Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why can't Olympia get some sort of semi-pro soccer going on? Or, we need the Tall Boys (someone help Brandon out)

In the next few weeks, between the Evergreen Premiere League, the National Premier Soccer League NW and the good old PDL, there will be three different non-pro/non-amateur leagues kicking off in this state.

And, none of them have a club in Olympia or even Thurston County.

The last time we sniffed at a local semi-pro league, it was the good old Tumwater Pioneers. They ended up folding after just one year. Even though the soccer was great, their results weren't. And, apparently, the financial returns weren't either.

We even have had Olympia semi-pro teams in the distant and not so distant past.

So, as we've seen teams become established in Bremerton, Bellingham, Everett and even Vancouver, Olympia has failed to put anything on the map. What is it about Olympia that has prevented anyone from coming forward with a team?

Last fall, Brandon Sparks (Oly Sports Blog Brandon) came forward with a pretty smart of thorough outline for an Olympia team in the ELPWA

Why Olympia?: The cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater are home to over 108,000 residents and Thurston County’s population is over 250,000. There is only one professional or semi-professional team in the area – the Tumwater Pioneers indoor soccer team – and no direct sports competition in the summer. The area has had great success supporting soccer over the last two summers when over 1,200 fans flocked to watch the Sounders U23s and Portland Timbers U23s play at Tumwater Stadium. The area is home to multiple large and active youth soccer organizations including Blackhills FC, Puget Sound Slammers and Thurston County United and men’s college programs at Saint Martin’s, Evergreen and South Puget Sound.

Why the EPLWA?: The first reason is simple: cost. The EPLWA has been designed to be budget friendly charging just $1,000 in league fees. This allows for teams to put more money back into their communities and programs and will allow teams to be more financially stable over their first few seasons. An EPLWA team can compete at a high level – potentially participating in the US Open Cup – for significantly less money than a PDL team with the same opportunities for generating revenue.

As far as I know, no one responded back to him.

I hope Brandon doesn't lose heart. I hope he keeps his idea out there for next season, that we get a team together.

Here's to the Tall Boys.


Monday, April 14, 2014

How downtown Olympia was almost ruined by I-5

Shanna Stevenson's chapter in "The River Remembers" (edited by Gayle Palmer) is a thorough history of transportation through Tumwater. Most of it is a lead in to Tumwater's most notable historic wound, the construction of Interstate 5 through the historic center of the city.

Stevenson's history includes an interesting footnote on what could have happened if Olympia had gotten its way. Instead of going straight through the old Tumwater historic neighborhood down by the former Budd Inlet waterfront, the Olympia city leaders wanted the highway through their city.

The proposed route was to loop the interestate through the town coming from the west through the Percival Creek canyon. Then, it would go through downtown in a tunnel under 10th or an elevated roadway over 7th.

So, the two options both included a highway at the foot of the capitol campus. Option one was a new tunnel. Option two was a viaduct running just south Sylvester Park.

This overlay of Olympia in 1941 with our current roads shows exactly why this was feasible. Even though the old Swantown Slough was filled for decades by this era, very little of the south end had been developed.
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8lUQ5__b1Os/U0rNlNHplwI/AAAAAAAABv0/UV_sVx5csL4/s1600/1941+overlay+I-5.jpg

After finding a way through downtown, it would have been easy to route the interstate through the rest of town.

I also find it interesting that when this plan was seriously being considered (1952 through 1954), it was the early days of Capitol Lake. The city was advocating for a major interstate to loop through a place that they'd just spent more than a decade pushing to become a lake. Hardly fitting the Wilder and White vision of Capitol Lake creation, I'd say.

Of course, Capitol Lake then was hardly the park rimmed area it is now. In the 1950s, the first lake park was still ten years off. There was still a major rail yard on the south bank under the capitol and industrial buildings were still on other banks.

So, in the mind of the city leaders, in the early 1950s, the lake being the setting of a major downtown park was hardly in the plans.

Going through Tumwater ended up being cheaper, so the state highway commission chose that route. But, it wasn't because Olympia didn't want it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The tragedy towards the end of the local ownership of Olympia Beer

Seattle Times, 1983

We all mourn the closure of the Olympia brewery. We all hope it comes back, at least the territory of the brewery, to become a new heart for our oldest non-native community.

Decades before our latest mourning, we mourned the sale of the company and brand to non-local owners. I wrote a bit about this history over at Thurston Talk recently. The story centered on a phenomena originating in the prohibition of tobacco advertizing in the late 1960s:

The true factor leading to the Schmidt family’s sale, in the early 80s, where market forces dating back to the ban on tobacco advertising on television in 1971. Phillip Morris, one of the largest tobacco purveyors, decided to diversify a few years before the ban and bought Miller in 1969.
The Miller sale sounded off like a shot to the once traditional and staid brewing industry. “Budweiser met the challenge,” Knight said. “The two companies started buying up every market in the U.S., rolling over smaller breweries.”

While it might seem like the tobacco giants were buying beer companies, what they were really buying was geography.  The quickest way to break into new beer markets was to buy existing beer companies, gaining loyal beer buyers and their preferences, along with beer distribution arrangements.

A few years later, the Schmidt family reacted by buying Hamms (1974) and then later Lone Star (1977). “Olympia was a little late getting into the game,” Knight said.

“They had to get bigger or get a lot smaller,” Knight said. “Each time Olympia bought a new brand, it would give them a boost.” Olympia’s attempt to appeal to the drinkers in the newly acquired territories included the Artesians campaign.

But, in trying to keep up in a race of quickly nationalizing brands, the Schmidts eventually ran out of family talent and stock. In 1983 Paul Kalmanovitz (who owned Pabst and had also bought other Washington brands like Lucky Lager) bought Olympia Brewing Company.
This is a totally plausible and realistic story that is backed up by other histories of the era, which additionally cite legal troubles brought on by the mergers. But, this business-centered history runs counter to the local knowledge of why Olympia was sold. Because the then president of the company was caught having sex with another man in the Capitol Lake bathrooms.

This did happen. In early 1980, in the twilight of locally-owned Olympia Beer, Rick Schmidt and two other men (a state legislator and a state agency director) were arrested for lewd conduct. The three non-out-of-the-closet men quickly faded from their public lives. All three quit their jobs and disappeared for awhile. Eric Rohrbach (the former state legislator) is back involved in local politics.

Both Schmidt and Joseph "Dean" Gregorius (as far as I can tell) never reentered public life.

The question is, whether Schmidt resigning had much to do with the eventual sale of the family firm. I'd say very little. The Schmidt family was doomed by nation-wide forces, not by the fall of the scion.

Research has pointed out that family-led companies have a particularly bad time reacting to industry-wide change:
The cultural view of family firms implies that these firms might be less willing to make changes to their overall strategy even when market pressures ask for such changes. Out of a sense of duty and respect for their elders, younger generations might find it difficult to change decisions such as where to locate, what to produce, or which customers to serve.
Just being a family-owned company is bad in the long run:
This paper provides strong evidence that promoting family CEOs in publicly traded corporations significantly hurts performance even after controlling for firm and industry characteristics, and aggregate trends.

I find that, consistent with wasteful nepotism,declines in performance are prominent in firms that appoint family CEOs who did not attend a selective undergraduate institution. In contrast, comparable firms that promote non-family CEOs do not experience negative changes in performance, even when incoming unrelated CEOs did not attend selective colleges.
So, what is the tragedy here? Sure, its bad that Rick Scmidt left the company. And, its bad that Olympia Beer had to be sold, instead of surviving as one of the few family owned breweries.

But, the real tragedy is that Schmidt, Rohrbach and Gregorius were arrested and publicly outed in the first place.

Let's go back to Olympia in 1980. According to this history, the "Capitol Lake Bathroom Bust" followed "a period of harassment and police targeting of Gay men." This also isn't a time when men with public profiles could live out of the closet.

The reason the arrests of these three men was news was because they had public profiles, but also because the arrests were of gay men.

And, let's put into perspective the operation that brought them in. The Olympia Police Department spent two weeks looking into the bathrooms before coming up with anything.

These type of operations, where police would stakeout homosexuals, hoping to come up with an arrest, has been called harassment by activists. The time spent by OPD in 1980 to come up with a few lewd conduct arrests certainly makes it seem that way.

Arrests like this also had deep social wounds. From a San Antonio library blog (of all places):

“I am primarily concerned with this grieving family in my parish, with the fact that we have lost such a wonderful man, and the news media played such an important part in driving him to suicide. There is no question but that his learning that his name had been published was the direct cause of his jumping off a bridge. . . .I also would say very strongly that a society that pays its policemen to spend hours on their haunches or lying prostrate on the top of a building peering through a hole to spy on men is a very sick society.”

This excerpt from an anonymous letter that appeared in a 1966 issue of Christianity and Crisis  captured the devastation exacted on men who were caught having sex in public restrooms and had their names published in the newspaper after being arrested. Sting operations by law enforcement officials against homosexuals in public places were nothing new. In San Antonio, police had been ferreting out gay cruisers in Travis Park–located in the heart of the city–since the 1940s. But were undercover operations and demonization of those caught in the web of such actions indicative only of the era that predated Stonewall in which homosexual harassment was part and parcel of urban life?
We are a different town now. Our police are much more honorable. We are much more fair. But, we have to get our stories right.

The Olympia Brewing Company was caught in an economic storm that was swamping family breweries. That Olympia went down is nothing special. Rick Schmidt wouldn't have saved them.

Blaming the loss of the brewery on him is unfair. It also takes blame off of us, the way our community was not at all accepting of homosexuals. The sting operation, the public castigation, the disappearance from public life of these men. That's the sad story we should tell, the cautionary tale.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Signs of spring (Olyblogosphere for April 7, 2014)

1. Sue Gunn, despite sounding environmentalist, is still holding the conservative line in Thurston County. At least according to Ken of Lacey.

2. One little post about Moving to Olympia becomes the meta-fight of the city.

Says one:

Statistically we have a much higher population of youth homeless than is common.

Says another:

You're still focusing all of your energy onto the symptom and not the problem.

And, another:

Young people choosing irresponsibility in life shouldn't be the burden to bear of those who are responsible enough to pay our own way through life.
 Move to Olympia. Get more of this. Just don't move here without a job. Seriously.

3. Ryan Williams lives around here and he's a pretty good writer. The Myth of the Day Off. Look, here are all of the books by him.

4.There are a lot of local guys in professional baseball. More than you think.

5. Via Olyblog, through a tweet by me, copying and pasting an email I got which included an attachment of an essay by Bethany Weidner. Things are getting warm in the Planning Commission.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cascadia, the (urban) region of the Big Sort

This was a stupid blog post.

In it, I was trying to prove a point. That even though there is from time to time a surge of new people coming in to Cascadia, that the population already settled here is so big, that our regional personality (the Cascadia Calm) wouldn't be usurped by Southern Charm.

I still don't think Southern Charm is going to take over, but I ignored one specific piece of important information in that post. Most of the net migration in Cascadia is going to two places, Portand and Seattle.

So, if you're moving to Cascadia, you're much more likely to move to an urban place or somewhere near an urban place.

So, the question remains, are all those new residents changing the urban areas or Cascadia? Well, sure. But, you have to ask yourself, why are they moving their in the first place? Because they want to change it, or because it is the type of community they like to see themselves in? I'd bet it was the latter.

I'd also argue that Cascadia was particularly well positioned to take advantage of the Big Sort, the drastic demographic shift post 1965. Millions of people uprooted themselves and moved to places like Seattle and Portland, and still do. When the economy is good here, people come flooding in to our cities.

We were well positioned because our regional personality was literally open to it. We're a business friendly crowd, so new ventures are typically seen as a good thing. This goes back to our New Englander capitalists origins. We're also a live and let live sort. This goes back to our Appalachian, Ohio Valley farmer origins.

The data backs this up. When you rate regions by "openness," Cascadia floats to the top. The same study points out that open people (creative, patent pending sorts) migrate to an open area, the effects tend to build on themselves. When the good times roll in Cascadia, more open people show up and "that change may lead to an increase in liberal public opinion and patent production and, thus, to a more open culture."

So, we get even more urban, even more liberal, open and creative cities. Our cities are recruiting people because we're Calm and the Calm builds because we're recruiting more urban people.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The deep politics of Oso

The thousands of tons of mud aren't dry, the recovery isn't complete. But, people are alrady scratching their heads why more wasn't done to warn or prevent people from living beneath "slide hill."

When I look at the hear of the area covered by the slide, a neighborhood along Steelhead Road in an oxbow of the Stillaguamish River, I can see a neighborhood already familiar with the perils of living at the business end of nature.

Riverside living and the floods that go along with it is already ignoring the risk that you'll face floods every once in awhile. Living in an oxbow is just asking for floods.

So, asking why the county didn't do more to warn or move these people from the riveside or from below the slide area is asking a big question. It centers on the difference between the perspective of rural landowners and suburban and urban people that make up of Snohomish county civic life.

Plainly said, the people who run the county and the people who lived on Steelhead Road are the faces of two radically different parts of Cascadia. This is more than a traditional right/left or red/blue political and social divide. While in many ways it follows that dichotomy, it has its own Cascadian flavor to it.

And, the answer goes back to the founding of the non-native society out here. There are two major groups that put down early roots and still define much of our society: New England capitalists and Appalachian farmers (mostly from the Ohio Valley).

For much of our history out here, the New Englanders migrated to the urban Puget Sound. They founded timber companies, ran the Republican political machines and owned the newspapers. Before the Democratic surge in the 1930s that wiped away the Republican political advantage, these New Englanders were political life in Cascadia.

But, the Appalachians were always there. While they identified as Democrats nominally early on, they stuck to the well-spaced rural areas of the state. Their influence on our political culture has been the strain of what we'd now call libertarianism that stretches pretty far across our political spectrum. In the recent election returns on gay rights and marijuana (that included both rural and urban votes) and one recent local election for me, it is possible for this libertarian strain across both liberal and conservative politics in Cascadia to unite.

So, back to Snohomish County and the folks on Steelhead. What was it about our political origins that caused this tragedy?
  ...there were discussions over the years about whether to buy out the property owners in the area, but those talks never developed into serious proposals.

“I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move..."
Take a simple look at it like this. Urban and suburban Snohomish County (and Cascadia) are the decedents of townie Republican New Englanders. They're business friendly and with a deep seeded civic mindedness that has sprouted a sense of environmentalism. That sense of doing what is right for the good of the community brought them to point out that slides happen were they do and to map flood areas.

But, the ability to do anything about it stopped where it became obvious that no one wanted to listen to them. The deep sense of individualism that came west with the Appalachians in Cascadia still rules the point of view, especially along the Stillaguamish River.

Sadly, one of the former political leaders on the Appalachian end of the spectrum likely died in the Oso mudslide.

Sure, it is possible to offer enough money to make anyone want to move. But, it isn't like Snohomish County had magic public funds growing fairy dust. And, when it came to spending that limited public money on someone that really didn't want to move in the first place. Well, you see where the attention of Snohomish civic leaders can be distracted.

Its easy to point to the available evidence and blame well intentioned people for not doing more. But, it is worth looking back at our origins here and seeing that it isn't simple.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm not sure if it is true, if it matters. But, in any case, people of Chinese decent have had a long history on one particular block of downtown

This letter to the editor (actually just one passage of it) in Olympia Power and Light bothers me more than it should:

Columbia Heights Partners LLC, a Chinese backed company...
 Backed by the Chinese? Why does that matter? Is it the implied xenophobia that matters to me? Probably.

Yes, the major investors behind the project have Chinese names, but live in Washington.

The person seemingly managing the project was born in China, but went to school in North Carolina and is an American citizen.

But, now in terms of who builds what downtown, we're concerned about what country they come from?

Especially when the Chinese connection to that particular block of downtown runs way deeper than I assume the letter writer knows. If there's one particular block of Olympia where people with Chinese names should build, its that one.

Ed Echtle, as always:
As downtown expanded in the late 1880s, Chinese relocated their businesses to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Columbia Streets, on what was then the waterfront.  Five two-story wood frame buildings, housing the Hong Yek Kee Company, the Quong Yuen Sang Company and the Hong Hai Company were built on piles over tide flats.
Here's a couple other views of the block, where you can see the layout of Chinese businesses on the block where now a group of Chinese-American businessman want to build a new building:

1888, mostly down on 4th Avenue, ironically where the New Moon Cafe is located.



And now, just one labelled "old Chinese" in 1896 on the southwest corner of the current parking lot:


By the way, these maps are Sanborn maps and are available online at the Timberland Regional Library.