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Posts published in January 2007

Standoff at Chelan

Chelan downtown

Two weeks from Monday, another new Wal-Mart, this one in Chelan, Washington, was set to open. Was, until December 29, when a Washington district judge ruled that the business didn't have a proper building permit. That might have seemed almost beside the point by then, since the building was already constructed - it was even being stocked with merchandise. But as matters stand, there's a real chance it may not open at all.

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-sqaure-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.


Sali web

The Bill Sali congressional web site is up. There's not much on it yet - it went live as more or less a blank slate - but until it is, it gives you a look at what a vanilla congressional web site looks like before efforts are made to personalize it.

Scratch DeFazio

Peter DeFazioAs a prospect against Republican Senator Gordon Smith next year, that is. This isn't remotely a surprise, exactly for the reasons he spells out to The Hill in an article today: “I had my run at the Senate. [Now] I’m holding a gavel for the first time in my 20-year career. I’m not looking to do anything else — become the junior senator from Oregon with no seniority and not chairing a committee.”

Still, that DeFazio didn't take himself out of consideration sooner indicates that maybe he was just intrigued enough to have some reluctance in kissing it off entirely. Smith is vulnerable, he iis quoted elsewhere as saying, and had "very weak opponents" in his last two races.

The field narrows.

Will be watching

Oregon ChannelThe standards have to be a little lighter at first: Not that the bear dances well, but that it dances at all. The fine tuning can come later.

And we'll have fine turning to suggest to the new Oregon Channel, announced today, including its reach, its choices and grasp of media and its coverage. But enough for the moment to offer a pleased welcome.

Washington state has an excellent institution - private, nonprofit, informal but with high standards - called TVW, which in a loose sense is a Washington state C-SPAN, offering cable TV and online viewing of numerous official state happenings - major speeches, legislative hearings, court proceedings - and also much more, including a book program and roundtable interviews. It is an ongoing, 24/7, graduate course in Washington state public affairs. (We find it endlessly useful.) It was one of the first of its kind, and now a number of states, Oregon included, seem to be treading its path.

TVW did not happen overnight, and we would not expect that of the Oregon Channel either. (Does the difference in the kind of names suggest something of the different characters of the two states?) The OC says it will offer "Floor Sessions/Committees, State Supreme Court hearings, State agency hearings, Boards/Commission hearings, Capitol news conferences and special events" and "Other public affairs, civic and cultural programming, provided by partner organizations." Many of these things have for some time been captured by internal cameras at the Statehouse (where most major meeting rooms are equipped with them) and elsewhere, and many of these sessions have been streamed on line for a few years. But this is a considerable elevation in spreading the signal, and the content of important sessions.

Those organizations are state organizations, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, Southern Oregon Public Television, the Oregon Legislature, the Oregon University System: This isn't emerging as an independent nonprofit as TVW (or C-SPAN) did. These partners may, as part of their review process, want to give careful thought to how it will be governed.

Again, matters for another day. Meantime, the OC stands to bring a big state closer to Salem.

Oregon’s turn?

Washington was forced through this at the beginning of the decade after the Nisqually quake did its number on the state campus at Olympia. The end result, viewed now, is quite respectable, but it meant moving most of the top of state government for two years, holding legislative sessions in temporary quarters (and crimping public access somewhat), and costing more than $118 million, far above original estimates.

The Idaho statehouse is scheduled to undergo major renovation as well, starting this spring and lasting for a couple of years. There's been no earthquake, but substantial work on it has been needed for at least a decade and probably much more. Cost estimates some years ago ran to the $30-40 million area, but now are running much higher - well over $100 million. But much of that owes not to repairs and renovation as such, but to plans to add two underground levels of office and meeting space to the building - a controversial plan opposed by, among others, new Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

Oregon statehouseNow Oregon . . . whose statehouse is considerable younger than the other two (it replaced one burned in 1935), but also probably needs substantial repairs. Ironically, the worst problems seem to have developed not in the central part of building, including the rotunda and governor's office, but in the legislative wings which were built only about 30 years ago. An Associated Press report on this notes, "The sprinkler system doesn't meet code. The 1938 building falls short of state earthquake-protection standards. Overuse has caused the wiring system to overheat. Pipes have corroded, and much of the furniture does not meet ergonomic standards. The battery-operated emergency lighting system may not work if it is needed."

These are not small items, not cheap to repair, and not unimportant either. The price tag currently is estimated at

This year's legislative session may start to make moves toward a comprehensive renovation effort. There is some talk of floating a bond as early as this March, with work to commence - when? - perhaps a couple of years off?

A suggestion first: Cast a reviewing eye at the experiences Washington and Idaho have had, and the debates and options they have considered. Some lessons learned might be usefully applied.

Bus blogging

Here's a useful local blog idea - useful right to the ground level, and suggestive of blogging other people might usefully do.

Julie Fanselow, who blogged the Larry Grant campaign last fall and on politics apart from that, has started The Boise Bus Blog on Blogspot. She is a regular bus rider and plans to try to ride more, and to make a systematic effort to report her experiences and observations. She is a public transit backer, but recognizes that bus service in Boise has severe limitations, and she would like to see it become "more viable."

This kind of tightly-focused blogging could have some highly useful effects; this one could become a place where critics and advocates hash out the realities of Boise's transit situation.

Dave Frazier at Boise Guardian, which has posted on Fanselow's effort, argued that "Hopefully her blog will shine some light on the shortcomings—as well as the good points—of the bus system. At this point the GUARDIAN would never trust these local politicos to use public money for something as far fetched as 'light rail' when they can’t even run a bus system." And those of us more enamored than Frazier of light rail - as it has been executed in some places, at least - nevertheless would generally accept his point, making bus blogging potentially all the more pertinent.

ID: New governor, new issues

Over the next few days a bunch of public officials around the Northwest and elsewhere will be sworn into office, and public spectacles will be made of few of those events.

Butch OtterThat Idaho's new governor and third in the last eight months, C.L. "Butch" Otter, did his formal swearing-in today behind closed doors (a public repetition, with inaugural speech, to follow on Thursday) rather than out in public didn't really a say a lot, last week's press upset about the matter notwithstanding. It was a formal procedural; we don't ordinarily insist on observing over-shoulder the governor' s signings of various official papers, either.

It was a symbolic event, but in connection with that, a few other elements of symbolism connected with this first day of the Otter Administration might be noted. (The transitional period between election and inauguration, in other words, now over.)

One was the "because we said so" response to reporter requests to observe the swearing-in: It suggests a certain odd tone-deafness in relations with the press and public statements (the sort of thing Idahoans saw several times during last year's campaign, and probably cost Otter several percentage points of support along the way). Had we been offering advice, we might have said: Could it have really hurt that much to let one reporter into the room, acting as a pool observer, at the moment the swearing-in occurred, and then ushered that person out? A pile of ugly news stories - never mind whether valid or not in their point - would have been blown away. Simply put, that would have been the practical, useful tactic of realistic politics. How will Otter and his people react when the issues are more serious and substantive?

Two other curious points of symbolism.

One is that Otter followed up his long-sought swearing in by - in his first official act - temporarily abdicating by leaving the state, to attend a Boise State University game in Arizona.

The other was his choice of a judge to swear him in: Not the usual Idaho state supreme court justice, which has ordinarily been the case, but - to swear in this politician who has run against the federal government as much as any - a federal district judge, Edward Lodge. We have, certainly, no brief against Lodge, who is highly respected (and served for many years as a state district judge too). But the choice of a federal judge by Otter surely should be worthy of some note . . .

ADDITIONALLY: Otter wasted absolutely no time getting his administration on the web - the revised Otter governor's web site is up and running, and has a clean, classy, and easily navigable, look and feel.