South Sound Proud: #LiveLikeTheMountainIsOut every day

I recently got invited to be a guest on Marguerite Giguere’s Move to Tacoma podcast. I went on with the goal of talking about 6 new things that add to the Tacoma/Piece County region’s coolness factor.

  1. Sound Sound Proud: the campaign to “Live Like the Mountain Is Out.” I’ve had the privilege of working on this project for over a year with a great group of communicators. That slogan speaks to our attitude – our state of mind – about living here.
  2. The Downtown to Defiance trolley, which starts June 2nd.
  3. The new Pacific Seas Aquarium that’s under construction at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Coming in mid 2018: hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, giant Japanese spider crabs, and more!
  4. A new 11-acre park at Point Defiance Park also opens in 2018. It will feature an event lawn, a paved trail linking Ruston Way with Point Defiance, a pedestrian bridge offering incredible views, a series of slides down a steep hill, and more boat trailer parking. Think Gasworks Park, only better.
  5. One of my favorite projects to be a part of is the development of the Eastside Community Center in a part of Tacoma that badly needs it. Features will include an amazing pool, a gym, social hall, teaching kitchen, recording studio, multipurpose rooms, cafe and more.
  6. Swan Creek Park: did you know that Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance members tallied thousands of volunteer hours as they built over 5 miles of trails in this huge park in East Tacoma? People are coming from far away to ride these trails.

Before we got to all of that, Marguerite and I talked about civic engagement, my experiences on the Fircrest City Council, and of course, what caused me to move here.

You can find a link to our conversation here.

And check out her website’s section on Fircrest here.

KING 5’s Joyce Taylor visits her hometown of Tacoma

KING 5 morning news anchor Joyce Taylor is a Tacoma girl, and proud of it. Her morning program does a regular gig called “Beyond the Studio” in which they spend a four-hour show in one community and tell a number of stories about people and places.

Joyce decided to come to Tacoma’s historic Hilltop neighborhood – where she grew up – to show viewers how much has changed in Tacoma over the years. She interviewed a number of folks, including Jon Kettler, who started Tacoma’s Innovative Schools program (SOTA, SAMI and IDEA), Steph Farber, the jeweler and longtime downtown Tacoma advocate, and the Rev. Anthony Steele of Allen AME Church.

She invited me on to talk about some great Metro Parks Tacoma successes, including the new $8 million pool and other improvements at People’s Community Center. We also talked about the challenges of trying to provide services to preschoolers, youth, teens, young adults and older adults in one community center. And I got to brag for a minute about our great partnerships with Tacoma Public Schools, including agreements to bus kids from Jason Lee Middle School to People’s for swim lessons, and our Elementary Sports Program that doubled youth participation in recreational sports by offering the activities on-site at 35 elementary schools.

I met with Joyce twice, and I love her enthusiasm and affection for our community. I’m hoping to invite her back to speak at a local event or two.

Here’s the 2 1/2-minute segment.

How Fircrest voted on ST3 in November 2016

Did you get your car tab renewal yet from the state? If you did, chances are you are feeling some serious sticker shock.

The November 2016 Sound Transit 3 ballot measure proposed building rail and bus projects over the next few decades, and paying for all of that expansion via various taxes. One of those projects will directly benefit Fircrest – the next phase of the streetcar extension will connect downtown to Tacoma Community College. Property values will soar in the future as light rail makes its way up 19th Street. Another huge improvement will be connecting Tacoma to SeaTac and beyond via light rail.

We knew car tabs were part of the financing package, but the scope of the car tab increase was definitely a surprise to most (including me, and I read a lot about it before I voted). Most attention was on Sound Transit’s first-ever use of property taxes, so few folks looked at the effect on the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tax that you see on your car tab renewal.

Well, people are certainly paying attention now. (I got the renewal for one of my cars last week and … whoa.) As a result, the Legislature is considering proposals that range from making the car tab valuation formula more fair to letting cities opt out of the Sound Transit district.

The district covers Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. Pierce County’s portion of the district voted against ST3, but the package was approved due to stronger support in King and SnoCo.

Fircrest has four voting precincts: 28-535 through 538. The ST3 vote was very close in the land of firs:

Approve:             1,823

Reject:             1,809

So it won in the ‘Crest by 14 votes.

That’s not exactly a voter mandate either way. Half of our city voted to relieve congestion expanding our regional transit service. That’s why I agree with calls like this one for Sound Transit and the Legislature to adjust the car tab formula.

How Fircrest voted in 2016

I think it’s interesting to look at election results in Fircrest’s four voting precincts (28-535 through 538). The data provides a snapshot of what we think (at least, relative to the choices in any given year). So here’s a quick look at some select races from 2016:

President:

Clinton/Kaine (D)            2,166

Trump/Pence (R)              1,234

Governor:

Inslee (D)                        2,117

Bryant (R)                      1,633

28th Legislative District Senator:

O’Ban (R)                        1,823

Peloquin (D)                   1,807

28th Legislative District Representative, position 1:

Muri (R)                        1,699

Leavitt (D)                    1,906

28th Legislative District Representative, position 2:

Kilduff (D                      2,176

Wagemann (R)            1,426

County Executive

Talbert (D)                  1,942

Dammeier (R)            1,590

County Council District 4

Ladenburg (D)             2,094

Burns (I)                        1,286

 

Chasing a ghost in our water pipes

The Washington State Department of Health has ordered Fircrest to add chlorine to its water system next year.

The reason: portions of our water system have tested positive for the presence of coliform bacteria four times in the past 12 months. Coliform are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment, but are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful bacteria could be present. Under state rules, a fourth coliform hit in a 12-month period triggers a mandatory order to permanently disinfect the system with chlorine.

According to health officials, all but two of approximately 1,400 water systems in Pierce County add chlorine to their water as a disinfectant. Fircrest and Mountain View Edgewood Water Company are the two. Barring a miracle, that Edgewood system will be the last.

Here’s what we know so far:

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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.

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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Fun Days Committee update from Dec. 2, 2015

As I first reported in August, citizens and city staff have been meeting to discuss ways to add a little more juice to Fircrest Fun Days. The Fircrest Fun Days Committee held its third meeting on Dec. 2 at the Rec Center. Given my ability to type a bazillion words a minute, I agreed to take notes and produce a report. (Thank my parents for that 10th-grade typing class.)

Eight people attended the meeting and discussed the following topics and actions:

Overall goals: more attendees, more vendors, a livelier vibe, cut down on the “dead times” during the day

Budget: The City Council added another $2,500 for 2016, so our total budget from the city is $10,000.

Sponsors: We can increase the budget if we attract sponsor businesses and organizations. We gave Parks Director Jeff Grover some ideas for developing sponsorship packages that offer benefits beyond the weekend, such as displaying their corporate banners in the gym and/or at the pool for various lengths of time, based on the level of sponsorship. He’s going to put some packages together.

Foot traffic: With the Friday night spaghetti feed by the Kiwanis Club, the swim meet on Saturday morning, the festival all day, and then the big fireworks show at night, the city estimates about 3,000 people visit during the weekend (with about half attending the fireworks show).

Vendors: We’d like more things to do, more crafts and goods, more entertainment, and a few more food vendors. It was noted that too many food vendors at a site can cause them to lose money and have a bad experience. We have to find the right balance. Also, there are so many festivals and events around the county throughout the summer that it can be tough to attract them away from other options. Jeff also will work on incentive offers for participants of the Holiday Bazaar and the Spring Craft Fair. We also talked about seeing if Pint Defiance, Wingman, Gig Harbor Brewing or another local brewery would like to host a beer garden (now that it’s legal).

Entertainment: Ideas floated at the meeting include inviting a performance by Fircrest’s Image Studio of Dance, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse or other theater groups, the Blues Brothers tribute band, a pie eating contest, Hunter’s friend who juggles flaming torches, Elisabeth’s friend who is a comedian, a square dance or some other type of dance (indoors or outdoors), the World’s Shortest Triathalon (swim in the pool, ride a tricycle around the park, and a short run), a giant water balloon fight (I admit it, this is my idea…), a gigantic community Bunko or Bingo game, a night swim at the pool, pony rides, inflatable bouncy structures. Another option is to see if Click! or another sponsor will host a movie-in the-park on Friday night.

We talked about branding the entertainment in the style of the Major Bowes Amateur Radio Hour in honor of the investor who helped found Fircrest before going on to create one of the most popular radio programs of the mid 1900s.

Suggested run-of-show: After three meetings with lots of brainstorming and brownies, the group developed this working lineup for the 2-day event.

  • Friday night: Kiwanis Club’s spaghetti dinner, Bingo, a movie in the park (remember, it’s summer, so it doesn’t get dark until after 9), beer garden, night swim, plus the craft vendors and activities.
  • Saturday: Kiwanis Club’s pancake breakfast, swim meet (which drew hundreds of people this year), entertainment for kids during the day (dance performance, karaoke, Reptile Man, etc), water-oriented field-day activities in the afternoon, World’s Shortest Triathalon?, beer garden, fireworks at 9:30. We’d like to have some featured entertainment at 5 and 7 pm.

Next steps: We divided up the research and assignments regarding sponsor packages, movie-in-the-park options, beer garden sponsor, dance performance, Bingo possibilities, theater groups. Jeff plans to produce a 2-question survey to distribute this Sunday at the tree lighting ceremony as well as other events this winter so we can keep collecting community ideas.

The committee’s next meeting is 7 pm on Jan. 6. We’d love more help. Feel free to share any ideas on the Fun Days Committee Facebook page!

Rec Center and pool feasibility study set to get started

On Nov. 16, the Fircrest City Council voted to approve a contract with ARC Architects to assess the condition of the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center building and pool, and offer options for renovation or possibly replacement.

Background: The building and pool were constructed in the 1960s. The pool got an update in the 1990s thanks to voter approval of a park bond. Among other things, that bond paid for a liner that was supposed to last 10 years. We are now on year 18 or so.

In 2014, we approved something known in government circles as a PROS plan, which stands for Parks, Recreation and Open Space (scroll down this page to find links to it). Some of you will recall we had a couple of open houses and recorded lots of ideas for every one of our parks, which cover 27 acres over six sites. That plan didn’t address the future of the Rec Center and pool because that consultant was hired to help us craft an overall plan that serves as the foundation for grant requests and capital needs. The first priority identified in the PROS plan is to hire engineers and architects to assess the current building.

Which brings us to this update. As I reported, we approved a contract with ARC, which will provide concepts for building renovation, expansion or replacement. In turn, ARC has assembled the following team to supplement the architectural work:

  • Bruce Dees and Associates, landscape architecture.
  • AHBL, Civil Engineering: Reporting on utilities and drainage.
  • GeoEngineers, geotechnical study: This group will offer findings from two borings – one 15 feet depth and the other to 30 feet. The deeper boring will include a monitoring well to evaluate ground water fluctuations.
  • Counsilman Hunsaker, aquatic design consultant: Analysis and recommendations for existing pool design, liner and equipment, plus recommendations on additional aquatic features.
  • PCS Structural Solutions, structural engineering: Review of the existing building, including seismic capability, and recommendations for the renovation and addition options.
  • Interface, mechanical engineering: Review of mechanical and plumbing systems.
  • Travis Fitzmaurice, electrical engineering: Review of the building’s electrical systems.
  • DCW Cost Management: architectural and structural cost estimates for the renovation and addition options.

ARC was selected through a competitive bidding process by a committee consisting of a few councilmembers (I wasn’t on it) and city staff. The combined experience of this architecture and engineering team includes work on Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool in Seattle, Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo, and STAR Center in Tacoma, among others. Also, Metro Parks (my employer) has hired ARC and Bruce Dees for the first phase of the proposed Eastside Community Center in Tacoma. In my limited experience with both companies (I’ve only worked at Metro Parks four months), both companies have been thorough and excellent.

This feasibility study will cost $104,000, which will come from one of our reserve funds. We’ve been holding the money for this project. The vote to approve the contract was 6-1, with Councilmember Jolibois the only vote against it.

You will play an important role in this project. The scope of work includes forming a steering committee and holding at least two public meetings. We want Fircrest residents to see the renovation, expansion and replacement options that are presented and tell us how you feel about them. We just hired the team this week, so I’ll share details about the public engagement as soon as they are set.

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.