need for the people to have the right and ability to check what their government is doing. If the watched cannot check the watchers, then there’s an infinite regression of watchers that ultimately only pushes the need for supervision and oversight further behind layers of control that can be subverted and manipulated. It may be possible to limit the size of government and decrease corruption if the people are actively involved. This closes the loop on an otherwise linear hierarchy.

I’ve gone on safari here.

Landing the plane: I suspect that property rights should be a equitable negotiation between individuals and the collective, the government or else something will go wrong horribly wrong. Neither should be left unchecked by the other.

Then there are situations like this one in Tacoma, which reminds me of the surprise and frustration that Jason and Wendi had when Seattle was thinking of taking their house to build a library. Of course, Jason and Wendi were living in the house, a beautiful Seattle bungalow, where I read completely through to the final paragraph to find that the property in Tacoma is an acre with a vacant house and that the owner wasn’t really completely out of the loop. (Interesting choice to put that information in the final paragraph.)

Swantown and Marshville née Cheetwoot

Around the Port everything is labeled “Swantown” and I just got around to looking into why.

Apparently named after one of the first european settlers in Olympia, John Swan, the Swantown Slough is an area that was filled in under, essentially, Plum St. and the remaining East Bay area. The Salish called it Cheetwoot. The original european settler’s city was called Swantown, later to be renamed as Olympia. The west side, originally called Marshville, was reached via a footbridge.

There’s some nice walking trails detailed by Olympia Today. (Which appears not to have an index page? What’s the entry point to this website?) [Update: Emmett O’Connell pointed me to the entry point. He has a newer Olympia Time online, as the old one is stale.] Trail No. 2 talks about the Swantown Slough.

An approximation of the original shoreline is outlined with bronze markers.

Some other references include:

The History of Olympia

Olympia’s History and Resources (HTML cache)

Eastside Neighborhood walk in Olympia, Washington

Mallory v City of Olympia (a case over a sewer construction project in Swantown Slough.)

Historic Preservation Plan (HTML cache)

Olympia 1879 (page with a lithographic image)

Olympia, WA 1917 (JPG image of a map showing old Main / Pacific Highway)

Olympia and Thurston County History

The Olympia Historical Society

Chez Cascadia, Olympia independent hostel

A poster about Chez Cascadia caught my eye last night. Apparently, there’s an independent hostel in Olympia. It looks like it’s new, not something I just managed to miss.

At $16/day, that’s a great option for visitors to and travelers through Olympia. It’s not clear to me if they have online booking up and running because no date I selected randomly had “online availability” but it’s still something worth keeping an eye on.

Is Olympia a leg on the green tortoise? (No, it appears not. Too bad.)

Update: Jacob Rosenblum of Chez Cascadia contacted me with corrections to this post, which I’ve made above. Looks like the direct link is now the first result at Google and even though the link at HostelWorld I originally offered is in the Google results, Chez Cascadia no longer appears at HostelWorld’s site. Somebody has been busy.

Either way, it’s great news that there’s a hostel in Olympia. My partner and I stayed in hostels for almost our entire trip in Ireland, and they were mostly wonderful, especially the independent hostels. Interestingly, in Germany, Austria and Northern Italy, I don’t remember seeing hostels, but there were Zimmer Frei (Available Rooms) in every town I was in. Apparently, although I didn’t see this for myself, there are also free shelters all the way over the Alps from Germany to Italy, which travelers can camp out in if they want to hike the whole way.

The opportunity to travel, and stay in new and different places, is an important part of my personal experience of the world. I have a hard time imagining a life without travel, though I recognize that quite a lot of people don’t travel.

Business group can’t budget?

Via “Downtown group seeks cash“:

The group that’s getting the new downtown improvement district off the ground is running low on cash.

The Olympia Downtown Association will start collecting dues again from its members, and has asked the city for $23,850 to support its programs and launch the improvement district.

Interesting choice, journalistically, to not name the ODA in the first paragraph.

So, first, the ODA was opting not to collect fees while seeking support for the PBIA, which is an interesting point. But they also have spent their allowance and are already asking for money from the City … not an auspicious beginning.

The comment about graffitti removal reminds me that I wanted to get a picture of that one that appeared above the New Moon before it goes away.

Can’t afford to build in downtown?

Via The Olympian, “Builder: Fees could kill condos“:

A developer planning to build 100 condominiums downtown says city, school and development fees are too high and could kill the project.

Wait. Wasn’t this the project that was going to build parking into the building also and was a great example of multiuse design and density for downtown?

Interesting how the comments from members of the City Council come from the two with direct ties to the ODA, which has a competing agenda for a parking garage downtown.

While I’m not sure that it makes sense to waive the fees that are talked about in this article, it occurs to me that there’s a disconnect between complaints about downtown vacancy rates and the cost of being downtown.

When there are people and businesses that would like to locate downtown but cannot or find that they cannot afford to be there once they do, then this may be an issue of rents being too high.

I don’t think the response to the perception of high vacancy rates should be to turn downtown into an upscale, open-air mall.

There’s a lot of land that is un- or under-utilized in the downtown of Olympia, but I suspect that, maybe even only a little, serves someone’s agenda. This becomes a contrived argument for changes that are only apparently necessary because the state of things has been created.

On some level, I think that I’ve always been proud of Olympia for keeping tight control on downtown. The example that always comes to me is the McDonald’s on Plum that doesn’t have the obnoxious arches. However, there’s a certain general hostility to businesses that might otherwise have chosen to be downtown, but locate elsewhere.

In my view, there’s a comparible struggle between downtown Olympia and the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. There is a character, an aesthetic that should be maintained. But, that has to stay in relationship with keeping an area economically viable.

It seems to me that if there are people in downtown that businesses would arrive to provide services. So, building a single-use parking facility or concentrating on businesses first might not be ideal. Finding a way to get people in downtown seems like it might be the ideal first step to creating a more vibrant downtown.

Of course, I can’t help but remember that the residents of the new water-facing condos in downtown Seattle complained about the summer concerts on the pier. Although an article I just searched suggests that the move to south lake union park was due to the piers needing repair, I seem to recall that the tension between the concerts and the residents was part of why they moved.

I bring this up because an increased number of residential building in downtown will have consequences for activities in downtown. One might be forgiven for thinking that complaints about homeless and teens in downtown are a bit shrill, but that’s nothing compared to what might happen when there’s more residential occupancy.

And therein is another consequence to higher density: a likely increased demand for police presence. That’s something to keep in mind, especially for city planners and for planners of community oversight.

Split along “party” lines …

Via The Olympian, “Lane cut from Capitol Way“:

But council members Joe Hyer, Jeff Kingsbury and Doug Mah weren’t ready to make that decision Tuesday night.

In a vote about having 3 or 4 lanes on Capital Way, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the result was a division along party lines. Mah, Kingsbury and Hyer … voting based from what might be politely called a “business perspective.” If that perspective were more inclusive it might not be so striking. Not unexpected, I suppose given the apparent entanglement of the ODA interests.

There’s benefit to having a creative tension of community interests on the council, I would imagine. However, in such a small sampling of the community, voting blocs are too susceptible to being non-representative of the whole.

On the other hand, if Capital Way were to go down to 3 lanes, I cannot help but wonder if another path would be chosen by traffic. Would traffic move to all the way to Plum?

Historically, if I’ve figured correctly, Capital Way was the southern turn on the right angle that old 99 took through downtown. So, Capital Way was the primary path south from Pacific. That’s significant because it is the path that major traffic would have taken.

The question really should be asked is where should traffic go? Perhaps Plum is an ideal bypass for downtown, but there’s soon going to be, it has been projected, over 100 trucks a day heading toward the Port.

Perhaps another option to think about is to echo the matched one-way streets State and 5th which provide the east-west corridor by created matched one-way streets north-south as well.

Unfortunately, the north-south corridor is pinched between the Capital campus and there’s no neighboring street through this bottleneck. The only other primary north-south pathways appear to be Plum and Eastside which are too far to offer companionship to Capital Way, although they are close to eachother, and both connect with I-5.

I could imagine a north-south loop through downtown that utilized either Columbia or Washington to match Capital between the Capital Campus on the south end and the Farmer’s Market on the north end. Another option would be to use both Columbia and Washington as the loop with Capital being a 3 or 2 lane, very pedestrian and bike friendly corridor.

Of course, any decision should not be made only within the myopic scope of what to do now, but in the larger scope of a long term plan and vision by the community for downtown.

Update: In a more recent article, “Capitol Way plan: Fears of jams, hopes of safety” via The Olympian, it appears that the 3 lanes will be between 14th and Carlyon. That’s south of the bottleneck I was talking about on Capitol Way. So, I appear to have been talking about something else, not the area in which the change would happen. I was mostly talking about changes to the streets north of the bottleneck. I should have read the original article more clearly.

The print version of this newer article has some additional graphics which are worth a gander, which don’t appear to be attached to the online version. The image of the proposed three-lane road looks quite nice with bike paths and bus turnouts as well as a planted median. Somehow more appropriate to the residential neighborhoods than something approaching a highway. Of course, I can’t help but wonder if a nice light rail track might fit down the middle …

Brother, can you spare some locally grown food?

Via WorldNetDaily: Where are America’s emergency food supplies?:

The U.S. has been giving away a lot of food in recent years.

So much food, in fact, has America given away that its own emergency food reserves are shockingly low.

Higher density living also removes at a further distance from land they can collectively use to grow enough food to survive.

GMO food crops, which have been “leaving the reservation” and mixing with surrounding crops, have often been designed to not provide new seeds for the next planting season.

I feel like it would be important for me to start saving and trading food seeds, keeping heirloom seeds. This is something that I’ve felt even stronger after hearing Vandana Shiva speak about the global food supply, and seed exchanges.

Another string to weave here is the problematic notion of the Hundred-Mile Diet. For large cities, I can’t imagine there would be enough food in 100 miles, but what about a smaller city like Olympia?

I once imagined a circular route, serviced by transit, around a city. The entire circuit would be related to community plots, p-patches.

This seems like an important design constraint for a city thinking about itself. The ecological footprint of the residence would balance land use so that there would be some significant reservation of land for cultivation. A city should consider the value of planning for providing local food resources.

Another thread related to this is the cost of fuel. If there is a significant decline in availability of oil-based fuel, then growing switch grass or some other plant resource could become an essential, strategic use for cultivated land. Municipalities would be required to mediate energy supplies in an entirely new way.

What is the state of localized planning for such contingencies? Sure, it probably seems one step from collecting guns and building an underground shelter, but doesn’t this kind of planning also meet the needs for any disaster?

I’m having a reaction to my own words here. I’m thinking about “being ready” and “being prepared” and having visions of Boy Scouts, uniforms and para-military training … not my ideal for what I imagine, but it’s a possible direction people would go.

When Katrina hit, I thought very seriously about what it would mean to get trained for disaster response work. Seems like that would be a worthy and important set of skills for a community to acquire and keep.

These are a bunch of threads which I’ve not completely woven together as I’ve written this, but it does seem importantly connected to me.

On a similar note, I see that there’s an article at The Olympian about local food growers, “Call goes out for local growers“:

Local growers are pulling together to see if they can help keep food bank shelves stocked and feed a growing number of low-income people.

Update: Apparently, the discussion of switch grass was jump started by its inclusion into the SOTU speech, and there’s some discussion of the possible cronyism in this event over at Grist.

Kudos to the Tacoma News Tribune

Yeah, not so much for their editorial slant, really, but they have very prominently placed a great number of direct RSS feeds. Wish the Olympian was as good in that regard, but at least, and certainly not ideal, the Olympian is a source for Google news, so one can search past articles. For example, try this search: Katherine Tam articles, sorted by date, and maybe subscribe to it as either RSS/Atom or via an e-mail alert. It’s also too bad that old articles have to be purchased to get access online at the Olympian, but that’s another complaint.

Of course, now that I look at them, I would be much happier about the News Tribune’s RSS feeds if they were full text, so let me revise and offer muted kudos, which is better than none, I suppose.

On the other hand, they are specifically friendly about blogs on that page:

We encourage the use of thenewstribune.com RSS feeds for personal use in a news reader or as part of a non-commercial Web site or blog.

This is especially important in relation to some other papers that might be pursuing an institutional policy against bloggers:

The reason The Washington Post is on the attack is that they see their influence waning and are desperate to tear down the credibility of the blogosphere.

Good Guys gone?

So, now I try to call the Good Guys, and their number has been changed to an 800 number. Instead, I go to the website and find that:

After more than 30 years of providing the best in high-end entertainment products, along with unmatched service and support, our freestanding stores are closing, and the Good Guys web site is no longer available for transactions.

They’re expanding some CompUSA locations. I wonder if the Oly store is going to convert, or if there’s a CompUSA moving into the West Olympia Mall now? Seems like Best Buy would have been smart to negotiate a non-compete clause when they moved into the mall.

I’m having a strong memory of the closure of all the Computer City locations back in the day.

Best Buy’s unforgiving call routing system

I wanted to call the local Best Buy to see if they had replacement Tivo remotes in stock. So, I dial the number and get their voice system. I say that I am interested in talking to someone in a department. I select the TV, Video and other products department. Then, I am given three choices without a useful choice related to my particular product, or zero to hear the list again. As I’m thinking, the voice says, “Exiting the system. Good bye.”

And then it hangs up.

I selected through at least 3 levels of the system, and yet it exits if I don’t make the next choice quickly. That’s an obnoxiously unforgiving and rude design choice someone made.

They’ve automated a process by which they hang up on potential customers. I mean, sure, score one for efficiency, I suppose. Just another example of how efficiency is not a very helpful design goal.

So, am I motivated to get my coat and go see if they are in stock? No. Am I motivated to now use the website instead? Actually, no, I’m even less likely to use their website now.

They have efficiently made sure that I would rather order the item I wanted directly from the manufacturer or, at the least from some other retail store. Further, even if I found that they were cheaper, I am now willing to spend more just so that I do not shop at their store.

Interestingly, they are likely completely oblivious to the fact that they’ve lost a customer. I’ll show up on some voice system metric as a disconnected call, but it will probably signify nothing to them. They’ve managed to obliviously and efficiently alienate a customer.

Building on the corpse of the Seattle Commons: vision or social engineering?

Via Evergreen Politics, “Talking about Paul Allen“:

“The New York Times has an article on Paul Allen and his impact on Seattle via both his ownership of the Seahawks and his efforts to redesign South Lake Union and promote an entire new bioscience-based economy in that area.’ The writer, Timothy Egan, is of course using the hook of the exciting playoff game here tomorrow to talk about what Allen appears to be up to and the responses of the community to his efforts.’ The article talks about ‘Allen’s vision of a new-century city built around compact urban living and a biotech job engine that some officials suggest could one day rival that of the Boeing Company’.

I’m newly back to Seattle after many years in the Bay Area and I have been puzzled by the animosity that Paul Allen and the South Lake Union complex engenders here. He has already build a very cool sports stadium and a world-class museum.’ I like the idea that someone is planning ahead and seems to be focused on ‘building a new-century neighborhood, with green building principles and tight density, imagining a community of scientists who were never more than a few minutes stroll from their experiments.'”

The line between vision and social engineering is a bit ambiguous, I think, but it’s an important dialogue to have.

Interesting discussion about the south union bay property that Allen got when the Seattle Commons efforts failed because of the agreements made over the use of the money he gave to the project. Realistically, however, cities do the same kind of social engineering through zoning and infrastructure projects. At some level, it’s a vision of an area of Seattle that is in-city warehouses, primarily. There’s good reason to worry about gentrification of low income housing, but it’s a very poorly utilized area, in my experience. Another area that is mostly a wasteland is the area around boeing field, south of Sodo.

I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if Olympia could re-claim the land on which the Port sits. That’s an area with amazing potential. What if Olympia could do what Seattle couldn’t and create an Olympia Commons on the peninsula north of downtown? That would be something.

That sure would de-militarize the port. Although, it would likely move elsewhere and be less visible, and less of a catalyst to discussions about militarization. On some level, NIMBY just doesn’t promise to engender a dialogue, rather it becomes a kind of plausible deniability for those that don’t want to engage in the conversation. Which is better, really?

On some level, I wonder if it’s a mistake to buy west bay from the port. If the port moved to west bay, and the city reclaimed the peninsula, I think that would be better. The port could build a road along the old train track south that runs from west bay and route their trucks under the 4th ave bridge, away from downtown, and connect to I-5 and 101 there instead of via Plum.

I had a dream the other day that the Port moved out and the peninsula was reclaimed. There was a new high-speed ferry dock put in that linked from the city to Seattle. Also, the old rail bridge across the mouth of west bay was rebuilt as a pedestrian walkway to connect west bay to the peninsula. At some point in the dream that rebuilt bridge turned into a light rail that ran out to Evergreen on one end and south down capital in the other direction. I suppose there would also be a strong mass transit system running along the old 99 coming in from the direction of Lacey, linking to a branch that ran up the hill to west olympia.

Parking and downtown revitalization

Via The Olympian:

“Meter idea might cost downtown free parking

Study: 100 vehicles found to switch spots throughout the day



OLYMPIA – Free 90-minute downtown parking could be replaced with meters under an idea that soon will come before city officials.

The idea was first proposed years ago by members of the downtown association and the city’s parking advisory committee, made up of residents, has been studying the idea more recently.Committee members say the move would increase turnover so more shoppers can find parking spaces. And it would drive store employees into leased parking instead of spending the day moving their cars from one free space to another, when those slots are meant for customers.


Wow. That was quick. I was pretty sure that the parking garage would end up costing the city enough to make it necessary to drop free parking, but this was pretty fast that changes are being made.

When the city is obligated to pay for the garage through parking fees and fines, money which is used for other purposes now, they will be more inclined to reduce free parking, and may end up being forced to be more and more aggressive with fines.

How does getting rid of free parking help make downtown more friendly? It doesn’t. It’s not about making it more friendly for everyone.

Downtown shouldn’t become just another mall, should it? Well, it won’t because the parking won’t be free anymore, but it’ll be close … however, watch for parking validation schemes to be introduced.

I’ve long thought one component to revitalizing downtown Olympia is the same for just about every town that felt the impact of I-5. The old 99 corridor should become the showcase for a modern and forward-looking mass transit re-design.

Intel, the maker of computer chips, has two design teams. One team works on the next chip while the other works on the chip after the next chip.

There should be two transit design plans. One for a complete and forward-looking re-design of the old 99 corridor, which will revitalize all the old main streets that practically died when I-5 was built, routing around them. The second design team should be working on what a complete I-5 redesign would look like when the 99 project is being implemented.

These two design groups would then leapfrog mass transit in the north-south corridor into the future.

It’s probably just a wild vision, but don’t we have so few of those wild visions anymore? Where are the multi-generational projects that offer hope for the future anyway? Who’s asking what their town or city will look like in 50 or 100 years, and acting on that now?

Red squares across the state

Via OlyBlog – This ain’t CNN, “Evergroove trivia, pt. 1“:

“Then we could observe people walking around on Red Square through the grates. The original Red Square, a wide area surrounded by berms and narrow exits, had an incredibly slippery surface in the 1970s. We always felt it was that way on purpose for crowd control. The bricks were replaced in the 1980s. During the time the campus was designed, student unrest around the country was widespread. ”

In fact, it is my understanding that the ubiquity of a “red square” at every state campus was specifically due to utility for crowd control. Any demonstrations in these squares could be controlled with water from a firehose which would make the brick slippery and allow the force from a nozzle to topple people to the ground. I believe I heard this for the first time on a campus visit to WWU many years ago.

At the University of Washington, the Suzzallo Quadrangle, which was, I believe an open field, was replaced with red brick in 1969, at the time the undeground garage was built. There turns out to be a wikipedia article about UW’s Red Square, but it claims the brick was used because there was fear that rain would leak through grass and soil into the garage beneath. I suspect that may have been the politic reason.

As an aside, and here’s my most precious bit of trivia about Red Square at the UW, the chimney stacks are the height of the pyramids on the Giza plateau in Egypt.

Those chimneys are close enough together that it’s possible to climb up between them just by pressing against two stacks. People have climbed up there and had to be rescued several times over the years. I remember hearing that it was actually pretty frequently, in fact.

But at least people walking on the Red Square at the UW don’t have to pass between the Grassy Knoll and the Clock Tower! I get a kick out of the procession diagram each graduation that looks like a map from a conspiracy rant … book. The diagram that is given to graduates that shows the procession passing between those two landmarks is a pretty heavy unintentional frisson, an allegory for the coming transition to off-campus life?

The trifecta of bad taste would go into effect if Evergreen’s Red Square ever got metaphorically confused with Tiananmen Square, or, I suppose, the eponymous Red Square in Moscow.

Community Values Act

This was discussed last night. Also discussed was an issue with the port lease of space, and an potential increase of over 100 trucks DAILY to the port carrying logs.

What if the city bought westbay, and traded with the port to reclaim the peninsula for town? Likely very controversial for the property owners on westbay that have speculated on owning that property … but traffic could be directed from the port directly down the old railway to 101 and 5 as a bypass that would not touch city roads much. A con is that it would pass by the new walking path / park. Some way to reclaim the peninsula by finding a new location for the port seems like something to talk about.

The Community Values Act

Procedural “stack” variant/mod for rule of order

I was listening to some of the discussion at the CC meeting yesterday. There was a concern about items that don’t appear on a calendar tend to disappear.

I recall that there’s a particular innovation to the standard rules of order, for which I’ve been trying to find a reference but can’t, that creates a “stack” of issues. This stack becomes a list of things that are in a “holding pattern” which are not active, not scheduled, but also not forgotten.

Have you heard of this before?

I was thinking that this might be a friendly offering to the CC as a possible procedure to aid in not losing issues that are not under current consideration.

As I was thinking about this, a stack does not necessarily end up being a linear FIFO (first in, first out) list. Although more complicated, there might be a GANTT like representation of the stack such that there are dependencies on issues. So, a issue might be placed in the stack “until X date” or “until issue X is resolved” … but this might be too complicated or more complicated than is necessary.

meeting with the City staff

So, I was 1 of only 3 candidates to show up. Karen Messmer, Joe Hyer, and myself. Position 7 was well represented. I wanted to but forgot to ask Karen whether she was uncontested now, whether the other guy turned out not have been a resident.