State of the Community Response
For immediate release:
February 12th, 2022
The mayors of Olympia, Tumwater, Lacey and Yelm, and the chair of the Thurston County Board of County Commissioners delivered a so-called “State of the Community” address exactly one month ago, on January 12th. What could have been an opportunity for a meaningful address of the gravity of our situation and a call to action amounted to little more than a business statement. While these leaders gave a nod to systemic inequalities such as police violence and the underhoused community, their response was to delegate these urgent needs to more discussion in committees.
The South Sound Green Party believes the people of the South Sound deserve so much more than these empty words and delayed actions. As eco-socialists, we recognize that all of our struggles – to ensure health for ourselves and our community, to meet our basic needs, to protect each other from the violence of bigots in and out of uniform, stem the ravages of climate chaos, and to build a just and sustainable world for each other – are all different aspects of the same fight against capitalism, racism, colonialism, and patriarchy.
The Port of Olympia gave a 10-year lease to notorious commercial real-estate firm, Panattoni Development, who will devastate 199 acres of endangered South Puget Sound Oak Savanna by building “The New Market Industrial Campus.” This would be an environmental disaster that entombs a vital ecosystem in layers of concrete and steel. Threatened Mazama Pocket Gophers would need to be relocated to a habitat that does not currently exist. Further, they intend to use soft-fracking “rainwater injection” to mitigate the massive runoff problems the industrial campus will cause. At best this is projected to add a handful of minimum-wage jobs, while only exacerbating our existing housing crisis. Despite the obvious and horrific consequences, our officials are eager to make this sacrifice at the altar of economic growth.
Aerial View of the 199 Acre proposed Industrial Campus Site
The speakers were proud to congratulate themselves for the extraordinary growth our area experienced over the last year. But growth is not inherently beneficial, like the difference between flowers and tumors, context is everything. Growth in the costs of essential living expenses like shelter, utilities, and food are nothing to celebrate. Growth in vacant shop fronts and new luxury developments are nothing to be proud of. In the middle of a socio-economic crisis and a global pandemic the leaders in our county should be focused on growing things like wages, worker safety, universal housing, and environmental protection. Instead, they celebrated their inaction as growing economic and climate catastrophes send more and more new neighbors to our county for the developers and investors to exploit.
We welcome new neighbors, especially in this era of economic injustice and climate chaos. We demand universal housing for both new and old members of the South Sound community without concern for the bloated profit margins of private developers. We call for publicly funded, resident-managed housing for those who need it most, including temporary and long-term shelter for people in crisis. Housing First strategies are tested and reliable solutions to housing injustice and a Housing First strategy must be our county’s first response.
Several of our elected leaders expressed their approval of so-called “Missing Middle” zoning deregulation and fee reforms that they say will provide more housing for our low-income and underhoused neighbors. This is disingenuous. These policies will not provide more housing for our low-income and underhoused neighbors. Instead, they will prioritize already obscene developer profits over the wellbeing of our communities.
Housing is a human right. In this time of crisis, we simply cannot afford to subsidize more “market rate” housing that is already forcing our most vulnerable neighbors out into the streets. The market won’t fix this. There will be no trickle-down effect for underhoused people. If rich people in Olympia and Lacey can't fill the new buildings, rich people from Seattle will.
Camp sweeps such as those along Deschutes and Wheeler Roads are inhumane. Bulldozing people's homes after 3 days' notice robs them of stability and everything, they own that can’t be carried with them. Officials claimed they did all they could to promote the welfare of our underhoused community. They assured us they would save people’s documents and money from the dozers and promised us there would be funds for hotels. They betrayed these promises. Victims of these sweeps are still without their promised funds and without their vital documents. Our neighbors had a home they built for each other, a community of people they trusted. Those homes and communities have been violently removed from them, and they are left scattered and dependent on help from city leadership that has repeatedly betrayed them.
Olympia has a new Unity Commons, which will give shelter to fifty-eight homeless people and offer long-term supportive housing to sixty-five more. We are glad to see this development, but we note it wasn't the city's doing. Interfaith Works spearheaded the development with support from the Low-Income Housing Institute of Seattle. The county still has far fewer shelter beds than are needed by our underhoused neighbors. While the new Unity Commons, combined with a mitigation site and a tiny home encampment in prior years have helped, they still fall drastically short of the need. While it's amazing what motivated non-profits and individuals have accomplished, the effect of these efforts does not match the scale of our crisis. Only the cities and the county have the resources to adequately address homelessness in a 290,000 resident strong metropolitan region. We find ourselves in rare agreement with Mayor Selby, a united effort from the entire county is needed to fully address this.
As part of the litany of ineffective responses to our community needs, officials in Olympia created committees to advise them on addressing systemic racism and making police accountable. After a year we’ve been left with the appearance of good intentions and no actual progress. Actual progress will depend on how much pressure social justice advocates can place on these officials and how determined advocates are in the face of pushback. We hope to work with our invaluable allies in SURJ, OlyMAP, PiPE, Olympia Copwatch, Stonewall Youth, and more in the coming year.
In a rare moment of clarity, the State passed HB 1310, a law that mitigates police violence by preventing officers from using physical force unless they are making an arrest. The police unions have been predictably unhappy about this restraint, and have threatened to not show up in situations where they can no longer use force against people, they find difficult. To this, we say: good, and good riddance.
Police exist to protect private property, not people.
Due to the efforts of police accountability activists and nonprofits, Thurston County has become a national leader in finding alternatives to the police. We pioneered the Downtown Ambassadors in 2012, a program that provides resources to neighbors and visitors, and mediates conflicts between residents and businesses in downtown Olympia. This program has gained national recognition for its community-building approach. We supplemented this in 2019 with a Crisis Response Unit that provides aid to people when they have needs beyond the scale that the Downtown Ambassadors can provide. The main weakness of both of these programs is the scale; they are limited by funding to peak business hours and Ambassadors only operate in downtown Olympia. We need the cities and Thurston County to shift their funding away from police and toward programs like these.
Olympia's mayor is seeking "clarification" from the state regarding HB 1310; we are concerned that this is a prelude to watering down or dodging the law rather than investing in solutions that work.
We find it absolutely negligent that in the middle of one of the deadliest pandemics in our community’s history that not one word was focused on the health of the community. Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 42,757 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 307 deaths in Thurston County. Of those, almost all - over 200 deaths and more than 41,000 confirmed cases - occurred in the last six months. Six months after Governor Inslee declared “Mission Accomplished” against the pandemic with a party in Wright Park.
What has followed has been the phasing out of COVID precautions and the end of economic protections for pandemic victims. Out of the standard measured ranks of community transmission – low, moderate, substantial and high – Thurston County currently ranks HIGH. The reality is that Thurston County is in a state of crisis, yet we find individuals walking in public without masks, businesses reluctant or unable to enforce mask mandates, employers ignoring worker safety, and limited testing capacity.
Grassroots Democracy is one of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party. The overwhelming majority of our community demand our community leaders prioritize our safety. That must include enforcing existing safety measures, expanding testing, and respecting the science of COVID-19 infection and transmission. We recognize that this is not just a health crisis, but an economic one.
Our comrades in the Puget Sound Socialist Party have developed a Covid Response Plan that holistically meets the scale of the crisis we face. It includes prescriptions to waive vaccine patents, resume eviction moratoriums, and implement stringent quarantines to finally stop the spread of the virus. We stand by and endorse their plan. If you care about the community, it is the most realistic response to ensure we survive the crisis.
Now one month out from the “State of the Community” we see clearly that no amount of self-congratulation, flowery words, empty commitments, or massive industrial campuses can replace effective governance or committed action at the scale of the issues we face. Community is by definition interdependence and cooperation. As long as the working people of Thurston County are being priced out, under protected, under housed, bulldozed, and hyper-exploited, the state of our community is a state of denial. We can, and must, do and be more for each other.
South Sound Green Party