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Photo: On the big stage

Wenatchee appoints city councilor, police chief and former prosecutor to homeless task force

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee City Council appointed three people to a homeless task force that will oversee the implementation of a local housing plan and the use of homeless tax revenue.

From left: Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown, Wenatchee City Council Member Linda Herald and former Douglas County Prosecutor Steve Clem will serve two-year terms on the Columbia River Homeless Housing Task Force. 

The Columbia River Homeless Housing Task Force is a joint advisory committee between the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. The cities’ councils each appoint one city resident, one county resident and one non-profit representative with experience in low-income housing.

Wenatchee chose Councilmember Linda Herald, the city resident; Police Chief Steve Crown, the county resident; and former Douglas County Prosecutor Steve Clem, the non-profit representative. Each will serve two-year terms expiring in December 2023.

“It’s a great group of people to sort of understand how to navigate the process and how to make sure we’re doing things the right way,” Mayor Frank Kuntz said.

East Wenatchee has not yet made its appointments. Kuntz and Mayor Jerrilea Crawford will also appoint an individual who is or was formerly homeless. Kuntz said they already have someone in mind and plan to appoint them by the end of the year.

Additional non-voting members may also be added to round out the task force’s viewpoints and skills. Kuntz said that could include bilingual individuals if the task force finds there is a need.

The seven-member task force was established through an intercity agreement in October, and its first meeting is set for January. Its first order of business will likely be the construction of a low-barrier shelter in Wenatchee.

The Salvation Army offered a location near its social service office on South Columbia Street. Herald said an upcoming addition of 20 low-barrier beds at Wenatchee Rescue Mission in tandem with the cities’ shelter should provide enough beds to serve the local homeless population. The goal is to open the cities’ shelter this spring.

World photo/Don Seabrook From left, Chelan County Elections Director Stephanie Wilder, Bob Bugert, Robert Sealby and Auditor Skip Moore make up the county's Canvassing Board. Meeting Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, they go through irregular ballots turned in during the recent election including 11 ballots from the primary in August.

World photo/Don Seabrook

WVC looks to tech, retraining demand to counter continued enrollment drop

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley College’s enrollment numbers have fallen for the second year, but administrators are hoping to see a rebound with help from some federally funded high-tech classrooms and people looking to train for new jobs.

This fall’s current enrollment, at 2,358 full-time equivalent students, is a 14.5% drop from last fall. The college expects the numbers to climb to 2,415 students by the end of the quarter, which would improve the year-over-year drop to 12%.

Some programs, such as the Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program, are just beginning, which means the school is still receiving new enrollees.

2020’s enrollment declined by 7.8% from fall 2019.

The decline this year translates to a roughly $400,000 impact for the fall quarter, which will be covered by federal stimulus money, said Libby Siebens, a WVC spokesperson. WVC has additional funding to cover enrollment drops in future quarters as well, Siebens said.

Running Start enrollment has also declined — 15.1% from last fall. This decline comes after enrollment increased 14.8% last fall from 2019. Running Start allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for credit. The college attributes part of the shift to students opting for the high school experience they missed while classes were remote.

“A lot of students have missed out on that experience of being in-person, and are choosing to go back to the high schools,” Siebens said.

Running Start enrollment overall is down, but it varies by school district. Eastmont, for instance, has 24 fewer students participating in the program this year, while the Wenatchee School District has an increase of 23 students from last year, according to the districts’ enrollment data.

WVC’s Omak and Wenatchee campuses both have seen a decline in enrollment, though Siebens said it’s difficult to quantify the drop by campus. Since most classes remain online, a student enrolled at the Omak campus could take a course from a professor at the Wenatchee campus, and vice versa.

The declining enrollment college-wide is the result of several factors, she said, ranging from pure logistics to the economy.

Around 70% of classes are still completely online while others are either optionally online or hybrid. With some students unable to access Wi-Fi or other needed resources for coursework, Siebens said it can be a challenge.

This is especially a problem for students in Okanogan County, Siebens said. To try to combat this, the college offers free Wi-Fi access in college parking lots.

WVC plans to offer more in-person classes when the winter quarter starts in January, and “quite a bit more” in-person classes in the spring, Siebens said.

In addition to offering full in-person and hybrid classes as well as remote options, WVC offers a selection of classes referred to as “high-flex.” In these flexible classes, instructors are teaching students in person and remotely at the same time.

Before the pandemic, the college had six of these classrooms. Siebens said WVC spent a portion of grant money on upgrades, and now 40 classrooms in Wenatchee, Omak and the Nespelem government center are high-flex capable. Each renovation costs around $6,000.

“It’s not just a computer in the room or a camera and microphone type of thing, they’re all over the room,” Siebens said. “So, they’ve got microphones throughout the classroom. So that way, you can pick up group discussion, questions and answers. You can see the classroom from multiple angles, so it’s not just a person on the screen.”

Several of the “Zoom rooms” were set up prior to the pandemic to combat difficult driving conditions in the winter time, Siebens said.

The low unemployment rate also factors into lower enrollment, Siebens said. Generally, enrollment at community colleges mirrors the economy. With more employment opportunities, potential students instead opt to enter the labor market. But as the economy enters a downturn, people decide to go back to school. Siebens said this cycle typically lags by about a year.

“We still continue to be in a good position with the economy,” Siebens said. “And in general, and for community colleges in particular, more students come to us when we are in a recession.”

Recruiters at the college are getting more interest from prospective students.

“When the pandemic first started, some people put off going back to college because of ‘eh, we’ll wait until the pandemic is over,’” Siebens said. “And we still have people who are waiting, because they tell us that. But more and more, people are starting to reach out.”

The loss of six unvaccinated employees who failed to meet a state-mandated Oct. 18 vaccine deadline and were not accommodated had “minimal” impact on student instruction, Siebens said. Not all six of the employees were instructors, though she did not know how many were.

“It wasn’t overwhelming in one area,” Siebens said.

Martin Wachtel, HighLine Grain IT director, explains how the company has been shifting toward a more electronic workflow Oct. 12 while standing by a semi truck scale at the co-op's Waterville facility. HighLine grain automated its Waterville weighing system to help cut down on paper and speed up the process.

An FBI sketch of the mysterious skyjacker “D.B. Cooper,” who pulled off a daring hijacking of a Northwest Orient Airlines jet between Portland and Seattle on Nov. 24, 1971.

Legislators say possible 12th District changes break up communities, dilute regional influence
Provided graphic/ State Redistricting Commission  

Washington State Redistricting Commission's final Legislative District map was released after deadline and so the state Supreme Court now has until  April 30 to set new district boundaries.

WENATCHEE — The State Redistricting Commission’s reworked 12th Legislative District boundaries could reshape NCW politics.

The Commission released Legislative and Congressional District maps late Tuesday after missing the deadline for final deliberations the previous night. The Commission’s failure punted the redistricting to the Supreme Court, which has until April 30 to draw new district boundaries.

The Commission’s final Legislative map reshapes what is a NCW-focused 12th District that covers Chelan and Douglas counties and parts of Grant and Okanogan counties. The reworked district is split across the Cascades to include Chelan County, sections of East Wenatchee and parts of King and Snohomish counties. Douglas County, minus East Wenatchee, would be moved to the 7th District, which would also include north Grant County and Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

“I think it’s an unfortunate outcome for the people of the 12th District,” said Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, who confirmed his home is just within the proposed boundaries. “I am disappointed because it does not seem that the Commission factored in the multitude of public comments that were provided to them…that asked for Chelan and Douglas counties to be included together.”

He added that he thinks the current map potentially violates state law, which says district lines should be drawn in line with local political subdivisions and other communities of interest.

The Commission has expressed hope the court will use their maps, but 12th District legislators said they hope the court’s decision provides what they said is a better outcome for their district.

“The Supreme Court hopefully will be much more ‘letter of the law’ whereas the commission had politics to play with and politics to figure into their process,” said Rep. Mike Steele, R-Lake Chelan.

He added that he would be more supportive of a final map that reflected draft maps submitted by the Commission’s Republican commissioners, Paul Graves and Joe Fain. Their maps, along with that of Democrat Commissioner Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, kept both Chelan and Douglas counties in the 12th District.

Commissioners admitted that splitting up Chelan and Douglas counties, which share everything from a regional port to a health district, is not ideal.

“We knew we had to cross the Cascades somewhere,” Democratic Commissioner April Sims said. “And the decision to cross Highway 2 was just ultimately where we landed as a result of a number of other decisions that we had made in the map.”

Western Washington’s population grew faster than Eastern Washington, meaning that eastern districts need to absorb about 60,000 people to ensure each district has an equal population.

“The split between Chelan and Douglas counties — I think it’s a terrible error and clearly splits up a community of interest,” Fain said, “But (it) does so in service of the larger need to get a map that is the population as the statute requires.”

Shifting politics and focuses

Republican candidates have easily won 12th District seats, at times running without a Democratic challenger. But the Redistricting Commission’s changes to the district could have inched the Republican stronghold closer toward a swing district.

Data from Dave’s Redistricting, a map-drawing app with data with redistricting map breakdowns for all 50 states using Census Bureau and election data, shows that the district would have gone from being 57% Republican and 42% Democratic to 53% Republican and 45% Democratic.

“I don’t know all the political breakdown, but I believe that the district may be more competitive,” said Hawkins, whose term is up in 2025. “But it’s certainly a district, politically, that I feel comfortable with.”

Alma Chacón, a representative on the state State Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, said her party has not yet had a chance to fully digest the possible political ramifications of the Redistricting Commission’s proposed maps.

“The biggest part is just knowing how is it going to move forward now that it’s going to the Supreme Court,” she said. “I think, at least for the Democratic Party, it’ll require us to kind of make a decision as to where we want to have our next election because it’ll be a change.”

Chacón said the final map does not reflect what NCW residents have voiced. Instead, she prefers Walkinshaw’s draft map, which puts Chelan, Douglas and parts of Okanogan counties in the 12th District while also creating a minority- majority district in Yakima.

Local GOP party officials did not respond to requests for comment, but the 12th District legislators, all Republicans, agreed that the Commission’s map would alter how lawmakers approach representing the district.

“Representing the 12th Legislative District will be extremely, extremely challenging,” Steele said. “There’s a lot that happens on the west side of the mountains that doesn’t happen on the east and vice versa.”

Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, agreed, pointing out that while the counties currently collaborate on regional committees and agencies, there less crossover between Chelan and Snohomish and King.

“What we have right now are counties in areas that are more like-minded and have the same issues,” Goehner said. “So I do have concerns about whomever may be representing this district and their ability to really get the issues of the 12th District in the forefront of the legislature because of the wide diversity. The west side issues are totally different — I mean, there’s no interaction.”

Hawkins said splitting up Chelan and Douglas counties, as well East Wenatchee from the rest of Douglas County, would also make it more difficult for civil servants and regional organizations to know who to take their issues to.

“I do feel it would complicate things, and I hope it wouldn’t jeopardize the community’s ability nor central Washington’s ability to secure funding,” Hawkins said. “It’s been very convenient for so many years, and so good for so many constituents, to have Chelan and Douglas counties included in the 12th District.”