When the man you call "Dad" was your mother's pimp -- a child heads into prostitution

By Lee van der Voo

InvestigateWest

PORTLAND -- The 14-year-old girl has no place to go. The people in her family can't protect her or provide her with a good home.

The man she calls "Dad" was her mother's pimp. Her grandmother was a prostitute, too.

She has been in and out of the foster care system since the age of 3 and first sold for sex at about age 9. Her sex appeal has been cultivated from such an early age that she shows little interest in much else. She is restless in the locked treatment facility she lives in.

In Oregon's Multnomah County, officials are tracking about 120 children, like the 14-year-old, who are involved in sex trafficking. The intent is to coordinate responses by police, prosecutors, child welfare workers and social service providers.

"Predominantly we see kids that are known to child welfare," said Joslyn Baker, a collaboration specialist for the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice in a program known as the Community Response to Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Though children in the sex trade sometimes come from secure homes, most have histories of sexual abuse and violence for which they have not received proper treatment, Baker said. They also can be frequent runaways.

Pimps, she said, "very much prey on the vulnerability of the child and what is missing in that child's life," filling a void. "They'll say, 'Oh, you're so pretty,' or 'You're so smart. I could be your boyfriend.' They will groom them for weeks or even months."

By the time the children are sold for sex, Baker said, they are bonded to their pimps. Like victims of domestic violence, the children don't run away. Instead, they want to get back to that good time when they felt cared for and loved.

Social service providers who are focused on the problem convene twice monthly to brainstorm options. There are few.

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Odd provision in state law severely undercuts growth management

By Robert McClure

InvestigateWest

An unusual provision of Washington law has repeatedly authorized major real-estate developments to go forward even after they’ve been declared urban sprawl that violates the state’s landmark Growth Management Act.

In 2007, nearly 1,000 homes were given the green light in Clark County in Southwest Washington where 10 would have been allowed otherwise, and 514 lakeside acres previously set aside for farming were designated instead as industrial and office park land, InvestigateWest’s reporting reveals. In 2005 in Spokane County, the practice authorized more than 1,500 homes to be built where 22 or fewer would otherwise have been allowed in the Five Mile Prairie neighborhood, and up to 480 homes where eight would otherwise be permitted near the Spokane airport.

Last year, this practice allowed one Whatcom County developer to lock in the right to build 1,246 homes near the Canadian border 25 days before passage of a law that allowed only one-tenth that number.

The Growth Management Act — passed in 1990 to rein in runaway development that chokes roads, spurs water pollution and carpets the countryside in concrete — is only one of a number of environmental and land-use laws to be undercut by a feature of Washington law that gives developers unusually favorable treatment compared to most other states.

Known as “vesting” and dating back more than half a century, the legal provision means that if a developer learns a new law is coming that would restrict building, he or she can draw up preliminary plans for a subdivision, file the paperwork with the county — and avoid the new, more restrictive rules. Even if construction doesn’t start for years.

This system contributes to urban sprawl that eats up undeveloped rural land and increases pollution of waterways from tainted water running off roofs, streets, and parking lots.

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How far will we sprawl? Answer unknown because of lots subdivided decades ago

By Robert McClure

InvestigateWest

In addition to letting modern-day developers skirt the Growth Management Act and other laws, Washington’s provisions for vesting development rights over years and even decades pose a potentially ruinous development problem: thousands of building lots established before the growth law was passed in 1990.

For those lots, the vested building rights never expire. The same goes for small subdivisions — up to nine homes in areas designated for urban growth, and four houses otherwise.

Add courts' reading of the U.S. Constitution as prohibiting government from taking private property without just compensation, and you have a recipe, growth planners fear, for suburban sprawl that overtaxes roads and water supplies and other services in what are supposed to be rural areas.

Vesting protects thousands of building lots subdivided decades ago, many far too small to support a house under current codes. Statewide, there could be tens of thousands. But no one knows how many there are, or where.

Generally, county governments allow a single house to be built on any lot, no matter how small. (The exception comes when it would be unhealthy, such as a lot so small that drinking water would have to be drawn from near a septic tank. Some builders, though, try to find ways to use even these tiny lots. One in Kitsap County proposed to serve 78 homes on 12 acres with a small sewage treatment plant.)

In 2008 alone in just two counties — Pierce and Snohomish — building permits for more than 800 homes were issued for old lots established before the state Growth Management Act took effect, research by the Puget Sound Regional Council indicates.

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State board limits developers' ability to avoid water rules; appeal expected

By Robert McClure

InvestigateWest

Far from the shores of Puget Sound lurks an under-the-radar environmental legal case that holds the potential to significantly set back efforts to protect the Sound from its largest source of toxic pollution.

Closely watched by builders and environmentalists, the case focuses on what happens when rainwater drains off roofs, streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces: It streams into nearby waterways carrying pesticides, fertilizer, oil, transmission fluid, dog poop and innumerable other residues of modern urban life.

The polluted water’s result: Poisoned oyster beds. Dangerous flooding.And the biggest  source of toxic pollution for Puget Sound. Even a threat to drinking-water supplies in Bellingham. 

In the case just ruled on by the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board, environmental activists are challenging how the state Ecology Department is allowing Clark County, population 432,000 in southwest Washington, to comply with recently beefed-up rules to protect waterways from stormwater.

One aspect of the enormously complicated case is vesting. Clark County and the Building Industry Association of Clark County contend stormwater-control rules adopted by the county in April of 2009 don’t apply to developments approved earlier. The county and the builders contend that stormwater-control regulations are subject to vesting — that is, that they lock in as soon as the builder drops off development plans at city hall.

But, ruling from its offices in Tumwater, the pollution board last week rejected that notion, saying Clark County first dragged its feet in adopting new stormwater rules and then “unlawfully exempted” developers whose building plans were filed during an eight-month period.

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Court backs strong Washington rules to rein in polluted rainwater runoff

In a ruling with statewide implications that hands a victory to environmentalists, the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board rejected a system to control polluted rainwater runoff in Clark County that partially shifted the financial burden from developers to the public.

The board’s multi-pronged 2-1 decision shot down a special deal cut by the Department of Ecology for Clark County, saying Ecology punted on its responsibilities to rein in the fast-growing pollution source, instead allowing the county so much leeway that it amounts to “an impermissible self-regulatory program” when Ecology is supposed to be in charge. The board’s ruling holds that the resulting system violates the federal Clean Water Act and state law.

It’s unclear for now whether the state, Clark County or developers will appeal. The case is focused on rainwater runoff, known as “stormwater,” which is Puget Sound’s largest source of toxic pollutants and is a major factor in the decline of waterways statewide.

The pollution starts when raindrops hit hard surfaces – parking lots, roofs, streets, and so forth. That water coalesces into rivulets that run downhill toward the nearest river, lake, stream or bay, picking up pollution that transforms the water into a bouillabaisse of tainted substances including oil, gas, animal excrement, fertilizers and pesticides.

The board had previously ruled that southwestern Washington's Clark County and a handful of other large cities and counties must begin to require a set of building techniques known as “low impact development” to control the polluted rainwater runoff.

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Carol Smith's picture

InvestigateWest's reporting brings health-care worker safety focus in Legislature

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Washington legislators plan to push this session to strengthen worker safety protections for health-care workers who handle chemotherapy drugs on the job, and to provide better tracking of cancers that develop from occupational exposures.

On Jan. 17, Sen. Karen Keiser introduced the first of the bills, SB 5149, which would require that the state cancer registry capture occupational data from cancer patients.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, chair of the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, has drafted legislation that will create an occupational safety standard for oncology clinics and other places where chemo is used.

Both bills were developed in response to InvestigateWest’s investigation last year exposing the ongoing risk to health-care workers who handle chemotherapy for their jobs. The story appeared on our Web site, and in The Seattle Times, on MSNBC.com, and in an investigative report co-produced with KCTS 9 in Seattle.

“Chemotherapy drugs have been classified as hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) since the mid-1980s, yet we still do not have adequate workplace safety protections in place for health-care workers who handle these powerful drugs on a daily basis,” Kohl-Welles said.  “This important legislation addresses the problem by establishing occupational safety standards that are specific to chemo-containing drugs.”

Such a standard, which does not exist at the federal level, would give state regulators the legal authority to crack down on lax safety practices, she said.

Lawmakers to take up health-care worker safety following InvestigateWest reporting

Washington legislators plan to introduce two bills this session to strengthen worker safety protections for health-care workers who handle chemotherapy drugs on the job, and to provide better tracking of cancers that develop from occupational exposures.

Sen. Karen Keiser plans to introduce legislation to mandate that the state cancer registry capture occupational data from cancer patients.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, chair of the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, is introducing legislation that will create an occupational safety standard for oncology clinics and other places where chemo is used.

Both bills were developed in response to InvestigateWest’s investigation last year exposing the ongoing risk to health-care workers who handle chemotherapy for their jobs.

“Chemotherapy drugs have been classified as hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) since the mid-1980s, yet we still do not have adequate workplace safety protections in place for health-care workers who handle these powerful drugs on a daily basis,” Kohl-Welles said.  “This important legislation addresses the problem by establishing occupational safety standards that are specific to chemo-containing drugs.”

Such a standard, which does not exist at the federal level, would give state regulators the legal authority to crack down on lax safety practices, she said.

Kohl-Welles said that since InvestigateWest's series she has had several meetings with Department of Health as well as the Department of Labor & Industries representatives to discuss chemo safety issues and was not satisfied with the worker protections they described. "Specifically, according to their presentations, there’s nothing in place to ensure as best as possible protections for workers other than following federal guidelines which don’t have teeth in them."

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