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Tacoma City Council Meeting - November 17, 2015


Resolution No. 39312 A resolution authorizing the extension of agreements with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, in the amount of $250,000, budgeted from the Rail Fund, to satisfy closeout provisions, and for freight rail service through March 16, 2016.

This resolution authorizes Tacoma Rail to extend existing agreements with BNSF Rail for freight rail services in the Olympia area by four months. Tacoma Rail had been in the process of attempting to negotiate a better deal for the services it has been providing BNSF, but has been unsuccessful, and has determined it would be in the City’s best interests not to enter another long-term agreement with the rail company. The four month extension will allow BNSF to transition services in the area to another operator.


Resolution No. 39313 A resolution authorizing the execution of a 20-year commercial lease agreement with Metro Parks Tacoma, with the option to renew for three additional 10-year terms, for construction, maintenance, and operation of greenhouses and related facilities on approximately 130,000 square feet of property located at the Tacoma Landfill, beginning January 15, 2016.

This agreement will allow Metro Parks to build and operate a greenhouse on the capped portion of the Tacoma landfill. The new greenhouse replaces the existing Metro Parks greenhouse at Point Defiance, which it will be losing as a part of the implementation of the master plan for that park. Deputy Mayor Boe recused himself from discussion or voting on the issue to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.


Resolution No. 39314 A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement with Horatio H. Law, in the amount of $210,000, budgeted from the REET Capital Projects Fund, for the Lincoln Revitalization Public Art Project, effective November 17, 2015 through December 31, 2016.

The art project is funded as a part of the Lincoln District Revitalization project. This is the first piece of the overall public art element of the revitalization project, which will fund local artists for temporary and site-specific work throughout the project. Law was one of four finalists brought to the Lincoln District. He was selected by a panel of community stakeholders based on his ability to pull together community voices in a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing way.


Resolution No. 39315 A resolution stating a finding of substantial need, and approving an increase to the 2016 Ad Valorem property tax revenue collection for the General Fund property tax levy to 1 percent, as the implicit price deflator is less than 1 percent.

This resolution, along with four ordinances getting their first reading at this week’s meeting, will set the City of Tacoma’s portion of your property taxes for 2016, both in terms of the total levy amount collected and in terms of the percentage and dollar increase over the prior year’s levy.

In raising their regular Ad Valorem property taxes cities in Washington are restricted to either 1%, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. This year the rate of inflation, as defined by the Implicit Price Deflator, is 0.25% - significantly less than the 1% the City was anticipating. This is only the third time in the last 20 years that the IPD has fallen below the 1% threshold. If the City sticks with the 0.25% IPD, it will bring in $400,000 less than budgeted for in 2016, and will also have a smaller tax base going forward than it would with the full 1% increase.

The statement of substantial need allows the City to implement the 1% increase, maintaining services at the level forecast.

The EMS levy is not affected by the IPD, but is limited to an increase of $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The below ordinances will increase the 2016 property tax levy by 1% to $54.9 million, and the EMS levy by 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value to $9.4 million. The portion of your property taxes that goes to the City of Tacoma is about 18%. Public schools get the largest portion, at 44%, and the rest goes to various state, county, and local entities.



Ordinance No. 28328 An ordinance amending Chapter 1.12 of the Municipal Code, relating to the Compensation Plan, to implement rates of pay and compensation for employees represented by the Professional and Technical Employees, Local 17.

Ordinance No. 28329 An ordinance authorizing the issuance and sale of two series of Limited Tax General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2015, in an amount not to exceed $36,000,000, to refund outstanding bonds, pay the costs of issuing the bonds, and delegating the authority to approve the final terms of the bonds.

Both ordinances were adopted without comment.



Ordinance No. 28330 An ordinance amending Sections 10.14.060 and 10.18.010, and Chapters 10.22 and 12.08, of the Municipal Code, relating to stormwater management, to implement and provide for compliance with low impact development and related requirements as mandated in the August 2013 Phase 1 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

This ordinance would amend the City’s code to update the right-of-way design manual, which has not been updated since 2004, and so has a number of elements needing updates. The updates allow for increased use of permeable pavement, make changes needed to be in compliance with the City’s pollution discharge permit, and to improve incentives for low-impact development in private projects. The City is required to make low-impact the preferred method of development for projects. Changes will encourage minimizing of pervious surfaces, use of native vegetation, and better management of stormwater runoff. 


Ordinance No 28331 An ordinance approving an increase in terms of both dollars and percentage for the 2016 Emergency Medical Services property tax levy.

Ordinance No 28332 An ordinance fixing the amount of the Emergency Medical Services levy necessary to identify the amount of the estimated revenues from the property tax levy to match estimated expenditures for debt service and other funding requirements.

Ordinance No 28333 An ordinance approving an increase in terms of both dollars and percentage for the 2016 general property tax levy.

Ordinance No 28334 An ordinance fixing the amount of the Ad Valorem tax levies necessary to identify the amount of the estimated revenues from property tax levies to match estimated expenditures for debt service and other funding requirements.

There was no comment on these four ordinances (see the above related resolution).



This was the date set for a public hearing by the City Council on the proposed billboard regulations, as recommended by the Planning Commission, and supplemented by a staff alternative for consideration.

Staff referenced “lengthy discussion” of this topic at the study session earlier in the day, and gave a brief overview, including a brief history of billboards in Tacoma, from code changes, through lawsuits, to the recent standstill agreement, and recommendations now under consideration coming out of the community stakeholder working group, Planning Commission process, and staff review.

The Community Working Group put together by the City was made up of representatives of billboard companies and local community members. The group came to some conclusions, but was unable to come to consensus on other issues. Among the topics of agreement was the idea of opening up some zones in the city to billboards where they are currently prohibited. The group identified an exchange program as a viable mechanism, if it could provide incentives for billboard owners to reduce the number of billboards and move them to less sensitive areas. There was also some agreement around loosening standards for size, design, and buffers, but not on height and other specifics. Although the CWG did agree that an exchange program should be considered, they did not come to agreement when they got into the weeds of what that should look like.

The Planning Commission took the findings of the CWG, reviewed them, and came up with its own recommendations, which got a public hearing, and were passed along to the city council. The Planning Commission came to similar conclusions as the CWG, but with a few notable differences. The commission agreed that new zones should be opened up, and came up with similar areas. They also agreed with the CWG on loosening some design, buffering, and other standards.

The commission differed in preferring that free-standing billboards should be discouraged, in favor of wall-mounted signs, using an exchange program and incentives to encourage a shift in that direction. Significantly, the commission also recommended retaining amortization provisions like the ones currently in place to drive the kinds of exchanges the community wants, with billboards either moving to more appropriate areas or going away altogether.

Discussions at the City have been going on around working with billboard companies to find an alternative agreement to resolve legal challenges. The proposed alternative developed, as first publicly presented at study session earlier in the day, would involve a so-called "Special Compliance Agreement" option, which would offer billboard owners an alternative to the "move them or lose them" amortization mechanism currently in place, whereby billboards not conforming to city code are required to be moved or fully removed in a given time limit. The idea of such an alternative would be to give the council the authority to enter into agreements with billboard owners for the removal of some billboards.

The basic outline of the type of agreement being considered includes a focus on the reduction in overall numbers of billboards, particularly in sensitive areas, and removal of those deemed as a high priorityBillboard owners entering into one of these agreements would be exempt from amortization, which would remain as a mechanism for encouraging compliance. The focus is on the end result of removal of the most problematic billboards, while avoiding further legal battles. The agreement process would involve the development of an exchange program agreeable to both sides, with specific commitments for the removal of nonconforming billboards by deadlines at 90 days, and 1, 3, and 5 years. There would be a cap on overall square footage of signage allowed, and an emphasis on removal of a few dozen of the highest priority signs in the shortest amount of time. Pole-mounted billboards would still be allowed, and would be extended to some new areas. Amortization would not apply to billboard owners operating under an agreement.

Public comment was an interesting mix of Clear Channel representatives getting their thoughts in early, followed by Tacoma residents and business owners, some who own property they lease to billboard companies, and some speaking against billboards.

Clear Channel executives turned out to voice their support for the staff proposal, and to talk about the benefits of billboards as an advertising tool for local small businesses and revenue generators for local property owners. One called billboards “the great equalizer” for small businesses against larger competitors. Another described amortization as a threat to all businesses in Tacoma, and the wrong message to send to other entrepreneurs.

Among other pro-billboard voices were a few property owners who described the value of the revenue they bring in from renting to billboard companies. There were also a few voices in support of the idea of billboards as a valuable, even crucial, avenue for local businesses to advertise to potential customers.

The remainder of the comment came from various voices supporting a strong stand against Clear Channel in particular, and billboards in general. There was a general sense among these speakers that the regulations as written now are fine; they just need enforcement.

One speaker, a local lawyer, described Clear Channel described as a “corporate bully,” and the council in being “pennywise and pound-foolish” if it does not support what he described as a law clearly requiring the removal of billboards. The chair of the Planning Commission described their finding as the result of hundreds of hours of work by the commission, noting that unlike the CWG, their process did take public comment, most of which was anti-billboard. He challenged the staff alternative for discarding many of the elements supported by both the commission and the CWG, particularly in its departure from amortization, which he described as a key pillar of the City’s strategy so far.

Next steps on billboards include a December 1 council study session discussion, followed by a December 8 first reading of an ordinance to implement whatever decision the council comes to. That ordinance would be expected to get a final reading on December 15.

At study session Mayor Strickland expressed a desire to get the billboard issue resolved under this council, and City staff seem to think the special agreement option has the best chance of doing that. The question for council is whether the framework crafted by staff would represent sufficient success on community goals around billboard removal to make it the plan going forward.



City Manager Broadnax reported that although the results of the election are not yet formally certified, in light of what appears to be voter approval of Proposition 1B, the City is moving forward with rule-making to guide the transition to a $12 an hour minimum wage in Tacoma. As a part of the rule-making process, public meetings are planned at which the public will have the chance to learn about and give feedback on how the City plans to implement the increase. Community members are invited to any of four meetings at the Tacoma Public Library’s Main Branch (1102 Tacoma Ave. S, Olympic Room):

  • Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2 - 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 9, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 15, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 17, 10 - 11 a.m.

Details at cityoftacoma.org/minimumwage.



Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee – Councilmember Mello shared recent topics covered by the committee.

  • Finalized code amendments supporting live/work and work/live uses
  • Proposed amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Use code
  • Planning Commission recommendations on amendments to Tacoma’s billboard regulations, and the alternative developed by City staff
  • Progress on Tacoma’s environmental action plan

At its next meeting the committee will discuss the sustainable materials management plan and continued conversation on the annual Comprehensive Plan amendment.

Councilmember Campbell invited everyone to a community meeting on initial plans for the Eastside Community Center on Thursday at the Community Investment Center in Salishan. Campbell also announced that Top of Tacoma won the Best of Western Washington Best Community Bar award.

Deputy Mayor Boe announced a few arts events

  • Tacoma Spaces: See, Think, Dance - Thursday the 19th, a free event at the Museum of Glass
  • Tacoma Young Orchestra Russian Fairytales on Saturday at Urban Grace Church
  • On Sunday Tacoma Symphony Orcestra presents Sibelius & Mendelssohn

Councilmember Thoms was absent from this week’s meeting.


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