Olympia Time

History, politics, people of Oly WA

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Why did denser neighborhoods vote for the Regional Fire Authority?

Yesterday, the detailed precinct-by-precinct data for the recent April 25 election was released, and a certain trend became evident when I mapped out the results. This exercise serves as an essential reminder that even so-called “blowout” elections can have nuances that are crucial to comprehend if we aim to understand our community.

Here are the straightforward results by precinct (and the data I used):

What I see here is fairly straightforward. Downtown Olympia, the apartment complexes on the west and far east sides of Olympia, and likely Tumwater’s most densely populated neighborhoods along Tumwater Hill, all voted in favor of the Regional Fire Authority. On the other hand, the nearby westside and southeast Olympia led the vote against the RFA.

When comparing the approval rates for the public art election last April to the RFA this spring on a map of Olympia (excluding downtown), the same pattern emerges. The far eastside and westside apartment precincts were the only areas in town where the RFA received more votes than the public art proposition.

The turnout maps for the April 2023 vote present a somewhat mixed bag at first glance. On this map, I noticed the high-density neighborhoods that voted for the RFA are represented on both sides of the turnout scale. However, the less dense neighborhoods tend to appear on the higher turnout side.

The pattern becomes even more apparent when focusing solely on the Olympia precincts that took part in the art proposition. In the map below, precincts that turned out more for art last year are depicted in blue, while those that turned out more for fire are in red.

These maps reveal an interesting pattern. In general, precincts that turned out more in favor of the RFA (versus art) tended to vote more in favor of the RFA. This conclusion is supported by the chart below, which demonstrates this trend quite clearly:

Essentially, the precincts that voted against the RFA likely did so because of a general lack of turnout. In those precincts, people may have returned a ballot for the arts, but chose to hold onto their ballots for the fire vote. 

Additionally, I want to revisit the topic of how apartment dwellers voted, as it relates to the messaging of the “Save our Fire Departments” (or No on Prop 1) campaign. The opponents of the RFA highlighted the higher costs that apartment dwellers would pay under the proposed formula to finance the RFA. However, this argument seems to have fallen on deaf ears, possibly due to where the No campaign focused its outreach. It’s worth noting that this argument didn’t resonate with its intended audience, as evidenced by the approval and turnout maps.
Okay, but really, why?
I’ve seen general observations that apartment dwellers fear fire more than people who live in single family homes. And that makes inherent sense, I suppose. But I haven’t found any polling or research that backs this assumption up.

How our history of downzoning is an argument against “local control” in the legislature and has huge impacts on racial discrimination in housing


Eastside Olympia in the midst of large downzone.

As the legislature discusses zoning reform that would allow for modest density increases in exclusionary singe family neighborhoods, it is important to focus on the history of so-called “local control.”

The ability for local governments to determine their own zoning fate has become the primary argument against statewide zoning reform. But the history of neighborhood and city-scale decision-making (aka “local control) puts a sharp focus on housing discrimination and how we’ve excluded people from our communities.

When we discuss racist housing discrimination in the Northwest, we talk about racially restrictive covenants that flourished through the 50s and redlining during the 30s. We skip past the successful whisper campaign that sunk Seattle’s first attempt at an open housing ordinance in the mid-1960s, and head straight towards the Fair Housing Act and the state and local versions of the same law.

After that, our history tells us, housing discrimination has been against the law, and we’ve been slowly bending towards justice. Leftovers like exclusionary single family zoning are artifacts of time before the 1960s civil rights campaigns and are the high hanging fruit after years of struggle.

But when I think about housing discrimination in the Pacific Northwest, I usually start with the 1970s. That is when you see the term “downzone” show up in our regional press. Before that time, there was no single word for taking a neighborhood that was zoned for a mix of densities and only allowing single family zoning.

In response to the outlawing of outright housing discrimination, local governments turned to tools like downzoning to restrict growth and prevent the continued construction of housing that would be affordable across incomes. Exclusive single-family zoning began replacing higher density zoning across the region.

This era of downzoning after the Fair Housing Act begs for more historic understanding. As a community historian, I am most familiar with downzoning efforts in Olympia from the late 1970s to the 1990s. But in a cursory look at other western Washington communities, you can see the same pattern. I can trace stories of Individual neighborhoods starting in the 1970s lobbying for downzones from high density to middle density and any middle density options being chased out of neighborhoods in exchange for single family zoning.

I have done a fairly deep dive into the Olympia history of downzoning, which I’ve written about here. But with the debate over local control in the legislature, there is a need for a deeper understanding of how our communities reacted to the passing of strict housing discrimination laws and why so many decided to push to decrease densities.

There is a classic example on Queen Anne Hill where neighbors fought to downzone in the early 70s. Throughout the 1950s, the City of Seattle planned higher and higher densities in neighborhoods around downtown, including Queen Anne Hill. Just months after Seattle’s open housing ordinance went into effect, Queen Ann neighbors were at city hall, fighting for fewer neighbors to come to their streets.

In Olympia, the downzoning battle began on the Eastside in what is now one of the most exclusive single family neighborhoods. A developer proposed a series of fourplexes, but ended up igniting years of struggle, which resulted in a citywide reassessment of high and middle density housing. A few years later, neighbors of another inner, Eastside neighborhood, fought to further downzone their part of town to “stabilize” the neighborhood.

You can see similar examples across the country of communities picking up downzoning as a tool to implicitly preserve racial divisions when other methods became illegal. Arlington, MA (a Boston suburb) wrote its own history of downzoning, pointing out that before the 1960s, they zoned for plenty of apartments. But, according to a city-written FAQ: “…as segregation in greater Boston was challenged and integration became a real prospect across the region, Arlington’s attitude toward development shifted. Concerted opposition to development projects began in the 1960s and became more organized in the early 1970s. Activists used both explicit and coded anti-integration language to rally opposition to apartment development and the related effort to downzone portions of the town.”

Unlike earlier efforts in the Pacific Northwest, other than coded references to “ghettos,” our downzoning efforts are largely absent of on the surface racial animus. I’m not saying that these neighborhood activists weren’t trying to keep their neighborhoods white. In fact, I think you can draw a pretty clear conclusion to what many of them were up to. I’m just saying there isn’t anything clear in the historical record.

What I am saying is that you don’t have to look very far to see downzoning in the Pacific Northwest tied directly to the broader civil rights struggle. When you pull back out from these small-scale, downzoning efforts to a nationwide view, you see single family zoning being discussed in a much different way. When Pacific Northwest communities were downzoning, the NAACP was struggling to find inroads in the courtrooms to fight against exclusionary single family zoning.

HUD Secretary George Romney (and former Michigan governor) went to Warren, Michigan in 1970 to attempt to force the Detroit suburb to strike single family zoning and allow smaller, more affordable (and therefore affordable to racial minorities). His effort failed, his political career ended, and the civil rights organizations retrenched and fought unheralded courtroom battles over single family zoning in the Midwest, the South and the East Coast.

According to the NAACP, in the early 70s: the suburbs are “the new civil rights battleground” and we should do battle out in the townships and villages to lower zoning barriers and thereby create opportunities for Negroes seeking housing closer to today’s jobs at prices they can afford and pay.”

National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing (also in the early 1970s): segregation won’t stop until “local governments have been deprived of the power… to manipulate zoning and other controls to screen out families on the basis of income and, implicitly, of race.”

What we can say for sure, that our decreasing densities through downzones had very real impacts on the racial makeup of our neighborhoods.

In Seattle, the end result of five decades of downzoning is white-majority neighborhoods expanding across the city. One collection of blocks in the Leschi neighborhood went from over 90 percent black in the 1970s to 11 percent black today. The black population of King County was pushed south and out of Seattle as the white residents in downzoned neighborhoods looked for housing further and further south.

In Olympia (that never had a substantial racially diverse neighborhood like Seattle) neighborhoods that downzoned saw a smaller increase in racial diversity over the last 10 years. Not only did these neighborhoods stay whiter, in the middle of a historic housing crisis, these neighborhoods actually had fewer people living in them in 2020 than they did in 2010.

There are few open racists left. That is obviously an advancement in my lifetime.

You don’t have to be racist to benefit from racist outcomes and a racist system. There is a huge layer of people who will tell you they are not racist but participate in racist systems before you get to people working to dismantle racist systems.

We know the current landscape of dominant, exclusionary single family zoning in our region happened at the same time the last tools to legally and openly discriminate in housing were taken away. We also know the nation’s leading civil rights organization has actively worked against exclusionary single family zoning.

Our history is not at all unique, but we should keep in mind as the legislature takes another attempt at creating a minimum zoning standard for Washington State. Local control is the tool that low density neighborhoods used for five decades to sustain racially discriminatory impacts of city-scale zoning.

Why we don’t see the news

Say you live in a neighborhood with older, educated people. The kind of people who make up the majority of print newspaper subscribers. Would you be afraid if you saw the newspaper deliveryman in the early morning? Would you recognize him?

During the same period of time we have seen the evaporation of local news, and along with it the actual printing and delivery of newspapers, we have also seen the increase of fear of another kind of traveler through our neighborhoods. Porch pirates follow delivery drivers from Amazon and other online platforms (but let’s be honest, it really is just Amazon). They quickly rush our porches, snatching up packages before we have a chance to retrieve them.

The phenomenon of online deliveries are a normal staple in our lives. There is an entire market of doorbell cameras and other accessories to protect or hide your deliveries. Videos from doorbell cameras are a consistent part of our media diet.

Online deliveries seem to have come out of the chaos of the early days of the pandemic, when we wondered out loud in mid-March 2020 if the police would use checkpoints to stop us from going to work.

Every option we had for going out into public suddenly had a separate option for no-touch delivery associated to it. Obviously, if you could afford it. All at once, between March and June 2020, blue trucks cruising our neighborhoods became normal. Along with the fear that those packages would be snatched off of our doorsteps before we were able to retrieve them. The package thief became the pilot fish of the basking shark of our home delivery economy.

Paired with the threat of catalytic converter thieves (the stronger, more violent, metallic cousins of porch pirates, crawling underneath cars, quickly cutting the valuable underbelly before skittering off into the night) we became newly aware of what was happening just outside our houses.

There became a sort of standard format to a post on Nextdoor.com or your neighborhood Facebook group. A homeowner would take a quick picture of someone walking through the neighborhood, wondering who this hooded person was. And if no one knew, and no one would ever seem to know who the blurry hooded person walking away from the photographer was, it was evidence that only increased suspicious was needed.

This is the context where anyone could mistake a newspaper delivery for a crime being committed.

When there were more newspapers being delivered, maybe a newspaper on the porch of near every house, the action of delivering newspapers was more recognizable. Subscribers decline, the newspaper owners cut days off printing, news coverage becomes patchy, you don’t recognize what you’re seeing at 2 a.m.

As news has declined, the news was still being delivered to some of our homes. It seems to make sense that this was more often in older and wealthier neighborhoods, where people still had a habit of paying to have the daily news printed out on paper and delivered in person.

After afternoon papers died decades ago, printing consolidated into fewer and fewer printing presses, paper delivery workers shifted from our own neighbors (thinking about the newspaper delivery boy, shakily steering their bike with a heavy sack of papers, tossing each one while also trying to stay upright) to wageworkers.

They are in their own cars, packed with maybe three or five different editions. Papers even stopped employing their own routes and used subcontractors employed by several companies. Printing presses used to be running four hours a day, printing out one or two editions for one newspaper’s flag. Now newspapers consolidate printing. They use a regional facility around the clock, printing several newspapers at different times of day, changing delivery to a professional, regional task.

Even paper companies are moving away from newsprint production to make cardboard boxes. Our porches see more boxes than newsprint.

And, newspaper delivery workers don’t work the dawn hours anymore, delivering as the sun was coming up. They work earlier in the dark night. Consolidation and longer routes, forced them to stretch out their days.

This was the nature of the world where Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer decided to leave his home after midnight in January to trail after a car visiting his neighborhood.

We like to talk about how newspapers are an important corner of our democracy and that in a lot of ways, they represent our civic life, our republic. Said President Thomas Jefferson: “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Sedrick Altheimer was delivering the guardian of the republic when the Pierce County Sheriff confronted him in fear that he was a thief. Altheimer tried to explain more than once that he was just delivering newspapers when Troyer told a publically-employed 911 operator that Altheimer had threatened his life, brought down the entirety of Pierce County law enforcement onto the situation. And then, Troyer apparently changed his story.

For me, it was the height of irony that Troyer spent decades professionally speaking to the press that filled the pages that were once so much more commonly landing on the doorsteps of his neighbors. He was the spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, and other than maybe the Sheriff himself, was the most well-known sheriff employee in Pierce County. But let’s be honest, he was the most well known sheriff employee because he was in the news.

And, this is the irony. When it came time to talk about the night with Altheimer, Troyer would eschew the local newspaper and public radio station and go instead to Seattle-based opinion radio to get his side of the story told. He didn’t need to go to the mainstream news anymore, because opinion-based content is beating it to our eyeballs.

We know what grabs our attention. In fact, we know what makes us read and what advertisers are able to leverage to get us to watch their ads. We know because that is where the smart money is.

The same thing that has happened to newspaper delivery workers has also happened to the news itself. Almost everything we read or see online is built to grab our attention. Alphabet and Meta have built ad networks that have nearly totally destroyed newspapers and other locally based news content producers because they were able to weaponize our attentions towards emotionally engaging content.

So, when what we see is actually sober, well researched, locally produced news, we see it as some other kind of partisan content. We don’t agree with it, so it cannot possibly be true. It drives us back into our more firmly held beliefs.

This isn’t an exact explanation about how this sort of belief reinforcement works. There is actually a way to get people, even hardened partisans, to read and take in what they don’t necessarily believe, but it is hard. But, the bad way happens more often.

It was smarter for Troyer to go to the media platforms that were sharpened on this post-newspaper attention economy. He could easily tell his truth with little challenge, and his fans would be there for him in large numbers because they were conditioned to go to those platforms to see the “real truth” that was finally not being hidden from them anymore.

Emotion-manipulating media platforms sew distrust in the establishment media because sewing distrust is an effective tool to keep their own fans from hearing counter-messaging and from looking under their own hoods and their own logical paths. And, while Tucker Carlson is normally talking about the New York Times or the Washington Post, the same strategy also taints the Seattle Times and the Tacoma News Tribune because (surprise) people don’t get nuance. But it is sometimes Jason Rantz talking about the woke reporters at King 5.

The economy of the local news means there is less and less money coming in, which means fewer reporters, a lower quality and quantify product being pushed onto digital platforms, and fewer subscriptions being taken for a print product.

So, when what we see is a newspaper delivery worker, we don’t know who the person is and the top cop sees a middle-of-the-night porch pirate.

And, what we see is responsible journalism, we mistake it for partisan, attention content, but just from the other side of the battle we all seem to be engaged in, because what is what we are prone to see anymore.

Three ways to think about pedestrian deaths in Thurston County between 2006 and 2020

Somewhere back in the peak of the pandemic, there was a popular Facebook post here in Olympia that I thought was interesting. The post pointed at the signs distributed by Intercity Transit asking people to slow down. The social poster asked why we didn’t have signs asking for people to stop committing other crimes.

The idea was that anti-social behavior, visible homelessness and property crime were much bigger issues in Olympia than speeding and injuries to pedestrians because of speeding. Since then, I’ve been poking around for a way to compare like-for-like, to be able to compare the two sides of the argument, or just to get an idea of the scope of traffic related deaths in Thurston County.

So, I have been playing around with pedestrian death data from the federal Department of Transportation and come up with a few broad conclusions:

  • How being killed by a driver compares to any other homicidal death
  • When you’re more likely to be killed by a car and 
  • (most interesting to me) where you’re more likely to be killed by a car

A note on the data itself: most of this comes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting data from the USDOT. Other data I cobbled together from TRPC, the Thurston County Coroner’s Office and WASPC. It is also worth noting that the FAR data I used only goes through 2020, but 2021 and 2022 saw record pedestrian deaths.

1. Pedestrian deaths and murders are in the same neighborhood

To get to the main premise of the now-lost social post itself, that we should pay closer attention to other crimes and not just pedestrians being killed by cars, I suppose the data carries that point. But when you consider the vast majority of murders (over 90 percent in 2017 for example) were committed by non-strangers, that puts deaths by pedestrians in traffic in another context.

When you kill someone with your car, there are a lot of reasons outside the generalized behavior of drivers and pedestrians. These include bad road design, lack of marked crosswalks, left turns and large, multilane roads.
Bad road design, lack of crosswalks and our dependence on so-called stroads seems to make pedestrian deaths a much bigger part of local government. Obviously, each homicidal (or man-slaughter or non-natural) death is one of importance for public policy. But, I think my reaction to the main premise of the now-lost social media post is that it is at best a wash.

2. September is the deadliest month

What is surprising here is that the winter months are lower altogether than summer months overall. You would imagine that more light would lead to fewer deaths. But, according to research on the temporal nature of pedestrian deaths, there are more car trips in the summer, which lead to more deaths.

3. Downtown Olympia, Old Lacey and Grand Mound

The most interesting part of the traffic data is that you can easily geocode it. Here is a map of all pedestrian deaths in Thurston County.


What you can see are a few clusters of activity:
Old Lacey/East Olympia:
To summarize, Lilly Road north of Martin, Martin Road east of Lilly are both hotspots within the hotspot. But given the reasons for pedestrian deaths cited above, this area seems to be rate fairly high. But it is worth noting that there were more deaths here than in other places with the same characteristics, such as Yelm Highway or Hawks Prairie.
Downtown Olympia:

What is surprising here is that there aren’t more deaths in downtown Olympia. State, Capital Way, Legion and Plum are all different sorts of thoroughfares. But, in terms of pedestrian density and the amount of traffic going through downtown, it could be easily assumed that there would be more here. Possibly, though, the infrastructure here is kinder to pedestrians, making it much more likely that drivers will be cued to notice them or drive slow enough to not kill them in the case of an accident.

Grand Mound:
This was a surprise hot-spot to me. But, I am always surprised by Grand Mound, to be honest. There is a lot going on down there. It was years ago when I noticed that the census tracts that made up Grand Mound had the same population as Tumwater proper (not including the UGA). The kind of rural/not rural development here probably is dense enough to encourage some walking. But also, is low density enough not to encourage slow driving that would prevent pedestrian deaths.

Why I wasn’t born in the City of Lacey

I was raised in what had been, for like a couple of months, the City of Lacey. 

And, by order of the Supreme Court of Washington, is inside the City of Olympia.

My childhood neighborhood, generally Wilson Street between 22nd and 18th, was part of a push and pull between Lacey and Olympia for a few months in the mid-1960s.

Since the end of World War II and the construction of car-centric neighborhoods, Olympia began pushing out from its original 1890 borders. The city had annexed the area around the State/Pacific split in 1930, but paused until after the war to start grabbing small blocks here and there. But, by the 1960s, the unincorporated neighborhoods that had been built further east (collectively “Lacey”) began getting nervous and planning for their own city.

And, what should constitute the future Lacey was pretty broad. In the early days of the planning for the city of Lacey, as early as 1963, the western border of the proposed City of Lacey was Boulevard Road itself, a full 3 miles away from the city’s current boundary.

It was in 1964 when the Olympia City Commission pushed east, annexing along Martin and Pacific Avenue, ending as far as Lilly Road on Martin Way. That effort started the official border war between Lacey and Olympia.

Pro-City residents in Lacey pushed for a vote in August 1964 to incorporate. That vote failed 505 to 857.

The part of Olympia that began Lacey

That same year, the residents of the Boulevard Road area also voted to reject annexation to the City of Olympia.

In 1966, when Lacey was on its way to successfully incorporating, the original fire station on Boulevard Road was actually a Lacey Fire District 3 station. So, it made sense that the “Olympia fringe area” was included in the new city.

When Lacey finally successfully incorporated in November 1966, Olympia quickly struck back. In December, the residents in the western portion of Lacey, stretching from near North Thurston High School down to the south end of Boulevard Road, submitted a petition for incorporation into Olympia.

Now, this is where it gets weird. The city commission received the petition in a closed-door meeting. Using what was later described by Lacey’s lawyers as an archaic law, the city commission scheduled an election that would allow not just the residents of the proposed annexation area to vote, but also the residents of the entire city. So, if the voters of the City of Olympia authorized the annexation of neighborhoods in another city, they were allowed to do so.

Lacey went ahead and scheduled a special election a few weeks later in February 1967 which would have allowed the area to de-annex from Lacey and return to the county. But, when Olympia voters passed their proposal for annexation in January, Lacey dropped their vote and sued to have the results of Olympia’s vote invalidated.

Ad that makes an excellent point about annexation rural areas.

The crux of the lawsuit apparently wasn’t where I grew up, but rather the north end of the annexation area along Martin Way.

The City of Lacey’s case was:
  • The two portions of the annexation area were not contiguous
  • The City of Olympia stacked the deck by not providing enough public notice
The courts, though, disagreed. It was true, the annexation law the City of Olympia was using hadn’t been touched since 1890, and it was still a law. And, they also disagreed on the definition of contiguous. Either way, they left Lacey packing and let stand the massive annexation, and Olympia stretched all the way to College Street.
The state legislature would also step up in 1969 and reform the 70+ year old annexation law that Olympia used to gobble up my family homestead and surrounding property. The new law would lengthen deadlines, to allow for better public notice, and actually make it easier for two small cities to join together.
Which is funny because, already occurring in 1969 was the most interesting part of this entire annexation drama.
In 1969, the cities of Olympia and Lacey would vote to consolidate. 
Before we get too far, the vote failed in both cities. But that there was even a vote exposes just how frail the existence of Lacey was in those early years. The measure was close all over Olympia, failing in 11 of 19 precincts and by fewer than 30 votes overall. 
Even though it failed by a 3 to 1 margin in Lacey, two precincts representing Panorama City voted in favor. So if those areas west of Chambers Lake and south of Pacific Avenue had their choice, Olympia’s annexations of 1964 and 1967 would have gone even further east more uniformly.

How an incumbent sheriff loses

Sheriffs have incumbency power. A lot of elected officials do, but with the acquittal of Sheriff Ed Troyer in Pierce County last week, it is worth looking into how sheriffs stick around and how some of them lose.

Troyer survived the court case (which would not have kicked him out of office), and will also not likely be subject to a recall effort. Recall elections are expensive and have a hard time getting off the ground. The Pierce County Council, which has officially shown its displeasure with Troyer, cannot fire the Sheriff. So, the next opportunity would be in a couple of years when Troyer heads back to the ballot.

For at least one answer about incumbent sheriffs, I want to go back to two Thurston County Sheriff campaigns, one from the mid-1980s and one from just a few weeks ago.

The call is coming from inside the house

Gary Edwards, 1986

Gary Edwards (who is now a county commissioner) had worked for the Thurston County Sheriffs Department for less than a decade, working his way up to detective by the mid-1980s. The then 39-year-old represented a new generation of law enforcement when he decided to challenge the sitting Sheriff, Dan Montgomery.

Montgomery apparently entered the race a weak leader, as one of the early articles on the race included five declared candidates, all from law enforcement backgrounds and two from other local agencies.

Interestingly, as a fairly high profile sheriff employee, Edwards would normally make the paper a handful of times from the late 70s to the early 80s. But, there were no mentions for a full calendar year until he filed to run in February 1986. Was Montgomery working to silence a potential opponent? Later in the campaign, Montgomery would deny Edwards leave to allow him to campaign, which ended up causing the sitting sheriff more PR headaches than it was worth.

When the sheriff’s deputy association took a confidence vote on Montgomery that year, he received a majority by just a whisper, 51 to 49.

From the Olympian:

Some deputies were upset at Montgomery, saying he maintains an aloof posture in the department and isolates himself from the rank and file members. Morale was described as being low.

Edwards would end up beating Montgomery in the Republican side of the then not-Top Two primary and then dispatching a Democrat in the November general. He would serve until 2006 when he was replaced by Dan Kimball (who he endorsed) and then John Snaza (who Kimball had endorsed). 

Now come Deputy (and now Sheriff-Elect) Derek Sanders in 2022, who was more than ten years younger than Edwards when he entered the race for sheriff. He represents a similar kind of inside the house phenomena. He was endorsed by two former top administrators that served under incumbent John Snaza.

Look at this Edwards ’86 endorsement from then Deputy Paul Ingram:

“(Montgomery) has been one of the best sheriffs we’ve had. But the last two years, he hasn’t taken advice from anyone. He has lost two key administrators because of that. He’s taken by the power of the office.” 

And this endorsement for Sanders in 2022 from former Thurston Sheriff Chief Dave Pearsall:

“In the beginning (Snaza) had good ideas, intent, and vision. Unfortunately, it no longer appears this is the case. The Sheriff has lost any forward-thinking and vision as of late, which is likely why his Deputies considered a ‘vote of no confidence’ against him.”

This hand-off endorsement framing is interesting for people inside the institution to do, apparently. The sheriff’s office in any given county in Washington is huge, institutionally speaking. Criminal justice spending makes up a big part of the county budget. And the sheriff’s office is a big part of that piece of the pie, and is arguably the most public. So, people “inside the house” can protect the institution itself by saying “he used to be good, but now he’s bad, and I want this next person who is also one of us.” 

The call is coming from outside (but also inside) the house

That being said, it is also important for the rebels inside the house to connect with the mainstream of politics in the community. And, for a non-incumbent campaigner, this is not a small accomplishment. Because the sheriff sits at the top of such a huge public institution, it isn’t that easy for other elected officials to stand up and endorse a challenger.

In 1986, Edwards was able to round up institutional support across the county, including two mayors of Olympia. Sanders was able to match that this year, rounding up dozens of mayors, city council members and former and current state legislators from around the county. 

When Edwards faced an inside the house challenge in 2002 from Deputy Glen Quantz, he diffused the institutional support from lining up with the support that the deputy had gotten from the rank and file. The key was Quantz’s personal life (a bankruptcy and juvenile larceny conviction). Then Attorney General Chris Gregoire pulled her endorsement after Quantz’ past came out.

Edwards would end up not running again in 2006, heading off any potential inside challenge that was able to unify the rank and file with the political mainstream of the county.

Why this is an important discussion

For Troyer, his opponents in 2020 seemed to have reached the level of “inside the house” challenges. Even though he wasn’t an incumbent in 2020, his profile as the department’s communications director gave him a profile that was much higher than any other non-incumbent. The deputy union endorsed an unsuccessful primary candidate and Troyer’s official general challenger (who was also a sheriff’s office lieutenant). But, where they felt short, it seems, was uniting an inside challenge with the mainstream of Pierce County politics. 

Lt. Cynthia Fajardo raised more than twice what Troyer raised, but the vast majority of her funds were donations from herself. Running a self-financed campaign doesn’t signal trying to reach out and gain endorsements from a broad vein of the mainstream institutional politics in Pierce County. It was Troyer that received the endorsements from the 30th District Democrats and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Michael Zoorob explored the sticking power of incumbent sheriffs, pointing out that they are able to hold off challenges the vast majority of the time. They even have longer tenure than appointed police chiefs, and self admittedly, are more secure in their jobs from political fall-out. 

Specifically zooming into Pierce County, there seem to be some institutional advantages for Troyer coming into 2024 according to Zoorob:

1. Incumbent sheriffs tend to do well in the crowded attention years of Presidential elections. In fact,  sheriff elections on Presidential cycles are the most likely to be uncontested (compared to most contested in odd-year elections). When incumbent sheriffs are challenged during Presidential years though, according to Zoorob, the incumbent advantage disappears. It is basically the same as during any other kind of cycle.

2. The sheriff position in Pierce County is non-partisan, which also favors a sheriff with good name identification. The theory is the partisan marker is valuable information for the voter, and without that, they will lean on what they do know which may end up being the candidate they’ve even heard of.

A deeper look into Sheriff Sanders’ Thurston County

In my original post about the results from the 2022 general election, I vaguely pointed to results comparing how well successful candidates Sheriff Sanders and Senator Murray did against each other. Basically, both won by doing well in the dense, urban part of Thurston County. But, when you take their precinct results and compare them, you see Sanders lagging behind Murray in those dense neighborhoods and holding on tighter in the rural areas.

Here is the map (with legend!) that compares Murray (doing better in red) vs. Sanders (better in blue).

Because Murray did better overall in Thurston County, (58 to 55 percent) it is interesting to look at the places that Sanders not only won overall, but beat Murray. Here is the map with those precincts outlined in red.

The smallest pockets are places like Kinwood East (on the edge of Lacey) and Simmons 3 (on the edge of Tumwater):

Kinwood West
Simmons 3

Both of these are annexation candidates that have very few votes (about 90 in Kinwood West and fewer than 20 in Simmons 3). So, dense precincts that, if mixed with a larger city district, would likely have voted for a Democratic Senator.
The next collection are Lacey 28 and Lakeside. Both of these are (aptly described) are lake shore precincts. 
Lacey 28

What is at play here? Higher property values? The general lake shore politics that gives someone a unique perspective on county government? 

Lacey 28 is also the only incorporated precinct that falls into this collection, other than the entire city of Tenino, which is the third collection of precincts in this map. Why Tenino didn’t go vote for Murray makes sense, but why it voted for Sanders is worth discussing.
The last collection are the larger precincts around the edge of the urban growth area. I might have added Johnson Point (off the map) into the lake shore collection, but I’ll put it here with places like Delphi, Sunwood Lakes and Eaton Creek North.

These mostly wooded or rural precincts are pock marked with surban-esque neighborhoods carved out of the woods. But at least one looks like it could be plopped down directly into Hawks Prairie or Southeast Olympia:

Riverwood neighborhood off of Rich Road.

So my guess? These neighborhoods are far enough out of town that their politics would at least be marginally conservative. Or, at least conservative enough for Tiffany Smiley to edge out a win over Murray. All of these precincts were 45/55 precincts for Murray. But, they are also all neighborhoods that depend on the Sheriff’s office for police services. And, if they are generally unhappy with the service they receive (because of response times, they are likely to vote for the challenger over the incumbent. 

Some maps to help you understand the November 2022 General Election in Thurston County

1. Sanders won the Sheriff’s race leaning on urban voters, but…

Here are Sanders’ results in raw numbers. Blue he did better, and red worse. This is the prototypical Thurston County partisan map. Democratic candidates tend to do better and run up the score in the urban areas, and try to tamp down their losses in the rural precincts.
This is the map of taking Sanders’ percentages and taking away partisan ballot headliner Senator Patty Murray. What this map shows is though Sanders used the core of Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey to beat Snaza, he underperformed the top-of-the ticket Democrat to do it. Importantly to his win, he outpaced her in the rural areas.

Most importantly (and I think key to his win), there is a band of precincts close to the urban growth boundary where not only did he win the majority of the votes, but he outpaced Senator Murray.

2. The proposals to expand the county and port commissions passed, but exposed differences in opinion between the two bodies. 

First, the results from the county proposition:

And then the thinner, but also successful map, for the port. Same pattern, same broad victory. Just, thinner.

Both of the maps show the same general pattern we usually see, urban Thurston County voting one way, and then the further out of town you get, people vote another. What I was always curious about in this race is where the county did better than the port and vice versa.

In the map above, green areas saw more Port support vs. the County. But because the port was underwater vs. the county in all but half a dozen precincts, most of the green precincts are places where the county actually pulled more votes. I just did it this way to show variation. Doing it plus/minus 50 percent for each just showed a lot of pro-county areas. 

It is an open question whether these results are more about the county’s reputation or the ports. But it is worth pointing out the cluster of green precincts (pro-port or anti-county) around Hawks Prairie and the Yelm area.

What a map of taxes-by-acre in Thurston County teaches us about downtown Olympia

This is a map of election results in Thurston County. It shows a fairly typical result by precinct. More liberal candidates (in this case Joel Hanson in last year’s port race) doing well in the urban core and more conservative candidates (Amy Evans) doing well in rural areas.

This is a map of property taxes by acre on the parcel level in Thurston County:

Generally speaking, these are the same patterns. The same places that tend to vote for more conservative candidates also pay less property taxes per acre. This isn’t exactly a new concept. Strong Towns, for example, pays a lot of attention to this concept of density paying off for local government finances. Their analysis goes even further and connects a simple tax by acre analysis (which I am doing) and brings in the cost of supplying services to low density rural and suburban areas, which is higher than urban, high density neighborhoods.

Here are a few closer looks, to see how the basic property tax by acre phenomena works.

Here is downtown Olympia:

Not only are the vast majority of the parcels blue (relatively high value), there are a lot of dark blue lots (the highest value category). The red areas in downtown Olympia are un-taxed public places like the Port of Olympia, the Capitol Campus and other government owned parcels. They aren’t a good counter-example against the phenomena we’re exploring here, they are just an illustration of the financial impact of being a state capitol.

Zooming out to Olympia overall now:

Lots of lighter blue, and most of the deeper blue is either newer developments or nodes of density around lower density, single-family neighborhoods. 

Now Lacey:

The thing that stands out here to me is the older core of Lacey is mostly lighter blue. 

Now the big map for me, the Rochester/Grand Mound area:

Even though this portion of Thurston County contains a large swath of suburban development on the way to Lewis County, most of the parcels are fairly low value by acre. According to the analyses I linked to above, these areas are more expensive to maintain, but produce less property taxes.
We’re familiar with this concept on a macro scale (donor states and counties), but it is interesting to see how this phenomenon exists on even the micro-neighborhood level. 
And how does this take us back downtown? This is just another example of how the multifamily tax exception is not that bad of an idea, policywise. A little while back, I did a back of the napkin analysis of how in a very short amount of time, the multifamily tax exemption would start paying dividends financially. The logic is that once the exemption is over, the increased value of the taxed parcel would be vastly more than the previously undeveloped version. By my figuring, it would only take seven years for the improved parcel to pay off the money lost in the exemption. And in the long run, it would a massive financial benefit. Allowing the parcel to stay a parking lot would be the actual drain.
What the tax-by-acre parcel map shows is that the talking point of “existing taxpayer subsidizing downtown high-rises” is a falsehood. On any scale, less dense neighborhoods are “paid for” by denser, more productive ones. The majority of existing Olympians (especially the ones that show up to city council to complain about density) live in unproductive single-family neighborhoods. The subsidy goes the other way around. 

In response to “In Defense of Priest Point Park”

In the debate over renaming Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park, David Nicandri has written “In Defense of Priest Point Park.” I’m glad David’s thoughts were finally posted. I had heard through the grapevine that he had come to a position counter to honoring the wishes of the Squaxin Island Tribe. His long-time work in local and statewide history makes his opinion worth weighing. 
That said, I want to offer some counterweight to his post. 
In the blog post below, I rely on David’s own “Olympia’s Forgotten Pioneers,” a history of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in Olympia.
First off, setting the stage for the arrival of the Oblate Father Pascal Ricard in Olympia, Nicandri leaves out important context. First, he says coming to North America from France was against Ricard’s wishes. This is true, but because he was in ill health. The OMI was primarily a missionary order, so being sent overseas was not something a member of the OMI order wouldn’t expect.
Much of Nicandri’s post contextualizes the relationship between the priests in Olympia and the territorial government during the Puget Sound and treaty wars. You would think that, after reading David’s post, that the OMI priests were working counter to the government of Isaac Stevens and for the tribes. But, even Nicandri’s own book paints a much more complicated picture.
The relationship was more cordial than that. Each side realized the benefit of the other. During the treaty work at Walla Walla, he writes, “The OMI and Stevens were virtually a team; both told the Indians to listen to and obey the other.”
At best, the priests were complicit in the work of the territorial and military leaders to force the tribes to sign treaties and move them onto reservations. The work being done by missionaries like the OMI priest made the tribes much more likely to also do the wishes of the secular government. 

On one occasion, Ricard inscribed “we have always said to the Indians, do not aggravate the Americans and they will not both you. If someone hurts you, complain to the authorities… even to the governor himself, and you will be rendered justice,” although he knew the Indians were not receiving it.

Granted, the relationship between the American population and the OMI priest in Olympia was not always cordial. Because of their closeness to the tribes (and likely just plain old anti-foreign, anti-Catholic bigotry), white people in Olympia felt threatened by the priests. But at the end of the day, the American territorial government and the OMI priests were partners in the cultural damage done to the tribes.

Lastly, I want to address the broader thoughts Dave brings up earlier in his piece.

The most grievous was the hubris of cultural superiority, originating in the ethos of his time and civilization. This pattern was so common that Pope Francis is coming to North America this year in recognition of this Truth in the interest of Reconciliation.

Before we judge Ricard too severely, forbid that any of us should be judged for our actions by the standards of some future posterity.

This is exactly how we should be judged. And this is the entire reason I study history. It is cliché to say that thing about repeating history when you don’t learn it well enough. And I don’t think it’s an extreme statement that we still have a lot of divergent ideas about the place of religious minorities in America.

Nicandri’s “judged by our current actions by a better future” is a tamed down version of “if we pull these statues down, we’ll forget our history.” There is a big difference between honoring something by naming a park after it or building a statue and “forgetting history.” We don’t build statues to assassins, for example, but we do include them in our history. We aren’t taking “Olympia’s Forgotten Pioneers” out of the library and burning it. We are simply showing that we have a better understanding of history because we no longer want to honor religious colonialism. 

While what could be done to help Indian people in the 1850s may have been morally complex to French priests, we have the luxury of clearer vision. Nicandri in “Olympia’s Forgotten Pioneers”:

One might cynically suggest that Ricard was a contributor to the deculturalization of a whole people. But he and all the OMI realized the futility of the Indian struggle and tried to temporize the effect of white supremacy as best they could.

Ignoring the impacts of missionary work on deculturalization, we today don’t have to see the actual request from an existing sovereign tribal government to rename a park as futile. 
We don’t have to temporize the impacts of white supremacy.  We can fight it.
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