Archive for January, 2007

Jan 23 2007

Next, forgiveness?

Published by under Washington

You may recall our December piece about the Wal-Mart conflict in Chelan, about the store built in contravention of city ordinances and rules, where the construction of the store and hiring of employees continued unabated while the lawsuit challenging the building continued. And continued unabated even after a judge had issued rulings against Wal-Mart.

It may be the first time a Wal-Mart store has actually been built, only to be stopped from opening. There is even a chance it will be torn down (which is more than a lot of empty Wal-Marts have been) – its critics say they will be seeking as much.

The basis for the stoppage sounds more picky than it is. The project started not a a Wal-Mart development (apparently at least) but as something called the Apple Blossom Center, for which the city signed off on a “planned development district” with specific terms. Those terms included a variety of commercial developments, with a maximum size limit of 50,000 square feet on any one. That limit, as the judge notes, was never changed by the city, which last fall stood by and watched Wal-Mart and its developer, Pacland, build a stand-issue 162,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store.

“Here,” Judge Lesley Allan concluded, “this court is left with the definite and firm conviction that the city erred in granting the two permits at issue.” That meant the court voided the city’s building and grading permits.

The store was supposed to open yesterday, at 7 a.m. And so it did – notwithstanding that Wal-Mart had and has no valid building permit for the store, notwithstanding a judge’s order issued only last week. Anyone else – even someone building their own home – would not be allowed to use or occupy the building under such conditions.

Wal-Mart, apparently, is beyond all that. Its stance seems effectively to be: Try and stop us. Permission? We need no permission; nor, for that matter, do we really need forgiveness . . .

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Jan 23 2007

Business savvy

Published by under Oregon

Always helps to have someone looking over the should of anyone who has discretion over money. Might have kept Farhad “Fred” Monem, once one of the smart guys who kept costs down (was he one of the “smartest guys in the room”?) at the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Instead, court documents say he he was caught with $450,000 in kickback money and other goodies from businesses he’d been dealing with.

The spotlight in the Portland news coverage on this has been on Monem (who, we should remind, has been accused, not convicted). But an equally bright light ought to shine on the food wholesalers who were the other part of the equation. It might even give a moment’s reflection to the backers of extensive privatizing; Monem’s role as a state executive may have made the situation easier to catch.

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Jan 22 2007

Right to Life, negatively reviewed, by . . .

Published by under Idaho

On Saturday, a mass of Boiseans, maybe 20,000 or so, marched in the streets of downtown Boise to demonstrate their peak priority – celebrating the Boise State University football team. (The Idaho Statesman says “We’ve got video of all the excitement.”) A few hours earlier, there was another march, attracting about 500 people, organized by Right to Life of Idaho.

It got little attention. But it generated a ferocious negative review, and not from the left, either: This comes from Dennis Mansfield, whose anti-abortion record in Idaho is quite clear. His post on the rally is a must-read on current Idaho politics.

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Jan 22 2007

DeFazio’s F-bomb

Published by under Oregon

Along with the majority comes more attention, more visibility, more chances to drop the “F-bomb.” As Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio just did on the Lars Larson show at Portland.

The discussion at the time concerned DeFazio’s legislation to require congressional approval for major military action against Iran. During it, he discussed how the Bush Administration messed up – well, that was the way he put it the second time. The less elegant first time was dropped out.

Larson said at least one other elected official had let loose the forbidden word on his program (former legislator Jeff Kropf), but DeFazio was the first Democrat.

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Jan 22 2007

A blunt instrument, maybe effective

Published by under Washington

Diane Tebelius
Diane Tebelius

The Washington Republican Party hasn’t had a really good state issue for a while to go after the state’s ruling Democrats – an issue, that is, that a wide range of people (not jut conservatives) can seize on to and join with. They may have one now, and state Chair Diane Tebelius – internally embattled though she may be – is laying solid groundwork on it.

There is no hotter issue in Seattle right now than the Alaskan Way viaduct limited highway along downtown – whether to destroy it and go to street level (no one seems to like that idea much), rebuilt it as an elevated highway, or dig a tunnel and route the traffic there. There is no happy answer, because the price tag for any option (save the first) is enormous – estimated now (sure to rise later) at about $4.3 billion for a six-lane tunnel or $3.4 billion for a four-lane, or $2.8 billion for a rebuild. The project most essentially is a city of Seattle deal, but since the state would be a massive contributor to it – maybe more than half of the total – the responsibility and leverage associated with it is spread around. As a matter of politics, just about everyone involved in the decision-making in this is a Democrat.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and a majority of the city council favor the tunnel approach; they were staunch six-laners until reaction over the huge tab led to a more recent retrenchment to four. On Friday they decided to place the issue on a March 13 ballot, including also the idea of replacing the elevated road: A voter can vote up or down on one of them, on both, or on neither. (What happens if voters approve or reject both is anyone’s guess.)

An hour south in Olympia (well, two or three during rush), Governor Chris Gregoire and House Speaker Frank Chopp (whose district is in the heart of northern Seattle) have been weighing in. They dislike the tunnel idea – big time – and favor the elevated. Chopp went so far as to call the tunnel plan “dead.” And Gregoire, after saying in December that she favored letting Seattle voters make the decision, in January sounded a note similar to Chopp’s – no tunnel, the state money would go to either a rebuilt of the relevated, or to work on the Highway 520 bridge east of Seattle (which also badly needs repair). At least up to today, when she issued another statement saying that, of course, she’d respect the will of the voters of Seattle.

Voters in Seattle and western Washington generally have some good reason to think that matters viaduct are coming a little unglued. The great good will all these parties, and others, developed a couple of years ago in pulling together a big state transportation funding package (part of which was supposed to deal with the Alaskan Way) appears to be frittering away as voters get the sense that everyone’s fighting and no one is getting things done.

Enter Tebelius.

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Jan 22 2007

A regional player?

Published by under Oregon

The Northwest has been out of the picture for so long as a national player in the primaries that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have a say in the winnowing process – before our major choices are limited to two. Washington thought in 2004 it might be a significant factor in the Democratic primaries (there was no contest on the Republican side then), but it didn’t really turn out that way.

Oregon and Idaho haven’t been players for quite a few cycles now, largely because their primary elections are set in May. (Washington’s main primaries have been in September, which required a breakoff of the presidential activities for early in the year.)

Was not always this way.

Through much of the 20th century, Oregon was a significant stop on Primary Way, periodically a turning point. In 1912 the Oregon primary gave then-insurgent candidate Theodore Roosevelt an important boost with a landslide vote over incumbent President (and Roosevelt protege) William Howard Taft. Oregon was a substantial stomping ground for John Kennedy in 1960 and Richard Nixon in 1968 – the state got an extensive look at both those years, pre-nomination. (The semi-legendary Democratic politician Monroe Sweetland wrote a piece for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in 2000 on “The Underestimated Oregon Presidential Primary of 1960.”) It gave Senator Frank Church an important head of steam (albeit temporary) in 1976. All of which seems fitting, in the state where the primary got its big start.

Maybe some of that history will help the new push to break off the presidential primary in Oregon, and set it for February 5 – the fifth election date in primary season, and early enough that it may matter.

The idea got a blogosphere push last week when two founders of Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm and Jesse Cornett, floated the idea. It’s now moved to another level, with the chairs of both major parties backing the idea.

“People tend to forget about Oregon in the primaries, and that’s wrong,” says Oregon GOP Chairman Vance Day.

Oregon Democratic Chairman Jim Edmunson concurs, saying that Oregon’s late primary “is largely meaningless.”

The major objection, presumably, would be cost. So the question is: How much is participation in selection of the next president worth? Considering the stakes, it should be worth quite a bit.

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Jan 22 2007

An alternative to the space crunch

Published by under Idaho

Idaho statehouse interiorThe space crunch at the Idaho Statehouse that state legislators talk about, as they discuss the need for two underground floors of legislative space, is real. The public encounters it most specifically in the small committee meeting rooms, which designed for another era and often jam packed with legislators, staff, lobbyists, reporters and others. Arrive on time for an Idaho legislative committee meeting and, even on uncontroversial days, your chances of finding even standing room are not good.

Other forms of legislative space need not be in such precious demand. Go back 20 years and you would see an Idaho Legislature which in large measure did its work on the floor; leadership and committee chairs had offices, but most other members worked at their desks in the chambers, where they had phones and filing cabinets. Most especially, they were accessible to the public that way. Now, once floor sessions are over, most scurry off to out-of-the-way offices, out of view. (More than a few long-time legislature watchers think the push for individual offices and personal assistants will be coming next.) Washington and Oregon may have passed the point in population, interest groups and overall traffic where floor work is practical, but we don’t think Idaho has. More space probably is needed for legislative staff, but not necessarily an inordinate amount.

The overwhelming, bipartisan legislative answer to this is to add two floors to the Statehouse, underground, adding $40 million onto the building renovation price tag of $80.

The issue here seems to have been framed as “to dig or not to dig” – or, whether to expand legislative space or not. Some expansion is clearly needed; that’s not an issue. The question is whether to go underground and create the new $40 million space, or to use two buildings – the old Ada County courthouse and the Borah Post Office building – each located directly across the street from the Statehouse and each almost all empty, both of which the state already owns. One of which will be used for state executive and legislative offices for the next three years, as plans currently stand.

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Jan 21 2007

Blurred

Published by under Idaho

The lines, they do get blurry. A weekend news anchor for KTVB Channel 7 in Boise, Andrea Dearden, also has a second job during the work week, that of a spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. The relationship is not distant: As anyone who watches local TV news knows, local law enforcement agencies routinely get a lot of air time.

KTVB Manager Doug Armstrong told the Idaho Statesman he has no problem with the mix of jobs.

However, a station website profile of Dearden which (the Statesman reported) listed her as a crime reporter as well as anchor, is now (as of this writing at least) gone from the website.

There are a variety of ethical questions involved here, though we should note that the issue isn’t of long standing, since her hiring at the Sheriff’s Office is recent and she said she will work only a few more weeks for KTVB.

We bring it up mostly for this reason, an explanatory quote from Armstrong to the Statesman: “You can’t confuse reading the news with being a reporter.”

That is a provocative statement. Stop and think for a moment about all the promotion, on both the local and national level, of news anchors. We’re not suggesting Armstrong is wrong. But the question is obvious: If news anchors aren’t reporters, what are they?

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Jan 20 2007

Port problems

Published by under Oregon

As a range of Washington and Oregon communities take a look at their port districts – there’s some nibbling around in Seattle about that – they may want to cast a glance to Astoria, where the local daily is running a strong series of articles about problems at the port district there.

Much of the Astorian is behind a subscriber wall but this piece, the leadoff in the series, was not. It points out, “The Port has been accused of taking unusual risks with public dollars, its executive director, Peter Gearin, is under legal scrutiny for his role in violating a federal dredge permit, Port commissioners have been fingered for profiting from their positions, and several Port employees have left their posts without much explanation.”

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Jan 20 2007

Instructions from out of town

Published by under Idaho

Micron Technology
Micron Technology

If Micron Technology is on your radar screen you have a couple of pieces of information to absorb from this week, both with significant potential reach for Idaho’s largest business and private employer.

One was fairly public (though unreported so far on its own web site): The decision by stockholders to adopt language banning discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was an initiative prompted by the managers of the pension funds of New York City, which are major Micron stockholders, and the proposal was approved by more than 55% of the shares.

Public corporations are not controlled exclusively at their headquarters, and this is certainly an instance of that: Corporate executives had maintained, firmly, that such an explicit policy wasn’t needed because existing corporate policy already covered that ground. Our speculation is that the opposition came from some concern about running afoul of the larger cultural environment in Southwest Idaho where a plurality – but no longer a majority – of the firm’s employees live and work.

The second item makes the matter of external influences even more explicit.

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Jan 19 2007

Visibility

Published by under Idaho

The Boise Idaho Statesman has just done a thorough redesign of its web site, and it marks a considerable improvement in ease of navigation, visibility and loading time (which in recent months has been, in our experience, the worst among Northwest daily newspapers).

It also marks the most visible link to its new owner, the McClatchy newspaper group. Compare the design approach of the Statesman’s front page to that of the (also McClatchy-owned) Tacoma News Tribune.

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Jan 19 2007

A missing link?

Published by under Idaho

Pocatello Regional Airport
Pocatello Regional Airport

Bad news for southeast Idahoans needing to head to Boise: The only air connection from Pocatello to Boise seems about to depart. Big Sky Airlines, which is based in Montana, said it has been losing money on the twice-daily Pocatello-Boise flights and wants to end them, in another month. Pocatello officials are trying to get the company to hold on longer, or maybe try once-daily flights.

Aside from a charter service, Pocatello’s airport now is served by two air providers, Skywest Airlines, which has regular service to the Salt Lake City International airport, and Big Sky, with regular daily connector flights linking Pocatello and Boise Regional Airport. That would leave one of Idaho’s main secondary airports with scheduled flights only to . . . Utah.

What’s a little odd in this is that Pocatello has not been tanking economically. It’s actually been expanding, bringing in a batch new new businesses. Just today came an announcement from the Hawaiian firm Hoku Scientific: “Hoku Materials, a division of Hoku Scientific, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOKU), today announced it plans to build a $220 million polysilicon production plant in Pocatello with a payroll of 200 when the plant initiates operations. The City of Pocatello has reserved 450 acres of vacant land for Hoku’s facilities and future expansion. Subject to financing and other conditions, engineering and construction is planned to begin in the coming months and Hoku expects that the plant will be operational in late 2008. The Hawaii-based company focuses on clean energy technology and plans to produce a highly pure form of silicon, the key material used in most solar power systems.”

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Jan 18 2007

Early heats

Published by under Oregon,Washington

So early to be doing this, but worthy as a taking of current temperature and maybe from a lookback perspective later: SurveyUSA’s early polling on presidential matchups in several states, among them Washington and Oregon. (Idaho wasn’t among them.)

Specifically, these are early matchups of Democratic Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who is forming an exploratory committee (which ordiarily means, he’s running) with three top Republican candidates: Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Of the six results (three matchups in two states), Obama wins three.

The Republican who beat Obama both in Washington 49%-45% and in Oregon 51%-41% was – surprise!, at least to us – Giuliani.

Obama-McCain was a split decision, with Obama barely taking Washington 47%-46%, and McCain prevailing in Oregon 51%-40%.

Obama scored blowouts against Romney, however: in Washington 56%-33%, and in Oregon 51%-35%.

None of the major candidates seem to have picked up a lot of public backing so far from major Northwest political figures. There’s been some recent Oregon activity, though, between Senator Gordon Smith’s backing of McCain and this week’s announcement from the Romney campaign that three of the 16 members of his exploratory committee come from Oregon, and one of those is the state Republican chair, Vance Day.

ALSO The polls also included some approval numbers. From one of them:

bullet OREGON President George Bush 38%, Governor Ted Kulongoski 49%, Senator Ron Wyden 64%, Senator Gordon Smith 60% (an increase from earlier figures; could it reflect his Iraq speech?)

bullet WASHINGTON President George Bush 35%, Governor Chris Gregoire 51%, Senator Patty Murray 56%, Senator Maria Cantwell 61%.

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Jan 18 2007

Kinds of homeless

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

Homelesseness reportThe new report on homelessness from the National Alliance to End Homelessness has, as a number of regional news stories have indicated, state breakdowns on estimates of the homeless population.

All three Northwest states are reported to have high rates of homelessness. This has resulted in such stories as “Idaho ranks 6th in homelessness,” but you get a better picture when you get into matters of definition.

State Sheltered Unsheltd Total % pop
Idaho 5,092 332 5,424 0.38%
Oregon 7,775 8,446 16,221 0.45%
Washington 14,450 9,520 23,970 0.38%

The homeless are not a monolith, certainly no more than any other group in our society, likely less than most. The report segments them in a variety of ways, among those “sheltered” as opposed to “unsheltered” – those living essentially or actually out in the open, sleeping on sidewalks or by river banks. Nationally, the report says that 56% are sheltered, 44% unsheltered.

Idaho’s population is somewhat less than half Oregon’s, which is barely over half of Washington’s. All three states are estimated to have comparable numbers of homeless people. But in Idaho, very few – 6.1% – are living unsheltered, while in Oregon a majority are, and in Washington around 40%.

What accounts for that disparity? Climate differences could be part of it; survival would be easier outdoors in rough seasons west of the Cascades than elsewhere. Or are there other factors? Is there something about Portland, for example, architectural maybe, that makes it easier to live outside (plenty of bridges for some overhead shelter, lots of bus stops to sit down, and so on.) The study and recent news articles suggest the numbers of unsheltered homeless are not simply a factor of lack of available emergency shelter (though that may partially be the case). So what else might be done to reduce the numbers?

If you exclude the unsheltered and consider the sheltered homeless, Idaho’s percentage ranked among the states shoots to near the top. Why would that be?

A notable report, for all the new questions it raises, here as elsewhere.

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Jan 17 2007

Unobvious

Published by under Washington

In these days of cold, those of us who can bundle up by the fireplace in cozy homes, and those who can’t . . . Well, we hope for the best.

But in thinking about the homeless and about the panhandlers out there, consider this stunning anecdote – it’s just that, but it does seem telling – from Danny Westneat’s Seattle Times column today.

The number of panhandlers in central Seattle is estimated to have tripled this year, and several attorneys (the one quoted was Peter Friedman), rather than choose between passing out money or simply passing the handlers by, came up with a third option. They set up a fund at a deli called Bakeman’s, and instead of money gave to the panhandlers cards which could be redeemed for a sandwich at the place.

Westneat writes: “Of about 60 cards passed out, not a single one was redeemed for a sandwich.”

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