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Washington House delegation votes on party lines on impeachment resolution

Washington’s U.S. House delegation split along party lines in Thursday’s vote on an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

All seven Democrats voted for the resolution setting up ground rules for a newly public phase of the impeachment investigation centered on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s leaders.

The state’s three Republican House members, meanwhile, were unswayed by testimony suggesting Trump pressured Ukrainian officials to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

The split among Washington’s representatives mirrored the partisan divide in the House as a whole, as the impeachment resolution passed 232-196, with every Republican and two Democrats from GOP-leaning districts voting no.

Washington Republicans argued the impeachment process remains unfair.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, slammed the weeks of closed-door depositions Democrats have held to gather evidence against the president. (Forty-seven Republicans on the committees involved in those depositions also have been allowed to attend and participate.)

“This resolution allows Chairman Schiff to keep working in private and ignores the President’s due process, a fundamental right in America. From these secret proceedings to Chairman Adam Schiff falsifying statements, this has been a hyperpartisan approach from the start. I still haven’t seen evidence of an impeachable offense,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, called the probe “a farce” in a Facebook post, saying the rules adopted by the House differ from impeachment proceedings in 1974 and 1998 in limiting due-process rights for the president.

Herrera Beutler said Trump’s Ukraine actions “raise serious questions deserving of a full, impartial investigation and then airing of the facts.” But she called on Democrats to halt the current inquiry and “work together to create an investigation that the public will see as fair and full, with all the facts in plain view.”

Washington’s congressional Democrats — all of whom backed an impeachment inquiry even before the Ukraine revelations — said the resolution vote was an important step toward holding Trump accountable.

“This is a solemn and grave moment, one that is absolutely needed based on the evidence we have gathered to date. The President and his acting chief of staff’s own words and testimony offered by officials under oath all paint a stunning picture of a President using the power his office to further his own political interests,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, in a statement. “As we move forward, my Republican colleagues must remember their oath of office calls on them to defend the Constitution, not President Trump.”

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said in a statement the Thursday vote was about outlining a process that is “transparent and fair.” He added: “The months ahead should not be about re-litigating the 2016 election or trying to influence the 2020 election. Rather, they should be about protecting the integrity of our democracy and the rule of law. And as someone who came here to make life better for the folks I represent, my sincere hope is that Congress continues to move forward on those vital priorities as well.”

County on track to complete flooding project by 2021 in Shaw Creek area

A Yakima County project to reduce flooding from Shaw and Wide Hollow creeks continues to move forward.

Water resources specialist Troy Havens said the county hired a real estate firm to help with the complicated process of acquiring land needed relocate Shaw Creek to its historic channel without forcing any residents to move. The county

also received one-year extensions for a

$2 million federal FEMA grant set to expire next September, as well as a $498,000 grant from the state’s Department of Ecology.

Havens said the project is fully staffed. He’s taken over the lead role since Cliff Bennett retired earlier this year.

It’s a complicated project that has experienced some delays. The schedule now anticipates construction will begin in 2020 and wrap up the following year, although stewardship actions to add vegetation will be ongoing through 2023.

Neighbors have watched the effort closely. Once complete, 1,100 acres and 27 residences would be eliminated from the 100-year floodplain, saving landowners an average of $2,000 annually in flood insurance costs.

Washington emergency management division’s Steven Friederich said they’re reviewing the pre-application for the federal grant, which will be matched by $1.1 million from other sources, including the city of Yakima and the Yakima County Flood District. Havens said the county is working on a grant amendment, since the county changed its plans for new bridges to box culverts at two locations along Wide Hollow Road.

The county said when completed, the $3.165 million project would prevent constant flooding in numerous areas such as the Clinton Way Subdivision and Meadowbrook Mobile Estates.

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After 19 years in the valley, La Catrina says farewell

Sunday was her last day in the valley as La Catrina. She wore a cotton dress of vivid colors, “handmade and hand-painted” in Africa, a wide hat and special makeup as the master of ceremonies.

That morning, Ana Laura Villaseñor, her favorite makeup artist, painted her face following La Catrina’s instructions, with delicate paint that wouldn’t harm her skin. Weeks before, Blanca Perez, her favorite dressmaker, made La Catrina a special dress for that day. “I told her how I wanted it and she designed it,” said La Catrina. She created her hat herself.

Everything was prepared in detail, even the skeleton.

It was La Catrina’s farewell after 19 years touring the Yakima Valley, reminding everyone that “the rich, the poor, everyone will end up in dust ... even if you have all the money in the world, we are all going to go,” she said.

You have to “live life every moment, constantly dancing, celebrating death.”

How did La Catrina end up in Yakima?

In the winter of 1999, Aurora Peña-Torres arrived in Yakima. As a native of Mexico City, she sought a connection with her cultural roots, especially on a date as revered as the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. The celebration is a chance to honor the lives of friends and relatives who have died, and it is a tradition in Mexico and many Spanish-speaking countries.

“I hoped there was something that celebrated Dia de los Muertos,” she said. But she found nothing.

In 2000, she helped start the first Dia de los Muertos community celebrations in the Yakima Valley. Her version of La Catrina — a character created by the famous Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada in 1910 and icon of the Day of the Dead in Mexico — first appeared at the Montessori School of Yakima, where Peña-Torres worked as a teacher.

She wasn’t as elegant then as she was this past weekend at Mighty Tieton.

“I started looking for dresses in second-hand stores. My first hat was a lampshade, which was very heavy; my first dress was a black dress. At first, I painted my face myself,” Peña-Torres said.

So, with second-hand clothes, Peña-Torres gave life to La Catrina, a character she knew well. She had seen women and dolls dressed as La Catrina in Mexico City. “They caught my attention a lot.”

But it wasn’t until the end of the ‘90s, in Oregon, when the character captured her imagination. “In Portland was the first time that I saw a woman dressed in La Catrina, in a Victorian dress, with an umbrella and I loved it. I said, ‘This is really cool. I’m going to do it.’ When I came here, I said, ‘This is my chance.’ “ And she took the opportunity.

Not alone anymore

In 2001, Peña-Torres wanted to expand the presence of La Catrina in Yakima. She appeared at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Yakima, which she attended, alongside a Dia de los Muertos altar.

The third year, La Catrina brought sugar skulls to the valley.

“I found a man (in Metepec, Mexico) who gave me the original clay mold used by artisans there, a giant mold, which doesn’t look like a skull on the outside, it looks more like a ball. That’s what I used to make the first large and medium skulls.”

Next, La Catrina appeared for Dia de los Muertos at the Discovery Lab School, where Peña-Torres was part of the Association of Parents and Teachers, accompanied by an altar and sugar skulls that Peña-Torres prepared and decorated at home.

In 2005, the Yakima-Morelia Sister City Association presented the first Dia de los Muertos exhibit in Yakima. Peña-Torres was a part of the talks to coordinate the event, which had 11 altars. Various organizations and people participated.

Visitors encountered La Catrina, accompanied by the scent of cempasuchil (Aztec marigold) flowers.

The annual Yakima-Morelia Sister City Association exhibits continued and grew. This year’s community altar is at 16 N. Third St. in downtown Yakima and is open from noon to 6 p.m. through Saturday. Friday is All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day on Saturday.

Mighty Tieton

In 2011, La Catrina left Yakima for Tieton.

Dia de los Muertos there included sugar skulls for children to decorate and a large community altar. For several years the celebration has featured the famous sand paintings of the Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Razo, the sounds of the pre-Hispanic Mexican artist Samuel Becerra, and the children who want to imitate and take pictures with La Catrina.

“I see in them the thousands of opportunities that life presents,” Peña-Torres says.

And where is she going?

La Catrina “is going to try other horizons,” Peña-Torres, 62, said. Not because she is tired, but because she is in a transition. She’ll continue to live in the Yakima Valley.

She hopes others keep the tradition going.

“I am satisfied, happy, sad of course, because I did everything with love,” she said.

Then, she paraphrased a part of the poem “Flori Canto” by Nezahualcóyotl: “Even if it is jade, it breaks; even if it is gold, it breaks; even if it is a Quetzal feather, it is torn ....” And death comes to all.

“Death is with us every day,” Peña-Torres said in her last interview in Yakima as La Catrina.

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New kids on the block
A rebirth in east downtown Yakima
 Mai Hoang  / 

More than four years ago, the congregation of First Baptist Church gathered one last time in its century-old building in downtown Yakima.

As of today, the former church houses a different kind of community — Fulcrum Yakima, a business incubator group, has taken over the building at 515 E. Yakima Ave.

It’s another boost for the far east side of downtown Yakima, which had primarily been home to several hotels and the Yakima Convention Center.

Roger Wilson, who also owns the First Baptist church building, recently announced that Starbucks would be opening at the former Greyhound bus depot at 602 E. Yakima Ave., kitty-corner to the First Baptist building.

Both developments will benefit the Yakima Convention Center, which is undergoing an expansion of its own, said John Cooper, president of Yakima Valley Tourism, which operates the convention center and oversees conference recruiting efforts.

The Starbucks and Fulcrum developments are between the downtown core and the convention center, which will help link the two areas, Cooper said.

“We’re excited to see additional activity occurring along the boulevard connecting this area, the hospitality area, with the city center,” he said.

Finding a home

The church provides a new home for Fulcrum’s growing community. When the group formed a year ago, it had its eyes set on developing a mixed-use space at the former Liquidation World building on North Third Street.

But the group grew much faster than expected, and the organization realized it couldn’t wait much longer for its own space.

“We wanted to keep growing and engaging the momentum and response we were getting for Fulcrum,” said Chelann Watt, Fulcrum’s executive director.

Fulcrum aims to help residents develop ideas that could boost the Yakima Valley economy, particularly in food and agricultural technology.

It’s developed the concept through monthly fireside chats with key figures in the Yakima Valley business community and twice-monthly gatherings to discuss innovations and business developments locally and around the world.

These chats were held in various venues, such as coffee shops and restaurants. This summer, the organization’s board decided that Fulcrum was ready to have a place where it could further cultivate the collaborative community it’s developed over the last year.

Meanwhile, Wilson Commercial Properties has been renovating the First Baptis Church building and finishing apartments upstairs. Wilson purchased the building in 2015 and got it on the National Register of Historic Places a year later.

Shortly after deciding Fulcrum needed to find a building, Watt and the board heard about Wilson’s renovation of the church. Fulcrum reached an agreement with Wilson in mid-September.

Fulcrum would not only lease the public spaces, but also serve as the manager for the event spaces at both the First Baptist Church and Le Chateau, another event space in downtown Yakima.

Wilson, meanwhile, would continue managing the upstairs apartments.

Wilson said he was drawn by Fulcrum’s concept and by the track record of people involved in the organization, including Watt, who had co-owned a juice bar, produced a podcast about young entrepreneurs and written a book aimed at millennials.

“It’s good for the community, (Fulcrum’s) concept and what they want to do — develop products for the ag industry and try to keep younger people here in Yakima,” Wilson said. “And create a space for entrepreneurs.”

The First Baptist Church building will house what Watt and Fulcrum call its Phase 1 Innovation Center. It will serve as a smaller version of the center it wants to develop at the larger Liquidation World building in a few years.

“We’re providing the Fulcrum model on a smaller scale with 10,000 to 15,000 feet of space versus 50,000 (at the Liquidation World building),” Watt said.

The center will have an event center and “learning theater” in the church’s former sanctuary, office spaces and spaces for a lounge and a restaurant or eatery.

The goal is constant activity in the building, either from Fulcrum or other community organizations.

“We want this space to be alive,” Watt said.

Linking downtown areas

Cooper, of Yakima Valley Tourism, says the changes will link the convention center with the rest of the downtown core.

“It gives a sense of community, and it adds to the critical mass,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cooper is now accepting bids for an 18,000-square-foot expansion of the Yakima Convention Center. The center, whose last major space expansion was in 2002, has lost convention business due to conferences and other events outgrowing it.

The Fulcrum innovation center will be an excellent complement to the Yakima Convention Center, Cooper said, especially since it will provide additional event and meeting space nearby.

“Having an additional event venue that close can be helpful for those occasional, very large groups that need (more) space,” Cooper said.

One such group is the Washington Music Educators Association, which often books additional space near the convention center to serve as extra rehearsal and concert space.

Watt said she’s looking forward to working together with the Yakima Convention Center, which could mean anything from sending conference-goers to a restaurant or eatery operating at the innovation center to hosting a banquet or other event for a conference that is primarily at the Convention Center.

“We hope to develop those strategic relationships,” she said.

Work on the Fulcrum Innovation Center will be done in the coming months. As a result, the organization decided to cancel its Thing Big Festival, a weekend-long conference on agricultural innovations, so it could focus on getting the new space ready, Watt said.

“For this year, our focus is making the Phase 1 space the best quality and best version it can be for the community,” she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo captions in this story have been changed to correct Chelann Watt's last name.