Monday, March 4, 2024

Dung In the Dining Room: The Effects of Imperceptions

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Last year our 1967 septic system failed. Our first indication of a problem was a slight gurgling sound. Then one afternoon, the septic suddenly backed up into the bathtub near the dining room. Definitely a problem! We risked bigger problems if we remained complacent. I called septic experts who confirmed mitigation was essential. We had two options: 1) Reduce water use and get the whole system upgraded, or 2) Ignore the problem, and risk significant consequences physically, financially, and environmentally.

We chose #1. We acknowledged the verified facts and changed our thinking and behavior: Very brief showers. Two loads of wash a week. And even more difficult: no entertaining of guests until the underlying issues were thoroughly addressed. Finally, several months and $32,000 later, we had a system that exceeded state requirements.  Choosing option 2 would have demonstrated irresponsibility, with horrible consequences!

On Tuesday, the City Council—under encouragement from the mayor, city development staff and Planning Commission—again chose to shove more junk down their drain into an insufficient infrastructure.  Five Council members approved the first of many ubiquitous density increases in their “grand " plan, knowing that City’s current infrastructure is inadequate already. Instead, they evangelized a fake Supply-Demand narrative about “affordability,” using an economic model that crumbles into pieces when there is endless Market Demand like here. Have you seen the 250+ new residential units in Leavenworth in last year or two creating affordability in Leavenworth? I haven’t. Prices continue to skyrocket.   In fact, with those units and other residential plans already well into planning, there will be over 600 NEW residences in Leavenworth within the span of ~5 years, including a newly discovered not-affordable Weidner Apartment complex of 244 residences on the former Meadowlark property, conveniently excluded from the public conversation on housing by City staff. When is enough, enough? What is the tipping point of destroying that which we value so much about Leavenworth?  Are we expected to house every person who wants to live and work here? Every business that wants to operate here?

Moreover, when will the city address infrastructure BEFORE approving more development, having developers pay instead of taxpayers?

Five years ago, this community rose up in outrage over unaddressed infrastructure issues like traffic and floods of tourists from an Adventure Park. People expressed concern and disgust that their quality of life was being degraded further by the decision of a few. Ironically, people who voted on Tuesday to approve this density increase in residential areas were the very ones who opposed business growth without sufficient infrastructure to properly handle it.  

Disturbingly, the conversations about more density took place behind the City’s safety of the Zoom Wall.  The public was held in Zoom jail in both the PC and Council meetings, certainly not an appropriate mechanism for open community visioning dialogue. I finally stopped attending the PC meetings due to the unprofessional behavior exhibited by both PC members and a councilwoman. Rather than the community strategizing together, considering multiple options, the city staff pitched only increasing density—again and again—to “educate" the dumb public. There was extremely minimal support from the public during PC meetings. The PC pushed their agenda anyway, because they felt they were the “experts" as to what the community wants for its future.

For six years I have worked tirelessly to champion community-expressed concerns about environment, infrastructure, and most of all, future impacts on quality of life. I have spent in excess of 1200 hours a year listening to community members, researching, writing, providing updates, and attempting to build partnerships with agencies, business leaders, councilmembers and staff.  The Friends of Leavenworth board has made a few positive impacts for quality of life, but only by climbing up very steep cliffs crafted by the City. I personally have had increasing concerns with the City leadership's direction, along with its hyper-dependency on “theory,” while ignoring real contextual facts. Leavenworth is NOT Seattle or Portland, which staff and PC keep pushing as models.  People do not live or move here to be in Cement City, packed in amongst towering residential homes that block views and sunlight. A below-average home price of $500-$700-million-dollar home—on a small lot—is NOT affordable to the average working person in town. Increasing density in the name of affordability benefits one main group: developers…who obviously build to make a living not to give buildings away.

Without leadership that proactively addresses the deep infrastructure problems—that will be exacerbated by up zoning—the City is on a dangerous one-way road leading to horrible quality-of-life degradation.  Tuesday evening, I reached my tipping point. I lost trust in current City leadership and staff to actually address infrastructure problems or to hear the rational voices of hundreds of community members.  It is futile to invest energy when leaders ignore facts to pursue fiction.  I thus submitted my resignation to the City Residential Advisory Committee and to my fine Friends of Leavenworth board colleagues as their chairman…Not out of protest or anger, but out of utter hopelessness and exhaustion. I feel bloodied by the City processes, as do many others. And committees wonder why there is no broad public involvement?

The only things that will stop the pernicious surge into residential neighborhoods are City leaders who build wide community censuses, base decisions on facts and real data, and hold staff accountable when they blow smoke.

Sewer, leavenworth, city council, Letter to the Editor

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