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Midday Scan: Plastic bag saga just starting? What will police drive?

Danny Westneat urges calm about the plastic bag ban. What would a modern officer like to drive as Crown Vics disappear? Tacoma gets a new city manager.

Light rail in Rainier Valley.

Light rail in Rainier Valley. Sound Transit

The plastic bag is dead, Long live the plastic bag. Given local and state politics, that could be where we end up in the wake of the Seattle City Council's approval of legislation to ban them from the checkout counters of most local stores.

As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat sensibly writes, this ordinance is very different than the one rejected by voters (including him, he notes), but that hasn't stopped bag supporters from hollering about ignoring the public will. "That old law was a classic in how government can take the simplest goal and turn it into a Rube Goldberg contraption — one whose end product also happens to be more money for itself. Instead of a ban, the old ordinance had a "Green Fee" scheme to levy a 20-cent charge on any grocery bag, paper or plastic."

Westneat notes that the adjustment to bans in Eugene and Portland has gone smoothly. But will that happen in Seattle? Even if there is no ballot measure here to overturn the new law, indications are that the chemical industry will try to get the Washington Legislature to intervene, in the name of uniformity. 

The ubiquitous urban police car is in the middle of big changes. As The Herald of Everett reports, Ford's abandonment of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, almost synonymous with the slang "cop car," is forcing local law enforcement agencies to decide what they want their officers to drive. Writer Rikki King surveys Snohomish County forces (which have varying thinking on what direction to go) and notes that the Washington State Patrol expects to place its first order for Chevrolet Caprice's police car.

King writes, "It will be a huge change for officers, many of whom spend their work day behind the wheel. Police fleets require complex management and maintenance plans, and even those who work under the hoods aren't sure what to expect." Now that The Herald has checked out the SnoCo situation, perhaps we will soon read what King County agencies are doing? (If The Times has ever wrapped that up, my search missed it.)

In Pierce County, the big news is Tacoma's hiring of a new city manager. T.C. Brodnax is taking his first shot at the top position, but he's coming from San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million. Reporter Lewis Kamb notes his ability to work with people sometimes at odds with one another: "He’s won high marks from a diverse group of stakeholders. One lobbyist for developers described him as a responsive and effective city liaison for building interests, while historic-preservation supporters credit him for strengthening and pioneering city preservation programs." That skill should come in handy, assuming the economy allows new construction.

In general, if Seattle is doing something, Portland will too. And vice versa, pretty much. That rule seems to hold on helping the homeless find a place to park their campers or other vehicles. Seattle said last month that it wants to start a pilot program to allow overnight parking in Ballard church lots beginning in January. Meanwhile, The Oregonian reports that the Portland City Council is about to approve a pilot program for limited car camping in church lots and elsewhere.

Reporter Beth Slovic notes that a Portland commissioner's effort to deal with the issue as early as 2009 was helped more recently by "a sense of crisis" created in part by the Occupy movement, a large campsite in Portland, and figures showing a rising number of homeless. So, as amusing as the political correctness competition between the cities can be, this may be more a case where we should thank heavens they are both willing to look for new solutions.

With the holidays, it might momentarily appear to a desperate shopper that the No. 1 regional need is more parking spaces in shopping areas. But the Seattle Transit Blog has a nice, quick look at whether Sound Transit's long-term plans for accommodating cars at an eventual Northgate light-rail station are excessive. In language that even those of us who don't follow the issues constantly can mostly understand, the pro-transit blog explores some reasons the agreement for the station wound up with so much parking, wonders if more spending on other transit options wouldn't have been a better idea, and even outlines ways to make a big parking structure "slightly less awful."


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