I was unable to attend both meetings yesterday—insert stock complaint about the logic of holding a meeting about long term planning and community involvement on the night the planning commission is meeting. One does wonder whether little hitches like this might be a valid response to the relentless allegation that the city spins its wheels on some issues—particularly those concerning its downtown. If nothing else, I maintain that it inhibitive rather that helpful toward that end.
However, I was able to attend the second half of the planning commission meeting and the first half of the Project for Public Spaces presentation.
At the planning commission meeting the commission reviewed the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) letter which will be forwarded to the city council. I think the letter is a well written response to the CFP, but there are certainly worrisome trends in the CFP in general. Here as almost everywhere in the country, our tax base is declining, people are making less this year than the last, while converse is true for the cost of everything except money. Thus, our infrastructure is in a constant state of decline, it’s more difficult than ever to fund new projects. The business-as-usual days are a bygone dream for most people. Thus the city is in the unenviable position of trying to make ends meet with greater demands and fewer resources. Does this narrative sound familiar?
One intriguing nugget in the letter was under the “Use of Debt Capacity”, excerpted in full:
Since the City has some available debt capacity and the present economic environment is offering extremely low interest rates and favorable construction costs, it may make sense to consider a new bond issue to fund some of the proposed long-term projects. Now may be an opportune time to use debt for projects that will encourage private investment in our community when the economy begins to recover. Possible debt-funded projects could include This would be a way to proceed with Percival Landing Phase II, the West Bay Trail, park land acquisition, downtown and high density corridors site cleanup and other community high-priority projects.
I think this should have been fleshed out more. How much debt capacity should be utilized? Are any of the listed projects actually feasible subjects of councilmanic debt? What does the planning commission consider to be a reasonable timeline for an economic recovery? What is the cost of forgoing this advice? I have made no secret of my personal skepticism that our economy is in for any sort of return to the 2004-2008 economy. Even if that were to occur, I don’t know why there would be an “urban” boom here when we obviously never sniffed that during the previous boom. In fact, it appears that we’re on the brink of another downturn and we might eventually see as 2008-2011 as the salad days in a couple of years. That said I believe the council should examine projects that might revitalize Olympia, sustain its infrastructure, and help reorient its collective mental conceptions toward a more vital urban environment with the attendant benefits of sustainable growth, but I don’t know that this letter is the mechanism that would send them, pencil in hand, to their sharpeners.
Next the OPC took a look at Chapter 2, the definitions, of the Shoreline Master Program for about 45 minutes. Several commissioners offered spelling suggestions. Additionally, there were many reminders for definitions that should have been included or excluded which were otherwise in the draft. One ten minute discussion focused on the definition of ecology. A couple of commissioners offered to consult their college textbooks. I think most of this could have (should have) been handled via email to the staff person.
Finally, we examined the setbacks for various subcategories of uses on the shoreline of Priest Point Park. The designation in that area is Natural which is the most restrictive. That is intuitive given that it is a park after all and unlikely to become the subject of intensive development of any sort. The setback was generally 100’ except for the use of blinds and interpretive access points where it was 10’. We spent almost an hour on this last night so I hope that at some point during my residency here in Olympia, we’ll all be able to visit Priest Point Park and be joyful about the temporal investment of ten planning commissioners, four city staff members, the court reporter, one Department of Ecology employee, and at least two community members who witnessed this strikingly mundane SMP deliberation.