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The gentrification of grungetown

Athoughtful piece in the Seattle Times today by long-time area music writer Charles Cross suggests that the Emerald City, which became such a target of gentrification in large part because its arts scene is so active, may be driving away its popular arts because of just that success.

Gas Works ParkThe trigger for his immediate concern is Gas Works Park, a 20-acre former industrial site (as its name suggests) obtained by the city of Seattle and opened as a park in 1975. A series of 17 concerts had been planned there; a lawsuit from neighbors (who are not exactly right on top of the area) apparently has killed it.

That would be a minor issue by itself, but apparently it is emblematic. All over Seattle, Cross writes, in places like Pioneer Square and Belltown where funky music outlets fostered the development of grunge and much else, and where neighbors often are much closer - and where they often have paid outrageous prices for the privilege of cultural nearness - similar battles have been underway. The issue is of special note because the arts, and especially music, play such an important part in the identity and culture of Seattle: They are an important piece of its definition.

"Club owners have found themselves squeezed by rising rents, plus ordinances that control noise, hours and crowd sizes. Artists and musicians rely on cheap urban rent districts — which was the very reason Belltown spawned a music scene two decades ago — and those are increasingly impossible to find in Seattle," Cross writes. And he asks: "The larger question, though, is what kind of city will Seattle be in the future: one ruled by condo owners and developers and not-in-my-backyard special interests, or one where a vibrant arts scene plays a role?"

Sounds like a question ripe for serious civic consideration.

Concentration

A number of readers of the Tacoma News Tribune and the nearby Olympia Olympian put together a few pieces of information and asked the question: With McClatchy Newspapers, which already owns the paper at Tacoma, set to take over the paper at Olympia, might that mean closure of the smaller Olympia paper?

The reply today, from the publisher at Tacoma, was: “We have no intention of closing the Olympian or selling it.”

And there's no immediate reason to think they will. Olympia (with Lacey and Tumwater) is a market distinct from Tacoma, even if it is only 30 miles away. It also is a growing market, which may be one reason McClatchy put the Olympian in the "keep" rather than the "spin off" category. There's also some ugly newspaper industry history when companies try that sort of consolidation; an attempt some years back by Lee Newspapers to merge the Oregon papers at Albany and Corvallis, just 10 miles apart, blew up, and the papers remain mostly separate to this day.

That said, those concerned readers may be missing a larger issue: McClatchy is moving from being a substantial player in the Puget newspaper scene, to being the dominant player.

In addition to the Tacoma and Olympia operations, it also will own outright the paper at Bellingham, the Herald (also a keeper). And although the partnership has been mostly silent, McClatchy will have 49% of the leading paper in the Seattle area, the Seattle Times - no small consideration. And don't forget another paper of substance, the Tri-City Herald, just over the Cascades.

What may this mean? Consolidation of some regional reporting? A reshuffled business picture, surely. It does mean a concentration of newspaper clout in the hands of one company unlike anything the Puget Sound, or even the Northwest, has ever seen before.

UPDATE NOTE: Several news stories have pointed out that McClatchy so far has been able to avoid the ever-growing pressures on profitability (and cutbacks at newsroomss) in part because the corporate stock is structured in such a way that the family has maintained strong voting control. This space suggested yesterday that McClatchy may have trouble resisting Wall Street and its larger investors; the stories suggest the stock structuring may allow it to do so.

Maybe - and we hope so. But we have our doubts, because the larger picture remains: The massive expansion of this company will mean far more outside, non-family, money will be coming into the picture. And it will come with a price that will insist, eventually if not immediately, on payment.

McClatchy rising (into what?)

A friend of ours used to work for one of the newspapers in the McClatchy chain, knew a number of the executives, and about them he had a remarkable thing to report:

They weren't obsessed with the profit margin. They wanted profits, sure, but they were just about as concerned with putting out quality newspapers.

Shocking as this may be, this intelligence matches with the actual newspapers Sacramento-based McClatchy produces. The Tacoma News Tribune, its largest in the Northwest, is a quality paper, and the Tri-City Herald at Kennewick has shot up in quality since its takeover in 1979 from local owners as well. There's no lack of quality in its other properties, either: Those include the Sacramento Bee, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Anchorage Daily News. (It owns 11 papers in all.) In journalist circles, McClathy long has had the reputation of being a class act.

Will that reputation survive what is happening now - the most ambitious move in its history?

What is happening is its proposed takeover - evidently agreed to by both companies -of another newspaper company, Knight-Ridder. This is of particular note regionally because Knight Ridder owns outright three important regional newspapers: The Boise Idaho Statesman, the Bellingham, Washington, Herald and the Olympian in Washington's capital city, which it only recently purchased from a third company, Gannett. K-R also owns slightly less than half-interest in the Seattle Times. (more…)

Teamwork

In eastern Idaho, the main headlines generated by the longshot Democratic candidates for the U.S. House came when they said they'd campaign together.

Craig Cooper of Pocatello and Jim Hansen of Boise are competing for the Democratic nomination for the 2nd district (one of them eventually to face incumbent Republican Mike Simpson). But it doesn't look like a typical competition: They seem to be working together more than anything else. One joint press release explained, "For several months, Cooper and Hansen have been making joint appearances around Idaho. Although they are facing each other in the primary election, the candidates sometimes even car-pool to the events together, discussing the issues along the way."

Well, if you want to demonstrate a new approach to politics, you can do worse than live it.

In Oregon, where voters are accustomed to the spectacle of thei split-party Senate delegation, Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Gordon Smith, touring the state together, such an approach might have special appeal.

The four Democrats in the Oregon 2nd District - now held, apparently securely, by Republican Greg Walden - have agreed to do something similar. They said they will travel together and work cooperatively even as they c ompete for the nomination, and said they will visit all of the counties in the district (20 counties in the district with the largest land mass of any in the Northwest).

Beating a presumably popular Republican in this territory is exceedingly tough. But they're off to an intriguing campaign approach that should draw some attention - some of it, presumably, favorable in-district.

Good drug, bad drug

The revise code of Washington (RCW) lists a number of qualifications for becoming a pharmacist in the state. Among those requirements you'll find this:

"Has satisfied the board [of Pharmacy] that he or she is of good moral and professional character, that he or she will carry out the duties and responsibilities required of a pharmacist ..."

Note that will carry out the duties and responsibilities. And what exactly are those?

That's the crux of a big debate Friday in Kent, Washington, which as the Seattle Times noted, "was supposed to be a simple informational meeting about whether to allow pharmacists to deny medication based on their moral or religious convictions. But more than 100 people showed up at a state Pharmacy Board meeting in Kent on Friday to speak emotionally about highly charged social issues — from abortion to gender discrimination and even assisted suicide." (more…)

OR 3rd: an open slot

A post-deadline development: Oregon 3rd District Representative Earl Blumenauer has no Republican opponent. That seat is now the only congressional seat in Oregon left open on the ballot by either party.

Bruce BroussardThe reason was the over-enthusiasm of Republican Bruce Broussard. He had, it turns out, filed some months back for a Portland City Council seat, and in Oregon, if you file for two offices at once, you're bounced from the ballot for both. (He might have known, since he falls into the category of "frequent candidate." He also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, but failed to snag the Republican nomination.)

The 3rd - which consists mostly of Portland, is overwhelmingly Democratic, and is defended by Democrat Blumenauer - is about as tough for a Republican as the 2nd (eastern Oregon) is for a Democrat. But a range of messages should get out, and doubtless will: A write-in on somebody's behalf at the May primary election seems a probability.

Kempthorne-go-round

There being another resource-related vacancy in the Bush Administration - with the resignation today of Interior Secretary Gale Norton - it's time once again for another round of that favorite Idaho game, "Will Dirk get the appointment?"

Or the trailer appointment at EPA, if Mike Leavitt of the Environmental Protection Agency is moved to take the Interior spot.

Once again, folks: Serious speculation is pointless.

Those who argue in favor note that Kempthorne had a bunch of presumably pleasant face time with the president a few months ago at Tamarack, and he must rank as among the increasingly unpopular president's most unquestionably loyal supporters anywhere outside his administration. (In the review of a whole wide range of controversial/troubling policies, the only break coming to mind is Kempthorne's joining with 49 other governors in a protest of a prospective cutback in National Guard forces.) Hard-core loyalty is there, and that's important to Bush.

Of course, none of that has changed since the several other openings for which Kempthorne was reportedly considered, and passed over. One would think that if they wanted him on board, they would have brought him by now.

If it does happen, the impact now would be far less than it would have been last year, when Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch could have used the step upward to run a strong campaign for governor; now, with campaign filing deadline only a week away, that option is essentially foreclosed.

Coming next, on Rev and Tax

You can bet the lobbyists worked out the little calculus that follow about three seconds after Representative Dolores Crow said today she will end her 22 years in the Idaho House, and not seek re-election this year.

Dolores CrowCrow has been the controversial chair of House Revenue and Taxation for some years - the one-person roadblock to a large pile of tax legislation, and a bulwark of her version of conservative tax policy. As such, she's been a major player in Idaho government for most of a decade now. So: Who will replace her?

There's no definitive answer, but some facts are relevant. One is that there will be a new speaker, and no one now knows who that will will be. But as the cheif voice in assigning chairs, that will be an important factor.

The vice-chair on Rev-Tax is Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, an agribusiness guy who has impressed many in the House (and beyond) with his fluency with numbers and finance policy, notably in arcane areas that tend to boggle other minds. He has been a leader on the property tax interim committee. Very conservative, but grounded in a professional world view; one imagines him not as as a pushover but possibly as a listener and a compromiser (in the good sense).

He is one possibility for chair, but not the only one, because after this session he will not be the senior member on Rev-Tax. That will be Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, one of the most edgy and fierce conservatives in the House, who might make Wood look like an indecisive waffler. Her appointment would mean a tax committee in the House somewhat like the last few years, only more so.

The stakes rise.

No one home

One early and fair measure of political effectiveness, at the opening stages of campaign season, is this: How well do the parties fare in filling all the ballot spots in their state?

In Oregon, with candidate filing now closed, we now can evaluate the ballot spot vacancies for the parties. Overall report card: Both parties did well, installing candidates for most substantial state positions.

There is, certainly, no lack of candidates for governor: three Democrats and no fewer than eight Republicans (though just three of those can realistically be considered serious contenders). Both parties have candidates for all five U.S. House seats (though, at the moment, none of the races shows signs of being very close).

Of the 15 Senate and 60 House legislative seats up for election - 75 in all, or 150 ballot positions - the parties filled all but 13 slots - leaving fewer than 10% uncontested. (Some of those could be filled through election of write-ins at the primary election in May.)

Should be noted that those open spots are not evenly devided. Democrats account for four open spots, all House races, while Republicans account for nine (one in the Senate, the rest for the House). In the tight race for control this year, that gives Democrats a slight but instant edge.