Monthly Archives: August 2008

Huge increase in Metro bus riders

Usually, Metro Transit ridership dips when the weather warms up, but ridership grew this summer by an astounding 9.9% with 400,000 daily boardings. Check out these new charts.

Metro weekday boardings chart August 2008
Metro weekday boardings chart August 2008
Metro ridership indicator chart August 2008

Metro ridership indicator chart August 2008

Let’s Keep Our Buses Running

Here in King County, just as our ridership is surging, higher fuel costs and lower tax revenues from a faltering economy, are creating a growing deficit in our Metro budget. Our ability to maintain service levels for our existing riders and to respond to new customers who are discovering the ease, convenience, and cost-effectiveness of our transit system, is constrained.

Metro is rated the fastest growing large bus transit agency in the nation and in May set a record for 400,000 riders per day.

Metro is rated the fastest growing large bus transit agency in the nation and in May set a record for 400,000 riders per day.

I fundamentally believe that a robust transportation network that moves people between their homes and their jobs is critical to our long term economic prosperity, as is reducing congestion so that vital freight can get to and through our region. An accessible, reliable and affordable public transportation system is vital to our community. Moreover, reducing the number of cars on the road is essential to reducing carbon emissions and protecting our environment. Thus, we must do all we can to keep our buses running and maintain our existing transit service. We must also remain steadfast with the implementation of the service expansion we promised voters when we asked them to approve the Transit Now initiative.

Therefore, I am proposing a measure that will maintain current bus service levels and will limit our fare increase to 25 cents this year with another 25 cent increase in 2010.

This phased approach would minimize the impact on the young, the old and others who can least afford it. In addition, it will give businesses and institutions like the University of Washington and Children’s Hospital that purchase employee bus passes more time to plan for these expenses so that they can continue to provide this benefit to their employees and support regional mobility.

These fare increases, however, by themselves will not be enough to make up the financial shortfall over the next two years.

Rather than reducing services, I further propose that the shortfall be covered by the sale of some Metro capital assets such as the Bellevue Metro site and by cutting capital projects totaling approximately $65 million. In addition, I propose to spend operating and capital reserves of approximately $45 – $60 million. This is an appropriate time to use these “rainy day” funds given the unprecedented financial storm pounding Metro today.

These actions are painful, but they will allow Metro transit to remain fully funded through the end of 2010 while we continue our work of finding long term funding solutions.

We must begin now to solve the significant deficit at Metro that returns in 2011. This financial gap will be in the range of $30-$40 million in annual operating funds. Over the next two years, we must look across our region’s long-term critical economic, environmental, and infrastructure needs and explore new funding models to create an adaptable and efficient transportation network.

Whether it is transforming the State Route 99 or 520 corridors or serving increased density in our growing suburbs or promoting economic development in rural areas, we will have to rethink every aspect of the movement of people and goods throughout the region. We have a short window to examine our long term funding strategies.

Let us begin now!

Water, water everywhere

One of my favorite University professors was my history teacher, Dr. Raymond Smith at Central Washington. He said history only teaches us that the events that are most historically defining tend to be the one’s whose emergence was least noticed.

I was thinking about Dr Smith’s words as I walked through my garden. Darn it, my garden needed more sun not rain! Water, water everywhere best describes the month of August of 2008. It seems so abundant. But, what if our geopolitical future is not a world shortage of oil, but water? What is our role nationally and locally? If local and regional governments have demonstrated the ability to lead in global emissions reduction, can we lead in water resource management? Can we develop a new economy around water resource technologies like we’ve done in computer, bioscience and nanotechnology?

I think we can and should be a leader. In July, King County entered into a ‘twinning’ agreement with Thailand Wastewater Management Authority. The agreement was an Eco-Asia program funded to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that promotes improved access to clean water and sanitation.

Why clean water? Well, water conflicts have already led to war. The Six Day War between Israel and its neighbors was a water resource conflict. Lilach Grunfeld, in her Spring 1997 case study on the value of the Jordan rive wrote “Following more than 10 years of silent tensions, the conflict flared again. The Syrian government, inside its borders, attempted to divert the Banyas River, which is one of the Jordan River’s tributaries. This was followed by three Israeli army and air-force attacks on the site of the diversion. These incidents regarding water issues led up to the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June 1967 between Israel against Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. During that war, Israel captured the Golan Heights and the site of the Banyas headwaters, which enabled Israel to prevent the diversion of the Banyas by the Syrians. Israel also gained control of the West-Bank, the Jordan River as well as the northern bank of the Yarmouk.”

Since 1999 United Nations officials have openly discussed where water and resource wars will occur. Klaus Toeper, former director-general of the United Nations Environment Programme felt the need for “monitoring worldwide reserves of drinking water and establishing cooperative agreements for the use of bodies of water, including groundwater.” He also calls for “…economic instruments to stimulate use of new technologies to promote water conservation.”

Kevin Watkins director of the Human Development Report Office at the UN Development Program, and Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute write, “Water conflicts are invariably shaped by local factors. But the sheer scale of these conflicts makes it impossible to dismiss them as isolated events. What we are dealing with is a global crisis generated by decades of gross mismanagement of water resources.”

Watkins and Berntell further note, “The facts behind the crisis tell their own story. By 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households.”

The conflict in Sudan has become daily headline news. In the Foreign Affairs article “Sudan’s Perfect War” Randolph Martin says, “In the longer term, southern Sudan’s economic interests are likely to lie in the north. The oil boom may last only 30 to 40 years. In the not-too-distant future, southern Sudan’s real strategic value will be its water and agricultural resources. Neighboring Egypt — which has seen its own population double to 70 million in the last 20 years — depends for water on Sudan.”

In an Age of Global Warming it is becoming increasingly clear that water will be this century’s defining issue. We will need entrepreneurs, academicians, technologist, investors, and political leaders that sense these subtle, yet profound, trends and seize the opportunity to grow our 21st century economy. It is imperative that we add water resource technologies to the mosaic of other high tech industries of this region’s New Economy.

Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights. –The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, Environment News Service, 27 Nov 02

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Trains and boats and planes

Those who are unquestionably opposed to immigration are against what made America the greatest country and economic power in the world. The United States is the world’s grand experiment. We are the first Democracy to achieve super power status without a common gene pool. All of our ancestors arrived here boat, plane and land bridge. Although I have historically respected the opinion of Lou Dobbs, his stance on immigration is not in this nation’s best interest. Those who work to shut the doors of immigration, do so without regard to our future economic growth and prosperity.

According to the Wall Street Journal article “Some States Seek Integration Path for Immigrants” by Miriam Jordan, “The U.S. has absorbed a record number of immigrants since 1990, mainly from Latin America, Asia and Africa. The country is now home to about 38 million legal immigrants and 12 million undocumented immigrants. An additional 31 million people are children of immigrants.”

The Federation For American Immigration Reform reports that King County has 268,00 immigrants which make up 15% of our population.

Is immigration good for the economy? The Federal government thinks so. President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors issued a 2007 report that concluded, “Our review of economic research finds immigrants not only help fuel the Nation’s economic growth, but also have an overall positive effect on the income of native-born workers.” The Federal Reserve Board in Dallas, TX concluded the pace of recent U.S. economic growth would have been impossible without immigration.

The National Academy of the Sciences also found that “Immigration produces substantial economic benefits for the United States as a whole…”

Bill Gates, the most successful businessman and philanthropist in history, also agrees with the Federal assessments on the benefits of immigration. One only needs to read his persuasive Washington Post Op-Ed “How to Keep America Competitive” .

Professor Gordon H. Hanson of the University of California, San Diego studied immigration through the lens of economics for the Council on Foreign Relations. The report, “The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration,” concludes, “By focusing on the economic costs and benefits of legal and illegal immigration…stemming illegal immigration would likely lead to a net drain on the U.S. economy—a finding that calls into question many of the proposals to increase funding for border protection.”

The same positive economic growth can be said of illegal immigration. “Illegal workers: good for U.S. economy”.

The National Immigration Law Center also reported that the National Academy of Sciences found that tax payments generated by immigrants outweigh any costs associated with services used by immigrants. Undocumented immigrants contribute to the tax rolls and the Social Security Trust Fund. The U.S. Social Security Administration has estimated that undocumented immigrants contribute approximately $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds each year. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has determined that undocumented immigrants paid almost $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003.

The Governors of the states cited in the Wall Street Journal article (including our own Governor Chris Gregoire) who encourage both increasing legal immigrants and providing pathways to citizenship for others, will insure their states are the winning economies of the 21st Century. The data is conclusive. It is time to stop arguing. In this globally competitive economy let us unabashedly embrace immigration as a gift to the next seven generations.

If I had a hammer

n Sims in the garden

Ron Sims in the garden

In my days as a college student, protester and demonstrator I recall the song, if “I had a Hammer”. My favorite verse was ” I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.” It was a call to overcome the deep divisions that haunted the times. Well much has changed since that period. And, much still needs to be done.

Over the last several years I began gardening (great stress relief), my brother in-law remodeled my mother’s home, and my wife, Cayan, began making numerous minor home repairs (she is really good at it). Like so many others we purchased our supplies and tools at the big box hardware stores. One can’t help noticing the day laborers that wait for someone to hire them. Evidently, contractors and others could efficiently buy both supplies and hire laborers at the same place. But this year seemed different. A sagging economy reduced the need for these workers. So, laborers, many Latino, seemed to be waiting for longer periods of time to be hired. Far too often, you could see the desperation in their faces and body language.

People waiting for a day job are more often the visual of a developing country. Or, they make headlines as a member of China’s migratory day job labor force, which is the largest in the world. The plight of this workforce is legendary and human rights activists have criticized China’s handling of their living and working conditions.

So, I was so pleased that the City of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance to establish regulatory standards for the treatment of day laborers. Those big box stores must provide them with shelter, bathrooms, drinking water, and trash cans. I wish King County government could follow suit. But there are no big box hardware stores within our jurisdiction of unincorporated King County. We live in the greatest nation in the world.

Contrast Los Angeles with the elected leaders of Hendon, Virginia. They closed down their day labor center and are intent on adopting regulations that will make Hendon inhospitable to day laborers. Their town officials want to step up police activity and zoning enforcement where the workers gather, ban carryout alcoholic beverage sales downtown and remove the pay phones that the workers use to call their home countries. According to the Washington Post, they want to “institute a permitting process for homeowners to rent out rooms, in hopes of reducing the number of workers living in crowded conditions. They also want to confiscate bicycles — a common mode of transport for the workers — that are parked illegally in public places.” The racism that surrounds this issue in Herndon is evidenced by Town Councilman’s Dennis Husch, who proposed the new rules, who says “I’m getting a lot of pressure from my constituents to do something about those 30 guys standing on the street all the time… I got an e-mail from a lady that lives on the west end of Alabama Drive talking about how scared she was, how afraid she was to go out at night or to go out during the daytime because of the men just hanging out. ..”

How we treat day laborers and migrants can represent either the best or the worst in us. To deprive an individual of shelter, water, and a sanitary environment and intimidate them with police is so very wrong. Or we can see them for what they are: hardworking individuals chasing and sustaining the American Dream.

We must set the highest standards for the treatment of people, especially in a world that all too often forgets to. We must remind ourselves and each other that being humane is what separates us from other living things.

Well I’ve got a hammer

And I’ve got a bell

And I’ve got a song to sing

All over this land

It’s the hammer of justice

It’s the bell of freedom

It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters All over this land…

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Stop in the name of love

Puget Sound

Puget Sound

…before you break my heart, think it over … seems to be the tune that the Puget Sound, Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are singing to cities and counties. The tune will make it to the top of our charts but it may not be the tune of our choice.

The Puget Sound is not a local stream, river, or lake. It is a single marvelous ecosystem with a water body that has 1,864 miles of coastline that encompasses 18,000 square miles of watersheds. Ten thousand rivers and steams empty into it. It has countless avian, terrestrial, and marine species. Four million Washingtonians live within its still well forested basins.

Now, many new and old voices are expressing concern about the health of the Sound. Some believe we still have a chance to save it, others believe we’re too late. Recently the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board in a seventy-page ruling ordered DOE to develop and enforce rules that will protect the Sound by requiring significant, almost radical, changes in how cities and counties are built and grow.

The City of Seattle, King County Wastewater, and DOE are expecting EPA to initiate Clean Water Act enforcement actions. This would require investments by the City of Seattle and King County’s Wastewater division to control combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges into Lake Washington and the Puget Sound. These will cost Seattle ratepayers at least one to two billion dollars and Metro’s Wastewater possibly several hundred million dollars more.

But the question is not if we’re going to spend these funds, it is where they should be spent. All of these efforts are supposed to recover the Puget Sound. The elephant in the room is will they? Some clearly will, many others won’t. Quite frankly, we’re going to have to venture way outside our comfort zones for a solution that creates fewer problems than it solves.

The CSO dilemma is the most intriguing and the most disappointingly predictable. As usual, we will likely be required to expend lots of money to reduce local impacts upon the Sound without determining how that money should best be spent for the recovery of Puget Sound. Those who wish to protect the status quo will use age old arguments; regulators don’t allow for innovation; it will be impossible to harmonize the federal, and state approach; stakeholders are leery and often hostile of change; enforce existing laws; no one trusts scientists or the science; we should leave these decisions to the policy makers (politicians); my good projects wouldn’t qualify for funding; my great projects wouldn’t be prioritized; this would remove local capacity building (no pork); local dollars should be spent locally (pork in my backyard only); and, the status quo may not work well, but it is better than nothing. In large part, this is why the Sound will likely remain on life support for generations to come. Or, government will probably be forced to enable a substantial tax increase to finance the priorities that would actually make the Puget Sound healthier.

So, I posed a question to the staff and scientists of our King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP). How can we align our resources to do what is best for Puget Sound? Now, this group of individuals has a well-earned reputation for being thoughtfully aggressive on environmental issues. Sometimes, this makes others uncomfortable, but this risk-taking has produced cutting-edge work that is well recognized for its excellence here and abroad. In a recent meeting they reduced my question to its essence; what if science ruled the day, what would we do?

You cannot break the Sound into small manageable pieces or fit it into silos that traditional enforcement approaches always require us to use. First DNRP staff recommends a watershed trading system that could redirect money to projects or programs to achieve a greater benefit for Puget Sound. Using CSO as an example, a particular CSO location could be measured for existing pollutant loading. In lieu of building the CSO project the owner of the CSO could solicit alternatives that must achieve a higher level of pollutant reduction and greater environmental benefit. They also proposed the owner of the CSO would be relieved of controlling the CSO if the agency paid for the alternative benefit. This is a cap and trade model similar to those being proposed to reduce the growth of emissions that are causing Global Warming. I must note, that in subsequent discussions this position was modified. These CSO projects of less benefit would only be deferred and credit for investing in higher priority projects would be established.

Secondly, they would establish a single governing authority for the Sound. This would reduce the myriad agencies responsible for management of Puget Sound. This agency would be responsible for managing a cap and trade system for the Sound and prioritizing the investments based on science. Participation would be voluntary. A city, county, or private entity would not be required to participate, nor could they be a beneficiary either. The science would establish a currency of scientific benefit for improved water quality, agricultural protection, habitat restoration, protection, or acquisitions. Therefore, we could fund projects from the mountain tops to the sea bed understanding the benefit of a measurable, all encompassing Puget Sound restoration program.

What if the water shed trading model proved to be unpalatable? DNRP recommended the adoption of an approach now used by the French. France was divided into six basins. An example would be the Seine Normandy Basin Authority (L’Agence de l’eau Seine-Normandie). Resource fees for water consumption and pollution discharge fund the agency. The system is comprehensive and funds priority projects in the basin. No jurisdictional walls! This basin entity funds farming, industrial programs, and waste treatment facilities. Everything is measured and plans are updated. All activities must actually improve water quality as established by the Seine Normandy Basin Authority.

Does the system in France work? We can only dream of this August 2, 2008 article in London’s Guardian newspaper, “For the first time since records began a healthy-looking sea trout has been discovered in the Seine, prompting Paris authorities to claim a resounding success in their bid to clean up the river after years of pollution and neglect…It is an amazing turnaround for a river, which, in the 1960s, was so full of human, agricultural and industrial waste that it was declared a biological wasteland. The Seine used to be so dirty that Parisians joked that swimming in it would be more effective suicide method than jumping off one of its bridges.” (Read full article.)

We need to put the Puget Sound Partnership on steroids. If not, we’ll have more Hood canals, and like Chesapeake Bay, dead zones. We have the benefit of the best marine scientists in the world living here in our back yard. We need to let their expertise guide the direction of our public policy and not allow self-imposed bureaucratic silos to impede the clean up work that needs to be done. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” This is one of great challenges of our generation.

Recent research indicates that Puget Sound orcas have the world’s highest body burdens of PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and other contaminants of all marine mammals. Dioxins, PCBs and other chemicals in Puget Sound sediments pose risks to not only Orcas and marine life but all seafood consumers, including people.

Oxygen depletion in Puget Sound has resulted in virtual dead zones, where fish, crabs and other aquatic life are dying from lack of oxygen.

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You do get high and it is addictive

Let’s be clear, you do get high off of methadone and it is addictive.  So, is methadone treatment just substituting one drug addiction for another?   Does the Federal government authorize methadone use because the billion-dollar drug war is obviously failing and legalizing heroin/opiates is politically untenable?   Should people who are addicted to opiates – whether they’re doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers, or unemployed, mentally ill, or criminally involved individuals – have the same choices for treatment?   After years of inconclusive, and chair throwing debate, King County will increase the opportunities to use Suboxone (Buprenorphine) as an alternative choice to methadone for treatment of opiates. 

King County funds the use of methadone for substance abuse treatment.  It is even dispensed in our jails.  The goal for treatment is that between 1-2 years of treatment people become stable enough to eliminate their need for daily Methadone. While some people are able to achieve this, many require ongoing opiate substitution therapy with methadone to remain stable in their recovery.

But an opportunity for change presented itself with King County’s adoption of a tenth of a percent increase in the local sales tax to increase the array of mental health and substance abuse services.  In government jargon this funded a plan is known as the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan (MIDD).  We moved to adopt two new strategies that specifically identify Suboxone as a viable option for the treatment of clients with an opiate addiction.

Strategy No: 1a (2) – Increased Access to Substance Abuse Outpatient Services for People Not On Medicaid 
”Funding will be increased to County contracted outpatient treatment agencies and OST programs to provide treatment services for low-income individuals from King County.  Low-income individuals are defined as having income of 80% of the state median income or less, adjusted for family size.  Specific service components include intensive outpatient treatment and outpatient treatment as well as daily doses of methadone or an alternate OST such as suboxone.”

Strategy No: 15a – Drug Court: Expansion and Enhancement of Recovery Support Services 
”Access to suboxone treatment.  A medication approved for the treatment of opiate dependence.  Currently, opiate dependent clients receiving methadone must go to a limited number of Federally approved methadone treatment facilities.  Opiate dependent clients can receive suboxone instead of methadone and receive services in traditional outpatient agencies and physician offices.  This change will provide more patients the opportunity to access treatment.”

King County is also partnering with and supporting Harborview Medical Center.  They applied for a grant proposal to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  King County and Harborview want to expand capacity and enhance services for non-methadone assisted treatment of opioid dependence in low-income and indigent patients. If funded, King County has committed significant matching funds to this project. Harborview Medical Center (HMC), proposes to expand their Suboxone assisted program by 45 slots to serve, over three years, a total of 225 low-income and indigent patients.

This project is intended as a pilot project and will enhance the coordination of multiple systems for this population.  A Community Advisory Committee with representation from Washington State, King County, Harborview, and Suboxone program patients will be convened and guide the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the project to assure its sustainable integration into the wider addiction treatment system.   Successful applicants of this grant will be notified later this fall.

As a friend of mine told me, the best addiction is each and every new day of sobriety.

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