What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

Feel free to join the conversation: welcome aboard!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What has Obie Done as County Commissioner? What would I do?

The ebola virus. Obie had nothing to do with this, either.
At the last candidate forum, Obie said this about the Taylor Bridge Fire animal rescue operation at the fairgrounds: "All of the work was done by volunteers, but as a politician I get to take credit for it." He was serious, not making a joke.1

It was part of his introductory remarks, a chance for him to talk about what he did during four years as a commissioner. He also talked about the county's compliance with the Growth Management Act, and resolution of water problems.

Those things happened, but he couldn't mention a single example of his own leadership. 

Such a low threshold for claiming credit makes it difficult for those of us who are more modest, which is just about all of us.

Here is what I hope to say after four years as county commissioner: "I helped bring a new level of trust, transparency, and accountability to county government.

"I made sure our economic development efforts were as effective as possible, and ensured that we got value for the money we spent on economic development. I made the county more welcoming to new businesses. I helped the county respond effectively to changing economic conditions. I kept taxes as low as possible, but no lower.

"I helped citizens find effective ways to communicate with their county government, and I communicated effectively with them. Sometimes people got upset, but I helped them understand the reasons for my actions, even if we couldn't agree. 

"Lots of other good things happened that I wasn't directly responsible for, including continued progress on the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Plan. Important work was done by volunteers, and it made our communities stronger and safer."

That's what I hope to say, about things that I really did do and that needed doing. I won't need to take credit for what others did, because I will have actually accomplished things.

1It wasn't the first time he's said this kind of thing. It would be different if he was joking, but he wasn't. Here is a video of his opening remarks that night.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Treating jobs as an emergency

"Economic development: the use of public resources to stimulate private investment." 
-- TIP Strategies, Kittitas County Economic Plan, 2009

At candidate forums I have been talking about how we need to be treating the need for new jobs as an emergency. Briefly, here's why: of our top 5 employers in terms of payroll, 64% of the income is from taxpayer-funded sources. In particular, CWU is our top employer, paying an average salary of $40,000, and it is also the most threatened by budget cuts at the state level. Things are looking shaky for other employers, too. For example, Twin City Foods, a longtime source of family-wage-paying union jobs, has been reducing its processing tonnage for several years.

In this post, I'll write about some ideas for going after the jobs problem.2

In general I see revenue, capital, customers, and opportunities coming from the west -- the Puget Sound area, which some of us call "the coast" -- and competition coming from the east -- primarily Grant County.

Grant County has been eating our lunch in the economic development department. And we have been peeling and salting the hard boiled egg for them.

Meanwhile, we try to pretend the Seattle area doesn't exist, even though it's one of most prosperous areas in the country, and Kittitas County is the gateway to their only escape from traffic and grey skies to tourism and other activities.

We're also not using all of our geographic assets properly. Vantage, for example, has been hard hit (make that very, very hard hit) by the problems at Wanapum Dam, which is managed by the Grant County PUD, yet it is our only direct access to a big body of water for recreation. Our failure to act to help Vantage is one of those examples of letting Grant County dine at our expense, as boaters go across the Vantage Bridge to find places to launch. Vantage is important to all of us, not least because west-side visitors to Vantage can stop and spend money all the way across the county in both directions.3

More on Vantage in a soon-to-come blog post.

A 2009 economic study, commissioned by the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, made a number of specific recommendations, some of which have been followed.4 The report was completed at the height of the Great Recession, and it would be a good idea to get an updated version. It should be possible to update it without hiring a consultant, and this would be a good opportunity for county commissioners to provide some leadership.

Now that compliance with the GMA is in place, and the water bank is filled, and the marijuana issue is almost put to rest, jobs need to a specific focus of the county commissioners' attention.5

1This report may be available on the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce's website, but the most promising link I could find turned out to be broken. If you would like a copy, let me know and I will e-mail you one.
2Here's a 2011 Daily Record Editorial about the need for more jobs.
3The Chamber of Commerce does have a beautiful web page about the Vantage area.
4You can find a 2009 Daily Record story about the report here.
5The county commissioners will probably point out that the work they have been doing has been about jobs, and to a certain extent that is of course true, but they have spent a lot of time distracted by things like the marijuana issue and the ground water situation. Both of these problems (more on water, more on marijuana) were self-inflicted, and both have occupied time that could have been better spent.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marijuana Forum, October 22

As reported in this morning's Daily Record, I am organizing a community forum on marijuana in Kittitas County at 6:30 on Wednesday, October 22 at the Hal Holmes Center. Commissioner O'Brien can't attend due to a prior commitment, so I will not be treating this as a campaign event. I'll be treating it as an opportunity to learn, and I'll be trying to figure out how we got to the point that this issue is so divisive.

More on the forum in a moment, but first I want to note that I intentionally waited for the Daily Record to report on this event before I started promoting it on the Internet. (I would have involved the Northern Kittitas County Tribune, too, but it is a weekly and the timing didn't work out.) 

The Internet is good for some things, and newspapers are good for other things. The more local the issue, the bigger the difference and the more important newspapers become. 

A big problem with the Internet -- and I didn't invent this idea -- is that we tend to gravitate toward sites that agree with our own point of view. This leads to what is called a silo, or stovepipe, effect, where we are only exposed to ideas that we already agree with, at the very time when we need to hear other perspectives. There's a real cost to this problem, and I think the upset we're experiencing over marijuana are an example of it.

I am regularly surprised at how many people I meet who don't subscribe to any local newspaper. This is too bad, because communities need common sources of information, even -- or, especially -- if they don't agree with some of the points of view they see there. Common sources of information and other common experiences are what make communities exist in the first place.

I don't mean for this post to be all about newspapers, but suffice it to say that I wish everyone in the county subscribed to and read one or both of our local newspapers.

OK, more about the marijuana forum. It turns out that is easy and mostly free to stream events on the Internet these days.1 In keeping with my interest in openness, I will be streaming video of the forum on the Internet through YouTube.2 Here is a link, in case the one at the top of this post doesn't work, but I hope most people will come and participate, rather than stay home and just watch.

As the Daily Record article says, I hope we can have a civil exchange of information and that we can all learn from one another and try to see other points of view. I hope you'll come.

1Free and easy is a far cry from the $100,000 for two years quoted by Commissioner O'Brien as the cost of making commissioner meetings available to the public as video. (Link to an earlier post about this.) Of course, on the Internet free and easy sometimes turns out to be neither, but clearly the cost of making meetings available to citizens and journalists who can't make it to commissioner meetings is going to be far less than the commissioners seem to think it would cost.
2It took me about 45 minutes to go from being unaware that it was even possible for regular people to stream video on the internet, to figuring out how to set it up. It became possible on YouTube late last year.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Climate Change and Kittitas County

I remember the first modern scientific paper about climate change in the early '90s. In 2006, my partners and I started Central Washington Biodiesel, partly out of concern about climate change, and in 2011 I went to my first scientific conference about climate change. In 2012 I organized TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege: Hello Climate Change. One talk from that event, Climate Change is Simple, by David Roberts, has a total of about 200,000 views on YouTube.

Also in about 2012, this video really grabbed my attention. It was put together by Richard Muller, previously a climate change skeptic. His organization, which has received Koch brothers funding in the past, is called Berkeley Earth.

I set this version so that it starts in about when I was conceived, for maximum effect.

I'm not an expert, but I have been paying attention to climate change for quite some time. The good news is that there is mostly good news when it comes to the effect of climate change in the Pacific Northwest region. The same is generally true for Kittitas County. There is a little not-so-good news, too, for our region. Unfortunately, the news for large parts of the planet is almost all bad, so I'm going to focus on Kittitas County and the PNW here.

In his TEDx talk, David Roberts covers the simpler, broader parts of climate change in about 17 minutes, but this is going to be a longish blog post about more local issues. Toward the bottom of the post, I'll write about some possible policy implications.

First, we need to mention that science is uncertain, and there's no way around it. There are many different levels of uncertainty. There's always a chance someone in the last stages of cancer could recover, or that what looks like a tumor on the first visit to a doctor turns out not to be a tumor. It is technically possible that climate change isn't really happening, but there is lots of evidence from many different sources that shows that it really is happening. Indeed, there is so much evidence that we should be behaving as if climate change is happening now.

Next, we need to talk about how weather and climate are not the same thing, and how there is a large amount of variability even over long periods. In this graph (also from the Berkeley Earth website), showing temperatures in our area since records began in about 1835, it appears that our average temperature has risen by about a degree and a half Celsius (about 2.7°F). But a recent paper provides a convincing argument that our local temperature increase is mostly due to normal regional variability, not anthropogenic (that is, human-caused) climate change. Put another way, in our area the effects of climate change so far have been smaller than the long-term variability of regional weather.

Make no mistake, on a global level anthropogenic climate change is just about as real a thing as we have in science, but warming happens at different rates in different places. Because we are right next to the eastern Pacific Ocean, where cold water comes to the surface from the deep ocean, our region is warming more slowly than other places.

As if all that wasn't confusing enough (the PNW has been warming, but not because of climate change; the rest of the world really is warming because of climate change), there's this past summer.

This map (from Cliff Mass's weather blog) shows the departure from normal of air temperatures across Washington during the summer of 2014. In Eastern Washington, temperatures averaged about 3.5°F above normal. It was a record-breaking summer, but it was mostly due to natural variability and only a little due to climate change.

The greatest impacts to agriculture will come from changes in water availability, largely because farmers are already used to dealing with significant weather variability.

In the Kittitas Valley, our irrigation season is extended as snowpack in the Cascades melts during the summer. That is expected to change as the climate continues to change. (The next three figures are from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group 2013 State of Knowledge Report on climate change impacts in the Northwest. The pdf is available here.)
Areas that get their water from sources that are near the current snowline are the most sensitive to changes in average year-round temperature. That's because increases in temperature will raise the snowline above the mountain tops. That means our water supplies will be changing, and the effect is significant enough that the Yakima River Basin is specifically discussed in the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) report. These graphs follow the above figure in the CIG report. (Again, here's a link to the pdf of that report.)

The middle graph shows monthly changes in Yakima River flows at three points in the future. Notice that our current maximum flow happens in June and July. In the future, maximum flow is expected to occur in December-February, because precipitation that now falls in the mountains as snow will fall as mixed rain and snow and later as rain during the winter.

The predicted changes in our water supplies are due to predicted changes in temperature. What does the future hold for us temperature-wise?

This graph show the predictions of climate modeling for the Northwest (it's Figure ES-3 in the CIG report). It shows that our temperatures will likely rise by about 3.5 degrees by around 2050. As Cliff Mass points out, that's when the summer of 2014 will seem normal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marijuana Forum Planned

From: verheys@hotmail.com
To: obie@writeme.com
Subject: Invitation: marijuana community forum
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2014 12:24:49 -0700

Hi Obie,

I have just reserved the Teanaway Room at the Hal Holmes Center for a community forum on marijuana. The date is Wednesday, October 22. The event will start at 6:30.

After our candidates forum last week, I went to the Planning Commission meeting, just in time to hear the last of the citizens who had something to say about the marijuana issue. Although the chair was generous (perhaps more generous than he should have been) with time, it was clear that more people wished to speak than had the opportunity. 

I'd like to hear what everyone has to say, but I don't know if I'd be allowed to organize a meeting like this if I were elected, so it seems now is the time.

I know you are very busy with your duties, and that out-of-town travel is routine for you, so neither I nor anyone else will think less of you if you can't attend. If you are able to attend, you are welcome, and I will find a way to include you that is respectful and fair.

Best wishes,


> From: obie@writeme.com
> To: verheys@hotmail.com
> Subject: Re: Invitation: marijuana community forum
> Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:36:38 +0200
> Steve,
> I have a meeting in Cle Elum until 6 and then the Council of Governments that starts at 7 in South Cle Elum so I will not be available.
> Obie
> Sent using the mail.com iPhone App

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why you should vote for me and not that other guy

Ballots will start arriving in mailboxes around the county on Wednesday, October 15. Ballots can be returned at any time, and must be placed in drop boxes or postmarked by Tuesday, November 4.

I have been writing this blog since May of 2010, and I have covered just about everything one might want to know about where I stand on various matters. But that's a lot to read, so here is a quick guide to my thoughts on some key issues. If you're interested in something I don't cover here, just ask and I'll update this post. In the list below, look for footnotes that lead to background information.
  • Openness in county government: In the past years the county has received an unprecedented number of public document requests -- this indicates a serious level of mistrust of county government. In 2012, the county began requiring county employees to sign confidentiality statements, which was also unprecedented.0 Inexplicably, county commissioner meetings are not televised (or streamed, or available on the Internet in any way), unlike the city council and school board meetings of both Ellensburg and Cle Elum.0.1

  • Commissioner responsibilities: by law, commissioners are responsible for health and safety, capital projects, fiscal practices and policy, and economic development. Our commissioners have not been paying enough attention to economic development.

  • Jobs: we need to treat the need to grow more jobs as an emergency. Of our five largest sources of payroll, 64% are taxpayer funded.1 CWU is the largest employer (in terms of salary totals) in the county, and faces still more budget cuts next year.2

  • Business: the current county commissioners don't have any significant experience with business, let alone new businesses. I have extensive experience in business, especially with startup businesses.3 But the most important thing about businesses and county government is something everyone knows: businesses need a stable regulatory environment.4 Our commissioners have not been providing this.5 There is intense competition nationwide for new businesses, who often can choose to locate anywhere they like -- we need to step up our game.

  • Water: as I wrote back in 2010, the water situation did not need to become a problem, but it did. It may be fixed now, but that depends on who you ask. There are two key water issues these days:
    • the lease of water from Roslyn for Lower County rural home building, and 
    • the purchase of water for a county-run water bank that mostly benefits the Lower County. 
    The leasing of water to fill in the gap before the water bank water becomes available may be challenged in court. Because finally correcting the water situation is necessary to maintain compliance with state rules, it may be necessary to defend the county's approach, and I would support that defense if the Prosecuting Attorney's Office recommended it.6
    Following a motion by my opponent, the county unnecessarily paid about $51,000 per acre foot for one set of water rights, and bought others for as little as $13,000. It was very irresponsible to pay $51K for water rights; the fact that a well-known developer was selling the rights is fishy, at best.7

  • Illegal drugs: heroin is the drug we should be worrying about. There have been several heroin overdose deaths in the county in recent years. One overdose was two blocks from my house in Ellensburg.

  • Marijuana: marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado, and it will soon be legal in a number of other states, including Oregon. As I wrote earlier, the marijuana industry could be good for Kittitas County, but only if it is handled correctly. Unfortunately, the county, led by Obie, has not handled it correctly.8

0In a newspaper article at the time, the commissioners excused this new requirement, saying some departments were already required to sign such statements. The existing departments were ones that normally deal with confidential information: the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Health Department. No good reason was given for expanding the requirement/
0.1I have written several times, most recently at this link, about the problem of inaccessible county commissioner meetings, which are a key cause of the current upset over marijuana businesses.
1I am slightly oversimplifying here: CWU's budget mostly comes from tuition. However, over the past 4 years, CWU's taxpayer-provided state funding has been cut by more than 50%.
2One in nine jobs in Kittitas County is at CWU. The average salary of the nearly 2200 jobs is about $40,000.
3I have been involved in three start-ups, two of them successful, an excellent record. My first company, Central Washington Biodiesel, is still operating, but I sold my interest in it in 2011. My second company, the Cascadia Carbon Institute, is active internationally. A third company, Bioalgene, failed to attract investors, but has a zombie web page.
4Fuel is a highly regulated industry, so my first business gave me considerable experience in dealing with regulations and regulatory agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.
5The marijuana industry is the latest example of the county providing unsettled a regulatory environment.
6The Prosecuting Attorney's Office acts as the legal advisor to the county commissioners.
7It turns one of the trickiest things about being in business is figuring out how to value things. One simple approach is to take the cost of leasing something (in this case, $500 per acre foot per year, from Roslyn) and multiply it by a time factor. Mortgages are often for 30 years, so that's a reasonable time factor. Multiplying $500 by 30 gives $15,000, not very different from the lower-priced water that was purchased by the county. The county could have -- Obie could have -- chosen to pay about this amount, and walked away from the $51,000 water. That's not what happened.
8For my earlier posts on this topic, see here, here, here, here, and here.

    Ballots can be returned at any time by US Mail or via a drop box (there are drop boxes at the Kittitas County Courthouse in Ellensburg, the Upper County Courthouse in Cle Elum, the Student Union Rec Center at CWU, and other locations.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Single Biggest Problem Facing Kittitas County

Above, a video I recorded during the League of Women Voters candidates forum to demonstrate how easy it is to do. Why aren't county commissioner meetings recorded and available on the Internet?

The biggest problem facing Kittitas County is poor communication between the Board of County Commissioners and the citizens and key industries and institutions in the county. The current upset about marijuana regulations is just a symptom of the larger problem of poor communication, and it's hard to escape the notion that the commissioners like it this way.1

At the League of Women Voters candidates forum last week I was surprised to hear Commissioner O'Brien say he couldn't think of anything more the county could be doing to improve communication. By law, he pointed out, all meetings and documents are available to the public.

Of course, virtually all commissioner meetings happen during the workday and in the Courthouse in Ellensburg. This makes it difficult for people with day jobs, and people who don't live in Ellensburg, to attend even occasional meetings, let alone a series of related meetings. Scheduling conflicts can also make press coverage difficult, even for important issues.

Ellensburg City Council, Ellensburg School Board, Cle Elum City Council, and Cle Elum-Roslyn School Board meetings are all video-recorded and rebroadcast, which helps explain why press coverage of these bodies is so much effective than coverage of county business.2

Doing the minimum required by law isn't much help when it comes to giving citizens real access to what the commissioners are up to, and in this day and age it's not acceptable.

As reported by the Daily Record last week, Commissioner O'Brien stated that it was too expensive to video record meetings (meetings are audio recorded, but are not, as far as I can tell, available without a trip to the Courthouse). He mentioned some numbers: the cameras in the Ellensburg City Council meeting room cost thousands of dollars each, and recording and storing county meetings would cost $100,000 for the first two years. "If you don't have the dollars, it doesn't make sense," he quipped.

A quick fact-check: try Googling "meeting video recording equipment" without the quotation marks. On my computer, the second hit is a memo from the City of North Bend, 80 miles west of Ellensburg. The memo reports a bid process that led to a system that had a one-time cost of about $20,000 for equipment and an annual cost of $15,000 to $20,000 for a vendor to handle the recordings. So, about half of Commissioner O'Brien's estimate, but then again the North Bend City Council probably spends less time meeting.

But here's an interesting thing: the memo was from 2005, five years before Mr. O'Brien took office. In the nine years since 2005, it seems reasonable to expect that costs have come down, and we intuitively know this is true. After all, the first iPhone didn't appear until 2007.

Then there's the question of how much it costs not to video record and broadcast county commissioner meetings.

In fact, this failure has cost us real money and heartache. This was evident at the Planning Commission meeting, where I went after the candidates forum. By that late in the evening the crowd had dwindled from hundreds of people to scores of people, most of them upset by the marijuana industry regulations. Might proper communication have saved many people a great deal of time?

It strikes me that the commissioners prefer the current situation, and to the extent they have researched options at all, they did not look very hard for affordable solutions. As with many things, there are costs for acting, and there are costs for not acting. I think the costs of not acting are higher.3

1In an earlier post I -- or, rather, Commissioner O'Brien himself -- mentioned why the commissioners might not want meetings televised: "When there's that close a scrutiny, things can change."
2I use the old-fashioned terms "televise" and "broadcast." These could easily be replaced with "stream on the Internet."
3For a perspective on costs, according to a watchdog group, the Armory remodel is more than 100% over budget, representing unexpected spending of about $1.5 million dollars.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throw-back Thursday: the Daily Record's 2010 take on the commissioners race.

On October 28, 2010, less than a week before the election, the Ellensburg Daily Record ran an editorial about the race for county commissioner, which was an earlier version of this year's contest.

The editorial endorsed, in a way, Obie O'Brien, noting that "O'Brien would likely go along with the current board."

That was certainly the case once Mr. O'Brian got elected, and as a result the Board of County Commissioners got involved in a number of misadventures. It pursued the ill-advised Armory remodel project that is 200% over budget and unnecessarily paid $51,000 per acre foot in borrowed money to deposit water in the county-run water bank. Led by Obie, the commissioners approved, then botched, the marijuana policy roll-out, upsetting just about everyone.

Mr. O'Brien was directly responsible for the last two problems, and he's been struggling to fix the latest one by trying to modify the county code yet again in an effort to placate angry voters in an election year.

The editorial concluded that "O'Brien is the more comfortable choice," but it didn't work out that way.

To be fair, the editorial did acknowledge that there is value in "critical questioning and some level of dissension," which is what I would have brought to the board. Even though I'm pretty sure that, through critical question and, when necessary, dissension, I would have prevented any of those problems from happening if I had been elected in 2010, it's just as well that I wasn't elected then.

Why? Because I'm a much better candidate now.

Here are some of the ways in which I am a much better candidate: a series of experiences examples of leadership that are directly relevant to our situation in Kittitas County.

In the past few years I have been an officer in three different startup companies, two of which -- both in Kittitas County -- are still operating.1,2 I have continued my involvement in the community, leading a bipartisan inquiry into the long-running problem of the middle school in Ellensburg, and most recently as a member of the Team for a Common Vision, working on a solution to the same problem. While doing all this is I have helped guide an expansion of my family's farm following the death of my father.

These are all activities that have prepared me to address the most critical problem in Kittitas County: the need to attract and grow family-wage jobs.

It will be interesting to see what the Daily Record writes about the election this year. Mr. O'Brien has had a difficult term, while I have made good use of the time to become better able to serve Kittitas County at a very critical time.

1In the startup world, being successful in two out of three attempts is considered an extremely good record.
2The business that I am still involved with, the Cascadia Carbon Institute,  does international technical advising and consulting in the renewable energy and industrial chemical space.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What does a county commissioner do, anyway?

We all learned in school about the three branches of our government: executive, legislative, and judicial. It turns out that that structure applies at the federal and state levels, but at the county level, at least in Washington, the board of county commissioner is a combination of the executive and legislative branches.

That gives the commissioners significant responsibility in a job that can be very complex. To make matters more challenging, there are only three commissioners in the form specified by the Washington State Constitution.

Here are some areas in which a board of county commissioners must be -- or have the ability to quickly become -- well-informed:
  • labor relations
  • environmental regulations (state and federal)
  • land use and planning
  • public health
  • public safety
  • finance
  • contracts
  • human resources
  • personnel management
  • construction management
  • forestry
  • wildlife
  • agriculture
  • mental health
  • disabilities
  • housing
  • substance abuse
  • solid waste 
  • fire safety 
It's an incomplete list, and it's not hard to find examples where the commissioners have stumbled badly in recent years. The 200% over-budget Armory remodel, for example, is clearly a result of construction management problems, among others.

Meanwhile, the most important parts of a commissioner's job aren't even on the list: budget and policy. Actually, the budget is the main way the commissioners carry out policy, and policy decisions require a very high-level view of where the county is and where the commissioners want to take it. This kind of view is supposed to lead to a set of goals, which the commissioners then work to have all of county government support. I am not able to find a vision statement or list of goals on the board of county commissioners' website.

Part of the problem is that the commissioners spend most of their time on day-to-day operations of the county, leaving little time for policy-level thinking, but that is a topic for another post.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How did the county mess up marijuana so badly?

To paraphrase Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke, the problem is a failure to communicate. The county's failure to communicate is what caused the storm of criticism from a small group of people who felt blindsided by the new regulations on marijuana businesses.

The communication problem isn't limited to the marijuana issue, of course. It is unusually -- and, in this day and age, inexplicably -- difficult to get information about the workings of county government.

It is hard to imagine why the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) hasn't caught up with the Cle Elum City Council, the Cle Elum-Roslyn School Board, the Ellensburg City Council and the Ellensburg School Board when it comes to keeping citizens in the loop. Meetings of all of those organizations have been recorded and broadcast via cable for years.

Making the whole situation even harder to understand is the fact that Commissioner Obie O'Brien previously served on the Ellensburg City Council, and during that time his day job involved technical support for distance learning at CWU. A 2007 Daily Record story about community access TV and televised meetings noted that then-Mayor O'Brien "became involved with community access TV long before he became mayor." If anyone knows the how and why of making video of meetings available, it should be Mr. O'Brien.

So, after 4 years of Commissioner O'Brien, why isn't video of all BOCC meetings televised or available on the Internet? Possibly, in the words of Mayor O'Brien, because "[W]hen there is that close a scrutiny, things can change."

Why the freak-out about marijuana businesses in Kittitas county?

Marijuana processing workers in Colorado.
The freak-out about marijuana businesses in Kittitas county is an interesting thing. I'll write about the main cause of the situation soon, but first, a look at some secondary causes.

To try to understand how we got here, it is useful to compare Kittitas county with Grant county, just across the Columbia River from us. While Initiative 502 (which made recreational marijuana legal when it was passed by a state-wide vote of 55.7%) failed narrowly in Kittitas county with 51.58% no votes, it was decisively defeated in Grant county, with 55.41% no votes.

In spite of the very strong no vote, the Grant county Planning Department issued a 5-page policy on marijuana on December 13, 2013. The Department recommended that marijuana production be allowed on any land that could be used to grow other crops.

Kittitas County, on the other hand, took until May 2014 to issue a 48-page policy, including changes to the County Code. The county's response to Initative 502 was led by Commissioner O'Brien.

What was the public reaction? In Grant county, there has been little, if any, public reaction -- and no public outcry -- about marijuana production.1 In Kittitas county there has been considerable outcry, so much so that the Kittitas county Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) caved and revised the regulations, adding to the hoops marijuana entrepreneurs must jump through.2 This was a blow to the budding Kittitas county marijuana industry, which faces competition from nearly every other county in the state.

Why the difference in reaction? Probably at least the following factors played a role:
  1. Nearly all of the people who live outside of towns in Grant county are involved in agriculture in some way -- a positive result of Grant county's compliance with the Growth Management Act.3
  2. People who live outside towns in Grant county are reluctant to tell their neighbors what they can or cannot do with their land.
  3. A great diversity of crops is produced in Grant county, literally from asparagus to watermelon (and possibly zucchini). In addition, corn fields have traditionally been used for small but illicit growing operations, sometimes by the children of farmers (or by now-grown farmers' younger selves).4
  4. Grant County marijuana regulations were timely, clear, and easy to understand.
One concern in Kittitas county is the export hay market, but it is important to realize that there is significant export hay production in Grant county, too, including production by well-known Kittitas county hay companies.

1I skimmed through all 258 hits from the linked search of the Columbia Basin Herald website and didn't see a single article indicating concern about the new marijuana regulations.
2The same search of the Ellensburg Daily Record's website (for the word "marijuana") yielded over 1500 hits, and several articles about concern over the new regulations appeared in the top 20 hits.
3 Kittitas county remains out of compliance with the GMA until the Hearings Board rules on the county's efforts to come into compliance. A ruling is expected soon, and it is expected the county will be declared in compliance. Finally.
4I grew up on a farm in Grant county, and I may know some of these people.

Analysis of claims that drive fear of marijuana businesses

Marijuana license applications in Washington.
Green, production; blue, processing; red, retail.
Click for interactive version.1
Since my earlier posts on marijuana, I have spent several weeks doing my own research into the marijuana industry in Kittitas county. I have toured a not-yet-licensed grow facility, talked with marijuana entrepreneurs, read regulations, done a fair amount of Internet research, made maps, talked with a leader in the Kittitas county hay industry, and talked with non-farmers who are concerned about marijuana in the county. While I still do not like indoor grow operations, because of their high carbon footprint, I have no trouble thinking of the marijuana business as just that: a business like any other. As an entrepreneur myself, I tend to sympathize with Kittitas county's marijuana entrepreneurs, who have been dealt a very bad hand by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

Businesses need stability, and the BOCC has made the business environment very unstable.

An August 7, 2014 letter to the Daily Record offers a fairly complete list of concerns that have been expressed about marijuana businesses and calls for the BOCC to reverse itself and ban marijuana production. Here are some of my thoughts about some of the concerns.

Item: Prospective marijuana business people are mostly "individuals and members of corporations not residing in this location."
Comment: Kittitas county needs more entrepreneurs, and marijuana business people are classic entrepreneurs. There are homegrown (no pun!) marijuana entrepreneurs, too, and all are investing money in their businesses. Some of these entrepreneurs are starting their second or third businesses, using money they made in earlier ventures. This is exactly the kind of activity, and exactly the kind of business people, that we'd like to encourage in our county, if we could get past negative attitudes about the products.
Item: Other counties have decided not to allow various types of marijuana businesses, we should do the same.
Comment: many more counties have decided to allow marijuana businesses than have decided to forbid marijuana businesses, but an early decision not to allow some or all types of marijuana businesses was certainly an option in Kittitas county. The BOCC obviously didn't do a very good job of communicating about their decision, but they did decide to allow marijuana businesses in the county. Once they made that decision, they had a responsibility -- to the business owners and to their investors -- to move forward with it as smoothly as possible. The BOCC has unfortunately failed to do this, changing the rules after protest from citizens who felt blindsided by the original rules. This is very bad for business, and the most troubling aspect of the whole mess.
Item: [it is said that] there will be security lights and other unsightly side effects at marijuana businesses.
Comment: there will be no unusual visible lighting at marijuana business locations. All lighting will be infra-red, to allow security cameras to see in the dark. Fencing is required, but the fences I have seen are not unsightly.
Item: marijuana could contaminate export hay or otherwise affect the hay industry.
Comment: the Kittitas County Weed Board says marijuana does not have the potential to become a weed problem. In fact, the kind of marijuana sold nowadays does not produce seeds, and must be propagated by rooting cuttings. Farmers here are aware of this.
Item: crime, property values.
Comment: we are all aware of the crime associated with the illegal marijuana industry, and one of the goals of a legal marijuana industry is the reduction of crime. There is evidence this goal is being realized in Colorado, which is several months ahead of us in developing the legal industry. Because marijuana operations are deliberately low-key, it seems unlikely that there will actually be a property value effect, but this remains to be seen.
Item: a large grow facility "could yield a marijuana crop worth $22.50 million-$28 million per year," leading to security concerns.
Comment: that much revenue would ordinarily be seen as a very good thing, since this money would be made in Kittitas county, but it is an annual number. The amount of money or product on site at any time would be far smaller. Marijuana entrepreneurs understand better than anyone the security concerns, and will take steps to minimize risks. Fearful neighbors may worry, but there is no real reason to expect trouble offsite, and the risk of trouble onsite is not large.
Item: what about water and power?
Comment: these are potential problems for people in the business, not the rest of us. They are examples of why this business is -- and reminders of why any business can be -- risky. What business owners do not need is added risk because of a BOCC that can't make up its mind because one member keeps changing his mind. Meanwhile, worrying about things that are none of our concern only increases fear and negative attitudes.
Item: marijuana will make Kittitas county seem less family-friendly.
Comment: marijuana businesses are planned or already operating in every corner of our state, there are at least three breweries and a distillery operating in our county, and there may be more bars than churches in Ellensburg. Again, this concern is something that a worried person might imagine but which seems unlikely to actually come to pass. Whether it does come to pass is under our control regardless of what happens with marijuana.
Most of these concerns grow more out of upset caused by the poor communication on the part of BOCC than out of real problems. The BOCC has thoroughly messed up the situation.

1I don't know why, in the interactive version, some operations map to remote states; their addresses are correct in the data file. Not all marijuana operations are shown on the map, again for unknown reasons having to do with the original dataset.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Commissioner O'Brien's Response to Call to Help Vantage

Commissioner O'Brien sent me an e-mail offering to reply to my letter (see previous post), and I accepted. Here is his response, with a few comments.  

I was writing to ask the County to go to bat for the town of Vantage, and the response is that the county will not.1 The attitude reflected here is likely to be an important campaign theme, because it illustrates the large difference between Obie's management style and mine. His lack of creativity and unwillingness to make waves on behalf of county business is one of the reasons I'm running.

Hello again Steve,

The BOCC has been receiving updates and all the press releases put out by the PUD. We received a presentation from them a week and a half ago including an update on the recreational impacts of the drawdown. At this point the planned date to restore some of the level in the Wanapum Pool which is the area that affects vantage is somewhere around October. Until all the repairs are done to all the monoliths in the spillway the Federal Energy Regulating Council (FERC), and I may have the name wrong, will not authorize refilling the pool or full power operation of the dam.2

As to the impacts to the Vantage area community the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce has been directly acting at our direction to assist in any way. Contacts have been ongoing and many offers I am told have not been accepted. The chamber tells me that the gem shop has had the best summer ever. The county as a public agency cannot directly subsidize businesses or individuals there because of prohibitions of gifting public funds to individuals. Only by contract can we help. I have had conversations with a Grant County commissioner while at other meetings like the WSAC conference. The burden is on the Grant County PUD to respond to effects of the problems created by the damaged dam.

The Hotel – Motel (Lodging) tax fund was set up with specific guidelines that dictate that monies spent have to be used in advertising and promotion that encourages tourism and new additional stays in commercial lodging. Often this is referred to as Heads in Beds. Applications come from proponents of new activities or events. Vantage has no such applications before the review committee that I am aware of at this time. They would have to propose an activity or new vision that would meet the criteria set out according to RCW 67.28.180 and RCW

The river and the shorelines are still dangerous and cannot be entered by citizens. Many resources have been spent by the PUD to ensure safety of the public and preservation of the possible cultural elements and sites along the riverbank. We have been told that even though the bank areas look dry and stable they are not safe. In fact some areas are more like a mix of quicksand and sludge than a beach front. In the past the culturally sensitive areas have been hidden by higher waters but now would be a temptation for citizens to explore and possibly violate the requirements of the First Peoples. The Yakama Tribe and Confederated Nations has specifically requested that law enforcement be employed to protect the heritage and history along the river.4 All cost for increased patrols are being born by the PUD and are using nonscheduled overtime of any officer wishing to accept the work. The continuing law enforcement activities of the Sheriff’s office are not diminished or adversely affecting Kittitas County’s needs.

Your desire of making the people of the affected areas whole after the repairs have been completed is a legal matter between the PUD and those affected. Since the PUD is already paying for additional services the county has no specific loss.5

On a positive note, with the shorelines dry from the drawdown the contracts to renew and update the boat launches on the river is proceeding with no environmental damage because the work can be accomplished in the dry instead of work being done in the water. The parking area at the Vantage public launch is also being renewed and will be in perfect shape when the water levels return.

If you have more specific questions or suggestions I would be happy to hear them. Please feel free to stay in contact with me or you can forward any contacts with citizens who have concerns to me or the other commissioners.

I am responding to this message on my own and not in concert with any other commissioner.


Obie O’Brien

1A Daily Record article today notes that the population of Vantage is about 81 people. Clearly, I'm not doing this for the votes, but perhaps it does explain the County's lackadaisical response.
2Nothing in this paragraph indicates any sort of active involvement on the part of the County, and it contains no new information beyond Grant PUD talking points.
3Neither of these sections is relevant. The correct section is RCW 67.28.1816.
4It is easy to think of ways to solve these problems. An obvious one is to open the river around Vantage, with boundaries up- and downriver that keep people away from culturally sensitive sites; enforcement would be paid by Grant PUD just as it is now. This is not a solution that Grant PUD would choose without pressure from Kittitas County.
5The county is losing sales and lodging, and, to a lesser extent, fuel tax funds. The amounts of these losses can probably be fairly accurately estimated. It is certainly obvious where those funds are going: to Grant County (via Mardon at the Potholes Reservoir, and Beverly/Schwana below Wanapum Dam) if the County wanted to act, it could find a reason to do so.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Trouble in Vantage, County Help Overdue

The town of Vantage is almost as empty as this view of the Wanapum Reservoir from the Ginkgo Visitors Center
To the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners,

I am writing to ask you to take action to help the town of Vantage. For nearly four months the Wanapum Reservoir and its shoreline has been closed to all activities. The businesses in Vantage rely almost entirely on tourism and visitors to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and visitor's center, the Vantage boat launch and marina, and the nearby Wanapum State Park campground.

Off on the eastern edge of Kittitas County, Vantage is used to fending for itself, but the situation reached crisis levels some time ago. It seems to me that an appropriate response from official Kittitas County would include as many of the following as possible:
  • A strongly worded letter, sent as soon as possible to the Grant County PUD and copied to the Grant County Board of Commissioners, urging that the reservoir be opened after the 120 day temporary closure expires on July 3;
  • Coordination with the Grant County Board of Commissioners, who are responsible for another distressed commercial area on their side of the river, to see that access is restored as soon as possible;
  • Financial and other assistance to help Vantage business owners remind Kittitas County residents and visitors that Vantage is open for business (Hotel-Motel Tax Fund or Distressed Sales Tax funds seem appropriate here);
  • Exploring legal issues relating to access to the water, the shoreline, and the exposed riverbed: in Washington, the riverbeds of all rivers that are "navigable-in-fact" are owned by the state and are public trust lands.1 This matter should be clarified and pursued as much as possible to help business return to Vantage;
  • Exploring legal issues relating to making the business owners of Vantage whole after their businesses have been so seriously damaged, not by an act of God, but by decisions by administrators;
This situation has been developing since the reservoir was first closed in late April, not long before the beginning of the tourist season.2 Ideally, Kittitas County would have reached out much earlier to business owners to find ways to help, but it is not too late. The safety concerns associated with the initial closure evaporated with the water that once saturated the mud along the river, and the cultural resource concerns can be managed in a much more focused way than closing the entire area.

If you have already contacted Grant PUD, I would be happy to help spread the word by posting a copy of the letter on my blog, whathappensinthecourthouse.blogspot.com .

Best regards,

Steve Verhey

1I am not a lawyer, but here is a relevant court case: Watkins v. Dorris, 24 Wash. 636, 644, 64 P. 840, 843 (1901).
2Official Kittitas County has been aware of this situation from the beginning, because the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office is contracted to help secure the closure. These same resources could be used to enforce alternate approaches to protecting what needs to be protected.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Public hearing, county's reasoning for spending up to $51,000 per acre-foot of water

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted yesterday to spend about $2.5 million for about 105 acre-feet of water rights. Most of the money will apparently come from a line of credit, as announced at the meeting; no further details were given about the line of credit, which was mentioned for the first time at this meeting.

The county is spending $2.5 million that it does not have on 105 acre-feet of water.

Enough water is being purchased to support building between 900 and 1100 homes outside of urban areas in the county -- and estimated 20 years' worth of building, according to comments by Paul Jewell.

The Commissioners could have chosen several approaches to the situation: they could have decided to wait for lower prices, or purchased only water that cost less than $14,000 per acre foot (a total of 24 acre-feet, enough for 190-250 homes), or only water that cost less than $22,000 per acre-foot (a total of 91 acre-feet, enough for 700-950 homes), or chosen to buy even water that cost $51,000 per acre foot (a total 105 acre-feet). They chose to accept all of the agreements.

Any decision to buy water would have met the stated goals of the water bank. Most decisions would have cost less money; Commissioner O'Brien made the motions to accept and to fund the $51,000/acre-foot purchase -- setting a new record -- as far as I know, for water in Kittitas County. This deal is scheduled to close today; the other deals have now been funded and will be finalized at later dates.

In his comments, Commissioner Jewell stressed that this water would be used for basic human needs like cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. This was interesting reasoning, since he has in the past stressed the need for water to be used for home construction as an economic development function, and, of course, the basic human needs don't exist yet. It is interesting to re-read some of my 2010 posts about water. Here's my favorite.

I definitely appreciate and recognize the amount of time Commissioner Jewell has put into this project. Like everyone, I hope this arrangement works out for the best, even if I might have pursued at least a slightly different path.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My comments for this afternoon's public hearing

Steve Verhey
Ellensburg, WA 98926

May 29, 2014

Kittitas County Commissioners
205 W 5th AVE Suite 108
Ellensburg WA 98926-2887

Comments regarding proposed water bank purchases, public hearing May 29, 2014.

At nearly $2.5 million, this proposal represents a major purchase, and it’s being done hastily and without an appropriate process, public notice, due diligence, or cost-benefits analysis. This is a bad deal for Kittitas County, it’s a bad deal for prospective homeowners, and it’s a really bad for farmers and for the future.

These water deals are bad deals for reasons any businessperson can understand and explain: risk, price, and timing.

First, risk: the agreements say, in essence, that the county, not the sellers of the water rights, are responsible for any problems with transfer of the water. In other words, if Ecology or anyone else finds that the rights are inappropriate, and if the rights lose value or even become worthless, the county loses all of its investment.

Now, price: if the deals are completed the county will pay up to $51,000 per acre foot for these water rights, for an average of over $23,000. Yet some of the other water rights cost $13,000 or less, and even that seems very high. At the highest prices, the county itself is responsible for grossly inflating the price of water in the county. Any normal businessperson would walk away from prices like these, and that’s what the county should do in this case.

Finally, timing: there is no crisis in access to water rights, and there is no reason to enter into any agreement hastily. A reasonable businessperson would take the long view and wait for the best deal. This is especially true for this program, since the county is essentially taking a problem that belongs to private businesses and individuals and turning it into a public problem.

The whole idea of purchasing something in volume and in advance is to save money and influence the market downward. These deals do the opposite. The county should put its money back in its pocket for now.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Water bank sticker shock: $51,140 for an acre-foot of water?

According to documents posted last week on Kittitas County's website, the county agrees to pay remarkably high prices for deposits in the county's water bank. These agreements will be the subject of a public hearing on May 29.

The agreements, with three different sources of water rights, are signed by BOCC Chair Paul Jewell. The amounts of water, pricing information, and links to the documents are shown in the table below. All links can also be found at the county's Community Development Services webpage.

Assignor acre-feet total price $/acre-ft
Mitch and Julie Williams dba Aqua Mitigation LLC 67.203  $1,440,000.00  $21,427.61
Barton and Sheila Clennon 14.490  $200,000.00  $13,802.62
Mitch and Julie Williams dba Aqua Mitigation LLC 14.375  $735,000.00  $51,130.43
Thomas and Kathleen Roth 9.482  $122,000.00  $12,866.48
Totals and average $/ac-ft 105.55  $2,497,000.00  $23,657.03

Prices per acre-foot vary from $12,866.48 (The Roth Water Trust) to $51,130.43 (Mitch and Julie Williams, Aqua Mitigation LLC) -- a four-fold range. The average price offered to Aqua Mitigation LLC is $26,660 per acre-foot, twice the price offered to the other two parties. The average price for all the water is over $23,000.

How much is water worth, anyway?  Below is recent offer to buy water rights, from an April 2014 issue of the Yakima Herald.
The offer is to pay $1,750 per acre-foot, with the understanding that the water rights would leave -- not just Kittitas County -- but the entire Yakima River Basin. The stakes are very high in the arena of water rights.

It might seem odd that the county should move to socialize access to water, but there may be some reasonable arguments for it. Stabilizing access to water at as low a price as possible is one of them. These agreements do almost the exact opposite: they essentially codify an absurdly high price for water. Among other things, this constitutes a serious threat to agriculture in Kittitas County.

Just as bad, the current water bank process bypasses the normal bid system that the county is required to use to protect taxpayers from sweetheart deals between politicians and supporters. Like Walmart, as a volume buyer the county should be driving a much harder bargain.

On the other hand, I own a water right that I would jump at the chance to sell for $51,000, or even considerably less. I am sure that I am not alone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MJ location concerns were avoidable

This morning I -- and a whole roomful of other citizens -- went to a Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting. Most of us were there to talk and listen about proposed marijuana operations in the county.

As I have explained in earlier posts and in my comments at the meeting, I am surprised that the BOCC messed this one up so badly. Commissioner O'Brien (my opponent in this year's election for County Commissioner) is supposed to have been the one paying most attention to this issue, and he has my sympathy for the fix he's gotten the county into.1,2

1Note added after reading the article in the May 21 Daily Record: I was slightly misquoted in the article. In a FAQ issued on October 31, 2013 (very early in the process), people interested in getting into the marijuana business were reassured that if local officials did not like their proposed location, they could change their location without having to reapply. In other words, there would be a little or no cost to entrepreneurs as they search for an acceptable site, and entrepreneurs were clearly warned that such a search might be necessary.

2I hate to literally put my views on marijuana in a footnote, but here goes: I support the experiment the voters of the State of Washington have chosen to carry out, and I support Kittitas County's involvement it it. This involvement, if done correctly, can bring at least three benefits to the county: jobs; tax revenue from marijuana production, processing, and sales; and an increased property tax base. There are many citizens in this county who oppose marijuana on moral grounds, but I am not one of them.

Marijuana operations in Kittitas County

Yesterday's Daily Record contains an article in which our county commissioners appear to blame the state legislature for their own failure to lead on this issue. One must be careful about Monday morning quarterbacking, but in this case it's like blaming a safety in the first play of the game on a slippery ball. That kind of blaming isn't what winners -- or leaders -- do.1

Reading past newspaper articles on this issue, I don't see many previous complaints about the state's process, and in some cases the process has been praised. I do see a Board of County Commissioners that seems to have been blind-sided by this issue, possibly because they were so focused on getting the county into the water rights business.

An early report, published in the Daily Record on Dec. 5, 2013, noted that Commissioner O'Brien was the point man for the county's response to Initiative 502, which was approved in the 2012 election. In that same article, Commissioner Jewell notes that the county can't "outright recommend denial" of a permit to grow, process, or sell marijuana. That may or may not be true, but the county certainly had, at least at the time, plenty of tools to ensure a more orderly response to I-502.

1I haven't had a chance to write formally about it, but I'm running against Commissioner O'Brien for County Commissioner; from time to time I may post fair, but understated, criticism, of his performance for the past 3.5 years.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lack of oversight, competition leads to questionable Chamber choice

To the Editor: 

I read something confusing in last Thursday's Daily Record. It said economic development (EDD) director Ron Cridlebaugh had taken a job in Douglas County, effective the very next day. David Bowen had been appointed to take over Mr. Cridlebaugh’s duties. Mr. Bowen had very recently – and just as quietly -- been appointed to operate the Central Washington Renewable Energy Collaborative (CWREC).

Those are the peculiar facts as reported. Here's some of what I understand about the background of the situation.

When Mr. Cridlebaugh was hired, the Chamber made a big deal about its search -- it might even have been a national search -- for someone with strong economic development credentials. By lucky coincidence, the very best candidate was right here in economically depressed Ellensburg.

Mr. Bowen, now appointed to both the EDD and the CWREC jobs, has a checkered history in the county and currently owns Mike’s Tavern in Cle Elum.1

The Chamber of Commerce is a private organization that can (and, as seen here, does) do whatever it wants without regard to what anyone else might think or what might actually make sense.

The Chamber would not be able to operate without substantial public funding, and it has positioned itself to play the key role in economic development and other activities for the entire county.

Now, in case they are not already obvious, some confusing things.

CWREC and economic development are being combined. This is a big change, so why is this decision not being explained?2 Is this move the reason an actual economic development professional is suddenly not needed? Or has the title simply been changed?

For Mr. Bowen, there is a clear conflict of interest with the Teanaway solar reserve project, among others.3 TSR is opposed by its neighbors and requires subsidies to make up for its poor location.4 The Chamber knows all this. Why does it not care?

The Chamber will no doubt take it upon itself to lead an effort to establish a port district in Ellensburg. A port district is potentially a good thing, but why should taxpayers support it if this is the way the economic development show is run here?

Finally, how could the Daily Record’s related editorial have been so uncritical? It simply rehashed information from the news item.

We have seen how trust matters. Trust is an issue here too, with both the newspaper and the Chamber.

1On the matter of Mr. Bowen's checkered past, there is the time he accepted a full-time (and apparently unadvertised) job with PSE while still a full-time county commissioner, something disclosed only after the fact. This was another conflict of interest issue, since county commissioners made many decisions before and after this time that affected PSE and PSE's major customers. The move drew at least one interesting letter to the editor. Then there's the fact that Bowen and his fellow commissioners made a series of bone-headed land development decisions and laid the foundation for the county's ongoing problems with the state GMA (over land use) and DOE (over water use). There is not room for a more extensive list.

2Since neither activity has produced much in the way of results, how will combining them yield something greater than the sum of the parts? Instead of addition, might it not be more like multiplying by zero?

3Until recently Mr. Bowen worked for American Forest Land Company (AFLC), which had planned a large development in the Teanaway area; the Teanaway solar reserve project was related to the development plan, and is still on the drawing board even though AFLC has sold most of their land.

4I had forgotten how many blog posts I have written about TSR. Here is a particularly relevant one.