Olympia Time

History, politics, people of Oly WA

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Book Review: Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington

The Red Coast is a rare book of Pacific Northwest history that unpacks a vital era. The labor, free speech, and political wars in the first third of the 20th century is an often misunderstood and glossed-over part of our heritage. Written by three authors, including two St. Martins Saints (I guess), the episodic nature of the book makes it interestingly readable. 

This book goes straight onto my shelf of classics of Pacific Northwest history. My criteria are generally works that are based on original research and primary sources, but also take a new perspective. Red Coast does both of these in spades. 

Other works I put on that shelf include Confederacy of Ambition, by William Lang, and the three statewide histories by Robert Ficken. Red Coast gives a clear view of a unique period in our history. Despite the well-known incidents, such as the Centralia Massacre, Red Coast ties these lowlights into a consistent narrative that redefines our understanding of regional history through the Depression. 

My primary insight, though, is on the second part of the subtitle of the book: Anti-Radicalism in the early 20th century. Or, what seems to be now the conservative re-radicalization of Southwest Washington.

Throughout my life, Southwest Washington has always been a stable, union-friendly Democratic bastion. In fact, this has been true since the re-alignment of politics in Washington after the 1932 election. Before the Roosevelt wave election in 1932, Washington was a Republican supermajority state. Democrats in 1932 swept the table and reestablished a new balance of power. Even after the parties again realigned in the late 1980s (King County voted for Reagan twice!), Southwest Washington Democrats held onto a seemingly genetic stranglehold on legislative and countywide seats in Grays Harbor, Pacific, and other Southwest communities. 

Obviously, since the 1980s it became plenty obvious to point out a Democrat from South Bend was not the same kind of Democrat from South Seattle. But the big Democratic Party tent was big enough to keep the Coastal Caucus happy and on the team.

The taste of the coastal voters seemed to change in recent years with less than stellar returns for top ticket Democrats. The election of Rep. Jim Walsh and how well Trump did the same year in Southwest Washington indicates that in a decade or so we’ll be talking about how the region re-aligned, yet again.

After reading Red Coast, I’m not sure if this is a re-alignment or the end of an 80-year truce or a tapping into of a strong political tradition in the region. The echos between current conservative politics and the chapter on Rep. Albert Johnson are strong. Rep. Johnson served in the 3rd Congressional District for almost two decades and was a direct product of the anti-radical movement in Southwest Washington described in The Red Coast. While anti-radicalism is the second fiddle nemesis in The Red Coast, it seems to be the more lasting phenomenon worth studying. I don’t want to spoil the book, but the Wobblies did not win.

Johnson’s primary legacy was anti-immigrant politics and actual anti-immigrant legislation. I need to do more work on this, but there seems to be a direct tie-in from Johnson’s political work to the specific Oregon brand of “Free Soil” politics that birthed the black exclusion laws. But that is for another day.

Johnson’s anti-immigrant politics dove-tailed with the homegrown anti-radicalism in his district because Wobbly and Socialist politics largely rotated around ethnic lines. The socialist camps and community halls were also largely Norweigian cultural centers.

So, this brings us back to today in the post-2016 Southwest Washington. It may be too early to tell, but despite Washington being a safe state for Democrats statewide, we may see the cementing of a new conservative alignment in Southwest Washington this November. In fact, if Democrats can run the table everywhere else, but Republicans can keep the seats they’ve already won and possibly pick off an incumbent, I’d say that shift has happened. Also, I don’t think its too much to say that the energy at the top of the ticket in 2016 and 2020, with barely hidden anti-immigrant sentiment, is one of the reasons why. 

There is a lot more to the regional political identity in Southwest Washington (and the broader Pacific Northwest) than anti-immigration politics.  But reading The Red Coast reminds us that this isn’t a new evolution, but rather a part of the DNA that is just now finding new emphasis again.

I bought my copy at Browsers Books downtown. You should buy a copy locally as well.

We have to face Slade Gorton’s legacy, not bury it

The evil that Slade Gorton did lives after him.

In the weeks following his death, I think it is a good time to relitigate the legacy of Slade Gorton. It isn’t only about damning the man himself and whether he has a “racist bone in his body.” It is also about how we as a region understand our own fairly recent history. It is also about how we will continue to understand racism in the Pacific Northwest. If we can let Slade Gorton off the hook, we can continue to let ourselves off the hook.
The Boldt Decision is the big case that everyone points to when we talk about Slade Gorton, Indian Fighter. I spent nearly 20 years working at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission blinking at the public retelling of Slade’s time as Attorney General. I didn’t get into it then, but I was also part of a team on which picking a fight with an elder statesmen was a particularly bad strategic move. 
There also was not a lot of love in that world, if any at all, for Gorton. He was pretty hated and I don’t think I need to explain that.
1. Not Boldt, but around Boldt.
I am not going to relitigate Boldt, that is for much smarter people than me. And in the end, Gorton lost that case. His office and the institution of the state itself (different independent offices) spent years fighting federal court orders. But again, in the end, he and his fellow travelers lost. After the Supreme Court finally weighed in in 1979, the state and the tribes set up a system of co-management that stood Gorton’s understanding of tribal sovereignty on its head. 

Let’s backtrack a little though. Let’s talk about the time between the Boldt Decision and the decision in Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Association. This second case is where the Supreme Court finally put its stamp of approval on the Boldt Decision. But why isn’t it called “U.S. v. Washington” (which is the official name of the case in which Judge Boldt decided)?

Because when the two agencies that managed fisheries in Washington wrote rules to implement Boldt, they were sued by fishing organizations (like the Passenger Fishing Vessel Association). They argued that allowing tribes to catch 50 percent of the salmon violated the equal protection clause in the state constitution. 
I don’t want to get into the legal arguments here. I’m going to give you a huge spoiler: The Supremacy Clause. It’s a thing.
But, while Passenger Vessel was winding its way first through Thurston County Superior Court, up to the state Supreme Court and eventually on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, a lot of shit was going on.
I think the 9th Circuit’s decision in Passenger Vessel (as quoted by the Supreme Court) says it best:

The state’s extraordinary machinations in resisting the [1974] decree have forced the district court to take over a large share of the management of the state’s fishery in order to enforce its decrees. Except for some desegregation cases …, the district court has faced the most concerted official and private efforts to frustrate a decree of a federal court witnessed in this century. The challenged orders in this appeal must be reviewed by this court in the context of events forced by litigants who offered the court no reasonable choice.”

“Except for some desegregation cases…”

That should ring in your ears. 

That was in 1979. For decades, federal courts had been hearing segregation cases and forcing local school boards and states to impliment Brown vs. Board of Education. In one line, the federal courts compared Slade Gorton to segregationist John Ben Sheppard. 

In the South, this local and state defience meant that President Eisenhower would send the 101st Airborn into Arkansas to open the schoolhouse doors. In Washington, we would need to have the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Marshals acting as game wardens.

It wasn’t the arguing of the orignal case that dooms Gorton. Granted treaty fishing rights was probably new territory back then and deserved an honest fight in court. But the disengenous route to Supreme Court, plus the stoking of violence and disent is what tells you what kind of Attorney General he was.

In the mid-1970s as federal marshals and the Coast Guard attempted to implement court decrees, non-tribal fisherman rammed their boats and physically blockaded their work. Tear gas was fired at non-treaty fishing boats. At one point a gillnetter was shot when he tried to ram an enforcment boat.

At the end of the day, these fishing groups had an ally in the state’s top attorney, who took their arguments about federal supremacy and treaty rights to the Supreme Court and lost.

2. Oliphant, the nut of Gorton’s arguments and the downstream impacts

Outside of Boldt, there has not been a lot of (if really any) discussion of Gorton’s record regarding treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. I’ve seen brief references that Gorton argued in front of the Supreme Court fourteen times (fourteen times!), but little discussion of what he actually did with his time.

Fun fact, of the fourteen cases that Gorton argued in front of the Supreme Court, five were cases against tribes. One of those cases was Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe. This case has become a classic in Indian law because of how it limited tribes’ ability to enforce criminal law on their reservations. The basic crux of the case is that Oliphant was arrested by Suquamish cops. He appealed, not because he was innocent of whatever he did, but because he claimed the tribe could not enforce criminal codes against non-tribal members. 

And of course, in the same way Gorton inserted the state Attorney General of Washington State into Passenger Vessel on behalf of non-tribal fisherman, he interserted the office into this case. His office was not a party to the case, but he had a chance to limit tribal sovereignty, so he took it.

And, while this argument is present in other Gorton tribal arguments, I want to point it out here. In Oliphant, Gorton argued:

The Sovereignty of the United States over the area which is now the State of Washington under the concepts of sovereignty which have always been accepted in western country, in western civilization in the United States came from explorations beginning with those of Robert Gray and from a series of treaties, the Louisiana Purchase Treaties with Spain and Great Britain culminating in the treaty with Great Britain of 1846 under which we settled the northwest frontier of the United States.

At that point, the United States’ claim to the sovereignty over the Washington area was total, absolute and complete.

This is the smoking gun.

In Gortons’ legal mind, the tribes in fact do not exist. Tribal sovereignty as a thing itself does not exist. His arguments in front of the Supreme Court were a forearm crashing of all the place settings off the table. All of this we are arguing about is totally pointless because, at the end of the day, it was the sovereignty of the United States that is “total, absolute and complete.” He thought he was arguing with non-entities.

Even though Gorton won in Oliphant, tribes continued to exist as governments. They continued to have the ability to prosecute their own members, and despite efforts in his legislative career, grew in capacity. But Oliphant hung around the neck of the tribal legal system and had real-world impacts on tribal members.

In 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported: 

  • 55 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 90 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native female victims of intimate partner violence report an inter-racial perpatorator.
And these cases were not being prosecuted on the federal level, the default jurisdiction for non-tribal members in Indian Country.

We’ve recently begun pulling back on the strings of Oliphant. In 2013, Congress passed an update of the Violence Against Women Act which specifically gave tribal courts jurisdiction over non-tribal defendants in domestic violence cases. 

When we talk about Gorton’s legacy, the unbearably high rate of Native women that are beaten and raped by their partners is as worthy of discussion as to when he “saved baseball.”

3. Not a racist bone in his body

At the end of the day, I don’t care if it really was true whether Gorton held racist anger in his heart. The question is whether he supported racists in his actions as Attorney General and (more importantly for us today) whether he put together an institutionally racist system.

The former is obviously true in the role he took as Attorney General during the lead up to Passenger Vessel. He had the opportunity for years, but especially during the at-sea riots in 1976, to pull the state back and negotiate a settlement. He had a choice to insert himself and the state of Washington into a Supremacy Clause fight alongside non-tribal fishermen and he decided to fight a losing battle. We waited for years until we began to set up the co-management system.

The former is even more true with his arguments in Oliphant and the impacts it had for decades. Gorton argued as an instrument of the state that tribal sovereignty doesn’t exist. 

He had a choice to insert himself and the state of Washinton into a case whether someone like me can punch a tribal police officer in the face, and he won that case. The downstream impacts of that case meant that thousands of sexual violence victims that are also tribal members never received justice. 

That is a racist system that Slade Gorton built.

Tract 105 in Olympia. Or a story of how the nodes argument of density is racist

Last week I wrote about how on the macro-level, Olympia’s neighborhoods are racially segregated along density lines. The more single-family homes in a neighborhood, the higher percentage of white people that live there. And now I’ve found an example of how adding high-density housing in one neighborhood, and preserving single-family housing in the neighborhood next door, has a predictable impact on racial make-up.

Up until the 2010 Census, Tract 105 on Olympia’s westside was one tract. But, since then it has been split into two tracts, 105.10 on the west and 105.20 on the east.

The two new tracts are split by Black Lake Boulevard. They range from the older residential neighborhood on a bluff over Capitol Lake to newer neighborhoods around Capital Medical Center and Yauger Park.

And, their journeys since their 2010 schism show how our current housing policy, especially the “nodes” approach, results in more white, single-family neighborhoods. While our intention hasn’t been to create zoning that segregates on racial lines, that is what we’ve done.
The nodes approach to growth and density argues that we should build extremely high density near Capital Mall, the far Eastside and downtown. Then we won’t have to allow for more reasonable increased density in exclusive single-family neighborhoods.
105.20 has been fairly static for the last 10 years in terms of available housing. It includes many older, largely single-family blocks. Before the 1980s, these blocks would have slowly densified as older single-family houses were replaced by duplexes, quadplexes, and small apartment buildings. This was the trend that was stopped forty years ago when we downzoned many near-downtown residential neighborhoods. 
105.10 started the decade as a mostly commercial tract with a mobile home park and a few apartment buildings. Also, several undeveloped green zones. Since then, it has added a couple of new apartment complexes along either side of Capital Mall Boulevard where trees once stood.
A major portion of 105.1 in 2010:
Both tracts also began the decade in significantly different spots, racially speaking. 105.20 was comprised of just a hair less than 80 percent white people, a lower percentage than a city on the whole. 105.1 started as an extremely white neighborhood, clocking in at almost 94 percent. 

105.1 total 105.1 % white 105.1 white 105.1 nonwhite 105.2 total 105.2 % white 105.2 white 105.2 nonwhite
2010 1447 93.99% 1360 87 5853 79.57% 4657 1196
2017 1887 81.40% 1536 351 6547 85.75% 5614 933
Change 440 -12.59% 176 264 694 6.18% 957 -263

Since then, they’ve gone in completely different directions. 105.1 became strikingly more diverse in seven years, with its white population dropping to 81 percent. 105.2 went in the opposite direction, with its white population growing to almost 86 percent.
It looks even worse for 105.2 when you look at the raw numbers. The total number of non-white people living in 105.2 dropped by over 200 people between 2010 and 2017. At the same time, 150.1 went up by almost the same amount. 
This has all happened as Olympia as a whole has slowly become more diverse, going from 85 percent white in 2000 to 83.6 percent white in 2010 to 82.5 percent white in 2017.
One neighborhood built high-density housing (in a node) and became less white. The other followed the node approach by protect existing single-family homes and became more white.
It is also worth noting, that while 105.2 got whiter in the last decade, it also includes a significantly sized apartment complexes. These are mostly concentrated along Black Lake Boulevard and Evergreen Park Drive. But, if you look back at the block-by-block data available from the 2010 Census, you see a stark racial breakdown even within 105.2.
The blocks zoned single-family are much more likely to be whiter.
From JusticeMap, darker blocks are more white:
From Thurston Geodata, the red are single-family homes:
And further south:
The further you get in the single-family home portions of 105.2, but especially north of 9th Avenue, the more likely blocks are going to be white.
So, if you got this far, it’s clear that as we build denser housing outside of single-family neighborhoods (and in an environmental lense, in what used to be a forest), we are also keeping single-family neighborhoods white.

There is no law in Olympia that some neighborhoods are reserved for white people. But, by focussing building higher density housing outside of these exclusive single-family zones, this is what we’re doing. This is the current “nodes” strategy, or has some have called it “density done right.”
And, this is the intention vs. impact this when we talk about racism (here and here). 
I think it’s helpful to quote Rachel Cargle here in her frame on racism:

Recognize that even when your good intentions are truly good, that’s totally meaningless. Try this on for size: when you accidentally step on somebody else’s foot, you do not make your good intentions the focus of the episode. Instead, you check to make sure the other person is OK, you apologize, and you watch where you’re going. You don’t get annoyed with the person you stepped on because you caused her pain or declare that she is too sensitive or defend yourself by explaining that you meant to step to the left of her foot… But I’m a nice person does not cancel out the fact that you’ve silenced, marginalized or used your privilege to further disenfranchise black and brown people, whether you intended to do it or not.

We don’t build neighborhoods with racially exclusive covenants (but we did once). There is nothing in our Comprehensive Plan that says it’s our intention to build super white neighborhoods. But by not allowing even modest high-density housing throughout our city, we are doing a lot of damage.
Building more affordable housing types (literally anything other than single-family homes) would allow a more diverse population to grow. And, in conclusion, I’m just going to leave this here: being able to live in a walkable, liveable (non-node) neighborhood is good for everyone.

Zoning and race in Olympia, WA

Last November I posted about the history of race and housing in Olympia. I tracked local ordinances to outlaw racial discrimination in housing. I also wrote about some housing developments that have racially-based covenants. 

One of the things I noticed in these racially-restrictive covenants is that they always came with another requirement, that the neighborhood also be exclusively single-family homes. Not every restrictive covenant I found had a racial component, but every one with a racial component also required single-family homes. 
In fact, in Strattford Place near where I live, they put the single-family requirement at the top of the list:
Thankfully, racially restrictive covenants are illegal. But, since the 1930s (when racially restrictive covenants were en vogue in Thurston County) single-family zoning has increased in popularity. 
Over the years, we have created zoning laws that restrict housing to (largely) only one type: single-family homes. I want to back up and reiterate this point. In the past, housing in Olympia was much more diverse. But, in the 1970s and 80s, we downzoned much of the city to outlaw anything that wasn’t a single-family home.
So, think about this next phase in three steps:
  • We build much of our city in the most expensive housing type.
  • Single-family homes are the most expensive housing type. Do I need to give you a link to back that up?
  • And, in the Pacific Northwest, income is a proxy for race.
So, what happens when you compare race with housing type in Olympia?
This may seem obvious, but the more single-family homes there are in a neighborhood in Olympia, the whiter that neighborhood is. 

Here is my spreadsheet. I took the date from the American Community Survey, specifically tables B25024 and B02001.
Olympia is a massively white city that is slowly growing more diverse over time. But even as the city grows, the white population is concentrated in largely single-family neighborhoods.
Recently, we have tried to allow for more housing types (like duplexes, quadplexes or small apartment buildings) in white, single-family neighborhoods. Fighting these policies is the same thing as saying you would like to preserve the racial nature of single-family neighborhoods.

Black Lake Way, old Black Lake Road and how history could have been

One of the most interesting, long-term and simmering debates in Olympia, is how several dozen blocks in SW Olympia are connected to the rest of the city.

Southwest Olympia south of Division and east of the mall is an interesting place. Unlike anywhere else in the city, they are unusually cut off from the rest of the city. Other than 9th Avenue and 4th Avenue, there is really no way to access much of the Southwest side neighborhood.

But, like a lot of things you’ll read on my blog anymore, it wasn’t always that way.

It turns out that the weirdest little street on the westside, Caton Way, which juts northeast from near 9th and Lee street for half a block is actually the last portion of an old county road that had connected the westside with the rest of the county.

Black Lake Way can be seen plainly here in this 1945 plat map:

In the 1937 version of the westside map, Blake Lake Way is the primary route out of west Olympia.

In this era, there is no Black Lake Boulevard further west, Black Lake Way was it.
Fast forward to 1951:
And you can see the map hardening and stretching. The northern portion is renamed Caton Way already, Decatur in the middle and the last stretch is “Old Black Lake Road.”
What happens next is pretty clear to figure out. Here is the 1959 USGS topographic map:
In the 1950s, the interstate highway system came to town and reshaped our communities in ways we’re still feeling now. Old neighborhoods in Tumwater (not the downtown or main commercial area) were sacrificed to interstate 5, Lacey was given the seed it needed to be transformed from a sleepy rural neighborhood to a suburban city and west Olympia was given its trajectory. 
Whoever made the decision to site the interchange at Mottman (later Black Lake Boulevard) instead of old Blake Lake Road, created the conditions for the westside we have now. At least according to this document, one of the options when they laid out 101 in the 1950s was to connect what had been Black Lake Way to the new highway.  Like an unused limb atrophying, Black Way Way retreated up into the neighborhood, being covered over by new development and becoming the stub of Decatur. When the current Auto Mall neighborhood was platted in the early 1980s, one portion of the old road was reclaimed and named Caton, acknowledging its historic connection to its severed relative less than a mile north.
It certainly didn’t help that the development that resulted surrounding the Southwest neighborhood was focussed towards the Blake Lake Boulevard exit and was autofocussed. The 1980 replats of the historically square blocks favored windy, care friendly designs with little thought to connect to the older neighborhoods.
So, what’s the bottom line? First thing, I’m pretty bored. If you look at the date stamp of this post, this is maybe week three of the COVID Stay at Home Order. I’ve got a lot of time on my weekends to read technical reports and download old maps.
Second, people get very excited about protecting their neighborhoods. This isn’t breaking news. No one is surprised by me saying NIMBYs are going to NIMBY. People who live up on the Southwest side just don’t want to be connected to the rest of the city. 
But, what is interesting to me is that how history really could have played out differently. We could have seen a history where the Auto Mall never happened and West Olympia sprouted a traditional commercial center on the end of Decatur that is now a dead end. Had the decision been made differently in the 1950s to connect Primary State Route 9 (now Highway 101) to west Olympia by the Old Blake Lake Road instead of Mottman (Blake Lake Boulevard), we would have likely seen a different development pattern emerge. 

Who was Karen Frazier?

Not Karen Fraser, but Karen Frazier.

Because the name of a street in Southeast Olympia resembles the name of a longtime local politician, I’ve always wondered who the Karen Frazier (not Fraser) of the street actually was. Who had been well-known or important enough in Olympia decades ago to name a dog-legged street after?

Well, it turns out, no one at all. Karen Frazier never existed.

What the name signifies is the overlapping plans of how housing developments used to be planned and then abandoned. One of the vital steps before building a neighborhood is to subdivide a larger property, plan where the streets are going to go and then name them. This plan is called the plat and is submitted to the local government.

Here is a portion of Squires plat in 1890:

You can barely see the current day Olympia on this map. The current Boulevard Road is identified as “County Road.” on the far left-hand side. Also, in addition to (Karen) Frazier, the current Van Epps, Humphrey, and Allen streets were also platted. The rest of the plat was never built and is lost to time. 
Van Epps, Frazier, Ellis were all names of Olympia in those days. So, in this case, Frazier likely refers to either Andrew, Katherin or Washington P. Frazier. 

There is a series of small notations you can find if you look up the Squires plat here, that the county commission officially abandoned this plat in the 1960s.  
So we can see that in the 1890s, there was a Frazier street platted where the north end of Karen Frazier street meets the current 18th Avenue.
So, where did the “Karen” come from? Sixty years after Squires plat was laid out, Kenneth and Allegra Boone laid out “Boone’s Addition,” overlaying some of the old Squires plat.

Here is Boone’s plat in 1950:

In constructing the plat, they joined Karen Avenue with Frazier Street. Eventually, either through an official act or just recognition of common use, the name of both shifted to Karen Frazier Road Southeast. 

There is a worse fate for the Olympian than our present and a future without the Olympian

1. I got into a discussion this afternoon with a local, talking about the state of the Olympian and whether it would be worthy of support if it changed its corporate structure to a non-profit. Here’s the original argument:

I don’t disagree about local news being produced by non-profits. Great idea.

The Olympian is the only professional organization covering the news in the city I love. Let’s just not call them names while they’re doing it is all I’m saying.

Also, I think we’re missing a lot of nuance on the current state of the Olympian’s corporate owners, the McClatchy company. I’ve been reading a lot about them lately, so I wanted to write down what I’ve learned.

2. I’m not sure how many of us realize how quickly the fate of the Olympian could turn. And turn so quickly and quietly that we’d have no reason to notice. Right now, the paper’s parent company is in the process of trying to negotiate a deal on $124 million in pensions it is due to pay. After spending the better part of the last decade paying down $4 billion in debt it took on to buy up Knight Ridder (of which the Olympian was part), McClatchy seems to face this one additional hurdle to start making forward progress.

While this is happening, the stock price of the company tanked, going now for only pennies per share. That gives the managers of the company very little room to move as they try to chart a path forward. The immediate risk from my point of view had been just that McClatchy would declare bankruptcy. Maybe, I thought, they would just shut the Olympian down, maybe just fold it directly into the Tacoma News Tribune.

But there is a fate worse than death. And a fate that because McClatchy almost killed itself buying our paper (along with dozens other) we’ve avoided as the company tries to get itself back on its feet. Hedge funds, like the one described here, are ripping through the carcasses of struggling newspapers, feeding investments with the goodwill of subscribers:

It is no secret that the newspaper business is in decline. So it’s hardly surprising that Freeman would feel the need to shrink the head count at his newspapers, just as almost every other newspaper owner has had to do for years. 

But what sets Freeman apart is that he seems to have a rather unique view of a newspaper’s purpose. In this view, his papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage. 


Last year, Digital First Media’s chief executive, Steve Rossi, sent a company-wide email saying that the company was “solidly profitable,” and that “advertising revenue has been significantly better” than competitors. Yet the layoffs have not let up. Just last week, Alden Global imposed another round of layoffs, including a third of the staff at the Denver Post. As recently as 2009, Denver had two competing newspapers; it is now down to 66 journalists in one demoralized newsroom.

And, this is a fate we’re avoiding in Olympia because our newspaper was luckily bought by a company that is still interested in being a newspaper company.

Meanwhile, in August, the New Media Investment Group announced that it was buying Gannett Co. and combining it with its GateHouse Media subsidiary, which instantly created the largest newspaper chain in the country. New Media is controlled by Fortress Investment Group, and its approach is not terribly different from Alden Global’s. People are starting to call papers owned by hedge funds “ghost papers” — defined by the New York Times as “thin versions of once robust publications put out by bare-bones staffs.” 

Although they’ve had their share of layoffs, McClatchy’s 30 media properties… are not ghost papers. A little more than a year ago, Julie K. Brown, a journalist at the Miami Herald, published an extraordinary expose of the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein; that series sparked an outcry that led to Epstein’s arrest in July. In October, the well-regarded McClatchy Washington bureau documented a disturbing rise in the rate of cancer treatments at Veterans Affairs hospitals. And just a few weeks ago, the Kansas City Star published a powerful examination of Missouri’s public defender system

I’ve pulled a lot of quotes from Bloomberg’s coverage of McClatchy, but Joe Norcero’s “McClatchy Goes Digital to Ward Off ‘Ghost Papers’” article is a good discussion as any of McClatchy’s current situation. The most telling part of the article to me is where I learned that the actual McClatchy family hasn’t taken a dividend in a decade. This is not a company that is trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

3. The Sacramento News and Review is an alt-weekly that does a great job skewering the Sacramento Bee, the McClatchy mother paper. But even they point to the Bee as an irreplaceable local asset. Whenever I feel sad about the state of local papers, I remind myself that people of goodwill exist by reading Eric Johnson’s “Support the Bee Anyway” and “Save the Bee.”

For the record, I’m all for the non-profit, locally controlled Olympian. I’m all for the web-based non-profit locally owned web-based, podcast heavy local news organization. I’m all for all of that.

But this is a bus stop, not UberX. I need to pay the fare for the bus that gets me closest to my destination. So I support the Olympian anyway.

How did our housing practices shape Olympia’s racial makeup?

Amanda Smith, the former mayor of Olympia, sat in a suddenly silent city council meeting in the spring of 1968. She had been mayor in the 1950s and had come back to city hall to speak out in favor of an ordinance to prevent housing discrimination.
Duke Stockton had just stopped speaking against the ordinance and had pieced together a speech that shocked the crowd to silence.
“A man should have the right to do what he wants with his own property.”
“We don’t want them living in Olympia, but if they do live here, let them stay in their own communities and leave us alone.”
“It leads to intermarriage…”
Mayor Smith was the first to break the silence: “I wonder if everyone’s heart was beating as hard as mine was as I sat and listened to that. I have never heard a more ignorant talk in my life!”

Given what we know about the world back then, I can hardly believe that to be literally true. But it is possible that the debate over open housing only brought such attitudes to the surface.
Olympia along with Thurston County, Lacey, and Tumwater, would end up passing Open Housing ordinances in 1968. The effort here was part of a longer effort nationally and statewide to break apart racist housing practices.
Back up a little first: It is fairly well known that as a local rule that currently Lacey is more racially diverse than Olympia. The vast majority of Olympia’s neighborhoods are still over 85 percent white, with only a few outlying neighborhoods below 80 percent at all. The most racially diverse neighborhood in Olympia is about 65 percent white and is the section between the Martin Pacific split and Interstate 5 where it crosses Pacific.
Lacey, on the other hand, has more racial diversity in general. Specifically, Lacey has more neighborhoods with higher concentrations of non-white residents. 
When housing activists were lobbying our local governments for open housing rules, Lacey held back at first because the leaders of the new city (only founded in 1966) were under the impression that Lacey already was open to all races. They passed the open housing rules anyway.

The housing practices that Amanda Smith and other Olympians were trying to prevent by adopting Open Housing rules in the 1960s were in reaction to decades of racist practices. It seems that at least on the surface, we’re still seeing the impact of these practices decades later.
Here is a deeper dive into these practices and how they worked:

1. Olympia real estate agents as late as the 1960s actively steered African American home-buyers away from certain neighborhoods.

From the Olympian in 1968:

(African American residents) put the blame for the trend toward a (racially segregated) ghetto squarely onto the practices of some real estate businessmen… 

What is happening, they say, is that real estate salesmen are trying to steer Negroes into certain areas while at the same time urging whites not to buy there “because Negroes are moving in.” A check with some whites who are hunting houses confirms this. 

According to at least one Lacey city councilmember in the 1990s, Lacey was one of the places where real estate agents would steer minority customers.

2. There were certain neighborhoods in Olympia that as late as the 1940s were officially off-limits to anyone who was not white.  

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but while it didn’t seem to be common practice, there were a few neighborhoods in Thurston County that has racial covenants. Two of these were in Olympia, and a third I found was Beachcrest, north of Lacey. 

Stratford Place, one such neighborhood just north of Olympia High School, had these racial covenants baked in.

Another neighborhood just up from the end of West Bay Drive, also advertized homes based on racially exclusive covenants.
When you look at how widespread this practice was in King County, I was a little surprised I could easily find more examples in Thurston. There is a lot of history behind racial covenants, and this paper is a great long walk through their use and eventual rejection.
Moving on from the 1960s, we continued to have housing debates in Olympia. But as they continued, they had more to do with density and liveability than they had to do with (one the surface) race.
Less than 10 years after Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County passed Open Housing ordinances, Olympia began a long debate about multi-family zoning throughout the city. While this debate mostly centered upon income (and sometimes crime), it certainly had the same structure that the debate around anti-discrimination fight had in the late 1960s.
The 1970s saw the largest influx of new residents in Thurston County’s history. It changed the nature of our communities and it drove a historic increase in higher density housing types in Olympia. The historic nature is true because after this influx we made most of these housing types (duplexes, quadplexes) illegal through most of the city. 
One term that got thrown around during the housing debate in the 70s and 80s was also “ghetto.” While the term in the 1960s obviously meant a neighborhood with a large non-white population, what did it mean in the 1980s? Were our anti-density rules stemming from that era racially motivated? Obviously, on a certain level, they were motivated out of a fear of crime and nearby poverty. But how far did we grow in just over 10 years?

Olympia housing post in two parts: Answering a question on Ron Rants and asking a question on Samuel Stein

Both of these came up at the same time, so I’m doing them in one post.

1. Answering Steve Salmi’s question here first:

…Dan Leahy was right to “follow the money” regarding tax breaks for developers – including Ron Rants. Olympia would do well to display greater transparency in its decision making if it wishes to build the credibility of Missing Middle initiatives. 

For the sake of historical honesty, it would also be helpful to know if Ron Rants is now being subsidized to undo the very problems he helped to create – both as an elected official and a development industry leader.

On the first go around on this post, I actually noticed a few places where Ron Rants, in fact, sounded like a 2010s era urbanist.

First from May 1980:

Fellow commissioner Ron Rants said the existing policy didn’t mesh with his personal view. The city should be encouraging mixed housing, he remarked. Mix housing includes having duplexes in single-family neighborhoods.

Then in September 1980:

Rants said the city, in fact, should encourage denser living patterns within city limits, to put an end to what he called rapid leap-frog growth to the county.

I will say that Steve’s point that the city commission, which was on its way out in the early 80s, was certainly the body that laid the groundwork for a series of downzoning in the 80s and 90s, they didn’t seem to be enthusiastic about putting on the density brakes. In fact, to me, it seems like the same populist dynamics that put in the city council form of government where the same dynamics that were also arguing for exclusive single-family zoning throughout the city.

2. In the past few months, the opponents of denser and less expensive housing in Olympia have started using Sam Stein’s “Capital City” like a cudgel. Without really explaining how Stein’s arguments about how the modern real estate industry works in regards to single-family zoning, they simply state that more options for buildings (for-profit, non-profit or government) would just allow for more building and builders are bad.

While this behavior does fall into the broader “why NIMBYs just hate developers” thing, it doesn’t really center Stein’s arguments in Olympia’s history of downzoning. I poked around Stein’s book for discussion on downzoning on a broader scale, like what happened in Olympia or Los Angeles in the last 50 years. 

A historic district, a contextual rezoning––which means changing the zoning rules to match what’s there right now––or a downzoning, which means in the future people will only be able to build smaller than what’s here right now. So it wasn’t even, I said neighborhood before, but it’s really block by block, block by block by race, so white blocks––predominantly white blocks––got protected, predominantly African American, Latino, and Asian blocks were subject to big, new development. And so, the result of that ends up looking like integration. If you look at those prior, mostly Black, Latino, and Asian blocks, and you see there was this luxury development that was built and suddenly all these white people moved in, now something else is happening. But at the same time, they cut off the ability to build out low-income and mixed-race development on those white blocks. And so, they were channeling integration in one way and cutting it off in the other. It’s like a one-way street that’s going––there’s a one way street and you’re moving in the wrong direction. If we want to do integration, we need to unsegregate those white spaces. The problem is not the concentration of people of color in neighborhoods that they built up over a long period of segregation and disinvestment. So that in many cities the integration that’s happening is the exact wrong way to do it.

In context to Olympia and the Northwest, this brings up a few things for me.

One, we’ve seen how the debate over changing single-family neighborhoods into “ghettos” has affected the course of Olympia housing policy. Calling people racists in historic terms is not fun, but I’m just going to leave that there.

Two, people who trot out Stein are also unironically talking about “nodes” of high-density growth in Olympia. There are places where added density that could take place in single-family neighborhoods should more appropriately go. And, unsurprisingly, when you poke around a block group map of white distribution around Olympia, places with a lot of apartments (existing “nodes”) also have the fewest white people.

So, to my question: how is Stein’s discussion of protecting white neighborhoods not like what happened and is happening in Olympia?

How much did cutting the middle out of our housing stock cost Olympia in the last forty years?

Or, Olympia’s spreading tax-subsidized single-family neighborhoods. 

I’ve pointed to this chart oftentimes as an illustration of how we changed directions back in the 1980s.

I’ve recently been rethinking this graph, mostly due to new perspectives on a fairly old policy tool to encourage apartment construction in downtown Olympia. Dan Leahy has been writing in Works in Progress about the multi-family tax exemption and how the rest of us are subsidizing new construction downtown.

While the discussion around the multi-family exemption does not reveal anything new (someone pays taxes if someone else is exempt), it does give a new ax to grind to people who would rather stay the course with how Olympia has been developing in the last forty years. Car-dominated suburban developments get a pass, while any sort of development downtown that is not a parking lot is given a side-eye or actually challenged legally.

But, the discussion did open an opportunity to examine how exactly our spreading suburban development pattern has cost the city’s bottom line.

As a background, I used the Thurston County Assessor’s parcel data provided by Geodata. This dataset gave me locations and construction dates (important for that chart), but also lot sizes and total values.

Also, I wanted to point out that only in the broadest sense am I talking about “denser” housing. Leahy is mostly discussing downtown Olympia apartment buildings, while I’m discussing anything from a duplex to a quadplex. While we oftentimes conflate these when we discuss housing and zoning, I want to make sure we know I’m talking about different types of housing. 

Now, let’s get to the data!

At some point in the early 1980s, the construction of duplex to quadplex sized homes became disconnected from population. I chose 1981 as my splitting point because it seemed to make sense to me.

Between 1960 and 1981 Olympia averaged 6.2 two to four-unit buildings per thousand of population increase.

After 1981, that rate fell to 1.23 units per thousand new residents. Building non-apartment/non-single family home dwellings went through the floor after the early 80s.

What happened in the early 1980s? Go back and see the policy changes we made to favor single-family homes and the hateful political ecosystem that created it.

And because we know how many people have either been born or moved here, we can calculate how many du/tri/quadplexes we lost because we changed the rules. If we built at the same rate we did before 1981, we would have built 723 more du/tri/quadplexes. We currently have 786.

That on its own is shocking. That means we outlawed between 1,500 and 3,000 living spaces since the early 80s. If we continued building duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in Olympia, we would have nearly doubled the number of these more affordable units.

But, let us not stop there, this is about the public subsidy, not affordable homes removed from the market by bad laws. Because we know how much single-family home properties are worth and how much du/tri/quadplexes are also worth, we can calculate roughly how much each type pays per acre.

It should surprise no one, but the more dense housing types subsidize single-family homes.

Du/tri/quadplexes cover just over 216 acres of Olympia and they are valued at an average of $1,159,413 per acre.

Single-family homes cover over 4,528 acres of the city and those are valued at an average of $1,035,155 per acre.

This is not taking into consideration the added value du/tri/quadplexes would have brought to single-family homes.

So, when you lay out what we lost (at least 1,446 affordable units) against their higher value, you can get an idea of what our historic single-family home favoring policies has cost our city.

Doing a back of the napkin calculation based on last year’s levy rate, the lost taxes (not just to the city, but to everyone who collects property tax in the city) was $3 million per year.

To put this into perspective, in his post that I linked to above, Dan Leahy points out that across of all the multi-family exemption projects, the loss in total government revenue is $3.4 million over eight years.

What we lose per year because we made a decision forty years ago to favor single-family homes is the same amount we lose over eight years for encouraging more dense development. This calculus also ignores the higher tax receipts that an apartment building will produce as opposed to a parking lot once the exemption is over. And, also (obviously) that the tax exemption is temporary, while single-family zoning is a bit harder to budge.

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