News — Commentary — Calendar of Activist Events — Dumb Jokes
2) KAOS Benefit Show: Anna Gordon, Third Eye, & the Askew Trio
3) PiPE Benefit: Playback Theatre Performance – Stories of Boundaries and Consent
4) Anti Racist March
5) Meeting to Plan to Strengthen Democracy by Passing a Community Rights Ordinance
6) Special Addendum: Back Room Deals on Land Development in Olympia?
7) Bonus Tip of the Week
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
All the President’s Banksters
Nomi Prins has written a book documenting all the relationships between the banksters and the presidents throughout the 20th Century. Amy Goodman does a most excellent interview with Ms. Prins on her Tuesday April 8th show and there is a lot of stuff here that I didn’t know but that perfectly filled in a lot of gaps; I would suggest that you watch this interview and/or read Ms. Prins’ book.
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
Barack Obama and/or his team is/are genius/geniuses. They have just out-Orwelled Orwell.
You wouldn’t know it, but Congress is tasked with ‘oversight’ of the Executive. Some congress-critters are now trying to do some oversight on Mr. Obama and so Mr. Obama has said that he now wants to form an executive committee to provide ‘oversight’ to the congressional committee that is supposed to be providing ‘oversight’ over him.
George must be slapping his knee and laughing uproariously — that is if he’s not screaming and pulling his hair out…
Business as Usual
In the latest example demonstrating that large multi-national corporations are a bunch of mass-murderers, it has been revealed that for years GM covered up a defect in their ignition switches that they have publically admitted killed 13 people and that has almost surely killed many hundreds of people.
It would have cost them an extra $1 (one dollar) per car to fix the ignition switch — yet once again following the standard procedure, while GM discovered this defect and learned that the defect was killing people several years ago, GM continued manufacturing the vehicles with the flaw and only now has this information been revealed to the public.
Many died in the meanwhile.
I am thinking that yet once again the corporate bean-counters concluded that they would save money by letting families die rather than fixing the $1 problem — and so that’s what they did.
Ayn Rand would have been proud.
Many of the most famous of the numerous corporate mass-murders from our recent past killed mostly people of colour and/or foreigners — but due to the fact that the current defect in GM cars is caused by extra-heavy key rings turning off the ignition while the car is in motion thus locking the steering wheel, incapacitating the power brakes, and disabling the airbags, and due to the fact that evidently teenage girls tend to have very heavy key rings, then in this case a highly disproportionate number of the victims in GM’s latest mass murder were attractive white teenage girls — which is making GM look even worse than normal in the eyes of the American public who always care more about the fate of attractive white teenage girls than about pretty much any other demographic.
If you or I did something that killed even one person it is a sure bet we would spend a major portion of the rest of our lives in prison. When a large corporation kills large numbers of people, a few politicians will grandstand (yet rarely actually do anything) and years later after the hullabaloo has died down the offending corporation will quietly be given a token fine that represents pocket change to them.
No one EVER goes to prison in these situations.
If you are thinking that a Ford might be a viable alternative to GM, remember that a few years ago Ford was caught covering up the fact that a defect in the Ford Pinto often caused the Pinto to burst into flames when it was rear-ended. Again, they knew this for years yet they hid the defect and continued selling Pintos that burned up families for many more years before the defect was finally exposed.
Ford had a far more compelling reason than GM did to cover this up and continue to kill people though: The problem with the Pinto would have cost $12 (twelve dollars) per car to fix.
Over and over and over again similar such things happen. It seems to be the corporate default position. In addition, it’s a sure bet that only a small fraction of such incidents come to light as they wouldn’t keep doing this over and over if they didn’t think they would get away with it — which would seem to be evidence that most of the time they do get away with it except that another consideration here is that the corporate bean counters certainly also take into account the fact that even if they are discovered, then virtually nothing will happen. Thus, there is virtually no disincentive not to mass-murder people for profit except for the moral questions which, in true Ayn Rand tradition, never enter into their thinking at all.
NPR Has a New Friend!
NPR is now selling ads — yes, our ‘public’ and ‘listener owned’ national network that just spent two weeks begging me for money — is now selling ads from corporate interests such as Lumber Liquidator on their phone app.
According to NPR the response has been “roundly positive”.
Well I hate to be ‘squarely negative’ (not) but there have already been many instances of NPR failing to cover negative information about generous ‘donors’. While the fig leaf of ‘grants’ and ‘underwriting’ is pretty scandalous, at least they made the attempt at the appearance of not being corporate whores if not the actual substance of not actually being corporate whores.
With this outright selling of ads, NPR has just taken the final step down the corporate path to propaganda hell. Of that I am ‘roundly positive’.
I don’t expect them to change their name to National Corporate Radio anytime soon, though…
In another sign of the times, two off-duty Seattle firefighters and another friend beat up a bunch of homeless people in Pioneer Square in Seattle. One very interesting aspect to this incident is that the firefighters involved made the unquestioned assumption that since they were firefighters and since the people they were beating up were homeless then they could get away with lying and claiming that they had been attacked by the homeless people and were simply defending themselves rather than vice-versa. They were confident of this because that is almost always the way it works out. They even went back to the Square and beat up some more homeless people after they called police to report the incident.
Unfortunately for one of the firefighters, a homeless person finally got tired of this crap and stabbed him.
Another unfortunate aspect of this particular incident for the firefighters was that there were numerous outraged witnesses who directly contradicted their account of being attacked by the homeless people and they emphatically stated on no uncertain terms that in fact the fact was that quite the opposite was the actual fact in fact, and that’s a fact. (I paraphrased there…)
Another aspect to the situation that I suspect the errant firefighters failed to take into account is that there is a tsunami of outrage building in this country over police brutality these days and — thanks partly to the work of organizations such as Real Change — it is now becoming highly un-cool and politically incorrect to dehumanize homeless people.
Last week Real Change organized a protest/rally in Pioneer Square over the incident which was attended by a large number of firefighters who were there both to stand in solidarity with the homeless and to send the message that those three assholes didn’t represent them.
Good on the Seattle Fire Department.
Since incredibly vile practices are routinely given innocuous and innocent sounding names to make them seem a little less bad and nasty than they actually are then this week the Thunderbolt is proud to perform yet another public service to readers by presenting a conversion chart in order that you may translate modern terminology from political double-speak into plain English!
What they call it
What it actually is
Secret Kill List
Provide Humanitarian Aid
Economically Dominate, Invade, Occupy
Embarrassing and/or Illegal Issue
Agree or Else
Getting Randy Part 2: In Praise of Sociopaths
If anyone ever takes issue with anything I say here then please let me know. I will gladly publish any criticism or disagreements you may have — along with any response that I may have. I love debate. It teaches me and opens my mind and hones my argument — and sometimes it changes my mind.
It turns out that some Libertarians are just as insecure and incapable of defending their beliefs as some liberals are. The first few times I seriously trashed Obama, several outraged people asked to be taken off my mailing list. Evidently they had no interest in debating my contentions; they simply didn’t want to hear it.
In response to my piece on Getting Randy last week, two more people asked to be taken off my mailing list. One of them specified that he wished to be taken off IMMEDIATELY!
Again, they evidently have no desire to debate my contentions; they simply don’t want to hear about it.
Well, I’m not done with Ayn Rand and the Libertarians. I was right up against deadline last week and I didn’t have time to write about the most disturbing aspect of Ayn Rand’s worldview because in order to understand Libertarianism’s problematic aspects we need to first study the worldview of their patron saint, Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand’s work has been a major influence upon many of the modern right-wing’s most prominent luminaries. Ayn Rand is a ‘fountainhead’ of inspiration for the Tea Party, for instance. Former Fed chair Alan Greenspan used to party with her. Other prominent admirers include SEC commissioner Chris Cox, Representative Michelle Bachman, Representative Ron Paul, Ms. Rand’s namesake Senator Rand Paul, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (who requires his aides to read The Fountainhead) (every time I think of Clarence Thomas sitting in Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court seat I imagine Mr. Marshall spinning in his grave) are also devotees of Ms. Rand as are Rush Limbaugh, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and many many others. Sales of Ms. Rand’s books have skyrocketed over the last few years and Atlas Shrugged has been called the most influential book of the 20th Century other than the Bible. (Ironically, even though she provides inspiration to large numbers of evangelical Christians, Ms. Rand was herself an atheist.) (And while we’re already there, it should also be noted that Ms. Rand loathed democracy. She wrote, “Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: The majority can do whatever it wants without restrictions. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom.”)
In addition to being an atheistic totalitarian, Ayn Rand also provides the central philosophical justification for the “me first and screw everyone else” school of human relations. She not only justified sociopathic behaviour but she claimed that sociopaths were actually the advanced humans around here and that everyone else was parasites upon these ‘supermen’. She wrote, “If [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relations are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is a parasite.”
Actually, nearly everyone was a ‘parasite’ in Ms. Rand’s estimation and thus their ‘civil rights’ could safely be disregarded.
It is common when criticizing worldviews or philosophies to take them to their extremes in order to demonstrate their potential danger. I often use this tactic myself. In the case of Libertarianism, though, I have absolutely no need to do that since Ms. Rand very effectively did so herself. As bad as everything that I have already said is, I have still have not addressed the very worst and the most alarming aspect of Ms. Rand’s worldview and philosophy…
Meet the ‘fountainhead’ of Ayn Rand’s own inspiration:
In 1927 a 19-year old youth named William Edward Hickman kidnapped a 12-year old girl named Marion Parker. He then contacted Ms. Parker’s parents and demanded a ransom. Ms. Parker’s father went to Los Angeles and delivered the ransom whereupon Mr. Hickman did indeed return his daughter. Everything was fine except for the fact that the little girl had been cut up into pieces. Her arms and legs had been severed and her internal organs had been removed. After sewing her eyes open to make it appear as if she were still alive, Mr. Hickman had propped Ms. Parker’s body up in the passenger seat of his car in order to fool her father. Upon receipt of the ransom Mr. Hickman then threw Ms. Parker’s body out of the car right in front of her father before speeding away.
It was an exceptionally cruel and brutal murder that shocked the nation. William Hickman’s trial was front-page news for months. He was the OJ Simpson of his day.
How is this relevant to Libertarianism and Ayn Rand?
It turns out that Ayn Rand greatly admired Mr. Hickman. She held him up as an avatar of personal freedom. She referred to him as the ultimate ‘superman’. He was a major influence upon many of the most prominent characters in her novels, including the central protagonist of The Fountainhead Howard Roark. In describing Mr. Roark, Ms. Rand wrote: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”
This was his most positive character trait, according to her.
Ayn Rand’s early notebooks are filled with admiration for William Hickman. With gushing praise she described him as an example of someone who is completely free of the constraints of society. He was a man willing to cut no corners and make no compromises in expressing his personal freedom do whatever he wanted to do without constriction. To Ayn Rand, William Hickman was the very personification of personal freedom and the ultimate expression of her libertarian worldview. Not only that, but Ms. Rand held that such people should run the world. She thought that such people should have complete dictatorial control of public affairs — and if they wanted to occasionally dismember 12-year old girls then that was their ‘right’ as ‘supermen’.
Ms. Rand failed to address any ‘rights’ that the young Ms. Parker may have had in such a situation…
…but in Ayn Rand’s view, I suspect that 12-year old Marion Parker was just a ‘parasite’ and so her rights were irrelevant.
Does this attitude toward the ‘other’ sound familiar?
This is from the virtual patron saint of the New Right. This is from the inspiration and role model for the Libertarians and for a good portion of the Republican Party.
Yet in spite of my utter loathing of Libertarianism, while I would never voluntarily vote for either man, if forced to make a choice between the two I would choose Ron Paul over Barack Obama any day of the week. The Democratic Party in general and Barack Obama in particular also believe all of these things — they are just far more hypocritical and far less honest and about it than the Republicans and the Libertarians. The Dems and Obama pretend that they are the voice of the American people when actually they are also wholly owned shills of the corporate mass-murderers. Their job is to fool us into thinking that our interests are being represented too.
At least with the Libertarians, what you see is what you get…
…as loathsome as that may be.
If you want to do further research and/or see the documentation on this aspect of Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ then here is a most excellent article on the subject by Mark Ames writing in AlterNet:
And the most frigged thing is that Ms. Rand’s worldview appears to have become the new norm. Sociopathic mass-murderers who are willing to cut no corners and make no compromises in expressing their personal freedom do whatever the hell they want to do without constriction and without thought to the effect their actions have upon others — these people are now running our world.
It’s time to get to work…
The Thunderbolt Calendar
Week of April 10th thru 16th 2014
Thursday April 10th from 5 to 7 pm @ TESC (Location TBA)
This lady wrote a most excellent exposé of the police called Our Enemies in Blue, which details the history of policing in America. She shows how modern police departments in the United States are a direct outgrowth of the old slave-catching gangs — and that their job has never really changed all that much since then.
From Abolish Cops and Prisons:
Kristian Williams (author, Our Enemies in Blue: contributing editor, Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency) will briefly outline the principles of counterinsurgency warfare and illustrate how they have both shaped and been shaped by police operations in the United States. Public discussion to follow.
This event is a part ofRETHINKING PRISONS MONTH – APRIL 2014!
2) KAOS Benefit Show: Anna Gordon, Third Eye, & the Askew Trio
Thursday April 10th at 8 pm @ the Northern, 414 ½ Legion Way
It’s a benefit show for the other radical radio station in town! Come dance and benefit KAOS, 89.3 fm broadcasting from the campus of the Evergreen State College.
3) PiPE Benefit: Playback Theatre Performance – Stories of Boundaries and Consent
Friday April 11th at 7:30 pm @ Traditions Café, 300 5th Ave SW
This is a benefit for Partners in Prevention Education [PiPE]
The Heartsparkle Players will collaborate with PIPEPartners in Prevention Educationfor our April public performance. Please join us!
4) Anti Racist March
Saturday April 12th at Noon @ 4th and Washington Streets, Downtown
It’s a march against a common disease!
Obama stickers, co-ops, and hardcore shows aren’t solving the problem. There’s no such thing as post-racial! It’s easy to be self-congratulatory in whitebread Olympia, but scratch the surface a bit and you’ll find that we have just as many problems with white supremacy and racism as anywhere else.
This is native land, the city as it exists today is a result of ongoing genocide and the forced expulsion of native peoples. This region is Nisqually, Squaxin, and Chehalis land.
It was not so long ago that t he sundown laws were in effect here in Olympia, people of color (POC) were not allowed in town after dark. Though the laws are gone the legacy of this policy is still socially enforced. For example the recent string of violent attacks against people of color in Downtown Olympia.
The recent attempt at a “White Man March” in Olympia employed banner drops with the taglines “Diversity = white genocide.” This is blatantly false and ignores the reality of ongoing systemic white supremacy and genocide of indigenous peoples.
Many of the participants in the attempted “White Man March” in Olympia are members of the American Freedom Party. The American Freedom Party (AFP) is a nationwide white supremacist organization that markets itself as an upstanding, family-friendly, and nonviolent political party by portraying white people as an oppressed group, and themselves as an advocacy organization similar to the NAACP. However, locally, they have embraced a number of white power veterans with histories of race-based violence and murder, such as Kyle Brewster.
One banner was dropped during the “White Man March” outside of SPSCC (South Puget Sound Community Collage) in opposition to a diversity meeting that was canceled days before the march due to concerns that POC self determination was “anti-white.” When POC organize autonomously against the system of white supremacy that permeates American culture the white power structure often responds to shut it down even using the language of “reverse racism.” The “White Man March” is a clear example of the AFP manipulating language around oppression to obscure actual white racism that is an integral part of the society we live in.
Both the racist attacks downtown and the organizing of the AFP must be opposed. We want to send a clear message to the Fascists and to all proponents of white supremacy that WE FIGHT BACK!
5) Meeting to Plan to Strengthen Democracy by Passing a Community Rights Ordinance
Saturday April 12th at Noon @ MIXX 96 Meeting Room, Corner of State and Washington Downtown
It’s a meeting for a CRO. These are sweeping the country.
From Oly FOR:
Sat April 12: Meeting to plan to strengthen democracy by passing a Community Rights Ordinance (CRO): Several CROs that have passed elsewhere are posted athttp://celdf.org/resources-ordinances12:00 noon at Mixx-96 meeting room at SW corner of State & Washington, downtown.
6) Special Addendum: Back Room Deals on Land Development in Olympia?
I received this information and I think it should be passed on hoping that someone else may want to do some further digging on this. This is a letter from Bethany Weidner to the Olympia Planning Commission:
To: Members of the Olympia Planning Commission
From: Bethany Weidner
Re: PO/RM Zoning Change West of Yauger Way – File No. 14-0210 and 14-0266
Date: April 2, 2014
The Morris Amendment
Do you look around Olympia’s Westside and wonder why, after 20+ years of “comprehensive planning” it’s still all about cars? How is it that developers have been able to crowd the freeway exits with “destination retail,” line the arterials with fast-food chains, clear the remaining stands of trees for hulking drugstores and enclosed parking lots? Now they have their eye on that stretch of Harrison past Yauger Way down to Kaiser Road and beyond.
Much of the area between Yauger Way and Kaiser is, for now, undeveloped. But that might be about to change. What follows is a story of how auto-dependent development shapes the Westside.
In October of 2013, Jim Morris contacted Leonard Bauer, who is the Deputy Director of the Olympia Community Planning and Development Department (CP&D). Morris wanted to discuss his interest in building a big retail building west of Yauger Way in an area zoned Professional Office/Residential Multifamily (PO/RM). Morris is the principal of MPH Holdings and a major developer of office properties around Olympia. In 2007, Morris had entered into a contract with the City of Olympia to build an office park (labeled West Capital) on the parcel he owns in the PO/RM zone; in 2009, the Council extended the deadline for him to commence development to May 2014. Recently, Mr. Morris shifted his interest to developing something else on that parcel. The market for offices softened after the crisis of 2008 — and there are vacancies in several of MPH Holding’s office developments. So, not an office park. Instead, something that would involve a retail building much larger than the 10,000 square feet the zoning allowed: maybe a 50,000 – 100,000 sq. ft. grocery store. Would it be possible to fix the zoning to allow this?
Fast forward to March 3, 2014. Seemingly out of the blue, a proposal to increase the maximum size for stores in an area off Harrison near Kaiser Road appeared on the agenda of the Olympia Planning Commission (OPC). The proposal was billed as a “text amendment” that would allow property owners in the PO/RM zone west of Yauger Way to build retail facilities up to 50,000 sq ft. The staff recommended that the Commissioners approve the amendment and send it on to the Council to be adopted into law. Nothing special here, folks. Move along.
The OPC is a citizen group that advises the City Council on long-range planning for Olympia. Its recommendations to the Council are presumed to reflect community input and support – as in “Imagine Olympia!” Over the past couple of years, their main job has been to evaluate and edit a draft of major changes to the Comprehensive Plan recommended by the staff of the Planning Department with the aim of creating a new Plan to shape development in Olympia according to the goals of the community.
Since January, the Commissioners have been occupied with making the changes necessary to bring the City’s zoning code into conformity with changes in the new Comprehensive Plan (Plan or Comp Plan)..
But the proposal that appeared on their agenda on March 3 had nothing to do with the Comp Plan. Instead, Leonard Bauer told the Commission members, the item “originated from a study commissioned by the City” that identified an area around Kaiser and Harrison as an “opportunity site.”
THE FIRST QUESTION FROM THE COMMISSIONERS: WHY NOW?
When Bauer explained that the text amendment was not needed for consistency with the Comp Plan, one of the Commissioners, Carol Richmond, wanted to know why the Commission was being asked to amend the language of the PO/RM zone just now, out of sequence? Mr. Bauer responded – but did not answer the question. What he said was that the study by ECONorthwest had identified a 10% office vacancy rate in Olympia, so “it is unlikely that developers would develop offices [in this area]” and “there is very little chance for commercial services, given the restrictions of the zone.”
Okay, then, Richmond asked – why don’t we open up the options since this is a fairly new area yet to be developed? Bauer explained that the Planning Department had put a “focus area planning process” for the Kaiser/Harrison site on the schedule…but not til 2016. So the reason CP&D brought forward this particular “text amendment” was because if we don’t make the changes now, the area is likely to develop as only residential multifamily — because the market for office is so weak. Mr. Bauer must have missed the part in the ECONorthwest study where it said that rents in the same area “may not be high enough to support new multifamily residential development.” Which indicates that — contrary to the rationale Mr. Bauer gave for asking the Commission to amend the text of the PO/RM zone right now — the likelihood of a lot of new multifamily investment there in the next two years is small.
THE NEXT QUESTION: WHY THIS TEXT AMENDMENT
As now defined, the intent for the districts zoned PO/RM is to support development that offers opportunities for people to live, work and recreate in a pedestrian-oriented area. The language currently calls for “a compatible mix of office, residential and small-scale commercial uses” that will “generate low vehicle traffic.” It allows many kinds of commercial uses, including day care centers, banks, art galleries, business and government offices, b&b’s, commercial printing, and laundries, to name some. In terms of residential – apartment buildings; apartments above mixed use developments; duplexes; single-family homes, boarding homes, co-housing, retirement homes, townhouses – all are permitted without restriction. On the face of it, it seems to get as close as planning language can get to creating a diverse collection of uses to enable people to live and work without having to get into their cars every other minute.
Consistent with the intent to bring about a low traffic, pedestrian-oriented district, the PO/RM zone caps the size of retail stores at 5,000 sq ft. — except in the area west of Yauger Way. There, the cap on the size of food stores, general merchandise, “specialty” and drug stores; fitness centers, and stores selling medical supplies and office equipment is 10,000 sq. ft. The reason for this was not explored.
The explanation that Bauer gave for why an increase to 50,000 sq. ft. in the cap on retail store size was necessary was no more logical than his explanation of why the change had to be made now. Bauer referred again to the ECONorthwest study, stating:
“The study found that the large amount of housing and lack of retail services in the area creates an opportunity for a mix of residential and retail development that could provide employment opportunities and services to the local neighborhood. There are several larger parcels in the area that could provide this type of mixed use development. However, the current PO/RM zoning prohibits retail commercial development over 10,000 sq. ft. regardless of the size of the property. To improve the opportunity for this type of mixed-use development, this zoning code text amendment would allow for certain retail uses in proportion to the size of the property – 5000 sq ft per acre. No single commercial use could exceed 50,000 sq. ft.”
Contrary to Bauer’s statement, the ECONorthwest study refers to small scale retail: “The large amount of housing and lack of retail establishments in the area may provide an opportunity for small, local-serving retail.” Furthermore, the boundaries of the Kaiser/Harrison site that the study recommendation applies to are not the same as the boundaries of the PO/RM zone west of Yauger Way. It’s a much larger area that encompasses land zoned Medical Services, Residential 4-8 and Neighborhood Retail. The study recommendation for action at this “opportunity site” is not to make an ad hoc change in a key provision of one zone in the area, but to “address zoning issues by implementing a master planning, community renewal, or subarea plan aimed at encouraging zoning changes that permit retail and residential uses, such as High Density Corridor. Potentially, this work could be paired with a planned action.”
In explaining his text amendment to the Planning Commissioners, Bauer’s language was misleading or even incorrect. He said that the new text would “allow a little bit larger building than currently allowed.” It would actually allow buildings 5 times larger: at 50,000 sq ft a building would be almost as big as the Safeway at Harrison and Cooper Point. Bayview Market is 28,000 sq. ft. The vacant Hollywood Video store near Grocery Outlet is 7000 sq ft. Bauer repeatedly implied that the current PO/RM language makes “only some very minimal allowances for commercial retail uses.” When asked at the hearing whether there couldn’t be a greater variety of housing, he stated that the only kind of residential use allowed was multifamily. As noted above, there are many kinds of housing allowed.
The increase in the size and scale of retail businesses allowed also required Bauer to make changes to the purpose section of the PO/RM. Instead of saying “a compatible mix of office, residential and small-scale commercial uses” that will “generate low traffic,” Bauer changed the wording to “small and medium-scale commercial uses” which will generate “low and moderate vehicle traffic.” But the Commercial Zone section of Olympia’s Code calls 25,000 sq. ft. “large scale.” And at 18.06.100 C (5) it lists “Very Large Scale Retail Facilities” and the design requirements that apply to them, setting a threshold for each zoning district with facilities over 25,000. Contrary to the presentation and the language of the text amendment, the proposed increase in the size of retail buildings allowed in the PO/RM qualifies as Very Large Scale Retail. Mr. Bauer failed to notice that the new text of the PO/RM would require a change in OMC 18.06.100 C (5) to indicate a threshold for the Very Large Scale Retail Facilities that would newly be permitted in the PO/RM areas west of Yauger Way. Of course, this would then require new wording for the PO/RM intent statement, which would read: “a compatible mix of office, residential and small, medium and very large scale commercial uses” which would “generate low, moderate and high vehicle traffic.” Which of course fundamentally alters the intent of the zone.
The staff memo presenting the “text amendment” follows a standard format that ends with a presentation of OPTIONS. In this case, the “option” was: hold a public hearing on the proposal with “deliberation” scheduled for the Commission’s next meeting. Questions fromCommissioners about whether there were some alternatives to consider – say, moving up the date for the subarea planning process; or looking at different size caps, or pointing out that the claim that the area will “develop as strictly multi-family residential” in the next two years is total fabrication – were lost in the confusion. (The Commissioners didn’t in fact pose any of those questions, but they did indicate an interest in some kind of alternative, and Commissioner Jerry Parker wondered when it would be proper to offer amendments.)
NOW, BACK TO THE CITY PLANNING DEPARTMENT
From October through December of last year, Mr. Morris exchanged emails with Mr. Bauer and Keith Stahley, Director of CP&D and met with them about changing the text of the PO/RM zone. Bauer began by flagging the section of text dealing with food stores to be changed. However, by early December, at a meeting with Morris, Bauer presented a text that was pretty much what the OPC saw on their March agenda. The final version extends the higher maximum size cap to the other retail uses (listed earlier in this article). There is no evidence that Bauer and Stahley consulted with any other developers who own property in the relevant PO/RM zone.
The answer to the questions “Why now?” and “Why this text amendment?” is — to promote the investments that developers are willing to make expeditiously on the West side, on open land. The notes of a June 20, 2013 meeting of the “citizen advisory committee” created for the ECONorthwest study, contain these statements: “Develop west side property to generate revenue to improve downtown,” and “West side development is the economic engine that supports the city’s revenues…” Developers operate in a market where greater profitability comes from greater volumes and greater volumes are tied to auto traffic. And more tax revenue comes from retail than from office development. For 20+ years this community has optimistically referred to a comprehensive plan whose vision reads as follows:
Our future city will be compact; in that respect Olympia’s fine new neighborhoods will be a lot like our fine older neighborhoods. And they will be just as satisfying as places to live. People will still know their neighbors, talking over the back fence about kids, politics, gardening, sports. They will look out for each other; neighborhoods will still be safe places to raise our families, and good places to grow old.
Olympia will be an increasingly united community which solves problems through full communication and community decision-making.
–From the 1994 Comp Plan
There is the Why and the What, but what about the How? During the March 3 OPC meeting, Commissioner Richmond observed – perhaps dryly — that if changes in the zoning came before the plan – “we’ll probably cement things in place.” And that, of course, is the purpose. This piecemeal change in the zoning regulation was initiated by and for a developer. No thought was given to why this existing 10,000 sq. ft. limitation was chosen when the zone was designed in 1997. Let’s act quickly to raise the limit on the size of retail stores by a factor of five, because “the market for office development is weak” – planning can come after the 50,000 sq. ft. stores are in place.
Bauer and Keith Stahley intentionally misled the Planning Commissioners about why and how this “text amendment” came about. Bauer sent this email to Jim Morris on January 2:
From: Leonard Bauer <email@example.com>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; Shelby Hentges
Subject: FW: PORM Revisions – updated
Date: 1/2/2014 1:37:06 PM
Per our discussion at our last meeting, here’s an updated draft of potential changes to PO/RM zoning text. Please let me know if you have any additional comments.
As I mentioned to Jim today on the phone, our proposed CPD work program will be reviewed by city council at their retreat Jan. 10-11. It includes this proposed text amendment in the first quarter of 2014, so if council approves the work program, we’ll be ready to start the process of the text amendment as soon as we can get it on the planning commission’s agenda.
Two weeks later, he sent Amy Buckler, staff to the OPC, an email that said “Below is a first draft (still rough, prefer NOT TO SHARE externally yet – until we’ve had a chance to discuss at planners’ meeting to ensure this is direction we want to go with staff recommendation).” Mr. Morris, who followed the drafting of the amendment from day one, must qualify as an insider.
One side note: this story wouldn’t have surfaced if it hadn’t been for Judy Bardin, a member of the Planning Commission who was invited, along with all the other members of the Commission to meet in Jim Morris’s office earlier this year. Commissioner Bardin declined the invitation on the grounds that the meeting was private, and would involve several Commissioners. When other Commissioners did meet with Morris and 4 other business people, Commissioner Bardin wrote a memo questioning the propriety of the meetings – which surfaced at the time that Mr. Bauer was scheduled to present the Morris Amendment. Bardin’s memo became public and suddenly, the obscure “text amendment” was center stage.
WHAT MIGHT WEST OLYMPIA LOOK IF THIS TEXT AMENDMENT WERE IN PLACE?
“Since 2000, most retail development in Olympia has been large scale, auto-oriented, located near highway interchanges.” That’s what the ECONorthwest study says, and that’s what anyone who spends time in West Olympia knows. Despite dozens of provisions in the existing Comprehensive Plan – including ones that say new structures will be multi-story buildings oriented toward the street rather than parking lots; with entrances facing the main pedestrian street, creating a continuous street edge – with windows — that helps create a pedestrian-friendly street enclosure – you only have to drive (or walk??) down Harrison to see that none of this happened: All the new businesses permitted by Olympia’s Planning Department since 2000 are one-story, no-entrance-to-the-street, parking-lot oriented chain stores. The newish Rite-Aid complex at Harrison and Cooper Point is designed around auto access, and the blank wall running along Harrison looks more like it is part of a prison complex than what it is – the back of an internal mall turned away from the street and the other retail businesses around the intersection. Each corner is self-contained and relates in no way to the businesses on the other corners, a characteristic of the uncoordinated, scattered low-density development favored by investors. People stopping by the Rite-Aid don’t walk to the Safeway, even though they are “across the street” from one another – they get in their car and drive 30 yards.
Allowing stores of 50,000 sq. ft. would guarantee that auto-oriented sprawl will continue. Hope for a pedestrian-oriented mix of residential, office and commercial uses would be eroded. Very large scale retailers also draw business away from independent retailers whose stores range closer to 10,000 sq. ft. The area around Harrison and Division has a number of independent retailers who have actually seen increased retail sales since 2009. Changing the west end of Harrison to allow for very large retail stores will draw traffic and sales away from these businesses. We already see how many stores are closed and sit empty in older developments along Cooper Point.
The ECONorthwest study points out that city hasn’t updated its goal for the Kaiser/Harrison “opportunity site” which is relatively undeveloped with extensive vacant and underutilized properties. The study recommendation that the city conduct a subarea planning process to define the goal for the area and figure out zoning changes that might achieve the goal makes sense. A subarea planning process offers the opportunity to adjust zoning in a coordinated and informed manner – one that might live up to the goal of the comp plan to create neighborhoods that are less auto dependent.
Instead, the CP&D staff has picked out one part of the site and invited the Planning Commission to renounce planning in favor of an out-of-sequence, unexamined, unsupported and contradictory change that will allow development of “very large scale retail facilities” in a zone which was, but no longer will be, pedestrian-oriented.
This PO/RM “text amendment” is the wrong policy at the wrong time. The members of the Planning Commission should reject the amendment and instead schedule a study session to learn more about the Kaiser/Harrison Opportunity Site, so that they can begin formulating ideas for the subarea plan. It is an opportunity. It should not be a lost opportunity.
Finally, the actions that triggered this amendment and brought it to the Planning Commission unfortunately shed light on why after 20+ years; we don’t have a city that reflects the Comprehensive Plan. And they raise serious questions about the integrity of the Olympia Community Planning and Development Department. These questions should not go unanswered.
All of the information and quotes in this essay come from emails provided in response to a public records request, from minutes and attachments of the Ad Hoc Committee on Community Renewal Areas, the Planning Commission (including the recording of the March 3 meeting) and the City Council. all available on the web, and from “Investment Strategy: City of Olympia Opportunity Areas,” ECONorthwest.
6) Bonus Tip of the Week:
Do an intervention with NPR.