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Wednesday 23 Jul, 2014

The Rains raise new worries in Central Washington. For sale: big office buildings. Lost dog found, 2,000 miles away.

Rain signals flash floods for wildfires

at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

A potential second disaster loomed over Central Washington in the form of rain clouds that threaten flash floods for the wildfire-stricken area. By late afternoon, at least one mudslide had been reported along the Entiat River Road, according to the Wenatchee World.The weather service extended its warning of possible flash floods until 11 p.m. tonight, even as 2,100 firefighters continue to battle the largest wildfire in Washington history, the Carlton Complex.The flood watch was prompted as forecasts predicted thunderstorms spreading across Central Washington and causing moderate to heavy rainfall over the eastern slopes of the Northern Cascades. The weather services noted that in as little as 10 minutes, heavy rain on a slope can cause a flash flood because a fire has burned away the slope’s vegetation. Concern has also been raised over the storms sparking lightning-caused fires. Amid the storm forecasts, President Obama signed an emergency declaration Wednesday authorizing federal services for disaster relief and help in providing resources for local and state agencies. — J.B. 

Puget Sound

at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

skyscrapers for sale

at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

Chicago-based Walton Street Capital is selling nine major office buildings in the Puget Sound region, according to a Puget Sound Business Journal report. The state of the region’s commercial property values and the Walton Street buildings for sale have a lot of common ground — both are high-risers. Among the property’s for sale are 1111 Third Ave. in Seattle, One Bellevue Center and Symetra Financial Center in Bellevue. — E.W. 


at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

’s own “Incredible Journey,” with a twist

at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

A little white dog, found on a Tacoma road recently, is back with a family more than 2,000 miles away, thanks to a microchip. The Texas family reunited with their Maltese, named Reese, over the weekend — seven years after he went missing.The dog's Tacoma family, however, is missing him. Kelli Davis of Washington state told KHOU that her family adopted the dog from a Texas shelter six years ago, which had recorded him as voluntarily abandoned. The family moved from Texas to this state, and the dog recently escaped Davis’ home in Tacoma after her 2-year-old daughter unlatched the front door. The dog’s original owners have legal ownership because of the microchip registration, KHOU reported, and they say they aren’t going to loosen Reese's leash. — E.W.

Doctor's assets targeted

at 4:46pm by Jessica Buxbaum

A federal agency wants to seize some of a Bellevue doctor’s assets over his alleged role in prostituting women smuggled into the United States by a sex-trafficking group, seattlepi.com reported.According to court papers, the investigation into the doctor began in November 2012 after the Drug Enforcement Administration learned he was depositing large amounts of money into bank accounts in Bellevue. The DEA might have been called in on the assumption that the physician was profiting from prescription drugs, the news site speculates. But the agency then found the doctor was apparently placing sex-service ads online and renting out apartments for prostitutes. Through a series of sting operations, the DEA discovered that at least six women, who had advertised online, were connected to the doctor and the agents concluded that the doctor’s girlfriend, allegedly a prostitute herself, was managing a prostitution ring of at least 10 women.Unsealed court documents suggest the doctor has laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars through his accounts, wiring some of that money to Thai bank accounts. Authorities believe the women had been smuggled into the U.S. and were attempting to repay the debts they incurred from sex-trafficking organizations. The doctor has not been charged with any crime, but federal prosecutors seized $91,000 from his accounts in February. The prosecutors want the money to be declared the government’s property under the theory that the doctor gained it as a result of illegal activity. Seattlepi reports that the doctor's attorney has not yet responded to the government's claims. — J.B.

Tuesday 22 Jul, 2014

The Fire crews leery of new blazes. Historic recognition for pot purchase. A letter from school.

Lightning’s striking again?

at 4:33pm by Bill Lucia

While cool weather is aiding firefighters in squashing the wildfires of north-central Washington, officials are worried about potential lightning strikes sparking new flames. A warning of bad weather is in effect until 11 p.m. Wednesday, spanning across southern Washington to the Idaho border and parts of northern Oregon, according to the National Weather Service. On Tuesday morning, the Carlton Complex Fire was reportedly 16 percent contained, up 2 percent from Monday. The complex has charred 244,00 acres, making it the largest wildfire in state history — surpassing the 1902 Yacolt Burn that spread 238, 920 acres and killed 38 people. Only one death is tied to the Carlton Complex Fire: A 67-year old man died of a heart attack he suffered while attempting to protect his property. An estimated 150 to 200 homes have been destroyed so far, and around 3,600 households are without power in Okanogan County.  Another fire, dubbed the Bugg Road Fire, ignited near Tonasket on Monday, has spread over 1,100 acres, threatening several structures, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.Meanwhile, donations from across the state are flooding into Pateros High School, where victims can find food, clothes and household goods, reports the Wenatchee World. Brewster High School is also offering shelter and hot meals. The Red Cross is collecting donations. — M.L. 

Mary Jane, you’re famous now!

at 4:33pm by Bill Lucia

Mary Jane is officially joining the ranks of city history. The first person to purchase recreational marijuana legally in Seattle donated her pot to the Museum of History and Industry on South Lake Union today (as she had promised a Crosscut reporter). Sixty-five-year-old Deb Greene camped outside of Cannabis City the night before the grand opening on July 8, after deciding to partake in the historic moment on a whim. She was joined at the museum today with representatives of Cannabis City who donated scissors from cutting the red tape and other memorabilia. 

A different letter from school

at 4:33pm by Bill Lucia

Dear Parents in Washington State: Your child’s school is probably labeled as failing under No Child Left Behind Laws, and here’s a letter letting you know you may be able to send your youngster to a better-performing school or obtain tutoring for your child. Don’t worry, we’ll foot the bill. (Certain conditions may apply.) Sincerely, Your School District.That’s essentially the message that thousands of parents across the state will receive late this summer, since the U.S. Department of Education has denied the state’s requests to avoid sending out the letters. Until now, Washington hasn’t had to mail the letters because the state was exempt from No Child Left Behind — a waiver that it lost in May because the Legislature wouldn't update teacher evaluation standards to require some attention to students' testing performance. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn had asked for an exemption from the letters, which he said “don’t serve any useful purpose.” But the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education wrote in a memo that the notifications offer “valuable information” like “what the school is doing to address the problems of low achievement.”Washington did get some leeway, however: School districts who are newly identified as failing or that appear to be on the trajectory toward meeting standards will have more time to send the letters. A spokesperson for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction told Crosscut that school districts will manage the process of providing tutoring or transportation to another school children whose parent request it. More information on the issue will likely be available on August 27 when the state releases reports on school test scores. — M.L.

City Light head to shed light?

at 4:33pm by Bill Lucia

Seattle City Light's general manager and CEO, Jorge Carrasco, will appear at a City Council Energy Committee meeting Wednesday for a "review." The meeting's agenda says the committee has set aside 60 minutes to discuss several recent controversies involving Carrasco. One of those centered on a contract with a company called Brand.com, which City Light paid to burnish Internet search results related to the CEO's name. In another, a pair of con men duped Carrasco into giving them access to scrap copper, some of which they allegedly then stole. Trouble also erupted after Carrasco was less than forthcoming about whether he had asked Mayor Ed Murray for a pay raise. The City Light boss currently makes $245,000 per year. The Energy Committee, which is chaired by socialist Kshama Sawant, will also discuss "employee morale" at City Light. Murray's recently appointed deputy mayor, Kate Joncas, is also scheduled to be on hand during the City Light discussion. — B.L.

Murray pitches in bucks for parks

at 4:33pm by Bill Lucia

Putting his money where his mouth is, Mayor Ed Murray contributed $500 to the Seattle Parks For All campaign earlier this month, according to Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission records. The campaign is backing a ballot initiative that would create a metropolitan parks district in Seattle. The district would be governed by the members of the City Council, acting as the district's board, and would levy property taxes to help cover the cost of parks and other recreational facilities. Murray sent legislation to the council earlier this year that paved the way for the district measure to get put on the ballot. The mayor see the district as a way to provide a stable source of funding for the city's parks and to help take care of a maintenance backlog that is apparently around $267 million. He stumped for the initiative Monday with a number of other supporters at the Yesler Community Center. — B.L. 

Monday 21 Jul, 2014

The I-90 traffic: Could've been worse. Wildfires ease a bit. New home for City Attorney offices.

I-90 traffic: One commute down

at 4:06pm by Joe Copeland

Thanks to all the early-risers, alternate-route takers and telecommuters, a construction-related traffic jam on I-90 never reached the horrendous levels that advance warnings had suggested. At 5:30 a.m., traffic began to back up on westbound lanes crossing Lake Washington and Mercer Island, growing to about three miles, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. The traffic had pretty much cleared by 8:20 a.m. according to a Seattle Times report.DOT spokesman Mike Allende speculated that people got on the road earlier, took alternate routes or just didn’t drive at all. But Allende hopes people don’t get too comfortable with today’s unexpectedly clear traffic, citing the “Viadoom” closure of Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2011 when traffic was light the first day but increased in severity each day, growing to its heaviest commute by the fourth day. And tomorrow’s commute could be a lot worse, especially with President Obama coming to Seattle to fund raise for the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday. — J.B.

Wildfires: A little calmer for the moment

at 4:06pm by Joe Copeland

Fire crews took advantage of milder weather today, going on the offensive against what has become the largest wildfire recorded in Washington state history. But meteorologists warned that there was a higher chance of thunderstorms in the days to come, which could create new fires.The Carlton Complex fires in Central Washington cover some 380 square miles, surpassing a 1902 fire, according to The Seattle Times. In the only fire-related death so far, 67-year-old retired Washington State Patrol trooper Ron Koczewski, who reportedly suffered a heart attack while he worked to protect his property in Okanogan County. The Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers some 150 homes are thought to have been destroyed but he suspects the number could go higher. — J.C. 

Bacteria hit the beaches

at 4:06pm by Joe Copeland

Thurston County Officials issued a swimming advisory warning for Burton County Park after testing showed elevated levels of bacteria in the water, The Olympian reported. The beach is not closed, but the warning is cautioning swimmers, especially young children and people with compromised immune system to not go into the water.The warning comes along with two other beaches that have been closed then reopened due to the high levels of fecal matter since the summer season began. Currently, Freeland County Park/Holmes Harbor in Island County and Bayview State Park beach in Skagit County are closed. The state updates conditions on its Washington Beach Program Facebook page. — J.B. 

New digs for City Attorney

at 4:06pm by Joe Copeland

The Seattle City Attorney's Office is apparently headed to a new office space in Columbia Center next spring. The City Council approved a measure on Monday authorizing the city to lease 63,560 square feet for the city's law department on the 18th, 19th and 20th floors of the downtown skyscraper. The divisions of the City Attorney's Office are currently spread out on multiple floors in City Hall and the Seattle Municipal Tower. The consolidation is intended to improve collaboration within the department. A fiscal note attached to the bill also said that the law department has held off filling vacant positions because it does not have enough cubicle space.The lease rate for the new offices would be $31.50 per square foot in 2015, according to the proposed lease agreement. The average lease price for Class A commercial real estate in downtown Seattle's Central Business District was $34.52 per square foot as of June, according to the commercial real estate firm CBRE's research and consulting arm. The annual cost for renting the space in Columbia Center in 2016, the first full year it would be occupied by the law department, will be $1,859,227, according to the proposed lease. The City Council voted 8-1 to authorize the lease; Bruce Harrell cast the only no vote. — B.L.

Friday 18 Jul, 2014

The Wildfires destroy close to 100 homes. Seattle picks Marysville retiree as interim school superintendent. China's online giant looking at Seattle.

Nearly 100 homes destroyed in wildfires

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Gov. Jay Inslee headed to Central Washington today after hundreds of residents fled Brewster and Pateros as the Carlton Complex wildfires ripped through the Central Washington towns, burning an estimated 95 homes overnight. “Now it’s like the fire is chasing us,” Pateros resident Ryan Greene told the Wenatchee World. A section of Highway 97 is closed today as 600 firefighters battle the flames that span 168,713 acres. A large swath of Okanogan County is without electricity after the fire burned through power lines, according to the News TribuneUpdated 6:15 AM 7/19.Highway 97 has reopened.The town of Brewster emptied out Friday night. A Facebook group formed to provide information about help for fire victims in Chelan already has 1,429 members offering food, clothes and shelter. The Red Cross is collecting donations. Updated 6:15 AM 7/19. Meanwhile, south of the Carlton Complex fire, the Mills Canyon Complex continues to rage, with Antoine Creek, Swakane Canyon and Washington Creek under level 2 evacuation. And near Leavenworth, U.S. 2 remains closed as crews fight another fire.Before a flight to Wenatchee, the governor said some 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, according to Associated Press. — M.L. 

Map: Wildlandfire.com

Seattle Public Schools has new super 

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Updated at 4:35 p.m. The Seattle School Board this afternoon picked an interim superintendent, a retired Marysville Schools Superintendent, to run the system in the wake of Sacramento's hiring away of José Banda. Larry Nyland was credited with making big changes over nine years at the Marysville district north of Seattle. Seattle School Board President Sharon Peaslee said he will bring “an infusion of energy and brilliance.” Nyland (below) said that in the year since his retirement, he has consulted almost full time. School Board member Stephan Blanford said he had been impressed by Nyland's work to transform both the Marysville district and the School Board and his commitment to educating all children. The graduation rate in Marysville, which has a substantial Native American student population, grew from about 50 percent to more than 70 percent during the nine years before Nyland's 2013 retirement, according to a story in The Herald last year. In remarks after the meeting, Peaslee said the board had heard repeatedly that Nyland was one of the most outstanding superintendents people in education had met. Nyland graduated from Seattle's Roosevelt High School and has three University of Washington degrees.The Sacramento board voted 6-1 Thursday evening to hire Banda and his selection, which had been expected for weeks, was recently greeted by the Sacramento Bee with a lukewarm editorial.  — J.C. 

Alibaba targeting Seattle for possible U.S. site

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Alibaba, the Chinese retail behemoth, is eyeing the Seattle region for a new outpost, Geekwire reports. Alibaba dwarfs Amazon and E-bay — combined — and is expected to be the largest tech company in the world once it goes public in the U.S.  Although Alibaba hasn’t made any official announcements, it has listed job openings for engineers in the Entrepreneurs & Experts in Seattle group, saying that employees could be based in the Seattle region or in China. (Embattled Microsoft workers, take note.) It’s unclear whether the new outpost would be located on the Eastside or in Seattle. — M.L. 

Low-income housing: Good step

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

A group trying to protect residents of the low-income Squire Parks Plaza apartments says things have taken “a step in the right direction” with a decision not to sell to a for-profit developer. The blocking of the sale, first reported by The Stranger, followed protests by the Central Area Action Committee for Affordable Living.

Two nonprofits, the Low Income Housing Institute and Capital Hill Housing, have put in purchase proposals to the current owner, the Central Area Development Association, to purchase the 60-unit complex. The Action Committee’s spokesperson, Linda Johnson, said residents are still concerned about whether purchase proposals from two nonprofits will assure a strong return on the operations of commercial tenants in the complex. The productivity of the commercial space is key to maintaining cash flow — and assuring tenants that they will not have to go through another sale.

George Staggers, Chief Executive Officer of CADA, has said that low-income housing will be protected under any sale. But tenants argued that the proposed sale to for-profit firm would have shifted the balance of affordable apartment units away from the lowest income levels toward renters with incomes closer to the local median income. — J.B.

Images of Rainier’s insides find magma 

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Researchers discovered a magma reserve by capturing images of Mount Rainier’s inner workings, seattlepi.com reports. In a study published on Wednesday by the renowned science journal Nature, University of Utah geophysicist Phil Wannamaker and researchers from Massachusetts, New Jersey and Norway used seismic imaging and magnetotelluric measurements to capture “the melting process that feeds magma into a crustal reservoir that eventually is tapped for eruptions,” Wannamaker said. This is the most detailed image of a volcanic system yet in the Cascade Range. Mount St. Helens will also get a similar scan within the next week. The goal of this research is to improve early warning systems of volcanoes. But, no, the research so far doesn’t say when a future eruption will occur. — J.B. 

Times' editorial page: Lance Dickie retiring

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Seattle Times editorial writer and columnist Lance Dickie writes today that he's retiring at the end of the month after a 39-year career in journalism. He is a distinguished, informed and thoughtful commenter on issues ranging from international relations to the environment, energy, public utilities, Seattle politics and Snohomish County. All along, his work has reflected a strong social conscience. — J.C.

State sues 5-Hour Energy Drink

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

You may know 5-Hour Energy Drink commercials: A dull-looking office worker slumps over his desk around 2:30 pm, and only regains clarity by slurping an energy drink with a magic mix of vitamins, minerals and caffeine to do the trick.  That special energy blend, and the way it is marketed to consumers, is at the center of a mounting legal debate.  Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson joined Oregon and Vermont in filing a lawsuit against the makers of the 5-Hour Energy Drink on Thursday. “We believe the ‘energy blend’ does nothing and the ‘no sugar crash’ statement is misleading,” said Ferguson in a statement. “I will not stand by and see Washington consumers subjected to deceptive advertising.” Nationally, 33 attorney generals are investigating the energy beverage, and additional lawsuits will likely be filed in the coming weeks. Representatives of 5-Hour Energy described the suits as lacking in merit and promised to fight. “When companies are being bullied by someone in a position of power, these companies roll over, pay the ransom, and move on,” a spokesperson for the beverage company said in a statement. “We’re not doing that.” — M.L.

Friday night ">

Reminder: I-90 closed for a week starting Friday night 

at 1:33pm by Joe Copeland

Week-long traffic closures on westbound Interstate 90 near Mercer Island start tonight at 8 p.m. to replace two old bridge expansion joints, according to Washington State Department of Transportation. Westbound I-90 will be reduced to one lane at Bellevue Way from 9:30 pm on July 18 through 5 a.m. next Friday, July 25. The westbound closures could cause heavy traffic jams on SR 520, I-405 and I-5. The state Department of Transportation expects I-90 eastbound near Kittitas will stay closed most of Friday due to blowing dust and poor visibility. Westbound lanes are open. You can keep up with the state's major traffic alerts here. — J.B. 

Thursday 17 Jul, 2014

The Leavenworth fire danger balloons. Microsoft's big goodbye. Legislature's (un)popularity.

Fires: Ash falling like snow

at 2:27pm by Marissa Luck

Update at 5:05 p.m. Wildfire destroyed two homes in the Methow Valley today, the Methow Valley News reports. A community meeting about the wildfires raging around the area was scheduled for 7 p.m. in Twisp.East of Leavenworth, the Chiwaukum Creek fire ballooned to over fives times its initial size on Wednesday — blazing through 6,638 acres completely uncontained, according to fire officials. Residents of close to 900 homes near Leavenworth have been told to evacuate the area. U.S. 2 has been shut down between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth. Smoke from the fire is billowing 25,000 feet into the air. “There's a huge cloud of smoke above us," Don Hurst, a retired firefighter who near Leavenworth, told King5. "The winds started to pick up a little. It's just like snowfall here with the ash coming down. "At least nine helicopters were dumping water over the flames around noon, with additional helicopters expected to join the effort later today, a fire information officer told Leavenworth radio station KOHO. The flames were too intense for firefighters to approach on the ground, so they were concentrating on building firebreaks in an attempt to stop the fire from spreading. An estimated 1,000 firefighters are on the line.The Chiwaukum Creek fire is one of three fires in the Mills Canyon Complex of blazes; the other two are located closer to Entiat. The biggest wildfire, the Mills Canyon fire, is 40 percent contained.The Red Cross established an emergency shelter at First Baptist Church in Leavenworth. Evacuees who require a safe place to house their pets can contact Club Pet

Microsoft: Goodbye to record numbers

at 2:27pm by Marissa Luck

Microsoft announced cuts of 18,000 positions Thursday, including 1,351 in the Puget Sound area, in the largest layoffs in company history. The worldwide layoffs includes slashing 12,500 Nokia employees Microsoft acquired last year with the purchase of Nokia’s handset division.“We will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster,” wrote CEO Satya Nadella in a memo. The downsizing will be accompanied by a new thrust into the affordable smartphone market, along with additional emphasis in cloud computing.Although Nadella hinted at layoffs last week in a companywide email, the extent of the cuts exceeds expectations — making the 2009 layoffs of 5,800 positions seem like child’s play in comparison. Beneath those official numbers though, the company could also trim its use of contract workers. According to Zdnet, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner wrote in a June 17 email that Microsoft would “reduce our reliance on contingent staff augmentation by over 20 percent year-over-year.” So, how did Wall Street-ers respond to today’s announcements? By snatching up shares of Microsoft stock, which rose over 3 percent Thursday morning.

Thumbs down on Olympia leadership

at 2:27pm by Marissa Luck

Congress has abysmal approval ratings, but how do state lawmakers fare? When asked to grade state legislators as part of a recent Elway Poll, 46 percent of voters gave legislators a D+ or F and only 1 percent said the Legislature deserves an A, according to Q13Fox.Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t get any gold stars: Only 43 percent  of participants view Inslee in a positive light compared to 50 percent with negative opinions of the governor, according to The News Tribune. After 18 months at the post, Inslee’s minus seven points score is better than the even stronger disapproval ratings given to Democratic Govs. Christine Gregoire and Mike Lowry at comparable points in their terms (2006 and 1994, respectively). But, in 1998, voters were giving overwhelming approval to then first-term Democratic Gov. Gary Locke.When scoring Inslee’s performance, voters gave him the lowest rating on his ability to provide leadership to legislators. “The Legislature and the governor sort of got wrapped up into one in public perception this time,” Stuart Elway of Elway Research Inc. told Q13. Inaction on transportation issues, anxiety about the economy and the fact that it took two sessions to pass a budget were particular sore spots, Elway said.

I-90 closure: Mass collision near Vantage

at 2:27pm by Marissa Luck

Updated at 4:52 p.m. A day ahead of a huge maintenance project on I-90 in Seattle, the freeway had a shutdown Thursday 120 miles away, near Vantage. Eleven people were injured in a 21-vehicle smashup. A brush fire was reported in the area. The highway reopened early in the afternoon, but then the state Department of Transportation shut down the Eastbound lanes again because of visibility problems. And WSDOT tweeted late this afternoon that it probably won't reopen until Friday. The upcoming maintenance project starts Friday night, shutting down all but one lane of westbound I-90 across Lake Washington, leading to predictions of carmageddon. That, in turn, will lead to lighter-than-expected traffic on Monday, followed by commuters deciding there isn't such a big problem, and then real problems beginning to mount on Wednesday (when, as Joel Connelly of seattlepi.com writes, President Obama will likely complicate things with a trip to the Eastside to indulge in the political obsession with big money). 

Wednesday 16 Jul, 2014

The Will stoner hero challenge Sawant? State of Emergency in E. Washington. Two points for parks.

Central American kids may soon call JBLM home

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

3:26 p.m. Six hundred children from Central America, who crossed the Mexican border unaccompanied, may be about to be housed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to a KIRO 7 report. The decision is expected to be made public as early as today. Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson and many community members fear that housing the children will place an unfair burden on state government , or spread communicable diseases. (The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the the children will pose no public-health risk). Local social and religious groups, on the other hand, have stepped forward with offers to help the children.The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already placed unaccompanied children from South America on three military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma. If JBLM is picked, it could be the final base selected to house children, according to The Seattle Times. — E.W. 

Drones, the future protector of Idaho potatoes?

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

2:54 p.m. Idaho’s agricultural drones apparently will make today’s farming equipment look like horse-drawn ploughs. The state has become an aerial oasis for research involving agricultural drones, which can alert growers of crop diseases, inadequate moisture content and a host of other problems, according to an Idaho Statesman report. Northwest Nazarene University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Boise State University are some of the main players in the research, powered up by big state and federal grants. The Idaho Department of Commerce plans to open an office devoted to organizing drone research for commercial partners in the coming year, fertile soil for making Idaho a drone manufacturing destination. (The Statesman has a short video report here.) — E.W.

Tax breaks: Thinking about ending 1

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

2:48 p.m. State tax-exemption review staffers have recommended closing one tax break in the 2015 legislative session, mainly because no one is using it. In Olympia, the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee — a bipartisan commission of state senators and representatives — heard its staff make the recommendations on 24 tax breaks in the aerospace and food processing industries Wednesday. The staff recommended ending a break on sales taxes for materials used in aerospace prototypes; no company is using the break currently. Still, JLARC member Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, protested, "Why terminate something just because no one is using it right now?”.The staff also recommended that the Legislature clarify what it wants with 20 of those tax breaks, such as providing numerical goals to measure success and setting intended expiration dates. It also recommended three tax breaks be continued.Since 2007 the JLARC has recommended continuing 127 tax breaks, seeking clarification on 61 others, allowing nine to naturally expire and to terminate seven. The Legislature has not actually terminated any of those seven. – J.S. 

Parks measure gets 2 nods

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

2:44 p.m. With ballots for the Aug. 5 primary going to the Post Office today, the supporters of Seattle’s Proposition 1, which would create a new metropolitan parks district, are riding a bit of momentum. The Municipal League of King County recommended a yes vote on the plan yesterday. "[E]stablishing a sustainable funding source for parks is preferable to the existing method of using periodic levies that have emphasized capital projects over basic maintenance,” they wrote. It was a nicely balanced statement, noting that the Muni League would prefer the city council and mayor kept more funding within the general fund, but concluding that the parks are critically important to residents. The Stranger also just came out with its editorial recommendation in favor of Prop 1. Balanced? Well, not so much. — J.C. 

Pot initiative star eyeing Sawant's seat

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

1:57 p.m. Alison Holcomb, the ACLU attorney who wrote the marijuana legalization initiative, told The Seattle Weekly this morning that she is thinking seriously about a run for Seattle City Council next year. If she runs, it would likely be for the new district council seat representing Capitol Hill, Madison Park and parts of the Central District. Holcomb would be a formidable candidate, The Weekly's Ellis Conklin notes, but Sawant and her Socialist supporters would likely wage a formidable campaign. Assuming, of course, that Sawant doesn't think she's ready for bigger things by then. — J.C. 

Eastern Washington under threat 

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

A state of emergency was declared Tuesday across Eastern Washington because of multiple wildfires threatening more than 500 homes, businesses, public infrastructure and natural resources as severe weather conditions persist. The proclamation covering 20 counties was signed at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, acting for Gov. Jay Inslee, who is traveling on state business. The proclamation allows for the use of the Washington National Guard and the all-volunteer State Guard, and directs state agencies to do “everything reasonably possible” to help local governments respond and recover from fires. The National Weather Service has posted "red flag" warnings for critical fire-danger conditions for most of Eastern Washington, Wednesday through Friday. — J.B.


at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

dodges federal-state pot debate

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

Wenatchee city officials have ducked out of the tug-of-war between state law, which deems weed legal, and federal law, which still prohibits it, reports The Seattle Times. Instead of using the federal prohibition, the city relied on an advisory opinion by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson in its response to a lawsuit filed last month by citizen Shaun Preder, who was barred from opening a pot shop in Wenatchee. The opinion from Ferguson holds that cities and counties can ban legal pot businesses under I-502.Looks like Wenatchee has closed the federal can-of-worms, but Preder’s lawyer Hilary Bricken told The Times' Bob Young that she plans to push on with a suit challenging Ferguson’s opinion. And that could go all the way to the state Supreme Court. — E.W.

New Lynn Shelton movie: Predictions, anyone?

at 1:49pm by Joe Copeland

Seattle director Lynn Shelton made her name on awkward threesomes. No, not the sexual act, though that wouldn't have been out of the question in "Humpday," which featured two heterosexual male friends who agreed to make a porno together, or "My Sister's Sister", in which one sister sleeps with the other's best friend-turned true love. Shelton's forte has been the slow, relatively unscripted testing of boundaries between friends and relations and the awkward, sometimes heartbreaking and often hilarious conversations that ensue. After those two films vaulted her into the directorial spotlight, she lost her footing a bit with “Touchy Feely”, which was described by one critic as "too damned kooky for its own good". The question with Shelton has become what her voice looks like in mainstream film and when she will find it. 

Enter “Laggies,” her new romantic comedy (set against classic Seattle skyscapes) about a childish Keira Knightley trying to get her act together. The trailer was just released today. We'll leave it up to you to predict whether this is the movie where Shelton gets her groove back. — B.A.

Tuesday 15 Jul, 2014

The $15 opponents come up short. WSDOT faulted in I-5 Skagit bridge collapse. Microsoft job cuts are close.

$15 repeal is falling short 

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

5:17 p.m. Backers of Seattle's $15 minimum wage law say the measure has survived an attempt to overturn it at the polls. The King County Elections Office today sent out an email updating the verification of signatures and the numbers indicate opponents of the law, calling themselves Forward Seattle, failed to get enough signatures to force a November vote on the minimum wage. Sage Wilson of Working Washington said in an email, "At this point, Forward Seattle could not meet the minimum standard of 16,510 valid signatures even if every single one of the 3,924 remaining signatures were verified. " The Forward Seattle press contact did not immediately return a message left for comment.King County's email does say its numbers are subject to possible change. But the latest numbers show only 11,412 signatures have been accepted as valid out of 15,004 that have been reviewed. There were 18,928 signatures submitted. There would have to be more than 1,000 reversals on already-rejected signatures — plus validation of all the remaining 3,924 signatures — to even get close to the 16,510 valid signatures that are needed to put the law on the ballot.  — J.C. 

Today at City Hall (AKA Kitty Hall)

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

4:25 p.m. Mayor Ed Murray signed the new rideshare rules into law and announced he has picked Cuc Vu, a labor and non-profit leader, as director of the city Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. The mayor and his office also made a little something of an event to promote adoption of cats and kittens that included bringing dozens of them to what was renamed Kitty Hall for the day. At last count, we had seen 20 tweets from the official Mayor’s Office Twitter account about the event, most including the Internet’s favorite, cat photos. We are just trying to figure out why we never saw a picture of Ben Huh there. In any case, it’s a good cause. — J.C. 

I-90 communications fail

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

4:06 p.m. As commuters hunker down for a traffic apocalypse on Friday — when I-90 west will shrink to one lane between Bellevue and Mercer Island for one week — many are wondering why the state can’t waive tolls on the 520 bridge to mitigate impending traffic jams. The Seattle Weekly posed that question to the agency that has the authority to suspend tolls during traffic projects, the Washington State Transportation Commission. Its response? The commission was unaware of the WSDOT’s project until hearing about it on the news, which left little time to consider a potential toll waiver. WSDOT officials came back by sharing an email with KING 5 showing that the department actually did notify the commission on July 1. Even so, 16 days wouldn’t allot much time for the commission to consider a temporary toll waiver — which would cost the state an estimated $1.3 million. But is that too much to pay in comparison to the potential millions of dollars lost in productivity while workers sit in traffic? Dori Monson asked. For the cash-strapped state, the answer seems to be “no”.  Regardless of the waiver controversy, the communication between these two agencies is akin to an aging freeway: sometimes, you just need a big repair. — M.L.

Feds: Poor oversight contributed to I-5 bridge collapse

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

What caused the I-5 bridge to crash into the Skagit River last May? The federal agency investigating the accident blames poor planning, distracted driving and an inadequate state permitting process. Among several recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday, was the need for the Washington State Department of Transportation to revise its permitting process. Currently freight companies are responsible for checking height and weight restrictions for specific bridges and tunnels when they apply for permits online, but do not receive any evaluation from the state. Increasing oversight of oversized vehicles would be no easy (or inexpensive) task however: A spokesperson for WSDOT told Crosscut that the agency issued 136,000 permits for overweight and oversized vehicles last year alone.“We will work to enact all of [the National Transportation Safety Board’s] recommendations and will continue to work closely with the Washington State Legislature and freight industry on the recommendations that require legislative action,” wrote Washington Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson in a statement. The department is already working with the freight industry to provide better access to bridge-specific data on weight and height limitations. The National Transportation Safety Board also recommended a countrywide ban on the personal use of cellphones and other electronic devices by pilot/escort vehicle drivers, as well as increased signage around low-clearance tunnels and bridges. — M.L.

As Microsoft moves into cloud, employees face cuts

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

Turns out the implications of Microsoft’s new service motto — “the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world” — are far from white and fluffy. Microsoft is planning to announce job cuts exceeding the largest in the company’s history — 5,800 employees laid off at the height of the 2009 economic crisis — as early as this week, according to a Bloomberg News report. The cuts will most likely be in engineering, marketing and areas of overlap with Nokia’s smartphone business, which Microsoft agreed to acquire last September. Silver lining: The Puget Sound Business Journal’s Rachel Lerman recently quoted an expert saying the availability of Microsoft talent would be a plus for startups in Seattle. — E.W.

Success=grades plus grease

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

Some might think 16-year-old girls are mainly capable of gossiping and nail painting. Not at North Thurston High School in Lacey. Sixteen-year-old Clarissa Jenkins recently brought home a gold medal from the SkillsUSA championships, a national vocational skills competition with over 15,000 student participants, for her drum brake system presentation. Jenkins was the first student in her high school’s history to receive the honor, a feat she pulled off with only one year of automotive shop in her toolbox, according to an Olympian report. – E.W.

13 Coins: Plus one

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

Bellevue will get a 13 Coins restaurant, adding to the two 24-hour locations the company now operates in Seattle and SeaTac. In a press release, 13 Coins co-owner Albert Moscatel said, “Our customers have been asking for an Eastside location for years — this is the perfect location and the right time to make our move to Bellevue.” And they only have about another a half-year left to wait: The statement projects an opening date of December. The location is a prime one: adjacent to the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The plan is a sign that the nights have gotten more lively there (and everyone who had been asking for an Eastside location should feel free to say they told us so). – J.C. 

Kent Starbucks shooting

at 3:52pm by Joe Copeland

 A man was shot in the face outside a Starbucks in Kent strip mall on Tuesday around 12:30 p.m. The alleged shooter fled the scene but later turned herself into the Tacoma Police Department, which has taken her into custody. KOMO News says there have been unconfirmed reports that the victim was still conscious at the scene, but the full extent of his injury is unknown. According to KING 5 reporter Adam Mertz, the Kent Police Department says the man and woman arrived at Starbucks together. — M.L.

Monday 14 Jul, 2014

The Brush fires slow traffic. Boeing looks to bring on robots. Portland's tree-huggers flop.

Pacific Place sold

at 2:05pm by Jessica Buxbaum

2:58 p.m. Seattle's Pine Street Group has sold the Pacific Place downtown shopping mall has to a real-estate investment firm based in the District of Columbia. The Seattle Times reports that an estimated $10 to $15 million from the sale will go to United Way of King County under a donation plan announced earlier by the investors in Pine Street. Madison Marquette owns or manages in at least 18 states. — J.C. 

Brush fires slow traffic

at 2:05pm by Jessica Buxbaum

An overnight brush fire along northbound Interstate 5 near South 188th Street in SeaTac backed up traffic for 7 miles Monday morning, KIRO 7 reported. Later in the morning, a fire by I-5 in Fife north of Tacoma also slowed traffic, creating a four-mile backup for southbound travelers at one point before all lanes were reopened during the noon hour, the Washington State Department of Transportation said.The SeaTac fire broke out just before midnight and spanned 200 yards alongside the road. The fire was contained at 1:30 a.m. but continued to burn throughout the night, according to the Seattle Times. Firefighters from Kent, Federal Way, the Port of Seattle, Boeing, Tukwila and SeaTac all fought the fire. The backup was still two miles at 11:40 a.m., according to  the Washington State Department of Transportation. There was no immediate word on a cause of the fire. — J.B.

Robots: Joining the Boeing workforce

at 2:05pm by Jessica Buxbaum

Boeing said today that it’s in the final phases of testing new technology for building 777 fuselages, replacing people with robots to fasten fuselage panels together. Currently, fuselage panels are fastened together by hand with power tools, a repetitive and strenuous task that the company said accounts for more than half of all employee injuries on the 777 program. Within the next few years, Boeing plans to install the Fuselage Automated Upright Build technology in a new portion of Everett’s main factory. The company noted that it is preparing to build the new line of 777X airplanes there. — E.W.

Video from Boeing

New Japanese jet to take off from Moses Lake

at 2:05pm by Jessica Buxbaum

Once upon a time, Moses Lake was largely rural. Now it’s a growing heavy industry and high-tech manufacturing hub with desirable runways (for planes not Prada). Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft will create a flight-test center in Moses Lake to test out its new jet next fall, The Seattle Times reports. The project will employ about 100 people and will involve technical support from Seattle-based company AeroTEC, which provides flight-testing and aircraft certification services. Mitsubishi was attracted to Washington’s aerospace expertise and Grant County International Airport’s new hangar, clear weather and long, uncrowded runways. At the Farnborough Air Show, Gov. Jay Inslee told The Times (which — Bravo! — is covering the show) that the project “sets up an infrastructure for airplane certification and testing that may lead to bigger and better things.” — E.W.

Time to yell “timber” to Portland’s tree-hugging record

at 2:05pm by Jessica Buxbaum

More than 2,000 people embraced their tall, branchy friends in Nepal’s capital last month, breaking what had been Portland’s year-old Guinness World Record for most people hugging trees simultaneously. This weekend, Portland tried to but failed to to replant its reputation as the world capital of tree huggers. Only 599 huggers participated in this Saturday’s attempt, about 400 less than last year’s record setting event. “It’s not about the record at this point,” organizer Damon Schrosk told The Oregonian. “It’s about people having a good time and learning about the nonprofit groups we had.” Sounds like something a coach tells Little Leaguers after a tough loss: You played a great game, Portland! — E.W.

Friday 11 Jul, 2014

The Temps, wildfires heat up. Will Microsoft layoffs be big? Summer fun, as long as you stay out of traffic.

2 large fires threaten Central Washington

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

As forecasters nervously watch the hot weather, two fires in Central Washington that broke out this week continue to threaten homes. The Mills Canyon Fire, south of Entiat, started Tuesday and is still raging across 18,065 acres. With only 19 percent of the fire contained, 646 firefighters are fighting to control it. Highway 97A was closed again this morning, with a portion of the unburned area now burning, said public information officer Laurie Dowie. Evacuations have been ordered in four different locations in Entiat and threaten 164 structures. Three outbuildings have been damaged along the Entiat River.  The 25 Mile Creek Fire, west of Chelan, Thursday but crews made significant progress overnight, according to spokesman Rick Acosta. The fire has burned 400 acres and residents of six homes along Shady Pass Road have been asked to evacuate. Four twenty-person crews are working to contain the fire. “We’re very optimistic at quelling the fire,” Acosta said, “unless unforeseen events occur.”Both fires’ causes are under investigation and there are no reported fatalities or injures as of yet. — J.B. 

Fire status map at 10 a.m Friday Northwest Interagency Coordination Center

Microsoft: Layoffs for 10 percent of workers?

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

GeekWire's Todd Bishop reports that a veteran financial analyst is predicting that Microsoft will lay off 5 to 10 percent of its workforce as part of the transformation company CEO Satya Nadella has been outlining this week. Part of the job losses would involve the recent acquisition of Nokia, which Microsoft has said would lead to substantial cost reductions — presumably including layoffs — over an 18-month period. — J.C.

Blueberry bumper crop

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

Like those low prices for blueberries in stores? Washington farmers are growing more blueberries, according to the Washington Blueberry Commission. Over the past half-century, state farmers have gone from having essentially zero blueberries to ranking fourth nationally in production of blues. Dr. Alan Schreiber says in a statement that a quarter of all blueberry acreage here is organic — particularly good news if you listen to Washington State University research ranking organic berries higher than conventional on a number of scores, including nutritional content. — J.C. 

Fun and travel under the sun 

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

It's summer, the weather is perfect and you want to go to everything that's going on! And there's so much to do: As a Seattle city advisory notes, "–Seafair is taking over the City with events happening over the coming days in communities throughout Seattle." In the city alone, there's the West Seattle Summer Fest, the Ballard Seafood Fest, the Milk Carton Derby on Saturday at Green Lake, just for starters. And there's the STP bike classic with waves of cyclists taking off early Saturday from the UW on the way to Portland. (Good luck to all the riders, who have worked so hard to prepare.)As the city notes, however, planning for traffic conditions is smart. And there's the little matter of the Highway 520 Floating Bridge: closed — again — for the entire weekend. Great weather, it turns out, is also great for construction. Speaking of which, the state is starting to put out alerts about the week-long closure of all but one westbound lane of I-90 that begins next Friday night (July 18). Details here. It's to replace aging expansion joints — you know, like the one that popped up on I-5 and shut Seattle down last December. In return, you'll be assured of fewer travel inconveniences on the dreary winter Mondays when you'd rather just stay at home. — J.C. 

Amazon drones: Coming to a sky near you?

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

Amazon, which has been talking since last year about its desire to deliver packages by drone, has formally asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to expand its testing outside of research laboratories. 

Currently, Amazon can only test its aircraft inside its Seattle lab or outdoors in other countries, but the company wants to test outdoors near Seattle, according to a Seattle Times article. Over the long run, Amazon wants to deliver packages under 5 pounds via drones that can reach a speed of more than 50 miles per hour. Since 86 percent of Amazon delivers are lightweight, the company believes delivery by drone will increase efficiency by getting packages to customers faster. — J.B. 

City attorney apologizes

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

4:59 p.m. After buying pot on Tuesday to mark the victory of the legalization cause he supported, City Attorney Pete Holmes apparently took his purchase back to the office, in a violation of a city policy on drugs in the workforce. He issued a statement apologizing this afternoon. He says he took the pot home at the end of the day. If he had smoked it on city grounds, that'd be a pretty good story. — J.E.

Sun, fun and ... photos

at 1:05pm by Joe Copeland

If you're out in the sun and taking photos this weekend, we'd love to see them. We plan to put together a story with good-weather shots next week. Check out Crosscut's Facebook page and post them there (or just go there to see other folks' photos). 

Thursday 10 Jul, 2014

The Meet Microsoft's 'transformation.' JBLM: Child refugee home? Patty Murray takes birth control lead.

Microsoft memo: Transformational?

at 4:10pm by Joe Copeland

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella released a lengthy memo today that seeks to focus the company on becoming "the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world." Accompanying the memo online, the company's banner photo of Nadella (a snippet is below) conveys a nice sense of energy, which goes well with his talk about transforming the company, serving customers and empowering people worldwide.When companies talk transformation, however, workers have learned to check for the circling of HR representatives bearing bad news. Nadella declined to discuss the possibility of job cuts with The Seattle Times' Janet Tu; Bloomberg reports that "people familiar with the company's plans" say workforce reductions are likely. That could be less energizing. — J.C. 

Will JBLM shelter migrant children? 

at 4:10pm by Joe Copeland

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is considering moving over 600 Central American children to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the city of Lakewood isn't too happy about it. The move would be part of the government’s response to the thousands of children crossing the border fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. The News Tribune reports that a letter from Lakewood city officials raised concerns about the spread of communicable diseases, and wondered how housing the children would impact “the ability of JBLM to focus on its primary mission.”According to the department of Health and Human Services, local governments won’t be financially impacted, since the agency plans to cover all costs for the children. (Find answers to frequently asked questions on the HHS website.) Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, reached out to Burwell for more information. Heck is supporting the Obama administration’s call to Congress to provide $3.7 billion to fund emergency housing and beefed up border protection.“While I recognize the extreme danger these children experience in their home countries, [Central American] governments need to enforce their own rule of law such that these children aren’t forced to flee for their lives,” he wrote in a statement. — M.L.

Democrats riding the Hobby Lobby horse

at 4:10pm by Joe Copeland

Liberal fury over the Hobby Lobby decision is reaching a crescendo as Sens. Patty Murray, D- Washington, and Mark Udall, D-Colorado, introduced a bill that would override the recent Supreme Court ruling and require employers to cover birth control under health insurance, regardless of religious beliefs. “People across the country understand that if bosses can deny birth control, they can deny vaccines, HIV treatment or other basic health services for their employers or their dependents,” said Sen. Murray in a press conference Wednesday. She then took to Twitter today, tweeting a storm of sound bites under the #NotMyBossBusiness hashtag.

The bill, sponsored exclusively by Democrats, is being fast-tracked through the Senate and could be heard as early as next week, according to the Huffington Post. Since sister legislation in the House is unlikely to break through the conservative clutches of Speaker John Boehner, the Senate bill may wind up being just another way for Democratic senators to rally supporters before the upcoming election season. — M.L.

Weed Week in Review

at 4:10pm by Joe Copeland

KUOW's Friday Week in Review roundtable discussion (10 a.m.) will have Luke Burbank sitting in as host for recently named host Bill Radke (on vacation). Crosscut's Knute Berger will be among the news panelists on a show that will include some substantial discussion of, you guessed it, legal pot. Berger will be writing about his own relationship with the drug on Crosscut tomorrow morning. (The show is at 10 a.m. on KUOW).  — J.C. 

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