"Seek first to understand, then to be understood"

Seems like Olympia people need to reconsider these words (the fifth habit) from Stephen Covey


I just don’t understand the reason for the level of suspicion and nastiness I see on social media when talking about political issues. 

We’ve all watched how social discourse has deteriorated over the last four years, but to see it bleed over into local politics and social media is just sad to see.  There are so many baseless accusations, people spout unfounded suspicions that neatly fit into a preconceived view of the world.  Welcome to the data-free universe of social media.

Example:  West Bay Yards

We saw how this played out during the debate on the West Bay Yards project that came before the Olympia council.   Many people didn’t like the proposal, which in its entirety was solely an agreement to vest the developer in order to maintain the existing zoning on the site while a formal project design was produced and submitted.   Whether that was a good deal or not is certainly worth discussing, but many accusations about bending the rules and allowing an environmental disaster just weren’t accurate.   Out of curiosity I read the agreement, looked up the zoning, and looked up the Hearing Examiner’s Determination of Non-Significance (DNS).  As I read it:

  • The developer received no variance for the sample project
  • The sample project appears to meet the zoning as the build-out area and height are allowed.
  • The city didn’t give the developer any money
  • The City can’t dictate the type of housing being built there, it’s not their project.
  • The DNS is non-project-related and will not prevent any environmental review at a later date.
  • The project has to meet all environmental rules including SEPA

Is this a good deal?  Not in everyone’s eyes.  Part of what allows the developer to build such tall buildings is that there is a height bonus for adding residential units to a building in and near the city’s core.  This zoning language was originally created in order to get more residential construction in the city core.  The working theory is that more people downtown of all types and financial ability will support the businesses and thus help keep our downtown alive and healthy.  Another reason for passing the agreement was to get that nasty site cleaned up, a reasonable goal and certainly not underhanded or even hard to see.  These are reasons we can understand.  Whether these are good policies or not or what the zoning should be is certainly open to debate and should be discussed publicly. 

Example:  Griswold’s Building

In another example, Olympia recently sold the old Griswold’s building which burnt down.  A developer who has built a number of buildings downtown responded to the city’s request for a proposal and was selected to do the job.  Part of the deal is to build affordable housing as defined by one common definition of what constitutes affordable.  The developer used the Multi-family Tax Exemption (MFTE) to make the project more affordable to build, or more profitable for the builder depending on how you look at it.  We can certainly disagree as to how we should define affordable, and whether we think the city council made a good deal or not, but their goals are not that hard to see: get rid of a burned-out dead building shell and provide some lower-cost housing for a price. The deal isn’t evil, it isn’t collusion, it’s just a financial arrangement to accomplish previously stated goals. 

Where did the Multi-family Tax Exemption come from?

The history of the MFTE is that it was put into place to get residences built downtown as a mechanism to support downtown businesses similar to the zoning bonus above.  The policies seem to have worked in one sense, there have been hundreds of new apartments built recently.  Now as people move in we’ll get to see if this actually does help keep our downtown healthy.  We certainly hope so.

The question now is do we want to keep these policies in place, get rid of them because we don’t need them anymore or because they don’t work, or modify them to only support affordable or low-income housing however we choose to define it?   This is precisely the type of question now being considered by the Olympia Planning Commission as part of the overall Housing Strategy the city is looking at.  Now is a perfect time to let them and the council know what you think of these laws and what should be done.

Council members isolated

I recently had a conversation with a council member who told me they are not hearing enough from people.   Seems to me that the Olympia city council has become very isolated, mostly due to covid but that’s not all.  Over the last few months I’ve tried to communicate with the council to find out what’s going on and give my opinion but it’s very frustrating.  I’ve emailed the council many times but got very few responses from Council members.  Fortunately, the staff is much more responsive, which has been refreshing.

After watching a council meeting it is easy to see how isolating the meetings are.    There’s no audience, no personal contact, no constituency to interact with at the meetings.  Public comment only allows two minutes per speaker.   You only get three minutes at a public hearing.   There is no opportunity for nuanced discussion or presentation.   Trying to find out what has been discussed is also a problem.  The meetings are videoed but their technology for viewing the meetings is extremely bad: there is no index, plus it’s almost impossible to move around and find things in the recording.  It’s simply poor technology. 

We absolutely need people to communicate with the council and planning commission.  We have to converse in a civil, mindful, and educated way so our input is appreciated. None of us hear each other if we’re rude, politicians and volunteers included.  And they badly need to hear from us. 

Pat Cole is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he is developing plans to assist with efforts to clean up the homeless camps in Thurston County. 

Disagree?  Agree?  Post your comments below!


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  • AJoytoknow

    As a person who was directly affected by displacement due to the oly city council's love affair with walker john and all the high end places being built downtown I find it useless to complain to our current oly city council. They only listen to snob clubs like rotary, business owners, and their favorite pet walker john. That Griswold building project? It's a sham and a scam. The city aka the people already owned that land and should have worked with a non profit to insure housing that the average person making commerce work downtown by working in those shops and bars etc. .had access to places they can afford to live. Instead that pet grifter wj once again was handed a giant gift from classist city council that would replace all low income with faux luxury that the people who have called Olympia home all our lives can't afford to live in. I keep asking oly city council what they plan to do to replace the naturally existing affordable housing that has rapidly disappeared since they started perusing their wealth agenda for downtown core. I was told by one person I managed to get on the phone after many calls that with it's location and views, being right on the water, that downtown was more suitable for higher income people. I have explained to them that I was displaced, I did not want to be forced out of the neighborhood I grew up in (downtown core) and I would like to see a path back home for people like myself. The couple of "affordable" places walker john will add doesn't even touch on what has been taken (stolen) away. It's there to make him and his city council look like they are listening to us, but mostly making sure to pad walker johns pockets. Most the apartments will be market rate, driving up the cost of living for us all. I get that we need growth, but this guy doesn't want to be part of the community so much as own it as far as I can tell. And our Olympia city council bends over backwards for him and his ilk. I am actually thinking I will have to give up the roof over my head so I can go home. I don't like the way pushing all us low income people out might change voting and policy even more, slanting to the whims of greed. As a homeless person I can still vote in my hometown, where I can afford to be sheltered is outside of oly so as of now they have effectively made it so I can't vote for what matters to me in my hometown. That would be fine if I'd chosen to move, but I was displaced by the uncaring. I guess that they want more homeless people downtown?

    Friday, May 28, 2021 Report this

  • AJoytoknow

    So if the oly city council feels isolated it's due to the walls of silence they have built around themselves. The average person only gets a couple minutes, while rich people get to sit in meetings behind closed doors. We didn't vote for these people, but they are being allowed to access ears the rest of us can never reach and shape the way our city is run. I, having grown up in downtown, having been a part of downtown through the good and bad, having spent all my income (no matter how much or little) downtown, consider myself a stakeholder. But there is no way in he#@ I get even an ounce of respect or acknowledgement that snob clubs and associations etc. .. So stop blaming the people for being angry with them, they built those walls on purpose.

    Friday, May 28, 2021 Report this