Smart Meters… Safe or Dangerous

What looked like a boring City Council agenda last Tuesday evening, January 23, turned into an interesting evening that need further investigation by this reporter before reporting.

The evening started off with a Special Presentation by a group of Chelan citizens concerned with Chelan PUD’s move to install a smart meter system in the Lake Chelan Valley. Laura Folsom began the conversation by telling the Council that smart meters are not only detrimental to the environment, but are also detrimental to our health. “Particularly those with compromised health issues,” Folsom said.

DSC04939-Laura Folsom

Chelan Resident Laura Folsom

The PUD’s Smart Meter Plan would establish an energy grid in the community so electricity meters can be read remotely. “We are asking you for a temporary opt out,” said Folsom.

A smart meter is an electronic device that records consumption of electrical energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing.

According to Folsom, the group has one ally at the PUD in Commissioner Ann Congdon. A telephone conversation with Congdon on Thursday confirmed her concerns with a smart meter system, but she said, “I’m only one of five commissioners. The staff and Steve Wright are absolutely convinced that RF (radio frequencies) are minimal…less than a cell phone.”

Ann Congdon

PUD Commissioner Ann Congdon

Congdon went on to say that there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. She mentioned Dr Martin Pall who has studied electromagnetic fields and the dangers that lie within these fields. “He has proven it affects our cells,” said Condon.

Congdon said we are swimming in a sea of electromagnetic fields (radio frequencies) and that she hopes we don’t look back 10 years from now and ask ourselves why were weren’t looking deeper into the issue.

Congdon said that one in 42 kids have autism. “It’s at an epidemic proportion and no one knows what is causing it.” Plus, it seems that the more we use electromagnetic energy the more cumulative it becomes in our environment.

Richard Lear, Brown University, has written a paper on Dr. Pall’s research called “THE DANGERS OF SMART METERS” and other microwave transmitting technology.” It can be accessed here: https://stopsmartmetersoregon.com/category/dr-martin-pall/

Folsom told the Council that the PUD’s system would set up a grid around the whole community with a hub every one-quarter mile that picks up and sends out frequencies. “They say that they only omit a small amount of safe frequency, but when devices to read the transmissions were off the charts, it is just false what we are told. Every appliance will now come with a chip that will talk to your meter. Get 20 devices shooting that frequency around and there is a tipping point of safety,” said Folsom.

DSC04956-Bridgett

Resident Brigitte Sztab

Brigitte Sztab also stepped to the podium as asked the City to consider opting out. She feels the community is not informed. Robin Casal asked if there was a time frame for rolling out the smart meters? Mayor Cooney replied he had no idea. I don’t know when they are rolling it out,” he said.

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Chelan Mayor Mike Cooney

Apparently the PUD made a presentation a few months ago to the Council. “We will bring it up at the workshop,” said Cooney. “There are two sides to every issue.”

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Councilman Tim Hollingsworth

Councilman Tim Hollingsworth said he would like to see the PUD’s presentation and asked, “What specifically can the City do? Do we have the authority (to opt out)? What are the ramifications?”

Mayor Cooney asked that all the Councilmembers be given the PUD presentation so that all of them are updated on the issue.

There will be more to come as the community educates itself to the benefits and potential dangers of electromagnetic fields, and how the PUD’s plan will affect them.

Over 100 attend Affordable Housing meeting

 Mayor Cooney hosted a Town Hall Meeting last Tuesday evening on Affordable Housing at the Chelan Senior Center. By the start of the meeting an estimated 110 people crammed into the Center to hear the presentations. They represented all walks of life from regular residents, real estate agents and brokers, developers, builders and those hoping that some real solutions might be in the making.

“I’m pretty sure we will see ground broken for affordable housing (this year),” said Mayor Cooney in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, he also told the attendees that the meeting would not be discussing rentals, but would be more focused on the building of affordable homes for those in a position to purchase a home. “I think you would all have an idea of what affordable housing is,” he stated.

Cooney continued his remarks by saying he didn’t believe it was hard to find affordable housing in Chelan, but agreed that, “This is a critical period in our town’s history. People starting out are having a hard time finding an affordable home.” A full one-third of the City’s staff lives outside the City and 38 percent of the hospital staff commute from outside the City.

Cooney pledged to work on the issue every week, but added that it takes an entire community working together to provide affordable housing. “We feel it is a right for people to own their own home,” he said. “Our responsibility (as a City) is to provide land for affordable housing in Chelan. We are going to try every possible way to build affordable housing,” said Cooney

The biggest issues facing Chelan is common throughout North Central Washington; No starter homes; High rents; Low inventories; a large number of second homes; and a lack of high wage jobs. According to statistics, the medium income in Chelan is $36,000.

Kevin Ramsey of Berk Consulting detailed issues facing communities in North Central Washington including Wenatchee and Leavenworth. “A limited supply of housing drives up housing prices,” said Ramsey. He used Leavenworth as an example of the affordable housing issue.

Leavenworth currently has a one percent long term rental rate with only 10 long term rentals advertised, but over 300 short term rentals available. More than 30 percent of Leavenworth’s housing is cost burdened (people paying over 30 percent of their earnings on mortgage payments or rentals) and 50 percent are severely cost burdened (over 50 percent of earnings going to rent or mortgages).

Forty percent of Leavenworth’s work force, according to Ramsey’s research are traveling over 25 miles (some over 50 miles) to get to work. The City of Chelan has a similar problem. Reggie Collins said that Chelan Fruit employees “don’t live here not because they can’t afford it, but because there is nothing to rent.”

Tim Flood, Vice President of Catholic Charities, remarked that federal funding was getting more and more difficult to obtain. “Currently (funding) is a domino game,” said Flood. “Funding is being held up because of the Hirst decision. Without a capital budget there is no funding available.” Flood also stated that there isn’t a city in Washington that doesn’t need affordable housing.

Guy Evans said that Weidner Apartment Homes wants to build out by Wal-Mart. However, he said that the current Comp. Plan doesn’t address or consider the two Chelan economies; the 425 economy and the 509 economy. “It is one size fits all.” In conjunction with that statement, Doug Goodell and his partner are building a 14 unit apartment complex in Chelan and said, “We want to build more units, but have to mitigate the costs (of sewer and water hookups).”

Chelan’s hookup fees are outrageous compared to other cities in the state. For example, in Leavenworth, a 1 ½ inch water meter and sewer connection fees for a 14 unit apartment building would cost the developer a total of $24,576. In Chelan the same services cost $164,934. The January 1, 2018 rate the fees to the developer would be $296,910 or more than 12 times more expensive than the comparable City of Leavenworth.

John Olson and Steve Kline have researched the affordable housing issue and are determined to help provide affordable housing in Chelan. “We have taken up the mantle to do affordable housing in Chelan,” said Kline. There focus will be on finding land and contractors to build rental units so that people who are now commuting from outside the City to work can find affordable rentals here. “In the summer 3,000 people work here,” said Kline. “People tend to spend money where they live.” Which, according to Olson and Kline, the money they earn here is not staying in the community?

Bill Fenton, an old time builder in Lake Chelan, asked how you make the Valley affordable. He feels that one answer lies in impact fees. “Impact fees have to be paid by the developer. If that makes it unaffordable for them to build, then build somewhere else,” said Fenton.

Affordable housing isn’t just about having homes that are affordable to purchase, but having affordable rentals for people who are not ready or unable to purchase a home. Chelan, like Leavenworth and other areas that are experiencing this crisis, need to seek a quick resolution to the problem.

The City of Chelan City Council will be discussing affordable housing at its workshop coming up in February and how the City can help with permitting and fees. Mayor Cooney is determined to bring affordable housing to the Valley. “Everyone needs to come and help,” said Cooney.

Planet Walk Survey ends Friday

Local amateur astronomer, Russ Jones has proposed an interesting and informative “Planet Walk” with Chelan County PUD. This interactive walk would be comprised of five foot tall signs bearing fun facts of astronomy. Starting at the Southwest corner of Riverwalk Park, the signs would represent a scale model of our solar system.

 Throughout the world, there are 24 Planet Walks with 12 of them located in the United States. This Planet Walk if approved by the PUD would have signs spaced in scale to each planet’s distance from the sun with informative facts. “Humans can’t understand infinity,” said Jones. The five foot tall signs would be spaced according to each planet’s distance from the sun and would cover about 2,800 feet along the trail starting with Mercury, which is the closest to the sun and ending with Neptune out by the Reach OneTrailhead at the beginning of the Old Gorge Road.

 The program would make for an educational walk for science students, astronomy buffs and visitors curious about our solar system. “It takes eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach earth,” said Jones. “It takes four hours for this light to reach Neptune and four years for that light to reach the next closest star. That sign would have to be erected in Kiev, Ukraine.”

 Chelan PUD has a Survey on its website at http://chelanpud.org. and wants to know what your thoughts are on this display idea called “Objects in the Solar System and Galaxy” along the 1.5 mile stretch.

 DSC04182These interactive signs would be installed and maintained by the Chelan Rotary Club. The Survey ends on Friday, January 19. To take the survey, go here: https://ccpud.polldaddy.com/s/riverwalk-park-solar-system-station-survey

Echo Valley’s Tubing Hill was busy

by Richard Uhlhorn

Echo Valley and Echo Ridge were relatively quiet on Monday afternoon, January 15, after a busy WinterFest weekend.

Sunday was a huge day on the Tubing Hill. Tube Hill manager, Tom Trimble said, “On Sunday we had all 30 large tubes and the 20 small tubes in use with people lined up waiting for a tube.” The rush went on for over three hours.

On Monday, there were approximately 20 to 25 people tubing, and all were having a great time.

Keith Carpenter, owner of Lakeland Ski Shop, said that it was beautiful on the hill Saturday and Sunday. “We were busy,” he said. “WinterFest negatively affects us on Saturday because everyone is downtown, but on Sunday, we were packed.”

Up at Echo Ridge, Bruce Willett remarked that both the lower and upper parking lots were full of cars on Sunday.

Late on Monday afternoon, the skiers were mostly locals getting a last ski in before the end of the three day weekend.

WinterFest starts all over again this coming Friday in Manson beginning at 5 p.m. with Apple Bin Train Rides. The Bottle Shop will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the Lake Chelan Brewers & Distillers will be on hand, sponsored by the Manson Chamber of Commerce.

On Saturday (10:30 a.m.), Lynda Kennedy once again has her Snowga event at Echo Ridge for those individuals who want to add some winter into their Yoga regime.

The Manson Ale Fest will take place all day in Manson and the Ice Tower Lighting will start at 6:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the Wish Lanterns will not take place because of new fire regulations.

So, mark your calendars and head out to Manson for more WinterFest activities this coming weekend.

Chelan housing crisis… a double edged sword

John Olson (left) and Steve Kline (not pictured) gave a presentation
on Short Term Rentals and Affordable Housing last Wednesday
at Lakeside Lodges. Twenty residents attended including a number
of City Council members who will be facing the Affordable Housing
issue this year.

by Richard Uhlhorn – All Things Lake Chelan

According to John Olson and Steve Kline, the Chelan Crisis is a double edged sword. There is the problem of too many property owners turning their properties into short term rentals (STRs) and there is a genuine shortage of affordable housing options for Chelan’s labor force.

On Wednesday evening, January 10, both Olson and Kline laid out their vision for a solution to the crisis in hopes of creating a citizen campaign to promote a program that will solve the affordable housing situation. Twenty residents attended the meeting including a number of City Council members who will be exploring the issue in the coming year.

According to the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Chelan Valley has become the number one tourist destination in the State of Washington. This, in turn, has created a huge inventory of short term housing options for the visitor and left the labor force no option but to commute from other communities as far away as Quincy and Okanogan.

Their research shows that the Chelan Valley has upwards of 1,300 plus short term rentals which helps to drive up both long term rental rates and housing purchase prices. The affect is that STRs not only drive up labor costs, but, according to the City of Chelan’s Comprehensive Plan, upwards of 3,000 workers commute daily to work in the community.

At a reasonable $25,000 per year income, 3,000 workers commuting represent a $75 million revenue loss to Chelan. Furthermore, wide-spread job vacancies are creating further economic losses.

It’s a known fact that affordable housing enhances the quality of life in a community and that affordable rentals leads to entry level home ownership.

The “CHELAN CRISIS” was the first presentation made at the meeting. John Olson went through the research on how Short Term Rentals (STRs) or Vacation Rentals impact the community and kill the opportunity of building affordable housing.

“The excessive embrace of tourism can overwhelm the individual
character of a town.” Devil’sBargain, by Hal K. Rothman

Both Walla Walla and Bend, Oregon have faced the same problems Chelan is currently facing with the STRs and affordable housing issue.

Walla Walla, a community of 45,000, experienced a rapid growth of short term rentals with the development of their growing wine industry. To alleviate what they determined was a major detriment to affordable housing, they banned STRs, but soon grandfathered existing properties while not allowing new conversions to STRs.

Walla Walla had an estimated 200 STRs, whereas Olson and Kline’s research shows that Chelan and its Urban Growth Area may have as many as 1,347. Chelan’s Department of Community Development and Planning has no idea of how many short term rentals the community has.

The problem with home owners turning their properties into short term rentals is the exacerbation of the long term housing affordability crisis. The report states that “STRs turn Chelan into a method for out-of-town investors to park their money here at the expense of locals.”

According to RewardExpert.com’s website, Chelan County is now the fourth best place to invest in a winter vacation home in the Pacific Northwest. The Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce states that Chelan is now the number one vacation destination in the state with over 2 million visitors each year.

Bend, Oregon took a different approach to their short term rental problem. They made them a profit center for the City.

According to Olson and Kline, Chelan should adopt a similar program that Bend did and make STRs into a profit center generating income to the City for services provided without curtailing the business opportunities of the property owners.

This would include a business license; application fees; lodging tax; inspection fees and a large infraction fee if caught without the proper permits. They feel the financial impact on the City would bring in millions of dollars that could be used for a number of services.

Without some management program of the short term rental market, Olson and Kline feel that successful affordable housing will be impossible to obtain.

The big question, of course, is what is affordable housing? The other day, this writer was discussing that very issue with a young lady who is currently living with four other people in a home that they need to vacate in May.

“I want to stay in the valley, but I don’t know if I can find a rental,” she said. I asked what she considered affordable. She replied that she could pay $750 to $800 per month on her gross wages of $25,000.

Most rentals in Chelan and around the valley are easily running between $1,000 to $1,500 per month, if you can even find a rental. The old Regency Manor nursing home which has been converted into apartments rent for $1,250 per month for a very small basic one bedroom, and they are full, not because they are reasonably priced, but because there are no rentals available.

The Friends of Lake Chelan conducted an informal anecdotal survey of personnel working at the City, schools, parks, and within the service industry. This survey revealed that $750 per month would be an acceptable rate for a one bedroom apartment or $1,100 for a shared two bedroom apartment.

There is currently a move by the Friends of Lake Chelan to begin a Citizen Campaign to build affordable housing for those people working in Chelan, but forced to live elsewhere. “People are actually driving from as far away as Okanogan to work here,” stated Kline.

“We have identified five people who would donate land if the City would do something (to help with costs),” said Kline. One of those individual has 12 acres near the airport and has said he would donate five of them if the City would get water to the area.

“This is a public relations opportunity for the City,” said Kline. He stated that the City of Sunnyside’s former mayor said to stay away from Government Controlled affordable housing grants.

Years ago, Clint Campbell and group tried to build affordable housing in Chelan and it became such an onerous process that it was finally all turned over to the Catholic Church (South Chelan Casa Guadalupe) and is now managed by the Wenatchee Housing Authority under Section 8 federal guidelines.

Olson and Kline put forth some criteria for potential tenants which included:

  • Must work in Chelan
  • Have an income below $50,000
  • Indexed rents to the state minimum wage
  • Conform with the City work-force housing regulations
  • Sign a one-year minimum rental contract
  • Undergo a local police background check
  • Maximum two people per bedroom

A good example is the Chelan Fruit housing project that is being constructed by Simplicity Homes of Hayden, Idaho at $89 per square foot. These housing units are being built for Chelan Fruit employees only, but the project gives an example of what can be done.

“Somewhere in between here, we should be able to find somebody to do this,” said Kline. “I believe this is doable if we put our minds together. We can make this happen.”

Affordable Housing Town Hall Meeting

You are invited to Mayor Cooney’s

TOWN HALL MEETING

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Chelan Senior Center

534 E Trow Avenue

Chelan, WA

 

Main Subject: Affordable Housing Initiative

Goals: State the need, find solutions and set a timeline for success.

This meeting will be focused on Community input for the City’s goal of providing affordable/workforce housing to our citizens.

It will also be the first step in gathering key players to help us accomplish our goals.  We are seeking land donors, cash donors, developers that will help “give back”, legal expertise to assist in deed restrictions, realtors that can help us with their expertise and, of course, builders that believe in the cause. What other talents can you provide?

I will be asking for a thoughtful dialogue which stays on task to accomplish our goals. We are all aware of the many issues surrounding workforce housing – what we need now are engaged citizens to step forward and help us at this critical period. Please bring your thoughts and ideas!

“A Community Collaborative Effort”

Please plan on attending this key meeting.

Mark Your Calendars!

Chelan City Council holds first meeting of the new year

Chelan City Council held its first council meeting of the new year on Tuesday evening.

To begin the meeting, City Clerk Peri Gallucci swore in the Council’s two new members; Ty Witt and Tim Hollingsworth and returning council members, Erin McCardle and Servando Robledo. (Photos at bottom of article by Richard Uhlhorn)

They heard from John Olson, Friends of Lake Chelan, during the Citizen Comment period.

Olson told the council that he was very pleased to see “that you have affordable housing on your agenda for your retreat.”

Olson went on to say that affordable housing is “a very complicated subject,” and invited the council members to an informational meeting on the Impact of Short Term Housing and Affordable Housing at Lakeside Lodge & Suites Wednesday evening, January 10. This meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

The group will share research on what other communities are doing to solve the issues of affordable housing and short term rentals.

The council then voted Wendy Isenhart in as this year’s Mayor Pro Tempore and selected its annual Council Committee Liasions (list soon).

Public Works Director Craig Gildroy requested the council approve a temporary Associate Project Planner position while the Planning Department seeks a permanent employee for that position. “This could take some time,” said Gildroy.

The temporary position is for 20 hours a week. “We have a very busy year coming up and this will give us plenty of time to recruit the right person.”

Finance Director Cheryl Grant requested that the council approve an amendment to the 2018 Chelan County Inmate Housing Agreement that raises the daily cost of incarceration from $87 a day to $96 a day.

Mayor Cooney remarked that the City was on the hook to pay these charges. Grant remarked that this budget item was always over budget.

During the Administrative Reports, Gildroy told the council that his department’s work load was large and brought up the most pressing need was for affordable housing.

He also reported that his Code Enforcement officer was going through licenses and taxes and looking for zoning code violiations. “We are working on additional rental rules.”

Public Works Director Dwane Van Epps tendered his retirement letter and Mayor Cooney accepted it at the meeting with reluctance.

Van Epps final day as director of Public Works will be July 12, 2018. Mayor Cooney stated that the City would cherish the time “we have left. We appreciate you and all that you have done for the City.”

During Council Comments, Erin McCardle said that Van Epps letter of resignation was painful. “We’ve worked on a number of projects together and you have been a joy to work with.”

The rest of the council also lauded Van Epps work over the years and said he would be missed.

The two new council members both said they were pleased to sitting on the council. Witt said he was looking forward to getting up to speed and wants to visit each department and get to know the employees. Hollingsworth said he was also excited to be on the council. “I’ve been on the margins for years,” said Hollingsworth. “There are a lot of things to address this year.”

Mayor Cooney stated that Affordable Housing is the City’s biggest challenge this year. To that end, there will be a Town Hall Meeting at the Senior Center on Tuesday, January 16 at 6 p.m. to discuss and seek solutions to the Affordable Housing Crisis.

City Council will be back in session on January 24, beginning at 6 p.m.

DSC03831-cncl membersDSC03841-Ty WittDSC03843

Informational Meeting on Short Term Housing

On Wednesday evening, January 10, the Friends of Lake Chelan are hosting an informational meeting on The Impact of Short Term Rentals & Affordable Housing.

This meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the Lakeside Lodge & Suites, located at 2312 West Woodin Avenue across from Lakeside Park.

Short term rentals have impacted affordable housing world-wide. It was an issue that was being discussed in Barcelona when we visited in 2016. Many apartment owners were turning apartments into AirBnB rentals leaving many local residents scrambling for affordable housing.

This very issue is cropping up across the United States in tourist towns where housing owners can make more money with short term rentals over renting an apartment or house on a long term basis.

The Lake Chelan Valley is facing the same issues as towns like Bend, Oregon, Sun Valley, Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming.

If you are interested in this issue, join the Friends of Lake Chelan and find out about potential solutions or come back to All Things Lake Chelan on Thursday and read my report

Richard Uhlhorn.