The Future of Olympia’s Isthmus

July 14th, 2014 by Ken

By Jefferson Shorelander

It occurred to me at a recent meeting of a group of property owners, “concerned citizens,” bureaucrats and politicians that it could serve as great source material for a TV situation comedy. The script would be populated with characters like … the fuss-budget mayor who governs a city with severe budget shortfalls and proposes a new $20,000,000+ library at a time when new technologies are rapidly replacing old, heavy carbon footprint forms of communication such as newspapers, magazines and books … the attorney who, in a career-long pursuit to get elected to high office (like a judgeship or the city council) belongs to every committee the febrile imaginations of city bureaucrats and community activists can come up with, and whose grand idea for the revitalization of a city suffering from an advanced case of urban rot is a merry-go-round spinning next to the mayor’s library (who secretly fancies it’ll be named after him) … the bulky, plain-talking general contractor arguing for more buildings and less park, labeling the pie-in-the-sky ideas that keep cropping up around him as having “stink” on them, or cynically telling articulate bureaucrats that he wouldn’t even consider “jumping in that boat” … the busy-body ex-mayor turned community watch-dog hustling from table to table to keep tabs on everything and everybody just in case he needs to do something about it, which, of course, he will … the well-connected activists who just might keep quiet if they’re included … the smooth-talking city planner who manipulates the process by determining the who, what and why of meetings and committees … and the politicians who have virtually no business experience but feel their superior intelligence makes their presence indispensable.

Who did this brain trust leave out? The financiers who can speak to the funding possibilities, or improbabilities, of the various ideas … the entrepreneurs, like successful restaurateurs or retailers or barkeeps … the real estate developers … property owners with sites within three hundred feet of the isthmus … and, of course, the homeless who’d love to see a bigger and better library to hang-out in.

What will come of all these meetings and all of the money spent on them? I suspect they’ll end up in the city’s archives, right next to similar tomes from each and every decade that preceded this one. It’s tragic because I love Olympia and want good things to happen to downtown. If I sound cynical, it’s simply because after about thirty years of serving on and observing committees such as this, I think the fellow had it right who said, “To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.”

I don’t mean to impugn the motives or intentions of those serving on the committee. I believe they feel they’re doing the right thing for downtown. However, it’s hard to ignore the reality that such groups make politicians, bureaucrats and consultants look like they’re doing something, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary.

Posted in The Real News

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