Sunday, August 30, 2015
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Another post away from Washington, but some science and policy perspective from Petrified Forest National Park:
Ashley gave us a tour of the collections room and the paleontology lab. On a personal level I have always admired the work of paleontologists. Intense detailed work collecting and deciphering small details and labor intensive efforts to extract fossils from the ground and figuring out where they fit into our history of life on this planet. They tell us deep history, but it is a history that takes a great deal of work and study. Yes, it is cool to see petrified logs and fossils on the ground, but the story is hard to figure out. The history of life and certainly of the various reptiles is far from figured out with numerous changes and rethinking of things as new discoveries force reassessment.
The phytosaur skull shown above may be misleading as to what is in the non processed jackets. Often the jackets encase a loose mess of small bones that is far from understood at the time of collection in the field. Some hint within the initial digging suggests that the effort of collection is worthwhile. And one does have to picture the moving of that block of plaster from the field to the lab. Yeah for interns and volunteers! These are group projects.
A couple of thrills in the collection.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
The Thistle Canyon landslide (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thistle,_Utah) is an example that should be remembered about mountainous terrain. Steep mountain slopes can and do occasionally fall down. This mountain canyon slide caused a classic hazard. The slide itself of course was damaging, but the slide also blocked the Spanish Fork River forming a lake.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
This year's review has been a bit bumpy because the Charter Commission majority is very out of step with the current Council. This is in part due to the Commission being elected by district only voting while the council reflects the majority of County voters having been elected by county-wide voting. The split is result of the way the districts were drawn up with District 1 being overwhelming Democrat leaning and the other 2 leaning Republican.
The Charter Commission has finished its work of submitting proposed amendments to the voters of Whatcom County. The commission's main focus was political versus good governance and amendments were put forward that are an attempt to shift elections not for better representation.
The County Council has also put two Charter Amendments on the ballot as is their right under the State Constitution as well as under the County Charter. Needless to say this has upset the local GOP leadership that had dominated the Charter Review and is leading to some weirdness.
Charter Commission 1: District Only Voting
This is one of the partisan parts of the package of amendments. The Charter Commission majority are Republicans and they can do math. By going to district only voting, they can pull off minority rule for the elections of county council. District 1 under district only voting will be two Democrats as that district is overwhelming Democrat. District 2 will be 2 Republicans as it leans much towards Republicans although not so much as District 1 leans Democrat. District 3 leans Republican by a little and will likely be 2 Republicans as well at least in the near term. The results of district only voting can be seen in the Charter Commission election itself. District 1 all Democrats, District 2 all Republicans and District 3 four Republicans and one Democrat. A majority of Commission members have been fairly clear that the main purpose behind this scheme is overcoming the majority voting that has led to the Council currently being 6 Democrats (one was appointed) and one independent. The last council election saw Democrats sweep Republican candidates.
One of the problems with this proposal beyond the minority rule motivation is the County has only three districts and the way the current districts are drawn is a bit off for meeting State law on district boundaries. This was never much of a problem since council (and by the way Port and Public Utility District) were elected county-wide. But with Bellingham carved up by three districts the district lines should be redrawn to meet state rules - a difficult task with only three districts. None of that matters though if your goal is to accomplish minority rule.
There are also some real governance issues with district only elections. Council members will concentrate only on issues that matter within their district and vote swapping along the lines of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" should be of some concern particularly with public works projects.
Charter Commission 2: Change of ballot measure word limit from 20 to 40
This is a modest change to rules governing ballot measure descriptions for county initiatives and received broad commission support.
Charter Commission 3: Limits Council Charter Amendment Proposals
This amendment was initially put forward to prevent the County Council from putting forward amendments that would undo any of the charter amendments that might pass. It has since been modified so that the council can, but would require a 7-0 vote by the council. The change was made to resolve an obvious State Constitutional conflict. The change required the Charter Commission to change their rules, had no public hearing and there was no discussion. I can fairly readily see some serious governance problems with this poorly thought through amendment. But I am unfair to say it was poorly thought through. It was well thought through if the goal is partisan politics. No thought given to governance.
Charter Commission 1: Reduce citizen Charter initiative signatures
This proposal is to reduce the number of signatures citizens need to gather to bring forward initiatives more in line with state initiative rules.
Charter Commission 6 and 18: Term Limits for Council and Executive
This would limit council and executive to three 4-year terms. Currently there are no limits.
Charter Commission 10: Limits Council Proposed Charter Amendments regarding council selection
This amendment has a similar goal as Number 4. It prevents Council from putting forward Charter Amendments regarding the election of Council members. The original was modified with no hearing or discussion to require a 7-0 vote by the council in order to avoid an obvious State Constitution conflict.
Charter Commission 13: Four parties in District Review Commission
The District Review Commission draws the election district boundaries in Whatcom County. This amendment would modify the makeup of the commission based the results of the last election.
The County Council considered several Charter Amendment proposals brought to them by citizens that were frustrated or concerned by the Charter Review Commission's partisanship. Full disclosure: I submitted two proposed amendments.
Council: 5 District Proposal
This proposal would shift the County from the current 3 districts to 5 districts and thus would address the problematic issue of the current district boundaries and with more and smaller districts might also assure broader diversity on the Council. This amendment passed and will be on the November ballot. Full disclosure again: I testified in favor of this measure but it was not one I brought forward, personally I would prefer to see the County go to seven districts.
Council Super Majority Proposal
This amendment will be on the ballot and if passed will require that any charter amendment put forward by the Charter Commission and/or the Council require a super majority vote by the commission or council. This would have the effect on the commission of ending the narrow partisan approach that has plagued essentially every Charter review. It could be called the "cut the crap" amendment and perhaps would lead to discussion of governance issues versus the partisanship. The amendment proposal also calls out that the council would be required to have a super majority which is already the case, but a phrase was added that says that "no amendment shall require a higher number". This is in direct conflict with the Charter Commissions scheme of requiring a 7-0 vote by the council.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Mills Creek drains off the west side of Anderson Mountain in the Northwest Cascades down to the Samish River valley. Mills Creek is one of several drainages that have built alluvial fans onto the Samish River valley floor.
The Samish River is a rather small river and by northwest standards falls into a category of creek like except it is rather long and has an important salmon fishery. Its valley in the Northwest Cascades predates the river. The Samish just happens to be occupying this deep intermountain valley.
The Samish flow and gradient is no match for the episodic discharges of sediment from the tributary streams flowing off the steep slopes of the valley. These tributary fans are blocking the Samish and have formed a chain of lakes and swamps along the gentle valley floor.
Mills Creek has a bit of sad history. A landslide in the creek drainage blocked the creek and the subsequent dam burst debris flood killed a resident on the fan below during a storm event in January 1983.