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Blogging classes in Tacoma

Newspapers are moving at different rates in embracing the online world, and using different tactics. In the Northwest, the Spokane Spokesman-Review may have gone farther in integrating its staff with blogging than any other regional paper. Now the Tacoma News Tribune is trying something at a different angle.

It relates to some extent to the Oregonian's OregonLive neighborhood blogging, but the News Tribune seems to intend to integrate even more the staff and local writer connection. They have sought out local people to blog from and about their neighborhoods, and on Thursday held a "blogger class" to run through how this will work, what the standards are, and so on. (The class appears to be a prerequisite to blogging directly.) Credentials for logging in were passed out the next day.

Another step in the coming evolution.

Please lock me away

prisoner image from old bookIdaho Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, was a little startled by the factoid, and he surely wasn't alone: In 2006, some 88 prisoners in the Idaho system said they weren't interested in parole, and would rather stay behind bars.

The item came up Thursday at the budget hearing for the Pardons & Parole Commission, as long-time Director Olivia Craven was delivering the facts and figure about her agency. As the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell quotes, Cameron, seemed a little baffled: “Explain that to me . . . Are they just enjoying their life in prison so much?”

We followed up and today asked Craven about the refusniks, and she had but limited explanations for what sounds a little odd. She said that over the next year, she plans to pull together more detailed information about this subgroup. But a rough early conclusion or two might be hazarded.

A little background here.

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When the levee breaks

We tend to think of levees in the context of Louisiana and the gulf states, barriers for low-lying land against high-rising water. But the western states have a lot of levees, and there are even a bunch of them in the Northwest. And it turns out that a bunch of them are in trouble.

Reaction to a Freedom of Information Act request from several news organizations, the Army Corps of Engineers has released a list of 122 levees around the country that fail in its maintnance ratings. More specifically, that means "An unacceptable maintenance rating means a levee has one or more deficient conditions that can reasonably be foreseen to prevent the project from functioning as designed. Examples of maintenance deficiencies include: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culvert conditions."

Overwhelmingly, they're in western states. California accounts for the single largest share. But Washington has a long list, concentrated between the Seattle/Bellevue area to the west and the Cascades to the east. From the looks of the Corps report, this is a serious hazard for parts of that country . . . parts of that fast-growing country.

As though that region didn't have enough infrastructure worries.

The levee issues in Oregon and Idaho, by contrast, are much lighter. But they should give a little pause to people in the Astoria area; several waterways are noted as endangered in that area.

LIST On the list below, the two names are for the overall Corps project, and the specific segment within it.

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Family definitions

What is a family, and who should be legally considered to be a part of it? The question reaches farther than we usually think.

Consider this description of a proposed rule change in an unlikely place, the Department of Consumer & Business Services, Building Codes Division:

"This proposed rule expands the exemption from electrical license requirements for electrical installations on a person’s residential or farm property. The rule adds 'spouse' and 'domestic partner' to the definition of an owner’s immediate family for the purpose of qualifying for the exemption."

A simple problem of logic

housesSeems odd that more people don't seem to spot the logical - economic - problem inherent in this bit of information, from a lead story in today's Seattle Times.

The nut graph, referring to King County: "A typical household would have had to bring in 46 percent more income in 2005 to afford a median house, a huge leap from 2004, according to an annual report released Wednesday."

Put another way. The median income in King County in 2005 was $60,500. Based on usual household economics (the normal rule of thumb that you can reasonably spend up to about 30% of your income on housing), that means the median affordable house would cost $228,100.

But in 2005, as it turns out, the median priced house in King County was tagged at $332,000.

Which would be affordable if the median income were $88,400, but, of course, it isn't - isn't close. How does this compute?

Once again we ask: How are people able to afford so many very high-priced houses? And isn't a housing price correction overdue?

The hurdles

The difficulties faced these days by Republicans in Washington and Oregon, and Democrats in Idaho, are underscored by a study released today by the Gallup Poll.

The study as a whole concerned how people identify themselves in terms of political party - Democratic or Republican, leaning to one or the other, or independent. It has been conducting the polls for some years. Nationally, it found that 34% called themselves Democrats or leaned that way, 30% Republicans or leaned that way, and 34% independents.

How do the numbers stack in the Northwest?

In Washington, which the poll again suggests is the most Democratic of the three, the Democrats accounted for 54%, Republican 36% and independents 10%. If that's an accurate measure, Republicans in Washington have some serious work cut out, with an 18% gap to make up.

In Oregon, things are closer but not really close: Democrats 49%, Republicans 41%, independents 12%. (Oregon has one of the higher independent percentages in the country.)

In Idaho, as you might expect, things are reversed - very much so. Washington is the 12th most Democratic state (in this survey) among the 50, and Oregon ranks 24th - smack in the middle. But Idaho is the second most Republican state in the union, behind only Utah. In the Gem State, 54% call themselves Republicans, 35% Democrats and 11% independent - an almost perfect mirror image of Washington.

If Washington is becoming a mirror image of Idaho . . . well, we'll go there another time. But if true, then the current Democratic domination of the legislature, for one thing, may not be a short-term phenomenon.

(See also the analysis of the polling on the MyDD site.)

The adult population

Reflect for a moment on what you know about the patterns of growth in Oregon, and then consider these numbers, included in the annual report on school enrollment issued by the superintendent of public instruction. The numbers reflect 2006-07 enrollment figures for the 10 biggest school districts in Oregon, and how they changed from 2005-06.

1. Portland 46,348 (-1.4%)
2. Salem-Keizer 39,585 (+1.7%)
3. Beaverton 37,719 (+2.9%)
4. Hillsboro 20,077 (+1.8%)
5. Eugene 18,312 (-0.7%)
6. Bend-LaPine 17,436 (+2.6%)
7. North Clackamas 16,987 (+2.7%)
8. Tigard-Tualatin 12,544 (+1.6%)
9. Medford 12,465 (-0.6%)
10. Gresham-Barlow 12,053 (+0.2%)

In the main, not far off from what you might expect. We know (have known for some time; it's been the topic of headlines) that Portland's under-18 population is diminishing, at least as a percentage of the total. The parallels in Eugene and Medford are intriguing, though.

It's the Bend number that really catches our attention. By all accounts Deschutes County is the wild-growth part of the state. Portland's suburbs may be adding people, and maybe more people in raw numbers, but Bend's overall percentage growth has been much higher.

Not among kids. Note that Beaverton and North Clackamas both register higher increases in student population. Children are coming to Bend, of course; but is this an indicator of Bend more generally as an adult - maybe senior - hangout?

Chat tonight

One more reminder about something new here: Chats, tentatively dubbed "Wednesday Wanderings," with your scribe and a co-host, Idaho pollster Greg Smith. All are welcome to join in. The time is 6 p.m. Pacific, 7 p.m. Mountain time. Topics Northwestern will be fair game.

To send, come to this page and then look down the right-hand column to a box asking you to fill in a nickname. You can use your real name (preferred) or something else (allowed). Click on "enter chat," and you're on. Type your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

The evolution of a burn

An Idaho burn
Smoke plume near Worley/photo Jessica Caplan/SAFE

In its decision effectively tossing out the state of Idaho's ability to allow grass field burning in Northern Idaho, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remarks, "The current treatment of field burning in the Idaho SIP [state implementation plan, a revised version of which allows the burns] came about as the result of a thirty-five-year regulatory evolution." An evolution from one set of intents (and one kind of politics) to another it certainly was; but it was the fact of the evolution, as much as anything else, that led the court to its conclusion.

Field burning has been used for many years as part of grass seed production, not just in Idaho (it is used in parts of the souther Willamette Valley as well), and is thought to improve the quality of the crop. There are arguments that it has beneficial environmental effects. There's no question, though, that it also produces air pollution - very visibly, and easily smelled. It is obvious enough that one of the farmers' biggest adversaries long has been Duane Hagadone and his news organizations; Hagadone well understands what tourists think of smoked-up lakefronts, such as where his resort and gold course are located. But the most powerful arguments come from people with respiratory impairments; some of them are literally put at risk of their lives from the smoke. There is a care active organization battling the burns, called Safe Air For Everyone, which has picked up a number of larger allies.

When the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and Idaho, like other states, submitted an implementation plan - which, once adopted and approved by the EPA, has the effect of federal law - it mentioned the burns. The burns were allowed, with limitations, such as that "When such burning creates air pollution or a public nuisance, additional restrictions may be imposed to minimize the effect upon the environment." In 1993, Idaho proposed and the EPA accepted a revision of the implementation rules that deleted field burns from the list of acceptable burns in the state. There were more minor, technical, changes in 2003.

In 2005, the state of Idaho Idaho made another revision, to add this: "“The open burning of crop residue on fields where the crops were grown is an allowable form of open burning if conducted in accordance with the Smoke Management and Crop Residue Disposal Act and the rules promulgated pursuant thereto.” There were protests to the EPA, but the agency approved the change.

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