Coming in summer 2016: sidewalks on Emerson Street!

There are a few areas in our city that are in desperate need of sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety.

One is the busy Mildred Street commercial corridor, which is why we helped the City of University Place win a grant a few years ago to remake the street and add sidewalks. We hope UP will do that project in 2016.

Another area of need is Emerson Street, from Alameda Avenue to Orchard Street. I live in the Commons at Fircrest, and we have dozens of children in our neighborhood. It scares me to death to see them head uphill toward Alameda on that very busy street with no sidewalks.

That’s why I’m happy to report that Fircrest just won a grant from the State of Washington Transportation Improvement Board. The $575,000 grant – plus a $143,000 match from city funds – will provide sidewalks from Alameda to Orchard.

The Fircrest City Council unanimously voted on Dec. 8 to accept the grant. The city expects to hire an engineer to design the project in spring 2016 and build the sidewalks in the summer.

Next on my sidewalk priority list: 44th Street. Even with its numerous blind hills, it’s harder to win a grant for that street because it’s not legally considered an arterial (most grants go to arterials). But it’s a direct shot to Narrows View Intermediate School just across Bridgeport Way, so I’m hopeful that the folks who issue these grants will see it as a student safety issue when the next round of grant applications are due.

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.

Continue reading

Mildred St. Update #4: we did it

I’m several weeks late in reporting this, but I should close the loop since the blog leaves it as an open question. The cities of Fircrest and University Place did indeed reach agreement to jointly apply for the federal grant that makes significant improvements to Mildred Street between Regents Boulevard and 19th Street.

As The News Tribune reported, there was “discord.” What can I say? Sometimes democracy ain’t pretty. But the bottom line is we got there – thanks in large part to the willingness of the Eaton family – which owns the vacant 9-acre parcel between Columbia Bank and Sunrise Center. That property represents one of Fircrest’s best hopes for commercial growth that can help stabilize our small city’s budget.

If UP gets the grant, Fircrest’s share is an estimated $87,000. The Eaton family has agreed to pay Fircrest’s share. It’s a smart move on their part: they get road improvements in front of their property that are worth several times more than the investment. The Fircrest City Council approved an agreement with with the Eaton family at tonight’s Council meeting.

Now we wait. We’ll find out this summer if the grant application is successful.

Mildred St. update #3: will we make it?

It’s crunch time. The Fircrest City Council meets Tuesday and is scheduled to make a decision on whether to join the City of University Place in applying for a federal transportation grant to install infrastructure on Mildred Street – a major arterial between our two cities.

The News Tribune’s Christian Hill did a good job of summing up the issues in a story posted online today (and presumably running in Monday’s print edition). Fircrest is hustling to draft an agreement that ensures our city’s interests are addressed during the design and construction process. But as Hill reports, UP says there’s not enough time to reach an agreement, and would we please just sign on the dotted line?

It can’t ever be easy, can it?

Mildred Street update #2

Does anybody know who Mildred Street is named after? Because she’s proving to be troublesome!

We’re making progress, but it’s slower than some of us would like, and it remains to be seen if we’ll resolve some issues before the deadline to apply for the transportation grant. We’re still focused on making it a three-lane road (one lane in each direction, plus a center turn lane), which was the compromise that came up during a recent joint meeting of the Fircrest and University Place city councils. Here are the main questions and concerns voiced by various Fircrest staff and councilmembers at this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting:

University Place did the preliminary design plan without any input from our staff. That’s true. It’s been true since this issue came up in 2010. UP owns the entire roadway, so they didn’t have to approach us (although it would have been the neighborly thing to do). But there’s still plenty of time. The design on the table is preliminary – there is a long way to go, and we could condition our support for the project using what’s known as an Interlocal Agreement (IA) that includes a requirement to include us in the final design. This should be one of the easier issues to resolve, but for some reason it’s not.

UP’s design follows that city’s guidelines, which means the streetlights would be UP’s choice, etc, and we need to make sure our side looks like Fircrest. Again, this could be addressed in an Interlocal Agreement and during final design.

More right-of-way acquisition is necessary on the Fircrest side of the street than the UP side. This is true because UP’s side is against a steep slope and therefore would cost much more to change. That’s always going to be the case due to the topography, so it seems to me we should just accept this issue. And besides, by shifting the project to three lanes instead of five, less right of way is needed.

Would the improvements covered by this project have to be ripped up if the vacant property between Columbia Bank and Sunrise Center sells after the project is constructed? This is a risk to this, but it seems to be small. Construction wouldn’t start for two years, so that’s two years to see who buys it, which provides time to alter the design to accommodate development. The property owner is supportive of this project because he figures improving Mildred Street will lead to a faster sale.

Fircrest can’t afford its share of the cost, which could be as much as $126,000. This is true. But what if a property owner who stands to benefit from this project paid for the city’s share? I don’t know if this will happen, but if it does, then the cost issue would seem to be moot.

University Place still intends to charge traffic impact fees to anyone who puts a sizable development on that vacant property. This is a big sticking point. UP and Fircrest have disagreed for years over whether UP, which owns the entire roadway, has the legal authority to assess fees on a property owner in Fircrest. Fircrest folks say UP’s fees have chased away at least two potential developments on Fircrest’s side of the street. We maintain that one jurisdiction cannot assess a fee to a business inside another jurisdiction (see Nolte v. City of Olympia). That’s not to say UP can’t seek relief for traffic impacts within its borders, but it should do that via other means allowed by state law, not traffic impact fees. Still, UP leaders made it clear this week they will not change their stance. Could this fee issue be negotiated as part of the Interlocal Agreement?

The Fircrest City Council will discuss the Mildred Street project at our study session on Monday, April 16. It’s at the end of a hefty agenda, which includes a first quarter financial report and a report on our fiscal outlook through 2013. Those are not expected to be glowing reports.

We are scheduled to vote on whether to sign onto UP’s project at our April 24 meeting. If you have thoughts about this, now is the time to share them with the City Council and/or staff.

 

Update 1: possible Mildred Street corridor compromise

As I reported earlier, we recently held a special joint meeting of the city councils of Fircrest and University Place. It was a long, but very productive meeting. Seriously – I walked out of there thinking, “Congress could learn something from us.”

I’ll get into details below, but here’s the gist: We made significant progress toward a possible compromise, but the question is whether there’s enough time to agree on numerous details before the grant application deadline, which is May 1.

The councils opened the meeting by agreeing that there was an “elephant in the room” – years of simmering tension between the two cities, and miscommunication and sometimes no communication. UP Mayor Ken Grassi graciously noted that his council has four new members – in effect, he said, it’s like having a new council – and that we should start a new and better relationship.

Then we got into a long discussion about UP’s proposal. UP wants to apply for a competitive federal grant that’s administered by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Lots of other jurisdictions also are applying for these limited grant dollars, so if Fircrest signs on as a co-applicant, then staff believes the grant would almost certainly score high enough to be approved.

One of the biggest concerns among Fircrest councilmembers was the proposal to squeeze two lanes down to one in front of Sunrise Center, and then open up more lanes again at the intersection with 19th Street.

UP City Engineer Jack Ecklund explained that the grant in question is for “non-motorized” transportation projects. It primarily pays for sidewalks, curbs and planting strips. He said we could not use this money to pay for a full lane of travel.

Another major concern on the Fircrest side is the UP proposal would require more space – and there’s no space on the UP (west) side of Mildred. That means we’d have to negotiate with property owners on the Fircrest side, and if that didn’t work, the UP officials said we would have to agree to use the power of eminent domain. I won’t speak for my council colleagues on here very often, but I didn’t hear anyone indicate a willingness to take property for this project.

Then a compromise was floated: what if we took the whole street down to three lanes – a travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane? That’s already the case further down Mildred. And we’ve confirmed that the City of Tacoma is considering doing that on Mildred on the other side of 19th. Continue reading

Oddz & Endz (lame, I know, but it’s all I got)

Two readers – well, both readers – noted today that this space has been neglected for far too long, especially since the city had to cut its “Town Topics” newsletter to save money. I’ve only been a councilmember for, like, 5 minutes, so I’ve been trying to get further up to speed on issues around the city. It’s similar to the deep-rooted fear that journalists have – I don’t want to write a front page story that’s completely freakin’ wrong.

Still, in my first few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the “Council packet” that’s dropped off at my house every Friday. It contains reports from City Manager Rick Rosenbladt, Police Chief John Cheesman and other department heads. It often contains little nuggets of news that could be of interest to folks. I hope to share those regularly in this space. I’ll call this feature Oddz and Endz for now because I can’t think of a clever news name that incorporates fir trees or chainsaw bear carvings.

Some recent items of interest:

Storm debris: The snowmageddon and surprise ice storm left lots of trees, branches and other debris all over the place. U.P. Refuse has agreed to allow residents to dump large storm debris (yard waste items) at a reduced rate of $5 per yard. The best option is to collect wood debris and cut them to fit inside curbside yard waste toters. If the debris is too large or heavy for the curbside toter, residents can take the debris to U.S. Refuse, 2815 Rochester (off 27th Street) in University Place. Residents can also drop off storm debris for free at Pierce County transfer stations.

Storm response: The city’s Public Works crew did an outstanding job of responding to the snow and ice conditions. They plowed the streets, removed snowpiles at key locations, repaired potholes, unplugged storm drains, repaired damaged streetlights and wiring, and collected a large amount of debris. There were no reports of significant damage to any city property.

Streets: The Public Works crew is preparing for crack sealing this summer to help prolong the time before reconstruction or other rehabilitation work is necessary. This year’s plan covers:

  • All streets in sweeping zone 1, located in the northeast corner of Fircrest (boundaries are from South 19th to Regents Blvd, and from Orchard Street to Alameda Ave.)
  • Electron Way, from Alameda Ave. to Regents Blvd.
  • Alameda Ave., from South 19th to 44th Street W.

New business: The bankrupt skate rink formerly known as “Wheelz” is set to reopen under new management as “Rollin’ 253 Skate & Community Center.” It’s nice to have a family venue in town, so we wish them luck. They are located at Sunrise Center, just off Mildred Street.

Parks: Tickets are on sale for the 6th annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. I think I’ve been to most of these. It’s an awesome evening. I keep threatening to embarrass my daughter by busting out my old break-dancing moves, except I’m worried I’ll bust more than a move. Also, planning is under way for the second Derby Day!

Wainwright: The city manager asked Tacoma Public Schools to clean the dingy sign outside the now-closed Wainwright Elementary, and to remove the outdated message on it. The school district said they would do so. The vacant school property will be the subject of a future post here. What are the possibilities for that site?

Property taxes: The Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office has announced that property owners can look up their 2012 taxes after 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at www.piercecountywa.org/atr.

Police I: Police arrested a woman after a high speed chase, and she’s been tied to a recent burglary in Fircrest. She was charged with possession of stolen property and identity theft. Police also are seeking two men who pick-pocketed a wallet from a local coffee shop and an iPhone from a local law office.

Police II: The department’s radar detectors were recently recalibrated. Hey, speeders, you’ve been warned.