City Council adopts liquor regulations

As promised, the Fircrest City Council voted on Tuesday, Dec. 8, to adopt liquor regulations that implement the will of the voters.

Exactly how far we implemented their will is debatable, but it’s a good start.

To recap, 75 percent of Fircrest voters decided on Nov. 3 to end the Prohibition-era ban on serving beer, wine and spirits by the glass in the two business districts on Regents Blvd.

The Fircrest Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, took the first crack at drafting zoning regulations to implement the new law. The Commission held a public hearing and a public meeting in September and October, respectively. Commissioners heard primarily from residents from the Princeton Street area who are concerned about the impacts of alcohol-serving businesses on their neighborhood. As a result, the Commission drafted the following regulations for consideration by the City Council, which has the final say:

  • The sale, service and consumption of alcohol in the Neighborhood Commercial zone (again, the two shopping areas on Regents) is prohibited after 10 p.m.
  • Any business that obtains a liquor license is prohibited from depositing bottles and other trash in outdoor receptacles between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. (in other words, don’t dump bottles in the Dumpster at night).
  • Sale, service or consumption outdoors is prohibited.
  • Only licenses granted to certain kinds of restaurants are allowed. Taverns, lounges and nightclubs are prohibited.

I’ve heard from a lot more people than the Planning Commissioners, and I felt the Commission’s draft was a bit too restrictive. As the City Council prepared to make its final decision, I drafted an amendment that would make the following changes:

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Updates on liquor regs, the 2016 budget, and the Rec Center feasibility study

It’s been a busy fall for the Fircrest City Council, so here are updates on several items of popular interest:

LIQUOR: Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to lift the prohibition on serving liquor-by-the-glass in the central business districts. The Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, has developed draft zoning regulations for the City Council’s consideration if/when voters approve the measure. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

BUDGET: After five public meetings in October, we are still on track to adopt the 2016 budget on Nov. 10. As I’ve previously reported, the $22 million budget is in excellent shape, with all bills covered, healthy reserves, plenty of available cash flow, and enough left over to manage some capital needs. There’s a list of final decisions to be made at that meeting. I have put two items on that list for consideration by the full Council:

  • Police: I’ve been working with city staff and the mayor to identify whether we have enough sustainable funding to restore a position in the Police Department that was cut as the Great Recession hit (several years before I joined the Council). We currently have nine officers providing 24/7 protection. Chief John Cheesman has shown me how much more coverage he can provide if that position is restored, and we both believe that will cut down on vehicle prowls and other property crimes. There appears to be enough funding available in the 2016 budget, but we don’t want to add it unless we’re sure we can carry it forward for years to come. That’s why I worked with the chief last week on a Plan B: If we’re not confident there’s enough funding to restore a permanent position yet, I will propose using that available 2016 funding for emphasis patrols (paying our current staff overtime to provide more coverage). We actually use very little overtime, so we believe the officers will appreciate the opportunity to earn extra income.
  • Fircrest Fun Days: A citizen committee has been meeting to figure out ways to give a boost to Fun Days, the annual weekend festival in August that has seen declining interest by vendors. The city only spent $7,500 on this year’s festival. I’m proposing a boost – up to an additional $2,500, depending on other decisions made in the budget – so the city can consider adding more activities and show vendors and sponsors that we’re committed to maintaining a quality event.
  • Other items to be determined include the purchase of a new street sweeper (our current sweeper is getting harder and harder to repair because it’s no longer made and we can’t locate parts), and purchasing two new police cars, among other things.

POOL/REC CENTER: Last year, we adopted a Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan, which contained a wish list of every improvement that a committee of citizens could think of for our parks over the next 20 years. It doesn’t mean we’ll do all of those things, but we aren’t eligible for grants unless we have such a plan, which you can find here. The plan also recommended hiring an expert to evaluate the condition of the pool and the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center, and to offer options for improvements. The city is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a highly regarded consultant, and the process will include public hearings to find out what you think. That’ll happen in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information soon.

Thoughts after doorbelling in the rain with my son

I spent the weekend walking around parts of Fircrest, and I feel invigorated and inspired by the conversations I had with voters. People are proud to live here. They love the peace, the pace, and the sense of place you feel when you’ve arrived here.

I walked more than 18,000 steps this weekend, according to the pedestrian tracker app on my phone. The first 8,000 came on Saturday, which was a beautiful day for knocking on doors and talking with neighbors. I started in the southwest corner of the city. Many folks on Weathervane Drive and Woodside Drive said they appreciate my goal of seeking grant funding to add a sidewalk on 44th Street, which is narrow and hilly and dangerous for pedestrians.

After taking a break to watch my son’s U-8 soccer game at Fircrest Park, I stayed in the area and talked to homeowners along Contra Costa adjacent to the park. Among other things, they are interested in the future of the Rec Center and pool. Then I headed over to San Juan and Forrest Park Drive, where I talked to people about my interest in adding an officer to our 9-member police department so we can increase neighborhood patrols. (They were surprised that my opponent opposes this idea).

Wet shoesSunday brought more challenging conditions. It rained. A lot. My feet were soaked by mid-afternoon. (I may have earned a few sympathy votes.) I started out walking along Golden Gate, W Summit, and Harvard. As I headed home for lunch with my family, I saw my opponent visiting homeowners along El Dorado, so I decided to give her (and them) some space and I started my post-lunch tour on Buena Vista, W Mount, and Mar Vista. Then I went back to the north side of town and visited El Dorado, Del Monte, Farallone, and Princeton, before finishing up on Crestwood in the central part of town.

The best part was my 6 ¾-year-old son, Ryan, joined me for the afternoon because Kathleen had to work. He was fascinated by the idea of knocking on doors and asking for support. Ryan and I had fun conversations with voters and with each other as we walked in the rain. His Batman boots were a more sensible choice than my sneakers.

 As of Friday, 10 percent of Fircrest voters have submitted their ballots to the county elections office. Lots of people told me they’ve already voted for meEdit. And this was interesting: I asked nearly everyone if there’s anything concerning them; if there’s anything the city needs to address. Nearly every voter told me the city is doing great and they couldn’t think of anything. Only when I outlined my efforts to increase police staffing so that we can have more patrols in neighborhoods did many voters then say, “yes, that would be great.”

My opponent is trying to make it sound like there are huge problems in our city. That’s from the classic political playbook that says you have to be negative in order to persuade people to vote an incumbent out of office. The reality is people are happy here. We take care of our streets and our parks. We have great programs and events that bring neighbors together. One contractor who owns a home on San Juan even told me our permitting department is the most customer friendly of any he deals with in the region.

A final point: Not surprisingly, a lot of people asked for my position on Fircrest Proposition 1, the liquor-by-the-drink question. I was proud to describe my role in initiating the effort on the City Council, and then going with Councilmember Medley to Olympia to change state law so that we can have this vote without harming businesses in annexed areas that already have liquor licenses. We are also working on the regulations that will clear the way for restaurants to expand their offerings or decide to locate here, while still preserving the charm and integrity of the neighborhood.

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at www.vote411.org. You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

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What’s next on the liquor question (updated 8/29)

As you’ve heard by now, a group of citizens (and Councilmembers Medley and Jolibois) collected 900-plus signatures — enough to place the question of whether to lift the ban on serving alcohol by the glass on the Nov. 3 ballot. It’ll be the first time Fircrest voters have considered the issue since the mid-1970s.

I recounted how we got to this point here. So what’s next? We talked about that at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Supporters and opponents have the opportunity to sign up to write the pro and con statements in the Pierce County Voter Pamphlet. You’ll find info about that here on the Pierce County Auditor’s website. The city won’t get involved in the campaign at all (though elected officials and staff are free to work on it during their personal time).

However, the city does have official action to take. As we’ve stated since the beginning, if voters change the law then we have a responsibility to implement it carefully, particularly out of consideration for residential neighbors in the Regents Blvd area. Those of you’ve who’ve been following this know we’ve promised to address local zoning regulations. That process is gearing up.

I’m the Council’s liaison to the planning staff this year, so after meeting with them yesterday we agreed that we’ll ask the Fircrest Planning Commission to draft zoning regulations at its September meeting. That’s a public meeting. Then the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on those draft regs at its October meeting to get public feedback. (Note: The Planning Commission normally meets on the first Tuesday of every month, so those meetings would likely be Sept.1 and Oct. 6. I’ll post an update when dates are confirmed.) Aug. 15 update: the Sept. 1 and Oct. 6 meeting dates are confirmed.  Aug. 29 update: The Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting for this topic on Sept. 15.

What do we mean by zoning regulations? The state has different classifications for liquor licenses — for example, taverns and nightclubs have a different license than a restaurant. We can pass an ordinance that restricts the types of licenses that are available.

Other possibilities for consideration include limiting outdoor seating hours and prohibiting bottles and other trash from being dumped after certain hours. I’m certain other restrictions will be discussed as well.

So there should be at least two public meetings of the Planning Commission to discuss implementation before voters decide this issue. I’m sure lots of people will be sharing the dates and agendas once they are set.

The Planning Commission isn’t the only voice. When it comes to policy matters like this, the Planning Commission votes on recommended regs and forwards that to the Council, which by law must have at least two public meetings of its own (presumably in November) before giving final approval. So there will be lots of opportunity for citizens to be heard.

You can decide whether to end the ban on liquor by the glass

One of the most common questions I hear from Fircrest residents involves our city’s partial prohibition on “liquor by the glass.” Specifically, they want more dining options in the area, and they often ask why the City Council doesn’t just change the law so that restaurants can offer a full beverage service with their menus, especially since we are the last city in Washington State to have a “dry” area, according to the Liquor Control Board.

Here’s the short answer: the City Council doesn’t have the authority. No City Council does. A Prohibition-era state law puts that decision solely in the hands of voters.

Given how many people have asked me about this, I looked for an opportunity to start the conversation. I got it on March 12, 2014, when we hosted a “visioning meeting” of the City Council. I’ve seen other city and county councils do these kinds of retreats where, instead of just talking about the day’s business, the elected leaders take the time to look at the big picture and pick some priorities to work on each year, so I suggested we dedicate a special meeting for this purpose. As you’ll see from the minutes, when it was my turn I requested that we start a conversation about the liquor issue. After a really interesting discussion, the Council voted to include that on our priority list.

prohibitionAs many of you now know, Fircrest’s situation is more complicated than most. Our city isn’t totally dry. The areas that were annexed in the 1990s were grandfathered in, meaning they were allowed to keep their liquor licenses. That includes the Fircrest Golf Club and such current businesses as Pint Defiance and Royal Thai Bistro (and the Emerson Courtyard shopping center).

The problem: If voters say no to liquor by the glass (as they did in 1975), those businesses would lose their grandfathered status, their liquor licenses, and their livelihoods. As Councilmembers, we agreed there’s no way we could let that happen.

So Councilmember Jason Medley and I, with the blessing of the full Council, went to Olympia several times during the 2015 session to ask for help. Our legislative delegation from the 28th Legislative District – Sen. Steve O’Ban, Rep. Christine Kilduff, and Rep. Dick Muri – sponsored a law that exempts the annexed areas from the new vote. Thanks to their help, we protected existing businesses along Mildred and Orchard streets from losing their licenses, while giving businesses along Regents Boulevard the opportunity to grow or locate here, with some limitations (more on that in a moment).

Now it’s up to you. Some Fircrest residents and business owners are circulating petitions to place the question of liquor by the drink on the Nov. 3 ballot. They need to turn in ab
out 700 signatures to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office in August, so there’s not much time. They have a campaign Facebook page called the Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest, and they can be reached at 21centuryfircrest@gmail.com. I’m told you’ll find petitions at TWO Cafe, Spring Lake Cafe, Exercise Science Center, Espresso Yourself and Fircrest Pharmacy.

Remember, a no vote maintains the status quo (meaning, no harm to any existing license holder). A yes vote removes the ban on sales by the glass, which enables businesses like Spring Lake Café and T.W.O to expand their offerings, and it removes an obstacle for other dining establishments to consider opening here.wine

Which brings me to this point: Fircrest is a residential, family-friendly community. I can assure you the Council often talks about the charming feeling you get in Fircrest, and our commitment to preserve that. In other words, nightclubs like those on Tacoma’s 6th Avenue would clash with our quiet neighborhoods.

The City Council has asked the Fircrest Planning Commission to develop draft zoning regulations that would limit the types of businesses that could operate here. Each Councilmember is assigned as the liaison to a city department every year, and my assignment this year happens to be the Planning Department. We anticipate the Planning Commission will take this up in September, and then they’d forward a recommendation to the City Council for another round of consideration. We will want to hear from residents on this issue, so I will post an update when the public hearings are scheduled. Aug. 15 update: The Planning Commission is now scheduled to review and discuss a draft recommendation on Sept. 1, and solicit public comment at a meeting on Oct. 6. Both meetings are open to the public. Aug. 29 update: The Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting for this topic on Sept. 15.

This is a controversial topic for some, especially those who live next to the two commercial areas on Regents. We have to respect their interests. (Who wants to hear the sound of beer bottles being dumped in the garbage recycling bin at midnight?) I believe we can manage this issue like we do other issues – in that neighborly way in which we listen to each other and we look for ways to improve our quality of life while preserving the characteristics that make this such a charming place to live. Do you agree?

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Aug. 15 clarification: I want to make sure I’m not in any way implying that the full City Council supports lifting the prohibition. The full Council agreed that we should change the state law so that existing businesses in the annexed areas wouldn’t be harmed. At least a couple of members have said that doesn’t necessarily mean they will vote to repeal the prohibition.