Editorials

Bravo to Tumwater and tiny home volunteers, but hearty jeers to scofflaw sheriffs

Olympia homeless soon to have a roof over their heads

An army of volunteers worked to finish amenities at the new Plum Street Village tiny house homeless site in downtown Olympia.
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An army of volunteers worked to finish amenities at the new Plum Street Village tiny house homeless site in downtown Olympia.

Our cheers and jeers for the week.

Thumbs down: Derelict buildings

First, the old Olympia Brewery: Good for Tumwater for levying fines on the company led by Chandulal Patel, the hotel and convention center developer who bought the old Olympia brewery in 2015. When he bought it, Patel’s project manager Ronny Vogel said, “We want to do something great for the community.” But the condition of the property has gotten worse with each of those three years, and there is no end in sight. Patel now owes tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines to the city for letting it become a dangerous eyesore. If the fines remain unpaid, they will become liens against the property.

The city’s top priority now is simply to get Patel to secure the buildings to keep people out, and reduce the risk of another fire like the two that have already burned one building and damaged another.

That’s just sad. We wish there were harsher penalties for non-performance than fines.

Second, Griswolds: This burned out blight has sat empty for over a decade on Fourth Avenue, in the center of downtown Olympia. Big Rock Capital has a purchase agreement with the city, and a plan for a four-story building with a mix of affordable and market-rate housing and 7,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. But they currently lack a ground-floor tenant, and that means the project “doesn’t pencil,” as developers say.

The future is uncertain; if Big Rock doesn’t respond to land use review comments by March 18, the city could cancel the purchase agreement. This would be a great location for . . . the Olympia Food Co-op? A downtown drugstore? Crate and Barrel?

Thumbs Up: People who help

The Plum Street tiny house village is now open, and will house as many as 40 people who have been homeless in freezing weather. Its little houses, though temporary, are a huge step up from life in a tent; they have heat and light, insulation, windows, and perhaps more important than you think, doors residents can lock. The village also has several plumbed bathrooms, a dining area, and on-site staff.

Even before anyone moved in, the city learned a big lesson from the village. “What we’ve learned is that there are a lot of people willing to help,” says city staffer Anna Schlecht.

River Ridge and Olympia high school students, soldiers from JBLM, YouthBuild, and many faith communities mobilized volunteers; an even longer list of students, service clubs, nonprofits and individuals contributed tiny houses. The Thurston County Housing Authority and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance also contributed.

We are deeply grateful to all of them.

Thumbs down: Scofflaw sheriffs

Initiative 1639, last fall’s gun control measure, was approved by 59 percent of state voters. But 16 county sheriffs are declaring they won’t enforce it. Many are in rural counties where majorities voted against it, and they are for hoping for a court-ordered repeal of some of the intiative’s requirements.

These scofflaw sheriffs need to re-read their oaths of office, which call on them to enforce all the laws, not just the ones they like. We suggest they also take remedial civics classes to review the meaning of the rule of law.

Fortunately, Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza is not among the scofflaws. “Whether I like the initiative or not, I have to enforce the law,” he says. Good for him.

And what Snaza thinks matters beyond our county borders, because he currently leads the Washington State Sheriffs Association, and is the president-elect of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. We hope he will use his leadership positions to remind those rebellious sheriffs that they are in the business of law enforcement, not law-making.

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