In my campaign for city council I have knocked on over 4,000 doors and spoken to many residents. I took notes on my discussions and here are some of the most pressing issues I heard about, along with my analysis:
1. How would you fix our traffic problems?
Our traffic is complicated as it involves more than our city of 10,700 and is greatly impacted by the nearly 80,000 people who travel around and through Gig Harbor each day from surrounding areas to get to work or to shop. When there are times of heavy traffic on HWY 16, or there are accidents, drivers “bail out” and cut through parts of downtown. Downtown Gig Harbor was not designed to handle this kind of volume. In addition, intersections like Pt. Fosdick and Olympic Drive are seeing large amounts of congestion due to how the new lanes have been designed. In many cases the people using that intersection heading towards Fox Island or Kopachuck are driving through city limits. As new housing expands in Pierce County on that side of town we are felling the brunt. The Wollachet exit has been ranked as one of the most dangerous in the state.
Our Traffic Impact Plan is a good starting point as it has identified and studied projects that are already a priority. An example in the study is the Stinson and Harborview light, or the Rosedale and Stinson intersection with a possible round about. There are nearly 20 projects on this plan that can be worked on to improve our traffic flow. But our city leadership has not pressed the state House and Senate in Olympia to get our fair share of road ad project funding. We are one of the fastest growing parts of the state and we need to get more resources to build out these projects. Gig Harbor should not bear the cost of road projects that ultimately benefit Kitsap or Pierce counties.
It is important to work with surrounding cities and jurisdictions including leadership in Olympia and potentially federally to see if HWY 16 can move up on the need list and can be modified sooner than later
2. Rapid growth is a problem how would you deal with growth and plan for the future?
Growth is happening and we can’t avoid it. Our city has nearly doubled in size in 5 years and will keep growing. In my discussions going door to door, citizens don’t know that we are regulated by the Growth Management Act, a law created by the Legislature in 1990, which forces cities to build to allow for growth and the Urban Growth Area to control urban sprawl and protect rural land. That law is now nearly 30 years old, and it may be time to ask the Legislature to revisit to see if it is still working as intended given the higher growth small towns are being forced to deal with under the act.
We need to work on growth in our comprehensive plan that includes residential, industrial, business, infrastructure, schools and traffic planning. This plan needs to be the highest priority and look very long term. We also need to make sure that for any new developments required to be built, that the right infrastructure is put in place before the building occurs.
3. Shopping in Gig Harbor North is an issue. We need more shopping and amenities. I moved to this part of town because we were told shopping and restaurants would be opening up in the Village North project. What can you do to get that project back on track now that it is stalled? What happened?
In my walking through the Harbor Hill areas and meeting with the residents in Heron’s Key this is the question I get the most often. People are upset with the city about the delay in the Village North project. They want to know what happened and how it can be fixed.
It is critical this project is completed to ensure residents in those neighborhoods get the walkable neighborhood resources they were promised. The city increased Traffic Impact Fees on that project at the last minute. This cause the project to be stalled, and now it is in jeopardy of not being built at all. There were many motivations for the way certain city council members voted. Not only have the higher TIF fees stalled that project, but even if it were to get going again, the higher fees mean local businesses would likely not be able to afford the rents in that development. The result would be just a bunch of national chains who can afford higher rents, which doesn’t add or compliment the character of our community.
What is most important to me is that we get that project built.
I am the only candidate on record as promising to vote to go back to the old TIF fee structure for the Village North project since it was already grandfathered in.
We cannot get the Village North project built under the new higher, TIF structure the council put in place. This is a major point of difference between me and my opponent. If getting the Village North project going is your top priority, then I am your candidate.
4. Parking down town
We need more parking downtown and or ways that people can visit and have options when it comes to parking and public transportation, biking or walking.
I participated in the traffic study in August and had the opportunity to see the data and trends of parking along the waterfront, which has increased significantly over the last 10 years and is now full from 11 am to 7 pm during the summer months.
With the push for tourism and an active and vibrant down town we need to look at a centralized parking solution with a transport shuttle or trolley from large lots around like churches.
5. Traffic Impact Fees, where are you on what happened?
When it comes to the traffic impact fee and what was decided on this past year by the city council I am disappointed in the process. The past TIF was not raised for 10 years, and it was a good idea to discuss and plan for a review of this fee structure. But the council arbitrarily increased the TIF fees by 3 times without real data. They also applied the increase to projects that were already under way, or that had already paid their fees. The projects they chose to fund were selected arbitrarily and the costs were literally changing by the week. The entire process was a mess and was not transparent.
The council also applied the fees in a blanket fashion across all projects equally in violation of state law. This triggered litigation against the city and has stalled many important projects. Right now we are paying for large legal fees to defend the city council’s actions. We need a complete re-review of the traffic fixes needed, and their true costs, and we need to properly apply TIF fee increases based on what is allowed under state law. We also need to get Pierce and Kitsap counties and the state to contribute because the city itself should not bear all the brunt of growth that is happening around us.
As your city council person I will pledge to:
- conduct a full review of the TIF increases and the process
- make sure the review is conducted in open
- make sure the fees are being applied legally based on the project
- push to make sure we are receiving dollars from the state and county so that we (the citizens of Gig Harbor) don’t carry the brunt of the costs and burdens.
6. What are your thoughts on the Ancich Park issues and the demands for new docks? Where do you see funding coming from?
The Ancich Park plan has been in the works for many years. Resolution 949 passed by the council many years ago with a plan and details on use and maintenance. I believe that the public process has completed the hard work and generated the necessary studies related to this project. We should proceed with building both floats called for in the resolution and the studies. The waterfront is a shared resource and the interested stakeholders are ready to share that waterfront. Both the commercial fisherman and the human powered watercraft have different needs for floats, and their floats can be designed specifically for their uses.
This is a unique situation in that the commercial fisherman side has a funding stream built in to allow for income from rentable moorage space that could bring in an estimated $350K per year. With potential funds from the Hospital benefit zone and other grants this could be a reality sooner than later. The human water powered float would be a public resource and because this is a city owned park the city has the obligation to fund and provide the resources necessary for the public to use the facilities.
7. This is the Maritime City. Can we get the long discussed fuel dock built for boaters?
There are a few angels to discuss when looking at the fuel dock. From a business and revenue standpoint a fuel dock for Gig Harbor could be a tremendous resource. We don’t currently have a way for small craft to fill up with gas or diesel. Getting the right infrastructure for a fuel dock could increase visitors, shopping, dining and more.
When it comes to safety and environment I have talked to boaters about filling up their boats they often tell stories of people bringing their own gas and trying to fill up from containers and spilling fuel into the harbor. This is not safe, nor in keeping with the best practices of protecting our environment. We should make it a safe and environmentally friendly process and we should work with the state to streamline the regulatory review process to make a commercially operated fuel dock investment more affordable.
When it comes to making an investment for the city, I think it is also important to consider the expense to the city when it comes to operating a fuel dock. There have been several prior attempts of running a fuel dock and each one failed. If the city were to take this venture on than they would need to be sure it would make financial sense.
8. How can we leverage our Hospital Benefit Zone (HBZ)?
Hospital Benefit Zone funds are related to an area surrounding Franciscan Hospital in north Gig Harbor. Through the HBZ the city can collect up to $2 million per year for 30 years to use on public improvement projects for a total of $60 Million. Funds can be used on roads, water, sewer and parks. Projects like a float at Ancich or the Sports Complex at Harbor North are priorities for the city residents. We are 10 years into this HBZ with 20 more to go and an additional $40Million to collect. We need to plan now to commit these funds for solid public uses.
9. How can we leverage the Transportation Benefit District (The current Traffic Tax on the city ballot)?
The Transportation benefit District is a 2-cent sales tax that would be added on to our current 8.5% tax rate increasing it to 8.7%. This is something that not only Gig Harbor residents would pay, but those from outside the city who come here to shop. This increase would create an estimated $1.6 million more per year and $16 million over the next 10 years. This is a ballot measure that in the past was voted down by the public by a very close vote.
Funds would be used only for improvements to roads. Funds would NOT be eligible for maintenance, sidewalks, curbs or bike lanes. If the city is dedicated to truly using het funds for specific road improvement projects, and if these funds are a requirement to secure state matching dollars to improve our road system to deal with traffic, then this slight increase is justifiable. The problem is the lack of transparency in city hall and the lack of trust among the residents about how the city government has been working lately.
We must ensure funds in the Transportation Benefit District go toward transportation projects.
10. Do you think public contracts should be discussed openly or behind closed doors, including votes on union contracts and public access to meetings?
Resolution 1149/1152 was passed related to collective bargaining being open to the public in a limited fashion. Under the resolution, members of the public can attend, but not speak at, such meetings. This is a good step towards transparency. A block of current council members ran two years ago on the issue of transparency. This is a first test of that transparency pledge. I support this move, so long as it is properly handled and is truly transparent. To me it is not a union issue, but a transparency issue.
11. What can we do to support a Senior Center?
With the purchase of the Boys and Girls club by the school district for a new elementary school, we lost the senior center access associated with it. Gig Harbor and the surrounding communities of Lake Bay and the Key Peninsula need a robust senior center. Currently churches and groups have been working together to get this need filled, but we sill need a permanent, designated place for our seniors to congregate and thrive. I will work with PenMet parks and other groups to work on a plan for a senior center in various suitable locations until we find the right fit.
12. What should happen with the Sound View Forrest “Triangle Park” near Tides?
The designation of this “forest” was voted on by the past council and is now set to become a city park. The lack of transparency with the city and council has soured our community’s relationship with the Cheney family, who have been great supporters and benefactors of Gig Harbor. That relationship is now strained because of the way in which the city railroaded them on that property in a non-transparent way. This is just one example of how the city as dealt with community leaders in the past and how many more feel this way and don’t want to be apart of our future. This goes back to a lack of trusted leadership in the city and the need for more of it. We should be lucky to have great foundations and philanthropic groups who want to be partner with the city. We should not be chasing them away.
13. How do you feel about Development Agreements?
Development agreements are a two-edged sword. They were designed to mitigate old building codes that have not been modernized or updated. Many city codes don’t take into account the cost of construction or new methods.
On the other hand, a developer could use the existing codes to meet the letter of the law, but would otherwise not be a good fit for the city and its residents. If development agreements are used properly it allows the city to extract extra concessions from the developer before approving the project – items that the city would not be allowed to mandate by law.
So long as the development agreements takes into account the needs of the community, and they are done in a transparent way, they can be useful tools to allow investment to happen while protecting the interests of the city. They should be thoughtful, limited and rare.
14. Increasingly housing is not affordable. What can we do to fix this?
There are currently 4 low-income housing complexes in Gig Harbor, with 118 units for rent. Throughout all of Pierce County, like many places in Gig Harbor, there is a housing shortage across the board at all levels of housing and we need to look at ways to accommodate this issue. For example we need to make it easier for homeowners to add mother-in-law units.
I think it is important that we strive to make affordable housing available but also take into consideration the constraints we are up against, like a growing economy, construction inflation, increased regulations, project fees and taxation, geography and how the market is doing. It is important to be sure we define what is “affordable housing” and how we can work with Washington State to obtain credits and opportunities to build this housing.
15. How can we support tourism and the business in town that rely upon it?
Tourism is an important resource for our city. Everyone who purchases items inside city limits contributes to our tax base. Tourist based businesses employ many local residents, and they buy goods and services from one another. A vibrant, robust and diversified tourism based focus is health for a city as beautiful as ours.
We need to promote the charm and history of Gig Harbor while honoring the past. We need to bring together people from all walks to enjoy and experience the best of Gig Harbor. If their experiences are good they will tell friends families and colleagues about the very special nature of our community.
We need to adapt to new ways of marketing to insure we are attracting the right kind of tourists who will invest in our community buy shopping, eating and staying overnight. The “heads and beds” tourism tax collected by all hotels needs to be used more effectively, efficiently and transparently for the benefit of our tourism-based businesses. We cannot rely on the old styles of marketing, which are costly and less effective. We need to enter a digital age and market to people where and how they are consuming advertising. And we need to make sure the “heads and beds” tax that the city collects is being properly used, with the input of the Lodging and Tax Advisory committee, not diverted to other uses.
People will travel, and they will be looking for new and interesting places to eat, shop, stay and experience. We are competing with many other communities for those tourists and their dollars. We need to be properly prepared to enter this competitive space.
16. What can we do to enhance public safety?
Per our police chief and his report to the city in October, he stated that our city overall is very safe, it does have a slight increase in car theft and house and retail break-in’s, but is not a huge problem yet. We have a rise in homelessness and that is being watched and handled.
Our police have several openings for deputy positions and those have been hard to fill as cities like Seattle tend to offer more pay and signing bonus. We are in a very competitive hiring environment. The lack of a city contracts with the police union is also causing hiring problems. Without a contract it I hard to recruit people. This delay sits squarely with the mayor and city council. They need to be pushed harder to get this contract done. I will do so if I am elected.
Our fire department is in need of a ladder truck and would like to add an additional man to each vehicle to increase response time, efficiency and safety. I support those budget efforts.
We need to do what we can to keep public safety a priority for our citizens. This requires we invest and spend to maximize our safety and response ability.
Homelessness is an increasing problem countywide, and we have a few hidden camps that have popped up here in town. We need to do our part to report it and stop it before the formation of a larger tent city. We must work with existing programs to get help to those struggling with drugs and mental health issues the treatment they need.
17. What is your primary focus or vision as a future councilwoman?
My primary focus is to protect the history and heritage of Gig Harbor, while working on plans to increase our local economy, jobs and retail sales. All of this requires that we properly plan for growth, including getting new infrastructure to deal with traffic.
My second, and equally important priority is to raise the public trust in the city. Right now, residents are frustrated by the lack of communication, lack of planning and lack of transparency in the city government. We must fix that.
Third, we must protect taxpayer funds and be sure we manage them with fiscal responsibility.