Tacoma City Council Meeting - February 3, 2015

Last night’s Tacoma City Council meeting clocked in at an appropriate 2 hours and 53 minutes long – or about half the length of last week’s meeting. That said, there was plenty of discussion, Q and A, and passionate testimony on the proposed annexation of Point Ruston.

PROCLAMATIONS/RECOGNITIONS/PRESENTATIONS/ANNOUNCEMENTS

February 2015 was proclaimed as Black History Month in the City of Tacoma in honor of all the African Americans who have changed the course of history. Saying that black history is American history, Mayor Strickland encouraged all Tacomans to reflect on the accomplishments and contributions African Americans have made to our city, our state, and our nation.

The week of February 7 through 14 was proclaimed as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week in the City of Tacoma. All Tacomans are urged to learn more about the problem of congenital heart defects, which are the most common birth defect, affecting approximately 1 out of 125 children and their families. 

 

PUBLIC COMMENT

No comment.

 

REGULAR AGENDA

APPOINTMENTS

Resolution No. 39107 A resolution appointing City Council members to various national, state, regional, and local committees, boards, and commissions, including the Council’s six standing committees, for the year 2015.

At the beginning of early year, city council members are appointed to positions representing Tacoma’s interests on various boards and commissions, locally, regionally, and nationally. This year there are 49 appointments, with very few changes from last year.

 

Resolution No. 39108 A resolution supporting the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts Theater District Centennial Campaign and pledging up to $10 million in funding by 2020 for capital improvement projects, contingent on funds generated by the Broadway Center, and subject to future appropriation authority and funding availability.

In 2018 Tacoma’s Pantages and Rialto theater buildings will turn 100. For the last three decades the BCPA has been a contract partner managing the two properties for the City of Tacoma. The Broadway Center is now looking to raise $35 million for upgrades and improvements to their facilities - $25 million of which they plan to raise, in addition to the $10 million they’ve asked the City for.

Several council members thanked the City Manager for helping to find ways to work with the BCPA to fund the improvements. Councilmember Boe pointed to the revitalization of the Pantages as a major turning point in the revitalization of Tacoma. Councilmember Mello called the upgrades a “huge win” for the people of Tacoma, who will see the $10 million public investment leveraged into $35 million with private dollars.

 

Resolution No. 39109 A resolution declaring surplus and authorizing the execution of a Quit Claim Deed conveying vacant undeveloped property at the intersection of South 85th Street and Sheridan Avenue to Tacoma First Baptist Church, for the amount of $42,130.

The resolution allows for the sale of City-owned property to the church for full market value. The property was originally acquired by the City in 1978 for the anticipated expansion of Sheridan Avenue. That project is no longer planned, and the City determined the small parcel to be surplus to its needs.

 

PUBLIC HEARINGS AND APPEALS

This was the date set for a public meeting on the Notice of Intent to petition for annexation of the property generally located on Ruston Way along Commencement Bay at the former Asarco Tacoma Smelter site, to assist the City Council in determining whether to accept, reject, or geographically modify the proposed annexation; whether the City shall require simultaneous adoption of the comprehensive plan; and whether it shall require the assumption of all or any portion of the City's indebtedness by the area to be annexed.

We know it’s going to be a long meeting when the mayor recommends that anyone waiting for the second public hearing go out and grab a bite to eat, because we’re going to be here for a while on this one…

The issue up for consideration at this point isn’t a decision on whether or not to annex the Point Ruston area from Ruston – it’s a decision on whether to formally acknowledge the City’s receipt of the notice of intent to request the annexation - expressing receptiveness to the idea. The issue is entirely within city council discretion to decide. A yes vote would allow the process to move forward; a no vote would end the matter, as there is no right of appeal.

The proposal put on the table by the developers of Point Ruston is for the City of Tacoma to annex the 43 acres of the master planned development that falls within the Ruston city limits. If the Tacoma city council accepts the notice, the next step procedurally would be for the matter to go to the Ruston city council.

Following the presentation by City staff of the basic framework of the situation, the council had the opportunity to question Point Ruston developers Loren and Mike Cohen. The Cohens shared their perspective, describing a situation over the last several years in which working with Ruston went from difficult to seemingly impossible. The Cohens cited multiple changes in the leadership of Ruston, 12 pending approvals that seem to be going nowhere, and difficulty pinning down Ruston on code requirements necessary for approval. The developers compared this to their experience with Tacoma, which they described as functional and productive. Ruston, on the other hand, they described as unresponsive, understaffed, and providing a frustrating lack of certainty. They characterized the recent problems as nothing new, but rather a continuation of a pattern of problems and lack of communication in dealing with Ruston.

Then it was Bruce Hopkins, Mayor of Ruston’s turn to speak, and his side of the story sounded very different. Hopkins characterized the developer as unwilling to work with Ruston’s established planning processes, and the city and officials as having their hands tied by those same master plan and amendment processes. Other Ruston council members also spoke, saying that there were problems with Point Ruston plans to build on top of the on-site containment facility, development of which as a public open space the EPA had made a condition of the original approval. All described the developer as unwilling to work within Ruston's processes. Where Point Ruston says they believe they have proposed development that is allowed under the code, Ruston officials say that the site plans they are looking at are different from what was approved. The developer, they say, needs to follow the master plan amendment process.

With two such different stories, we're left wondering what to believe. We heard several comments from Tacoma council members and others referencing a meeting last November between Ruston officials and Point Ruston developers, with Tacoma representatives present to attempt to mediate. Those involved thought they had come away with agreements on how to proceed with the situation, only to find that it went nowhere. The Ruston developers say that Ruston officials were uncooperative, not returning phone calls or moving forward on the agreed on solutions. We didn't hear this meeting and its results specifically addressed by the Ruston representatives. What we did hear were arguments that the developer refuses to follow processes to amend development agreements that would move things forward. 

A major problem for Tacoma with the lack of movement on the Ruston side is that the City of Tacoma has invested in $31 million of infrastructure improvements to the full site – roads, sidewalks, roundabouts, streetlights, utilities, etc - $18 million of that on the Ruston side. The LID to pay back those investments covers both sides as well, and with only about half of the development moving forward, not enough revenue is projected to be generated to cover costs. Tacoma invested a further $6 million in the site with the purchase of and improvements to the Point Ruston Waterwalk. 

The good news is that with the latest round of occupancy signed off on, there are now approximately 250 residential units occupied, a half-dozen commercial spaces are open for business, the cinema is well on its way to completion along with the rest of that mixed-use building, which will include more restaurant and residential space. All of that development is on the Tacoma side. No commenters seemed opposed to the development in general, although it does sound like there are concerns about the specifics of some of the plans – we heard references to height, to open space plans, propane tanks, and especially to view corridor protection – but all were light on details.

At the end of the day whether to annex or not to annex may not actually be the question, as Ruston would have to sign off on any takeover by Tacoma of any of its land. Ultimately the real question seems to be whether there is anything to be done to come to a functional relationship between Ruston and the Point Ruston developers - one that will allow development to move forward. 

Despite all the disagreement, everyone seems to want to get something built, and both city officials and the developers have said publicly now that they are willing to sit down to work things out. Could it really happen?

 

Resolution No. 39110 A resolution acknowledging receipt of, accepting, and expressing receptiveness regarding a Notice of Intent to Petition for Annexation concerning the portion of the Point Ruston redevelopment site lying within the City of Ruston.

Immediately following the public comment period, the Tacoma City Council considered this resolution, which if adopted, would express Tacoma’s receptiveness to the annexation, putting the ball in Ruston’s court.

After some further discussion of the situation and the potential for resolution without annexation, the council voted to wait until the February 24 meeting to make a decision. Saying that she was ready to decide today, but that she would respect her colleagues who want more time with the issue, Mayor Strickland said she was tired of playing games, and that it is time for everyone to put on their big boy and girl pants and come to the table to work out a solution. Councilmember Thoms expressed a hope that in the interim between now and the 24th, the parties can get together and work something out.

One thing that struck us in this conversation, amid all the metaphors, was the emphasis on the importance of the development to both Ruston and Tacoma. No one actually used these words, but the sentiment could be paraphrased as “too big to fail.” 

 

This was also the date set for a public hearing by the City Council on the proposed adoption of permanent land use regulations concerning the production, processing, and retail sale of recreational marijuana.

This hearing was specifically about regulation of licensed recreational stores approved by the State. In response to direction from the council, the Planning Commission had drafted proposed permanent regulations for land use related to recreational marijuana. Those regulations would replace interim regulations currently in place.

The proposed permanent regulations contain few changes from the interim rules. The new proposal clarifies that the regulations apply to all licensed marijuana businesses, and includes an expansion of areas where production, processing, and the newly created “Urban Horticulture” use are allowed. That expansion would allow those uses in light industrial and commercial mixed-use zones, along with the areas currently allowed under the interim rules.

Public comment on this topic was fairly brief, following the extensive conversation on annexation. The main issue we heard raised was the question of dispersion of the businesses from one another, so as to avoid clustering in certain areas. One commenter asked the council to consider treating these businesses differently because of the unknown impacts on neighborhoods.

We also heard one commenter suggesting that the council consider using marijuana stalks to fill potholes, and use some of the land to teach kids survival techniques… Okay, so that may have been a little off-topic. Other than that, the comments mostly related to buffering around sensitive uses – one commenter wants churches added to the list – and what can be done to avoid clustering.

If approved by council, the permanent regulations would go into effect in early March, well ahead of the May expiration date for the interim regulations.

 

REPORTS BY THE CITY MANAGER

After all the heated discussion, and comparisons of the Ruston situation to a relationship headed for a breakup, City Manager Broadnax wanted to tell his wife that he loves her. Aww. 

The City Manager also shared that Tacoma Police Department's Child Abduction Response Team has been recertified and recognized for excellence. Tacoma is one of only a few cities in the country that have such a program.

 

COMMENTS AND COMMITTEE REPORTS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

Neighborhoods and Housing Committee (Continued from January 27, 2015) – Councilmember Walker shared recent work of the committee.

  • Conducted interviews and made recommendations for appointments to the Tacoma Community Redevelopment Authority.
  • Heard a presentation on evaluation and recommendations for Tacoma’s rapid graffiti removal program
  • Conducted interviews and made recommendations for appointments to Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission
  • Received an informal briefing on right-of-way permitting processes in residential neighborhoods
  • Heard funding recommendations for the 2015-16 community mobilization services competitive funding process
  • Heard about proposed changes to the hearing code and noise code, as well as an update on recent code compliance community outreach efforts
  • Received an update on development of analysis of impediments to fair housing choice
  • Heard an update on the single-family residential blight abatement program, which is due to sunset at the end of June
  • Reviewed the annual report and discussed the committee work plan for this year
  • Heard presentations on neighborhood council review update and multifamily tax exemption code

Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee – Councilmember Woodards shared recent work of this committee.

  • Received a presentation on proposed Community Services funding recommendations
  • Conducted interviews and made recommendations for appointments to the Human Rights Commission
  • Heard a presentation on amendments to the municipal code to permit indoor recreational use of airsoft guns in licensed shooting galleries
  • Held interviews for the Human Services Commission

At its next meeting the committee will hear a presentation on funding recommendations for services to reduce chronic homelessness.

Deputy Mayor Boe announced that this weekend the Rialto Theater will host Tacoma Opera’s HMS Pinafore. Get your tickets now.

ADJOURNMENT


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