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On Other Blogs Today: Slide Denialists, Food Deserts, and More

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By Erica C. Barnett April 1, 2014



1. At the New York Times, Tim Egan (who lives here in Seattle) has an angry, heartfelt piece about the Oso mudslide. It begins with a condemnation: "Don't tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming. Say a prayer or send a donation for a community buried under a mountain of mud along a great river in Washington State, the Stillaguamish. Praise the emergency workers still trying to find a pulse of life in a disaster that left 25 people dead and 90 missing.

"But enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard."

We've known for decades, Egan writes, the potentially deadly consequences of clear-cutting unstable slopes. And we're capable, as we have in areas of major seismic risk, of mitigating those potential consequences.

When we don't, that isn't an act of God. It's hubris, with predictable results.

And yes, we've already directed you to their important reporting on this in Fizz, but on a related note, do check out The Seattle Times coverage of the clear-cutting angle.

 2. Sightline is taking on the issue of "food deserts"—areas, usually low-income, where there's little access to a full-scale grocery store—by turning the concept on its head.

In a series of posts titled "A New Measure of Food Deserts," Sightline reports on some surprising findings: First, a new WalkScore grocery store mapping tool reveals that just 31 percent of Seattle residents live within a five-minute walk of a grocery store. That's compared to the much larger distance assumed in the traditional definition of a "food desert," typically defined as an area with no grocery stores within a mile or a rural area with no stores within 10 miles (a definition that assumes access to a car.)

But second, and contradicting the first point: Our proximity to a grocery store may not matter as much as our income anyway, because only a third of us shop at our "neighborhood" store anyway: The rest of us are either wealthy enough to drive to a luxury store like, or willing to go out of our way to save money at the nearest Grocery Outlet. 

Ultimately, where we shop has real consequences. According to a recent UW study, Sightline writes, "These disparities in where people actually shop turns out to be a better predictor of obesity and how many fruits and vegetables people eat, even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences." The somewhat depressing conclusion: If you shop at Saar's, you're more likely to eat worse, and more likely to be obese, than if you shop at the Whole Foods or PCC.

3. On the heels of an editorial arguing that the city should reject a proposed metropolitan parks district and let the current parks levy, which funds parks operations and maintenance, expire, the Seattle Times has a guest op/ed by Eastside Transportation Association chairman Bill Eager, who argues that King County voters should reject Proposition 1, the last-ditch vehicle license fee and sales tax measure to save Metro bus service, because Metro has failed to adopt enough "reforms" and because that money would be better spent on roads. 

To be fair, the Times also let King County Council transportation chair Larry Phillips write a pro prop 1 op/ed.

And 40 percent of the new revenues would go straight to county roads. Far from "tak[ing] funding away from crucial road needs as voters tire of opening their wallets," the proposal would provide tens millions of dollars for road operations and maintenance every year. 

Eager also cites numbers suggesting that Metro's operating costs have increased 83 percent since 2000, while inflation and ridership have gone up at a much slower rate. As we noted last month, that claim ignores the fact that revenues plummeted during the reception; the fact that Metro's costs include the cost of operating trains and buses for agencies like Sound Transit, which reimburse Metro for their operating costs; and the fact that Metro's $20 license fee expires this year, forcing the agency to come up with a replacement funding source. 

4. On the flip side, Seattle Transit Blog (which also ran a tongue-in-cheek April Fool's post arguing against Prop. 1) has a sincere editorial supporting the proposal. In it, STB argues that Prop. 1 "frees King County from the hostage situation where the legislature will not let us save Metro without also approving massive, sprawl-inducing, climate-altering highway expansion." 

Ballots for Proposition 1 went out today, and must be returned to King County Elections by April 22.


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