Week In Review: March 11, 2022 - with Derek Young

Week In Review: March 11, 2022 - with Derek Young

On today’s Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young. They reflect on the triumphs and tragedies of this legislative session including a transformative transportation package, the failure to pass the climate and missing middle housing bills, rollbacks in police accountability, and a victory for legislative workers. Then they dive into the mega-city proposed in south Pierce County and the challenges unincorporated areas face from missing out on the investments that cities make.

About the Guest

Derek Young

Derek Young is chair of the Pierce County Council.

Find Derek Young on Twitter/X at @DerekMYoung.


“WA Democrats agree on funding for $17B transportation package” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/wa-democrats-agree-on-funding-for-17b-transportation-package/

“Why Washington state's missing middle housing bill died” by Joshua McNichols from KOUW: https://www.kuow.org/stories/why-washington-state-s-missing-middle-housing-bill-died

“5 major things the Washington Legislature approved in 2022” by Melissa Santos from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/politics/2022/03/5-major-things-washington-legislature-approved-2022

“These clarifications to police accountability legislation will go into effect immediately” by Shauna Sowersby from The Olympian: https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article259078253.html

“Legislation Will Allow Police to Use Force to Stop People from Fleeing” by Paul Kiefer from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/08/legislation-will-allow-police-to-use-force-to-stop-people-from-fleeing/

“How pro-worker bills fared in Olympia” by David Groves from the Stand: https://www.thestand.org/2022/03/how-pro-worker-bills-fared-in-olympia/

“‘Mega City’ proposed for south Pierce County” by Tony Overman from The News Tribune: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article258930478.html

“Pierce County talks of investing in ‘dumping ground.’ Would forming a city there be better?” by Josephine Peterson from The News Tribune: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article258752158.html#storylink=mainstage_card7


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program today's co-host, Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young. Welcome.

[00:00:51] Derek Young: Thank you, Crystal. I've always, since I was a kid, wanted to be on almost-live and so I'm super thrilled to be here.

[00:00:59] Crystal Fincher: Well, we are almost-live each Friday, and well today is the morning after the end of the legislative session which concluded late last night. So just starting off with recognizing what happened late yesterday - the flurry of activity - what is most notable to you about this legislative session overall?

[00:01:20] Derek Young: So, I think two things. One, they've managed to pass what I consider a transformative transportation package - that's probably a play on words there that I didn't intend. And also, on the flip side, the failure to pass House Bill 1099, which was a bill basically telling local governments to deal with climate change in our comprehensive planning. There was obviously a lot of other good legislation that got passed, but those for me were the yin and the yang of the really, really great and the disappointments.

[00:02:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, so there in the transportation package, what made it so transformative?

[00:02:12] Derek Young: For me, it's two things. One is that it focused more on maintenance and restoration which is important, rather than building lots of new highways. I know there are advocates that will say that it still builds too many highway miles, but compared to previous packages, this is more tightly focused. But the bigger thing to me, and this is a critical issue, is that it invests in local transit for the first time in decades. And that's a big deal for communities like mine that have really struggled to rebuild our local transit networks. And I just couldn't be happier because it just hasn't happened in a long time. Part of that was because of, frankly, years of work by Representative Fey - who I'm super proud because he's from South Sound, so well done Jake. But also Marko Liias, who was new to the role in the Senate. So, grateful for their hard work.

[00:03:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, certainly. And Marko Liias, now the Senate Transportation Committee Chair after Steve Hobbs, the previous chair, was appointed to be Secretary of State after Kim Wyman left to serve in the federal government. So, I think you're absolutely right. A huge increase in the amount of funding for everyone who gets around in ways in addition to or aside from cars. A big increase, the biggest investment in that that we've seen so far. And in highway projects, I think there is broad agreement and understanding that maintenance is absolutely necessary and we're behind the ball on that and are moving, making progress.

There is some expansion, which in some ways is frustrating and just the urgency with which we need to move in the opposite direction is notable. But I'm hoping that with this understanding and concluding this expansion that we have in this package - moving forward, we focus much more on maintaining the road infrastructure that we have as opposed to expanding it. In there, you talked about local, transit investments. What kind of a difference will this make within local communities?

[00:04:45] Derek Young: So, this'll make sense to people on South Sound, but just to put a real bus wheels to the ground kind of thing - this will mean our four main trunk routes, literally Routes 1, 2, 3, and 4, we're clever that way. We literally named our top routes 1, 2, 3, and 4. And those will all now go to 15-minute headways. For folks in King County, that may sound like not such a big deal, but for those of us down here, that is a huge deal. And why it matters is that frequency is king when it comes to whether or not people choose to use transit or not. And so our major routes will now be able to move to that standard. The rest of our routes will not, so let's not get too carried away in terms of what this means, but that's a big step compared to - right now, we have one single route and that's Route 1 that is on 15-minute headways. And so that's a huge deal.

The other thing it does is invest in some capacity projects. So, for example, it puts $10 million towards our bus rapid transit project. We're slowly closing the remaining gap to finishing that and that'll be our first non-rail high-capacity transit route and that replaces Route 1 in Pierce County, most of Route 1. So, that will serve tens of thousands of people and it's also where we're planning lots and lots of high-density growth. So, this is going to be transit-oriented development for miles and miles in South Pierce County and I couldn't be happier.

[00:06:46] Crystal Fincher: Well, and you bring up growth - there were certainly a number of bills introduced to help effectively manage growth within the state and within our cities. One of those, the middle housing bill was not successful - we've talked about that before in this program - to better allow cities to absorb density within existing built areas and to help reduce the amount of sprawl. Another bill that was not successful, that you mentioned, HB 1099 failing - is really foundational in how we plan our communities. What was HB 1099 and what kind of difference would it have made?

[00:07:26] Derek Young: So the essence of the bill was basically that we add climate change as a required planning principle or planning element to our local comprehensive plans. For those that don't know about what comprehensive planning is about, this is all part of the Growth Management Act, and basically local governments have to plan for housing, transportation, infrastructure. And then from there, our schools plan from what they receive from those documents, same with fire departments, you name it. Everyone figures out how to build their local services based on that.

So, adding climate change to one of those documents makes it not only a requirement that we reduce our carbon footprint as a region as growth develops, but it also says that it's now a challengeable requirement. Basically that a third party could say, "You're not meeting your climate change goals. You're not planning for enough housing. You're not planning for enough transit. You're not planning for correct transportation, infrastructure, whatever." And that would make it basically incumbent on local governments to plan for denser, higher quality, more sustainable development. I thought we were there, to be honest with you. It was one of those things where everyone's saying, "Yes, I support this." And somehow it still didn't pass in the end.

[00:09:10] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it was a big challenge. And you talk about how important the Growth Management Act and the comprehensive planning process is. It really is the guide by which local communities build and grow, and provides the bounds within which people have to operate and setting those bounds is really important. And as decisions are made, to your point, if something falls outside of those bounds, it can be challenged and potentially stopped. It's the lens through which all of the local planning decisions are made. I think a lot of times people underestimate how foundational this is, and how much planning determines just about everything about how our communities grow and look and change - to how our just basic services are provided, water and sewer and all of that, how the road and transportation network develops, how schools and services are sited within communities. How your community looks is really shaped and dictated by this.

So, we're all facing the challenges of climate change. The effects we're already feeling and cities are faced with the responsibility for mitigating extreme heat, extreme cold, dealing with wildfire smoke, pollution and the effects of that, everything that we're dealing with. And so, to have this as a consideration in planning makes complete sense since this is a factor that we have to contend with. We know these cities are growing, cities have to plan for that growth. We have revenue projections, people have to plan within those revenue projections. We have climate change and people have to plan in consideration and in response to climate change.

And yeah, it did seem like we were here. It took a bit of a path coming out of the House. It did look like everyone was on board. Initially, when it came out, the word was it was weakened, led by Rep van de Wege to take out some of those references in climate change. Went over to the Senate, those were put back in. Gave people the feeling that there was a consensus and it could be done, went back to the House, indications were that it was going to pass. It seemed like there were the votes there to do it and it didn't. Very disappointing. And this is not something where you can kick the can down the road. What happens, I guess, what's the consequence of this happening this year, and for folks being like, "Well, it seems like we can get to this next year." Is that going to be helpful?

[00:12:03] Derek Young: Yeah. And this is the part - I wonder if legislators understand the consequences of this, because the largest counties in Washington are due to have our comprehensive plan updates - basically due by the end of 2023. We are starting our planning process right now, or excuse me, 2024, but we're starting that process now because the updates are a big deal. It takes a lot of work. These documents are hundreds of pages. And if we don't have that requirement in place before next year, it's not going to happen. So, for the bulk of the population of Washington, it will be another eight years before we have to respond to those requirements. Now, some of us are going to try to do it on our own - we're going to try to do the right thing, but it's a lot easier if we're all doing it as a collective effort.

And the example I'll give you is this - let's say you have a city that has decided to site tens of thousands of new jobs, but doesn't provide the housing for it. Well, all those people have to live somewhere, right? So they're going to move somewhere else. Well, that means they have to drive far out of their homes, back into the city, to get to their jobs. How many vehicle miles are we adding to our list? Transportation is our largest source of carbon emissions in Washington. How many hours does that take out of their lives, away from their communities, away from their families? And then on the other side of that as well is what are we doing to our local environment? The rubber on the road is literally our biggest source of pollution into Puget Sound. So, in terms of sustainability, there is nothing we could do more than to start planning with that climate model in mind.

I just think there's nothing that we could do more for future generations than to begin to plan with climate change in mind as a guiding principle because the worst thing that happens - let's say Derek is nuts, climate change isn't real, we're not causing it from carbon emissions, whatever. The worst thing that happens is that we improve public health, make Puget Sound cleaner, and we all save a lot of time to spend more time with our families and improve our quality of life. Okay, so that's good planning, right? So, even if we aren't worried about saving the world, we can at least make our lives a little bit better.

[00:15:06] Crystal Fincher: We certainly can. Big missed opportunity - to your point, especially with larger counties, the planning process has started. This involves every department, touches every element of local government, and is a thorough and comprehensive review from the bottom all the way to the top, which takes time and a lot of effort, a lot of employee time. This is not a short process where you're just editing an existing document and calling it a day, updating some dates. This is essentially a review and an evaluation of how every element of government operates and incorporating climate has an impact on how every element of government operates. And really being forced to contend with every decision that you make has an impact, positive or negative, on the climate. Having to take that into consideration and mitigate any negative consequences or avoid negative consequences is a big deal. Big missed opportunity.

There are several other things that happened. We'll be talking about them in shows to come, certainly. Melissa Santos wrote probably the first of many just recaps of what happened following the session last night. Some of the big headlines from the session - our ban on selling large capacity magazines for firearms, a big step forward in terms of gun safety and regulation that a lot of organizations have been lobbying for, for years. Certainly as we are facing increasing gun violence and the need to address that, this is viewed as a step in the right direction. There are people who are enthusiastically opposing it and saying it violates their Second Amendment rights, but I am certainly a person who, while not opposing firearm ownership, overall thinks that these kinds of regulations just make sense. And even if it doesn't solve every single one of the issues possible in this, reducing the amount and opportunity for gun violence is certainly a positive thing in my estimation.

There was a delay and a restructuring of Washington Cares, our long term care program. We've talked about that previously in the show, but they're looking at making some fixes to that, helping more people become eligible for that - some people who may have been left out. They said that they're exploring portability of the program for people who may leave the state, so certainly getting that in better condition.

There are some public safety measures that were changed. There were police accountability laws that were revisited. And so, last year the legislature approved new limits on police uses of force. There was vociferous, enthusiastic objections by many in the public safety community. Some of that was viewed to be not exactly relevant, but some was considered to be necessary and made in good faith and they said that they took steps to help clarify that. So, one bill helped to clarify that police are still allowed to use physical force to help transport people to mental health treatment, if they're in a mental health crisis. Another one allowed police to use physical force against people who tried to flee when they were stopped for questioning. And, again, the necessity of those changes was certainly up for debate, but the legislature decided to move forward with those. One that did not change was a bill that would have impacted how police are allowed to engage in chases. And so that law was not changed. Lots of advocates were heavily in favor of that and feeling that it didn't just revise or fix things, that it actually moved things backwards and expanded the situations where police could engage in police chases and basically lowered the threshold to engage in those situations.

Worker - staff collective bargaining bill passed. Started with - there was an original bill that died, another bill introduced that started with major issues, but changes were made to it that seemed to have addressed many of the changes that advocates felt were necessary and many wound up being in favor of that bill and considering that a success. Lots of stuff around there. Was there anything else in particular that you found notable this session?

[00:20:06] Derek Young: Yeah, I think it was important to clarify the use of force issue. And I use the term clarify intentionally because it turns out that when the legislature passed the reforms, there actually was no definition of force. So, what the legislature and what most people on the street would consider force, they're thinking violence, right? They're thinking, "I'm in a struggle with this person. I'm using some physical kind of act." Our local prosecutors and city attorneys interpreted that as anything that is literally touching and even going so far as the threat of restraint, ordering someone to stop.

That went too far because when you are beginning to try to understand a criminal scene, it is very rare that they have probable cause. Probable causes is basically, "I have evidence you've committed a crime." Usually you need a little time to sort something out. And I'm talking like I'm a law enforcement officer here, but that's the way things go. And so being able to detain someone and say, "Look, I need you to stay." And keep them from leaving the scene - that is an important thing. On the flip side, that doesn't mean that you should be using excessive force. And so, differentiating between those two, I think is really important. So, that to me was an important clarification. I get the impression that that's not - when the legislature passed the reforms that it did last year, I got the impression that that's not what they intended, and what we heard from them was, "We disagree, basically, on these interpretations." So it seemed to me that it was, "If this isn't your intention, please clarify it." And so they did. So, I thought that was critical.

Speaking as a former legislative staffer, I just want to say congratulations to them for finally gaining their rights and honestly never giving up. Because it was - how difficult must it be to demand your bosses, while they're in session, give you your rights while you're at your busiest, right? So, I was incredibly impressed by that. It's actually important for our democracy that we not have people that are paid poverty wages and treated unfairly doing the hard work that guides legislation. So, this is one of those things that most people in the public will never notice, but it turns out treating employees fairly and treating your staff fairly are good things. And so out of the things you mentioned, that was the one that I think will fly by most people and I just wanted to point it out as something that was a good, good thing. And I was happy to see them claw it back.

[00:23:46] Crystal Fincher: Very good thing. Very excited about it. We've talked about it on this program before. And to me, it was also an issue of, "Are Democrats living their values?" Lots of rhetoric about how important unions are to workers, how important workers' rights are. I sincerely believe that and it seems like if one does sincerely believe that, then they don't object to that when it comes to their own staff and their own circumstance. And saying, "Well, it's good for all those other workers, but not for mine." That's a really bad look. And it seemed like that was the message being conveyed when the legislation initially died, before it was brought back.

And, absolutely, kudos to those workers for taking collective action. They had a sickout. The legislature absolutely relies on those staffers. They are the ones doing the work and keeping everything running and nothing would progress or proceed without the very hard work of the staff there who are dedicated, who are making less money than they would be in many other circumstances - many of whom do want to contribute to our community and our democracy and to be in a position where they want the opportunity to have their grievances fairly addressed, especially in the context of previous grievances not necessarily being fairly addressed. This was something that they felt was necessary to keep people safe and healthy and protected in their work environment, and it did seem to be absolutely necessary. So, congratulations to Rep Riccelli, who is certainly a leader in getting this through and resurrecting it after it died, working to make the positive changes, listening to feedback to amend the bill and get it in the right place. So, very gratified to see that collective bargaining rights will be extended to legislative staffers. As we move forward - just talking about it, it's so great to have you on.

[00:26:01] Derek Young: Sorry. I was just going to call out one thing you mentioned just real quickly. It's not just the collective bargaining - that protection for the workers is so critical because how many times have we heard in the past where legislative employees have not been properly protected? That to me is one of the most critical aspects of this. Having basically a grievance process - that to me is super critical. So, it's overlooked as a part of this, everyone tends to think about salary and benefits, but having a process to protect those employees - that's huge.

[00:26:36] Crystal Fincher: Very huge. And I mean, we see examples throughout the state and a herd of examples with legislative staffers, where without a clear and effective grievance process, that mistreatment was allowed to flourish. And that people who were found to have treated their employees poorly or created a poor, unhealthy or toxic work environment are not meaningfully punished, dealt with, and employees were not meaningfully protected throughout the process. Many ended up in situations where there was high staff turnover, where there was no remedy, and so it basically forced employees out. Just really negative situations that now, hopefully, there will be a meaningful process to rectify those situations, keep employees protected, and help people who are spending a ton of time and effort and energy there to just be protected in all of those ways, and to have the opportunity to have a voice in their own work environment and in their own situation.

I did also want to talk about, and excited because you are the Pierce County Council Chair. And sometimes we are very King County focused here, but it is really important to understand what's happening throughout the state and in other counties. There's been lots of conversation in Pierce County and the Tacoma area, areas south, about how, especially unincorporated areas, are invested in. Looking at projections for growth, both jobs and population occurring in many of those unincorporated areas and conversations about, does it make sense to incorporate some of those areas into cities? How are investments going to be made to help prepare and absorb that growth? What is that situation currently in Pierce County?

[00:28:42] Derek Young: So, glad you asked because I will just start it by saying, we want these neighborhoods and communities to incorporate. It's actually something that we would encourage. It's actually unusual to have such a large, urban, unincorporated area. And it's certainly not what is intended by the Growth Management Act under the state. The Growth Management Act wants growth to happen in cities and not necessarily in counties. But for those of your listeners that are in King County, they may not be aware that if the urban unincorporated part of Pierce County south of Tacoma were to incorporate, it would be the second largest city in the entire state. It is a huge number of people, a couple 100,000, and we've been planning for a significant amount of growth that continue to happen there. It's already denser in most places than the city of Bellevue. So, these are large areas.

It also happened, I would say, rather haphazardly. There are historic decisions that were made, and this is the thing about local government and land use and transportation planning - the decisions you make today will echo for decades. And that's certainly the case in Pierce County. There were lots of mistakes where basically growth was just allowed to happen in a haphazard way. It looked, at one point, like we were going to pave our way to Mount Rainier, and that was not the best idea in the world. And if you look at how you lay out a transportation grid, get resources - water, sewer, so on, so forth - just not a great idea. But that's what happened and we have to deal with it now.

So, there is a fair amount of frustration as a result and the thing is that counties are not greatly equipped to handle that. We actually have very different tax structures than cities. We're only allowed to do certain things compared to cities. Just this one example, and this has been a constant frustration of mine, the multifamily tax exemption that basically encourages quality apartment building, so on, so forth, to get more housing - counties are prohibited from using that whereas cities have it. So, your community can look exactly like any other city, except the fact that you are living in an unincorporated area means that you're not eligible for that. Same is true of utility tax. We can't do business licensing the same way. We can't even require garbage collection. I'm not kidding. We can't -

[00:31:47] Crystal Fincher: I did not know that.

[00:31:48] Derek Young: Yeah, it's a weird, weird state rule. So, the point being that most of these areas belong in cities and whether or not they incorporate on their own - in each smaller community, most of them identify separately. There's a push by Representative Morgan to try to think about maybe incorporating one larger city and we're open to all ideas. There's been a few different efforts and they've each failed. Many years ago, there was a push to incorporate lots of cities. And so in the mid '90s, University Place, the city of Lakewood, Edgewood - they all incorporated at the same time. And since then, there's been a pretty big hole. We haven't seen any communities incorporate.

So, the other option is annexing to a city, and that's an even slower process because the existing city residents - they may not think the same way as the new residents. So, for example, in terms of city services, will it be a net benefit in terms of tax revenue or will it be a net drain on your existing revenue? So, that's something that they have to consider, but it's definitely something that we want to encourage, which sounds odd as the county - we want to be the local government. But counties are always going to be the regional government. If you look at King County, for example, nearly all the urban area is incorporated into a city. There are a couple pockets that are not. There are a couple areas that are on the fringe of the urban area, but for the most part, it's incorporated. And, by the way, City of Seattle - incorporate White Center, for God's sake. I mean, it's a little crazy that that hasn't happened yet. Or Burien. One of the two. Someone do it.

[00:33:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, yeah. It certainly makes sense. And to your point, county governments are usually viewed as the regional layer and are not the ideal body to handle just those day-to-day, on-the-ground things like cities do. Which creates the conversation like we're having in Parkway, Spanaway and Frederickson. Certainly in King County, talking about areas like Skyway and White Center being neglected, really feeling underinvested in because the typical investments that are made by cities and in the overwhelming amount of places in the county that are handled by cities, it just makes those kinds of issues fall to the back burner, oftentimes. Or just on the scale that the county operates, dedicating resources to one pocket or to areas that are very small in comparison to the county, but very meaningful to the people who are living there, is a tension that continues to exist.

So, I will definitely be following this carefully. In this package, it looks like there's $200,000 that Representative Morgan had dedicated to studying the feasibility of incorporating into a city for those areas. Whether or not the city solution is right, I do not know. Probably best for the people who are there to decide, and the feasibility study is probably going to be very helpful and useful for that, but there has to be a solution for how to manage these local areas that, to your point, are large areas, are dense and highly populated areas, are some of the most populated areas in the state, but are and have been historically underinvested. And now we're expecting them to absorb a lot of growth, which is not being absorbed into other incorporated areas and cities because we are enforcing that and we keep not moving forward on policies that would encourage that.

But if this is not managed effectively, then again, we fall into the trap of making housing more expensive, of siting jobs further and further away from where people live, making traffic worse, putting a strain and demand on our utilities and resources. Building housing where it doesn't currently exist is a very expensive thing for cities and communities to do - not just having to extend city infrastructure out there to serve it, but also to then have to maintain that for it's lifetime - is incredibly expensive and costs that are typically not captured anywhere within development. We're very bad at capturing those costs and really reflecting the true cost of building outside of areas that are already populated and that have housing, and that's what we're looking at and we better manage that better than we have before. The state may have not taken big steps in making that possible, but hopefully local communities will use the initiative to do that.

And with that, thank you so much for joining us today on March 11th - time is flying and now we're past the legislative session - March 11th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, helped out by Emma Mudd. Our wonderful co-host today is Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young. You can find Derek on Twitter and you should follow Derek on Twitter @DerekMYoung, D-E-R-E-K- M- Young. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, wherever else you get your podcast - I listen on the Overcast app - just type Hacks, I may not listen to Hacks & Wonks, but other podcasts. Anyway, just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave us a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time.