May 15th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
By Pat Gogerty
Congress passed legislation at the end of April to put air traffic controllers back on the job, providing valuable insight into what our representatives, and by extension us, care about.
As it turns out, the most important thing in our lives is convenience.
Out in Spokane, there is a man named Jim. Jim is 90 years old. Jim fought in World War II. He was never rich, but when money was around Jim spent it helping his neighbors buy diapers, food and pay their rent. Though he remains fiercely independent, Jim’s limited sight, hearing and Parkinson’s disease have severely reduced his mobility. Today Meals on Wheels delivers Jim a hot meal every day. Without someone to prepare that meal, he would not eat.
The sequester subtracted a million dollars from senior nutrition programs here in Washington. The delivery portion of the program is carried out by tens of thousands of volunteer drivers. It is a great example of government cooperating with the general public to fill a service that allows people to maintain a shred of dignity during their last years.
(To read the full article, go to crosscut.com/2013/05/14/social-services-necessity-convenience)
Pat Gogerty is the founder and former Executive Director of Childhaven, a program for the care and treatment of abused and neglected infants and toddlers in King County. He has a 35-year background pioneering treatment for abused children and breaking the cycle of violence. He has seen firsthand the role our political system plays in the successes and failures in treating abuse.
May 4th, 2013, by Chom Greacen
By Chom & Chris Greacen
We have been following the OPALCO broadband debate and are in full agreement that we need better and faster internet access for its economic, educational and communication benefits. It is very frustrating to pay Centurytel for 1.5 Mbps of download speed only to get as low as 0.02 Mbps or no internet at all. But we do have grave concerns about OPALCO’s current business plan to venture into broadband business. And we don’t believe that we either have broadband through OPALCO or no broadband at all. There may be other cheaper and safer options that have not been fully explored.
Firstly about our concerns:
To ensure “financial viability” of the broadband effort, a monthly fee of $15 will be charged to the entire OPALCO membership. This is on top of the $27 monthly fee for electricity service, a 55% increase. This additional broadband fee amounts to about $2.7 million/year for the entire OPALCO membership, roughly equal to the 2012 SJ county budget allocated to County Council, General Administration, and Health and Community Services combined (see http://www.co.san-juan.wa.us/budget2013/Docs/Section1OverviewandBudgetSummary.pdf).
We pay for our county government and services through property taxes which are levied based on property value and have discounts for senior citizens. The broadband fee is a flat rate, however, a very regressive way to “tax”. Whether you are a mere low-income renter or a $10 million property owner, the “tax” burden is the same. 11% of SJ population is below poverty level (2007-2011 census data: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/53/53055.html).
The only provision OPALCO proposed to take care of affordability issue for low-income or senior members so far is to set up a voluntary, “Project PAL” type fund. Project PAL has “round up” contributions totaling only $20,000 each year currently, a paltry sum compared to $2.7 million, and a pot of money already stretched thin to help make electricity affordable.
People who have no plan to subscribe to broadband services may choose to “opt out” (they will have to pay a hefty penalty fee later if they change their mind). But what percentage of OPALCO membership can “opt out” without jeopardizing the financial viability of broadband investment? Will the rest have to shoulder a bigger fee as a result? And what if a struggling family cannot afford to not opt out right now but does want internet access for their growing children in the future? How would they be able to afford the penalty fee? Is the proposed “Project PAL” type fund an adequate measure to address affordability issues? How many low-income residents will be forced to live without electricity because they can’t afford to help underwrite the expensive $34 million broadband investment? Economic benefits generated by broadband investment should not happen at the expense of people who are already economically marginalized.
2) MONOPOLY OPALCO VS FIERCELY COMPETITIVE TELECOM INDUSTRY
Electricity distribution is a monopoly business. OPALCO has 75-year experience running this business with no competition and relatively little technological innovations. As professionals in the field of energy, particularly electricity sector, we would argue that even in the field of its expertise, OPALCO has been slow and even complacent to adapt to and capitalize on the new challenges of changing electricity market. OPALCO let slip precious opportunities, for example, to structure tariffs, proactively invest in energy efficiency and local energy generation in response to the threat of more costly Tier 2 electricity and diminishing low-cost supplies. (It is still not too late but the longer OPALCO waits, the bigger the lost opportunity – a significant topic I’d love to discuss elsewhere later.)
Is OPALCO well-suited to dive into an entirely new and competitive business of telecommunications with very fast changing and complicated technology? We have seen examples of other utilities having made similar decisions to venture into telecom industry and fail miserably.
Chelan County PUD (public utility district) decided in early 2000s to take advantage of its fiber optics backbone and invested in expanding its network to provide internet to its rural customers. A decade later, it was losing $8 million/year and faced with the difficult choice of having to sell its network to cut its losses, cough up about $100 million to cover outstanding debt, or hike electricity rates significantly to stay afloat or a combination. (See http://www.ncwtv.com/chelan-county-pud-reviews-options-for-fiber-optic-network-728/ and http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2012/may/23/pud-writes-off-fiber-debt-now-comes-the-hard-work/)
The City of Ashland also made a similar decision a decade ago, faced stiff competition and had to pay off $15.5 million in debt and raised utility rates, hurting low and middle-income residents. (http://www.katu.com/news/business/5129896.html) Utilities in Utah and Groton, CT also suffered similar predicaments as a result of technological advances, stiff competition and lack of experience (see http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/money/54928063-79/utopia-network-cities-lawmakers.html.csp and http://m.theday.com/article/20121202/NWS01/312029942/1113/mobile&template=mobile)
What specific measures does OPALCO propose to avoid the fate that fell to these utilities? Is OPALCO confident it has the expertise, experience, resources and nimbleness to survive and thrive in such a cut-throat competitive industry? The threshold of having 50% of users sign up is no protection if OPALCO is not poised to compete with huge corporations with deep pockets, technical expertise, and years of experience.
3) LACK OF ACCOUNTING AND LEGAL SEPARATION
Because of the different characteristics and inherent risks of the broadband investment, it is wise for OPALCO to protect its core business of electricity service delivery by creating legal, or at least accounting, separation for broadband business. This is so that if the broadband venture turns out to be financially troubling, OPALCO’s main assets and ability to provide electricity to its members will not be directly threatened. Our lives may be inconvenient without reliable high speed internet, but without reliable electricity, water supply, grocery sales, medical devices will be disrupted, food will spoil, houses turn cold, many lives are at stake. It is therefore of utmost importance that OPALCO does not risk its $60 million assets (which took 75 years to build up) by creating legal separation from the more risky non-core $34 million broadband investment (not including interest). Unfortunately, there is no such provision in the current broadband business plan proposed by OPALCO.
When school districts or the county ask San Juan residents for money, their detailed budgets and plans are put under microscope for taxpayers to analyze and scrutinize. When OPALCO asks its members to underwrite a $34 million investment that could put its core business and members’ capital credit at risk, it is naturally expected that financial information on the broadband investment be made available to its members. We have attended/followed several board meetings in hope of learning more about the financial details. But, while board meetings are normally open to members, the board discussions on broadband were exclusive (members not allowed to observe).
The most information OPALCO has offered so far is a 15-page summary document with very little detail on financial analysis (http://www.opalco.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Findings-2-19-13.pdf). With lack of information transparency, it is difficult for members to properly evaluate the risks and economics of the broadband venture and make an informed decision on whether to sign up or opt out. The practice of good governance (transparency of information being one of the pillars) can only inspire confidence and improve OPALCO’s political standing and it is not too late to share with its members OPALCO’s financial information on broadband.
The above are serious concerns about OPALCO’s current plan and process for broadband venture. We need more information, community dialogue and comprehensive look at options. The options are not so black and white: either we have broadband through OPALCO (as currently proposed) or no broadband (with sufficient coverage) at all. We believe other less risky options do exist.
An IEEE (“the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology”) article made an insightful observation about leveraging investment in fiber optic communications. Because electric utilities only use a fraction of the fiber optics capacity they install for reliability, communication and smart grid reasons, trying to maximize utilization of the fiber optics infrastructure by coupling with broadband business is a good idea. However, for the power utilities to undertake the investments necessary for deliver broadband services themselves is very risky. A better approach is for utilities to lease the fiber optics capacity to providers of general broadband services. The leasing revenue improves the return on the power system investments and helps lower broadband market entry costs for providers as well as subscribers. (http://smartgrid.ieee.org/june-2011/105-leveraging-investment-in-fiber-optic-communications)
Has OPALCO seriously considered the options of leasing its fiber optics capacity to broadband service providers (Centurytel and/or others) or setting up a subsidiary broadband joint venture in partnership with an experienced broadband provider company? This is a much safer way forward to deliver broadband services to SJ islanders. If what is needed is some “tax” or “fee” imposed on the majority of San Juan population (through OPALCO rates or taxes) to underwrite a sizable portion of the capital investment, let’s do it in a way that gives more consideration to people’s specific needs and unequal ability to pay, inspires more confidence through greater transparency and participation, and does not risk the health of OPALCO’s core business.
Chom & Chris Greacen
Thank you for your thoughtful statements of concern. The Board has not made a decision to go forward yet – we are in the process of engaging with our members and hearing ideas, questions and concerns like yours. We are planning a series of public forums beginning the week of June 10th to discuss the project. There will be meetings on Lopez, San Juan, Orcas and Shaw (schedule will be posted online by Monday 5/6). I encourage you to attend – and I will make sure that your questions are included in the material to be covered in those meetings.
OPALCO’s vision for broadband is clear: we want to see that all islanders have access to true high-speed Internet service. Our mission is to help our members access the best possible service for the least possible cost, making best use of our co-op resources. We continue to work with existing service providers in the county to find the best possible solution at the least cost and risk to the co-op.
May 4th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
From the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
National Travel & Tourism Week, May 4 – 12, champions the power of travel to enhance communities across the country by contributing to the local economy and overall quality of life. To put it more directly: Tourism Matters. It’s also the perfect timing to release figures from a recent study, “Washington State Travel Impacts & Visitor Volume” by Dean Runyan Associates.
The San Juan Islands host an estimated 750,000 visitors a year, which, in turn, creates an annual infusion of $156.5 million into the local economy (2012 preliminary total). According to San Juan County data, lodging tax grew by 15.3% in 2012. Visitor spending in general grew by $13.9 million (representing 9.6% growth) from 2011, according to the Runyan study. More information on visitor impacts to the State of Washington can be found here: www.whytourismmatters.com.
The theme for 2013’s National Tourism week is “The Travel Effect” and it’s responsible for creating jobs, stimulating business development, funding town and county projects, and enriching the culture and vibrancy of visitor destinations like the San Juan Islands. Think–great restaurants and activities. An estimated 1,850 jobs were supported by tourism dollars last year in San Juan County. In fact, approximately one out of every eight people in the Islands is employed by tourist dependent businesses.
The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau is the county’s official destination marketing organization and represents over 330 island businesses supporting local history, culture and visitor education. Visitors here generated 2.7 million in local taxes; taxes that stayed in San Juan County to support local services and helped to reduce tax burdens for island residents. Lodging taxes paid by the visitor help fund our Chamber of Commerce visitor centers, destination marketing services, community theaters, historical museums, county parks, fairgrounds, festivals and events. Celebrate these treasures by visiting island museums, cultural centers, and historic sites during, History Lives Here: Heritage Month in the San Juan Islands, (www.visitsanjuans.com), in May.
There is much to see and do here at home on a “staycation,” in May. Learn more about our tourism businesses and all of May’s events at www.visitsanjuans.com.
April 23rd, 2013, by Margie Doyle
By Marta Nielson
In response to Councilman Bob Jarman’s recent letter regarding the County approving a new higher tech photography, I would be interested in hearing from the current county council members that did approve this deal. (I would understand from his comments that Councilman Jarman did not.)
My first thought, I must admit, at learning of this new photography was not one of paranoia and suspicion of spying, but rather that it might be a good idea in light of the long history of islanders building both land and marine structures with either no permitting or exceeding the permits that they did apply for and receive.
For example,there are numerous out-of-code docks – ones that exceed the measurements granted in their original permits.
If we are to “trust” each other – we should be able to trust and expect that consequences (such as fines) take place when islanders choose to not follow regulations. The county does not have the budget, nor employees to do active, on the ground follow up inspections of permitting (which is quite a common practice in most counties) and it appears that some residents are even refusing to let the authorized County people on their land when there is a situation to investigate.
Regulations on building and construction do not negatively affect any “rural character,” but rather serve to protect it. There is a Commons component to land management and permitting. No private property owner has a right to do just anything, anytime that is outside of current regulations – as their choices can then negatively affect the “Commons” for us all (air quality, water safety, pollution, erosion, etc.) If there is a need to streamline the County’s permitting process, review current regulations, propose less or more – then let’s do that.
We as citizens have that right and could step forward in a positive way to accomplish it.
April 23rd, 2013, by Margie Doyle
The Port will spend over $80,000 to sue their neighbors over an issue that was resolved by a joint committee but not accepted by the Port and the FAA. Fact – this is a property rights issue that does not involve the FAA.
The neighboring property owners, who have deeded access rights to use the “airstrip” (not other Port Property), requested a joint committee meeting after the Port wrote a tariff demanding the property owners pay a fee based on the tie down fee (the amount charged to aircraft owners that rent a Port tie down space for their aircraft).
The property owners objected because the fee did not reflect the language of their deeds. The owners understood that a fee could be charged for access and use and were willing to do so, but only “as charged to all others for like use of the airstrip” as stated in the deed.
All commercial aircraft that use the Orcas Airport and airports throughout the world pay landing fees. The property owners offered to pay 3 times the amount the commercial carriers were paying but the FAA refused. Note: it was not necessary for the Port to ask the FAA.
The Port initially filed a Declaratory Relief with the court. The judge ruled against the Port using a tie down fee basis but did not suggest an alternative basis.
The Port has continued their attempt to charge the property owners a fee that does not reflect the language of the deed. As a result, there will now be a full trial to resolve the issue. No matter what the outcome, at best it will take over 100 years for the Port to recover the money they have wasted on a frivolous lawsuit against their friends and neighbors – all because they couldn’t make a decision about something they were legally entitled to make. So there are your tax dollars at work.
If you believe that deeded rights should be honored and the Port should not foolishly spend your tax dollars, call one of the Port Commissioners for an accounting and an explanation.
The Owner’s Representatives:
(Editor’s notes: Port Manager Bea vonTobel writes, “Any letter from an individual commissioner would appear as if spoken on behalf of all the commissioners. Since the next regular meeting of the Port of Orcas Commission does not occur until May 9, there is currently no reply.”
(The case is scheduled for trial on Monday, April 29 at the San Juan County Courthouse.)
April 21st, 2013, by Margie Doyle
This is a response to an article that needs to be shared with all San Juan County residents:
[A recent] article in the “Journal of the San Juans” (4/17/13) “Council Inks Aerial Photos Deal” needs more explanation. One of the main themes that came out of our Community Conversations, is that the people in our county want more communication and given more facts about subjects.
This is not just Aerial Photography; this is “Oblique Photography” (see web site at www.pictometry.com). From the web site we learn that Pictometry Oblique Imagery is called, “Intelligent Imagery…..is capturing two types of imagery for every square foot of an area, oblique and vertical.” “……it reveals the world from a more natural perspective, so objects are easier to recognize and interpret. With resolutions as high as 3-inch Ground Sample Distance, you can see all in amazing detail and every feature, structure and parcel from North, South, East, West or straight down. When you layer GIS information on top of such meticulous imagery, you turn data into knowledge.”
This technology gives the county not only the ability to look at buildings from all angles and measuring heights of buildings, it also gives them the ability to see “every feature” and structure on your property in “amazing detail”.
I do not feel this technology fits in our county, or with our desire to keep the rural character of our county. My feed back from county islanders is that we want to preserve our privacy as much as possible. This technology, in my opinion, infringes on those privacies. I have no problem with just updating our existing aerial photos with “straight down” technology when they need to be updated and when it is brought before the Council as a “budgeted item”. However, Marc Forlenza and I voted against updating our aerial photos because it was not a budgeted item and it would use Oblique Photography.
The Council will be updated in the progress of the project. It is on the County Council Agenda at 11:15 am, Tuesday, April 23rd in the Council Chambers.
County Councilmember, San Juan Dist. 1
April 20th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
By Bob Jarman
A recent letter implied my campaign is “hiding” behind the Trust Islanders political action committee.
If we are “hiding behind Trust Islanders”, somebody forgot to tell us! The ”Vote Bob” campaign started a year ago with myself, my wife, and four friends (two Democrats and two Republicans) sitting around our table trying to figure out how to run a campaign. A few months later, we were building a float for the 4th of July Parade with our whole family chipping in….sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, in-laws and out-laws (10 Democrats, 6 Republicans among the adults!).
Now, we’re at the end of the campaign. I have maintained since the beginning, at every forum, every debate, and any time I’m questioned, that I am an independent, non-partisan candidate. I have always voted my conscience. When I walk down the street, I do not see Democrats or Republicans or Independents. I just see ISLANDERS!
Trust Islanders has not contributed any money to our campaign. We just recently wrote, put together and mailed out letters to every voter in the County. We have spent money every month on advertizing, signs, and other expenses. All have been paid for from our campaign fund or from our personal account.
I do not hide behind Trust Islanders, but I do walk beside them and all other Islanders who are trying to find reasonable, responsible solutions in our quest to maintain and protect our rural island communities.
Next time you have questions regarding my campaign, why not just ask me instead of just assuming? My door is always open, and I’ve had a phone number in these islands for 38 years!
April 19th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
As Rick Hughes does not want the endorsement of Trust Islanders, I write this open letter:
Dear Trust Islanders:
I am hoping – now that Rick has asked you not to endorse him – that you might give me a shot. Sure, I’m a little hurt that you didn’t consider me in the first place. At least the Democrats sent me a questionnaire seeking my opinions. But you guys? Nada. Nothing. No meeting. Not even a phone call. But I am open-minded. I’m hoping you are too. Like your name says, it’s about trust.
To that end, here are some things I’d like you to consider before you send out your next postcard:
The quality of leadership is the ability to make informed, tough decisions. Decisions that may not be popular but are fair and transparent. Decisions based on hearing different points of view. Here’s an example: I made a decision to accept the endorsement of San Juan County’s Democratic party. I did this early. And in the face of criticism, I stuck to my decision. Do I always agree with the Dems? No. Will they control my decisions in county government? Absolutely not. But in the last week of the campaign, I will not cast that endorsement aside.
I am a strong manager. County employees are frustrated. Many feel undervalued. Citizens are frustrated. They feel their needs are undervalued too. We need to solve this dichotomy on both ends. Probably nowhere will this be more needed than in the planning and permitting department.
I have a long track record of finishing what I start. If I say I will do something, I will see it through to the end.
Earlier in this campaign, I was accused of being a socialist or communist. For the record, I am neither. And BTW, neither of those parties endorsed me either.
I could add a bunch of other things here – about my ability to manage a multi-million dollar budget, about my love of this place and its people, about my commitment to ensure that all voices at the table are heard– but in the end it really is about trust. People want to trust our county government.
A lot of folks have been wondering what I would do if I win. The one thing I guarantee is that each day I will work as hard as I can to create a county government deserving of your trust.
If you’d like to talk about any of this further – please email me: email@example.com
Your friend –
P.S. – if Trust Islanders could “Like” me on Facebook, that would be awesome!
April 18th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
There are some crazy political hat tricks going on during this special county election season. Are you watching?
First we had the Republican Party quietly disappear themselves in a full-on fit of “non-partisanship.”
Then the 3 candidates that the Republicans would ordinarily promote everywhere, have now also disappeared their own campaigns behind something called “Trust Islanders.” Who?
“Trust Islanders” now has all the money, pays for all the ads, sends out all the mailers. They are now the instant, and only, opposition to the council candidates endorsed openly months ago by the local county Democratic Party.
Who are these Islanders We Should Trust? They are a new local PAC: a brand new political action committee. You can check them out for yourself on the Public Disclosure website: www.pdc.wa.gov/MvcQuerySystem
You will learn they are primarily five very large donors, representing primarily only San Juan Island, and that most all of the “Trust Islanders” donors previously gave to various state and national Republican candidates.
See this hat? Look what I have in here. Now, watch this, it is really something else entirely. Now, look over here.
I don’t think county voters are that dumb. I just hope they remember to vote. Soon. The 23rd is the last day to get your ballots in.
Lee Sturdivant, Friday Harbor
April 16th, 2013, by Margie Doyle
By Rick Hughes
I first announced my run for San Juan County Council on May 3, 2012. I decided to run because I felt it was the right time to make a difference. I honestly felt (as I do today) that an independent, moderate position in community government would enable sound decisions that would best represent the majority of people across all the islands.
My heart is with the young families working 2-3 jobs to squeak out a living because this is a safe home for their kids; the retired person on a fixed income attempting to maintain a home; and the small business owner struggling to make payroll and provide a real wage job for their employees.
Since May, I have not sought endorsement from any political party or special interest, actively fundraised or engaged in any dialog that attacked my opponents. I have tried to self-fund the majority of my campaign and worked hard to spend the money raised in a responsible way.
I am grateful to those who speak in favor of my candidacy. However, there are those who claim to support me, but who do not necessarily support my desire to be independent, to be non-partisan, to focus on ideas, and to represent the widest possible range of constituents. I have not sought support from any organizations because I do not want to compromise that independence.
Independence allows me to make decisions that I believe are best for our county. It means that I hear the reasonable voices of every individual, and no organization’s own mission will drown them out.
I have run my campaign the way I’ve wanted to — as an independent — so I will be able to serve all islanders with an open mind and heart. I greatly appreciate the support from all islanders and look forward to continuing to represent your interests.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
The following quotes are from my first press release last year and still reflect my views:
“Our community is at a crossroads, with many tough decisions ahead. I fear that we have taken a path away from community and towards self-interest. We need to be able to live together, even when we disagree. To settle our differences in a civil fashion and strip the anger away and repair our amazing sense of community.”
“The secret to the long-term success of the San Juan Islands lies in all of us…and the re-establishment of small-town community values. The future will be bright for our wonderful island home if we all reach inside deep and work together to move community forward.”