A Letter To Michael Matthias re. Port Packages

Michael Matthias is the City Manager of The City Of Des Moines. He also chairs the City’s Airport Committee, serves as the City’s Economic Development Director, sits on the StART Committee and represents the City on the State Environmental Impact Study. This letter is in regard to public comments I made at the General City Council Meeting on February 21, 2019.

Dear Michael,

My public comment last night re. the Port Packages was hardly rhetorical. There are two points I wish to make that I think matter.

First is that there are a ton of people in this town with failing Port Packages. I’ve compiled a list of over 150 I’ve personally visited–and that’s with no advertising. 150 out of 9,400 treated homes. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit higher than chance? And these are not minor defects. We’re talking cracked windows or frames with so much moisture as to leak and rust. Frames that warp to where they don’t close. Doors that need to be re-hung. And the repair costs are not trivial. To get a proper replacement can easily cost a thousand dollars for a simple kitchen window. So a lot of people get ‘a deal from a friend’–meaning a look-a-like without the proper noise reducing properties.

Then there are the health issues. I believe there are problems intrinsic to the whole notion of sealing up your home that they just didn’t think through or weren’t aware of when they came up with these schemes. The Port and the vendors’ literature hammers home all the issues of condensation and dust the homeowner should expect. So they must have had some idea. Too many residents complain of the same issues. That needs to be addressed.

But beyond that, I can tell you there are serious mold issues in many, many homes. For example, four homes have sold on my block in the past three years. And all four required mold remediation in order to close. That’s $2,200 each. My home has it as well.

Now who is looking out for those people? Certainly not the Port. They started indemnifying themselves against damages the moment they began advertising the program which is why I mentioned it. In my view the City Of Des Moines should be advocating for its residents on this. What else is a Des Moines Airport Committee is for?

Forgive me, but your Airport Committee has been at it now for a good while and has produced almost no work product to call its own. Yes, Sheila and Steve have gone great guns on their own activities, but let’s be honest, those aren’t really Des Moines activities. The Airport Committee is more like a shell entity which enables them to be appointed to the public committees they want to be on to do the things they want to do.

Don’t get me wrong: What they’re working on is great. But it doesn’t do anything for the woman in my neighborhood with a $12,000 bill for ruined windows and mold remediation. That is a Des Moines problem. It’s not a Federal Way problem. Or a Normandy Park problem. And my point is that in addition to these regional issues that everyone is all exercised about and all the abstractions of the future, there are people in Des Moines right now who have gotten screwed by the Port during the last expansion. And no one speaks up for them.

Why should the City engage now after all this time on the sidelines? Because your City Council voted unanimously to support Burien’s airport resolutions last month. And one of them was in favour of rescinding RCW 53.54 which provides for only a one-time payment in exchange for the perpetual Avigation Easement.

Put simply: If you have a Des Moines Airport Committee, it should be working on at least one uniquely Des Moines airport-related issue. Otherwise, why should each city even bother having separate committees if they’re all going to be covering the same ground? You need to put some skin in the game to make those Burien Resolutions real. Otherwise your support is just so much hot air.

I first brought this issue to the City’s attention (more precisely, Dave Kaplan’s attention) in 2012. And his reply at the time (as with everything else) was, “It’s a Port issue.” Well, as with all other “Port issues”, the system is broken. The County and State and Federal entities that are supposed to provide some measure of relief stopped working a long time ago. And it’s time that Des Moines stepped up and began advocating for its residents, not just on twenty year timelines like a second airport but on short term issues like this. Your residents need to know that this fight isn’t just about far off abstractions with no relevance to their day to day. They want to know that you are willing to at least try to obtain some practical relief in terms of their property and health.

Please put Port Packages on the City’s agenda for 2019. Take it to the Council. It’s the right thing to do. Because at the end of the day, when does the clock start ticking on holding the Port to account? 2019? 2012? 2023? It can’t always be about ‘someday’.



I want to mention one good thing about Dave Kaplan. He always responded to e-mails and letters and phone calls. Despite all our differences I gotta give him credit for that small measure of old school class. Standard operating procedure in our electronic age is simply to ignore communications which we find somehow annoying or which don’t further our agenda. This passive aggressive tendency has become so commonplace today that it’s easy to forget just how rude and disruptive to dialogue it truly is. It is the adult version of putting one’s hands over one’s ears and going LA LA LA LA I can’t hear you!!! If you think about it, most of the formal rules of various meetings are explicitly designed to allow us to avoid talking to one another about issues we don’t find particularly entertaining. And it’s a big part of the reason we can’t get come to any agreements over airport issues. We just avoid one another and stick to our own filter bubbles.

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