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KUOW Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at dyer@kuow.org.

Stories

  • Letters to Inslee: More passenger-only ferries could be among solutions to Washington ferry woes

    Government
    caption: Passengers look over Puget Sound while aboard a Washington State ferry.
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    Passengers look over Puget Sound while aboard a Washington State ferry.


    There could be more passenger-only ferries in Washington state's future. It's among the solutions that state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee have talked about amid ongoing issues with Washington State Ferries.

    "Action must be taken to preserve our marine highway system for our residents, businesses, and visitors. Please ensure ferries and ferry communities are a priority in the transportation budget," a recent letter from the Puget Sound Regional Council states.

    On Feb. 11, the Council sent the letter titled "Fund our Ferries" to Inslee and officials with the Legislature's transportation committees, calling the situation a "crisis," and urging "robust investments." It's the latest correspondence targeted at Inslee and lawmakers over the condition of Washington's ferries, which are suffering from low staffing and frequent disruptions from the aging fleet.

    RELATED: Washington's ferry system has a trust problem

    San Juan County and the town of Friday Harbor sent a similar letter in November 2023, on behalf of "residents, business owners, and essential service providers," adding their voices to the chorus of regional leaders they say are "begging for solutions." Among the requests of state officials, San Juan County urges them to "support the County in establishing a passenger-only ferry service between the islands."

    "We are compelled to collectively bring to your attention the serious consequences of the significant disruptions to Washington State Ferries (WSF) service on the Anacortes / San Juan Islands route," the letter reads. "The negative impacts of unpredictable and unreliable sailings and frequent cancellations caused by vessel and crew shortages, vessel maintenance and failures, and other persistent complications across the ferry system are compounding to critical levels."

    In the February letter from the Puget Sound Regional Council (signed by 39 elected officials across King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties), the Council not only asked the state to maintain Kitsap's passenger-only ferry service, but also provide funding to increase passenger-only service between Seattle and Vashon Island. The Council also requested studies around additional passenger-only ferry services and the impact of ferries on local economies.

    The PSRC also favors fast-tracking new hybrid ferries to replace the state's aging fleet, and says the state should go on a training and hiring spree to help staff the ferries and make up for anticipated retirements.

    Gov. Inslee writes back

    The governor's office told KUOW it has requested ferry relief funding from the Legislature, but added that budgeting is among the last items negotiated during the legislative session.

    Continue reading »
  • Pollution is problematic for pollinators — and perhaps your produce

    Air pollution is making it hard for some Washington state flowers to get pollinated, according to a new study in the journal Science.

    Exhaust from cars and smokestacks can alter the fragrances that flowers emit to attract pollinators, leaving bees and moths at a loss.

    “That degradation of the scent is sufficient enough that these pollinators can no longer recognize the flower,” said Jeff Riffell, a coauthor of the new study and University of Washington biology professor.

    The study focused on the pale evening-primrose — a wildflower that grows in the sagebrush country of Eastern Washington and the American West — and two moth species that pollinate the plant. The tobacco hawkmoth and the white-lined sphinx are big and nimble enough that they can be mistaken for hummingbirds.


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  • 'History is being repeated.' Japanese Americans call for Northwest Detention Center's end

    Race & Identity
    caption: Margaret Sekijima addresses the crowd at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on the Day of Remembrance in 2022. Several of Sekijima's relatives were incarcerated in the Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Tule Lake and Topaz relocation centers.
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    Margaret Sekijima addresses the crowd at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on the Day of Remembrance in 2022. Several of Sekijima's relatives were incarcerated in the Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Tule Lake and Topaz relocation centers.
    Natalie Newcomb / KUOW Photo

    Japanese Americans and groups calling for the closure of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma blocked the federal building in downtown Seattle on Friday.

    The Japanese American advocacy group Tsuru for Solidarity teamed up with La Resistencia, an immigration advocacy group calling for the end of immigrant detention, to start their Week of Action. It commemorates the upcoming 82nd anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which forced thousands of Japanese Americans into incarceration camps.

    At 10 years old, Michael Ishii's mother was forced to go to the Puyallup Assembly Center, nicknamed “Camp Harmony,” where the Western Washington Fairgrounds stand today.

    Ishii, an organizer with Tsuru for Solidarity, said history is being repeated through immigrant detention centers.

    “In the United States, we have this system of locking people in prisons when they migrate," he said. "My community was detained in a similar way during World War II. We have a moral obligation to stand up and say, 'Not again.' If we don't stand up for our neighbors, just like nobody stood up for us during World War II, then we're no better. That’s why we’re showing up.”

    RELATED: Japanese American survivors revisit a troubling past and vow to protect the Idaho prison camp where they were held

    Maru Mora-Villalpando, an organizer with La Resistencia, said her group is thankful that Japanese Americans are willing to support them.

    “This partnership is unique," she said. "You don’t always find people that share this level of experience.”

    Villalpando added that although Japanese Americans are not facing this experience to the same extent now, "They still are risking themselves to bring attention to this issue."

    RELATED: Human rights group raises alarm about use of force, chemical weapons at Tacoma ICE center

    In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, an official apology to Japanese Americans for incarcerating them during World War II. Additionally, $20,000 in reparations was paid to surviving victims.

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  • Curriculum about fentanyl, other opioids could come to WA junior high classrooms

    Education
    caption: The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning in August 2022 that "rainbow fentanyl" had been ceased in 26 states. The DEA said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt by traffickers to make the drugs attractive to youth.
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    The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning in August 2022 that "rainbow fentanyl" had been ceased in 26 states. The DEA said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt by traffickers to make the drugs attractive to youth.

    Washington state's opioid death toll is climbing faster than anywhere else in the country, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    That's why schools may soon be required to teach students about the risks.

    The bill would mandate education about opioids, especially fentanyl, in seventh and ninth grade health classes.

    Medical experts, parents, and students spoke in support of the bill Thursday at a Senate hearing. Maria Trujillo-Petty's 16-year-old son died in 2022 after unknowingly smoking marijuana laced with fentanyl.

    "My baby is gone and he's never coming back," she said through tears. "But my hope is this bill will provide families and youth with the education so that no other parent has to live like this."

    Emma Potra, a student at Lake Washington High School, also spoke in support of the bill. She said students must be educated so they can make informed decisions.

    "It is frightening to hear the stories of teenagers my age passing away due to fentanyl," Potra said. "If this bill can save lives, can prevent a mother from losing a son or a student from losing a friend, then I'm in full support of it and I encourage everyone here today to support it as well."

    No opponents spoke at the hearing.

    The bill has already passed the House. If it passes the Senate, and Gov. Jay Inslee signs it, state education officials would have until December to provide schools with the updated curriculum.

    Seventh and ninth graders would start learning it as soon as possible during the 2024-25 school year.

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  • Does Washington state need an independent prosecutor to charge police with misusing deadly force?

    Police
    caption: Patrol cars and ambulances are shown at the intersection of Third Avenue and Pine Street on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.
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    Patrol cars and ambulances are shown at the intersection of Third Avenue and Pine Street on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    This year, a proposal to create a new, independent prosecutor at the state level is advancing in the Washington Legislature. House Bill 1579 would establish a unit within the Attorney General’s office to pursue charges against police officers accused of misusing deadly force.

    The measure follows the Legislature’s creation three years ago of an Office of Independent Investigations, which is now preparing to investigate deadly force encounters statewide. The independent prosecutor would consider cases referred by that agency.

    Tacoma City Councilmember Jamika Scott, a supporter of the bill, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee Thursday that she’s worried local prosecutors will not pursue these investigations.

    “Without the option of an independent office to review these cases and make a prosecutorial decision, the work you all did to create the [Office of Independent Investigations] is greatly diminished and the time, work, and resources spent to create that office will not result in the improvements to the system that the community has expected,” Scott said.

    RELATED: Washington state revamps police deadly force investigations

    Opponents of the bill say a new statewide prosecutor is not needed.

    “We take significant issue with the idea of spending $12 million to hire two dozen people whose sole job it is to charge police officers with murder,” said James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “We have seen and we have every confidence that prosecutors will continue to charge every person, especially police officers, if they are found to commit crimes.”

    Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said local prosecutors oppose the current bill as an overreach by the Legislature. But he said prosecutors would welcome the option of a statewide prosecutor for certain cases.

    “It gives us a place to go if in fact we do have a concern about a conflict of interest, or even about resources,” he said.

    Many family members of people killed by police support the bill. They say local prosecutors have an inherent conflict of interest because they work closely with law enforcement.

    “We saw in the Manny Ellis trial that the criminal legal system did not crumble with an independent prosecutor," Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Charleena Lyles, who was killed in an encounter with Seattle police in 2017, told lawmakers. Johnson served on the governor’s task force that recommended the new office.

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  • Get ready, Eastside. Light rail is finally coming to Bellevue in April

    Transportation
    sound transit light rail commute
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    Light rail will finally get rolling on the Eastside, providing a new way to travel across Bellevue, starting in spring 2024.

    Service on Sound Transit's 2 Line is slated to begin Saturday, April 27.

    Trains are expected to run roughly every 10 minutes, over 16 hours a day, seven days per week. Sound Transit has estimated that ridership will be about 6,000 average weekday riders.

    RELATED: Where does Amazon want Sound Transit to build a new Seattle light rail station?

    Continue reading »
  • Lindy West’s Valentine’s Day sex granola recipe

    Arts & Life
    caption: This is not Lindy West's granola. It is a creative commons photo of granola that we found on Wikipedia.
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    This is not Lindy West's granola. It is a creative commons photo of granola that we found on Wikipedia.

    I am the designated granola maker in my house. This is my most important job, and I say that as a MOTHER. Every few weeks I take all the orphaned dry goods in the pantry—the last handful of roasted peanuts, the dregs of a bag of coconut, half a cup of chia seeds in an old shoe—and toss them into a big metal bowl with a few cups of oats (three? four??????). Then I make a slurry of whatever orphaned WET goods are in the pantry—one inch of crystallized honey at the bottom of the squirty bear, the last tablespoon of 20-year-old vanilla extract, coconut oil a week from going rancid—and mix it and pour it over the dry stuff. You toss it all together and then you spread it on a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan and you put it in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes and then you stir it and put it back for another 10 minutes and then sprinkle whatever dried fruit you have all over it and let it cool in the pan and then WOW! That’s granola, baby!

    Yesterday I saw a bag of granola at the store that cost EIGHTEEN DOLLARS. Do you know how much 50 pounds of plain oats cost? The grocery store pays YOU to take the oats away!!!!!!

    My granola is ALWAYS good and ALWAYS even better than the last time I made it. Granola is a practice and I am a lifelong learner. But yesterday? Yesterday I made a granola so good that when you taste it you will have no choice but to get a divorce so you can marry it instead! This is my Valentine to you. A divorce. (It costs $10,000 but it’s still cheaper than store-bought granola!)

    VALENTINE’S DAY SEX GRANOLA

    By Lindy West

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    In a big bowl, combine:

    4 cups rolled oats

    1 cup chopped pecans

    1 cup shredded coconut

    Continue reading »
  • How will Washington state Democrats handle GOP-backed voter initiatives?

    Politics
    caption: Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia.
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    Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia.
    (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

    Washington state Democrats say they're closer to knowing which voter initiatives will receive hearings in the Legislature.

    It's the first indication how Democrats will handle a suite of Republican-backed voter initiatives this year. The Legislature, where Democrats have a majority, has an option to take action on the initiatives, or send them to the voters to decide. The measures mainly aim to undo key policies passed by the Democrats in recent years.

    RELATED: The 6 voter initiatives likely heading to Washington ballots this fall, explained

    "We don't have the final decision on which ones or when, but there will be some hearings," said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane).

    House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said four of the initiatives are still being analyzed. They would do things like roll back limits on police car chases, and make the state's new long-term health tax optional.

    "Those will be in the mix for us to consider more strongly whether or not we hear them," Jinkins said. "I don't know if we hear all four of them or some subset, but we're getting very close."

    But Billig and Jinkins say two initiatives will not get public hearings — one aiming to repeal the state's capital gains tax, and another that dismantles the cap-and-trade program that is at the core of the Climate Commitment Act.

    Republicans in the Legislature have pressed Democrats to immediately hold hearings on all six of the initiatives. But the majority has so far rejected those efforts. Democrats have pointed to inconsistent precedent on how lawmakers have handled initiatives in the past, and say they need to better understand the full impact of each of this year's proposals.

    RELATED: Republicans, Democrats, carbon, and you. Debating Washington's cap and trade

    Democrats say they'll only hear measures that could be enacted or include a proposed alternative. If the Legislature approves an alternative, it will appear on ballots next to the original initiative.

    Lawmakers have until March 7 to take action before the issues go to voters this fall.

    Continue reading »
  • Washington bottle deposit proposal fizzles out in Legislature

    Environment
    caption: Another proposal to create a bottle deposit program in Washington state fizzled out in the state House during the 2024 session.
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    Another proposal to create a bottle deposit program in Washington state fizzled out in the state House during the 2024 session.

    The latest attempt to create a bottle deposit program in Washington state was shattered on the House floor this week.

    State Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) sponsored HB 2144, the bill that proposed the creation of a bottle deposit program in Washington state. She said that the bill went over well in committees, but she was unable to garner enough support in the House. She also says she is not ready to pour this idea down the drain just yet.

    RELATED: Seattle gets $4M to create 'circular wood economy'

    "While the bill was successfully passed out of the Environment Policy Committee and the Finance Fiscal Committee, it failed to garner the support needed to pass off the House floor," Rep. Stonier said. "I have already begun work on a new version of the bill for next year and remain committed to find ways to get the votes needed to pass this bill that will improve our recycling system in the state for beverage containers."

    Under the proposal, a 10 cent deposit would be added on to the sale of beverage containers sold in Washington state (bottles and cans). To get that 10 cents back, a customer would have to return the container to a store. The ultimate goal of the bottle deposit bill was to increase recycling rates in Washington state.

    The system relied on beverage distributors — which largely supported the idea — to create the system. The Washington Food Industry Association, however, opposed the proposal.

    The 2024 bottle bill was also supported by the Evergreen Recycling Refund Coalition, a group of beverage manufacturers, distributors, recyclers, and recycling advocates.

    “The need for a more effective recycling policy is clear: Washington has the lowest beverage container recycling rate from British Columbia to California. The Recycling Refund bill gained a lot of momentum this session, and it is well-positioned for future consideration with the beverage industry ready to serve as an operational steward," the coalition said in a statement.

    This is not the first time Washington lawmakers have tried to create a bottle deposit program. In 2023, the House considered a similar proposal, which was part of the WRAP Act during that session. That too did not get enough support from lawmakers.

    RELATED: Where does it all go? The journey of San Juan recycling

    Continue reading »
  • Is Washington really 'The Evergreen State'? The question remains

    Government
    caption: A state road sign at the border welcoming drivers to Washington, "The Evergreen State."
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    A state road sign at the border welcoming drivers to Washington, "The Evergreen State."

    Washington's state Senate has passed a bill that lawmakers feel everyone can agree on, no matter what their politics are — that Washington is "The Evergreen State."

    “This nickname is important to us,” said Republican state Sen. Jeff Wilson on the floor of the Senate this week. “It gets long in line with our rich history and tradition. It’s something that all Washingtonians can come together on, because we already have.”

    The state Senate approved Wilson's SB 5595 this week, a bill that establishes "The Evergreen State" as the official nickname of Washington. The House has yet to consider it.

    Wait... isn't that already Washington's nickname?

    Sort of. "The Evergreen State" can be found on many signs, Washington's automobile license plates, and it's state fair. It's even the name of a state university. But technically, it's not official.

    RELATED: Republicans, Democrats, carbon, and you. Debating Washington's cap and trade

    Washington has a long list of official things that represent the state — a state insect, amphibian, even a state tartan pattern. Unofficially, the state Capitol is a symbol of Washington. The state also has an unofficial motto (Alki). "The Evergreen State" is also listed as unofficial.

    The nickname goes back to when Washington became a state in 1889. Shortly after that, 27-year-old Seattle realtor C.T. Conover created a marketing campaign to attract newcomers (aka customers) to the region. He printed up a pamphlet featuring Elliott Bay, Snoqualmie Falls, and the words, "Washington The Evergreen State and Seattle its Metropolis" on the cover.

    "The Evergreen State" caught on and was soon used by others over the years to hype Washington. According to Historian Feliks Banel, records are fuzzy on whether state lawmakers ever have officially adopted the nickname. There are some indications that the state House approved it in 1893, but nothing confirmed. Senate Republicans say that newspapers reported that the House passed a bill to make it official at that time, but there are no state records to back that up.

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  • Tacoma approaches affordable housing from a new angle: anti-displacement

    Government
    caption: The Hilltop Neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington.
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    The Hilltop Neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington.
    Jennifer Uppendahl / Unsplash

    As cities throughout the Seattle area grapple with the dire need for more and affordable housing, Tacoma is attempting to come at the issue from another angle — anti-displacement.

    “As a kid who grew up in Tacoma, I tell people that I got to live in every neighborhood, because there was something affordable in every neighborhood. We want to make sure that we’re building that same Tacoma," Mayor Victoria Woodards told Soundside.

    “Density is coming, but we as a city have to be responsible for where we allow that density to happen. It has to happen in places that make sense."

    The Tacoma City Council approved an anti-displacement plan in early February. It's an extension of the city's affordable housing strategy that was passed in 2018. While these strategies address overlapping issues, and utilize similar tactics, they are viewed as different approaches. Affordable housing deals with the creation of more units as the city evolves. Anti-displacement is designed to preserve what Tacoma already has — its residents and their homes. If successful, it would counter factors that force residents to ditch Tacoma. Woodard also notes that the anti-displacement plan is expected to change and adapt moving forward.

    RELATED: Converting office buildings to housing in Tacoma

    The anti-displacement approach is also viewed as a means of mitigating other issues, such as the lingering effects of Tacoma's past redlining policies. The plan references the Washington State Department of Commerce's Displacement Risk Map (currently in draft form), which highlights areas where residents face higher risk of being displaced. Notably, areas with a higher percentage of residents of color, and low-income households, are more likely at risk. One such area is Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood, which the plan specifically points out, along with downtown, South Tacoma, and East Tacoma.

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  • Beloved produce market in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood closes after fire. ‘We will be back’


    Residents are mourning the closure of another Seattle neighborhood produce market. Rising Sun Produce, on the corner of 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 65th Street, is boarded up. The smell of smoke and soot linger. Burnt boxes and other cardboard debris line the loading area.

    At around 3:10 a.m. Friday, Seattle Fire Department received 911 calls reporting fire in the building. According to department spokesperson David Cuerpo, crews extinguished a fire involving stacked cardboard that extended to the loading dock and overhead roof. Cuerpo said investigators ruled the cause of the fire as undetermined.

    It’s not clear how long the store will stay closed. A sign by the parking lot reads “We will be back.”

    RELATED: MacPherson's, longtime Seattle produce market, is closing

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