Thursday, January 29, 2009
Pederson and Juddy cited concerns about setting a precedent by allowing a taller building. They preferred having the council change the zoning code rather than granting a variance. The planner suggested dealing with the overall building height/zoning code issue separately.
The public testimony was largely supportive of the variances. Only one person from Tacoma (the owner of some commercial property at 51st and Pearl) expressed opposition. In the end the vote was 3-2 in favor. The town council will now make the final decision on the issue.
The variance requests for The Ruston Building (former Coles Tavern) passed with a 3 to 2 vote by the planning commission last night. Their recommendation now goes to the town council for another vote. I don't have any further details yet, but will post them when I can. ~ Karen
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Lynette (Hopkins), Sue (Hines), Rob (Zehel) and I did meet last night. We did not submit a budget request at the end of last year, which is probably a good thing. From what I read in the Town newsletter, the budget crunch will hit almost every aspect of the Town’s workings.
We are still in the process of research and organization so I guess we are still in study-session mode. There were originally 5 (types 0f) trees recommended for the planting strips. We are looking at those closely to determine if we are in agreement with that list.
As you are well aware, some of the ‘Kwanzan’ cherry trees on Winnifred did not make it. They were planted as bare-root trees. Rob says that one authority he spoke with said that it is not unusual to have a 50% loss rate on that type of planting…so I suppose that Ruston ’s trees did pretty good. At least 4 that I know of were put into beds with the cinder-rock mulch, and those died pretty quickly.
So…what killed the trees? Was it disease, lack of water, too much water, poor mulching material or something else? The best course of action would be to try to determine that first, try to remedy the situation, and then determine what to do about replacement. This, we are finding, is no small task.
We will be meeting once a quarter. Our task before the next meeting is to familiarize ourselves with recommended (from other towns) trees in order to make an informed decision about varieties that will work here in Ruston as well as their costs. With Town development, it is important to have “the list” ready so developers can plan appropriately for their projects. We also need to find possible alternate ways to pay for the plant material as well as soil amendments and labor to remove old trees and replant new ones.
The next section of town for tree replacement is N. Winnifred Street from N. 49th to N. 51st. Our hope is to have budget requests for implementation of that stage ready by the fall of this year. Citizens can contact the Town Hall with questions or comments. (253-759-3544)
Monday, January 26, 2009
I had an interesting conversation with Steve Fabre of Point Defiance Casino and Cafe last week. He wanted folks in
First, the timeline of events:
- Mr. Fabre settles with Ruston Connection in their lawsuit between the Casino and the Chinese Christian Church.
- The Ruston Connection suggests a tax increase on the Casino in the next newsletter.
- Council Member Stebner brings it up the same idea at next council meeting.
- The issue goes dormant for few months.
- Council Member Albertson brings up the idea again in May 2008.
- Mr. Fabre places calls to all council members inviting them to meet with him and work on alternatives. Only Council Member Hedrick returned his calls, although Fabre did catch Council Member Hunt at home briefly. Fabre wrote letters outlining his case instead.
- In July, 2008 the Town Council passed a gambling tax increase to 12% on the first reading (400% to 1200% increase compared to the former sliding scale). Council rules require a second reading for ordinances, which allows one chance for public input at the end of the meeting where the first reading is done (no public comment is allowed on any business item – only during public comment at the end of each meeting). The requirement for a second reading of ordinances can be waived by the majority of the council plus 1. Council Member Stebner was absent at this meeting, so the vote to waive the second reading was 3 to 1.
- The casino immediately asks for preliminary injunction to allow the issue to be heard by the court before the tax is collected.
- The injunction was denied because the judge would not accept the recording of the meeting as evidence of what the vote count had been – and the town attorney refused to acknowledge that the vote had been 3 to 1.
- There were other motions filed by both sides – the end result is the judge ordering a trial.
Mr. Fabre outlined three main arguments for his case:
- He feels this is a personal vendetta against him and/or his business. The depositions are bearing this out. Albertson says he does not trust Fabre. Council Member Huson likewise says he does not trust Fabre. Huson has stated in his deposition; “I never returned phone calls to Mr. Fabre. I will never return phone calls to Mr. Fabre. I don’t like his demeanor. He makes my skin crawl. I don’t want to be in the same room with him.”
- Council did not follow their own rules. Those rules require that a second reading of ordinances can only be waived by a majority plus one of the council. The rules are included in the council meeting materials by clicking here (you'll need to scroll down past other information). The vote to waive the second reading on this was 3 to 1, not the required 4 member majority of a 5 member council.
- Case law interprets the general presence of law enforcement to be a deterrent to illegal gambling. Most departments will deposit gambling tax into their general fund to be used on general police activities, but will dedicate as least some resources to enforcement of the state Gambling Act.
- Former Chief Reese specifically declined to enforce gambling violations when a casino employee was caught in violation, telling officers to refer the case to the Gambling Commission in April 2008.
- If the gambling tax is supposed to be directly tied to even “general” law enforcement, no reduction was made in the police budget when the casino operations were closed. Nor did the council set policy or direction on how the gambling tax would be used or how it related to the police budget.
Mr. Fabre has offered to settle the case. In general terms, he will agree to a flat rate increase of 4% in the gambling tax, which is the same rate paid by other facilities in
According to Fabre,
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Jim Wingard found more intriguing historic photos to share with us. The Ruston shoreline looks dramatically different today ~ and it will continue to transform for many more years. But the work that took place on this site helped build many of the buildings around us and the wages sent many a youngster to college. Ruston has a unique, rich history that we should capture and document while we can. That's my soap box for today! ~ Karen
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Point Ruston submitted two shoreline permit requests: 1) for outright permitted uses and 2) this conditional use permit. Loren Cohen of Point Ruston reports the shoreline permit for accepted uses was approved by Tacoma on January 9th (full report and decision here). He comments, "Point Ruston's shoreline permits were split between the Permitted Uses and the Conditional Uses, per the City's SMP. While we are disappointed that the 4B mixed-use structures were not permitted as a conditional use, we were are pleased that the ferry use was approved. We have no plan to appeal the City's decision on the 4B structures, and will likely be back to the drawing board for some minor alterations to this section of the development."
The decision pages from the conditional use permit report are below. The full report (including agency comments and further analysis of the issue) is available on Ruston Reports.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The meeting began at 7 pm with the flag salute and the agenda and minutes of the last meeting being approved. The fire department report had been handed out to the council but Chief Torbet was not able to attend the meeting.
Interim police chief Kunkel provided the police department report. The highlights included 3 new hires and a reminder that the chief position is being advertised again until January 31st. The civil service board will conduct oral boards on February 6th. Kunkel has suggested a couple of changes to the civil service rules that the board is considering. The department has been involved with several important cases last month, including a death investigation at the entrance to Point Defiance Park, domestic violence and narcotics arrests. The department has given the council a proposal for having the town issue firearms for officers.
Council Member Stebner wanted to be sure that animal control knew Ruston had an off-leash dog park. He also wanted to confirm or deny a local rumor - by asking if Tacoma police had been involved in anything "big" in Ruston. Kunkel said no. Stebner also wanted more speeding enforcement along Shirley Street when the construction workers got off work.
1) Engineering Services for Infrastructure: Stebner put this issue on the agenda. He wanted to confirm if he should take the lead on having the town engineers prepare plans for the sewer and street lighting or if the mayor was working on the issue. The plans are needed to apply for grants.
The mayor had met with the town maintenance supervisor last week to set the priorities for the utilities. About 25% of the sewer system has been replaced since the major appraisal in 1997. The mayor wants to assess what the current needs are, especially since more pieces will be addressed with the new development at Point Ruston and Stack Hill. He felt Harbor Improvement Funds should be available since a failure of the system uphill would have a negative impact on the bay. Council Member Huson said the system on Pearl should probably be upgraded rather than replaced. He felt any study should identify similar parts of the system for upgrade. The mayor will work with the engineering firm to get a bid on designing a new sewer system.
2) Point Ruston Lease: Stebner also put this on the agenda. He and Council Member Albertson want an appraisal to determine the current market rate for leasing the school space before any negotiations begin with Point Ruston. The plan as discussed at the January 5th meeting was for Point Ruston to take over the space on February 1st. They are currently using that area for storage. The mayor is holding a proposed lease, but has not signed it until these issues are resolved. Albertson complained that some members of the council are apt to give Point Ruston anything they want. Council Member Hunt gave the mayor the name of a local commercial real estate agent to confirm the market rate for Class C or D office space. The mayor suggested having the agent list the rest of the available space at the school for rent.
Claims and Payroll were approved after two more bills for utility locates were removed. There is some question about Ruston being charged for locates in Tacoma. Once the maintenance supervisor researches the issue, the bills will be paid.
Among other things, Jim Wingard suggested the town do an LID (local improvement district) to pay for upgrading the sewer system. He felt the town should lease the space at the school to Point Ruston for $1 per year since the project is helping Ruston.
Sherri Forch wanted to know when The Commencement would be out of their sales center at the school.
Terry Knapp thought the upper floor of the school building could be rented out for storage.
I suggested the council work with the business district on street lighting and grants. I also suggested they review the fire committee report recommendations for upgrading the fire department as they work with the insurance rating folks.
Mayor Hopkins will meet on Friday with Tacoma Power. He has done a quick review of Ruston's utility rates. By his rough estimate, if Ruston charged the same as Tacoma for their utilities, revenues would increase $58,000. Hunt had done a similar analysis and estimated $100,000 income. The issue will be discussed at a study session before the next council meeting - 6 pm on February 2nd.
The town planner and Council Member Hedrick met with Washington State Rating Bureau to discuss future needs of the fire department with the Point Ruston development. If Ruston were to do commercial inspections annually, the town's insurance rating would improve. The fire department has begun documenting these inspections (they have been doing them for years) and is working on a formal plan for annual inspections. The bureau also wanted a ladder truck (although the fire committee research recommended a telesquirt). The mayor will check with Tacoma Fire about an inter-local agreement for use of their ladder truck. Tacoma has a similar agreement with Gig Harbor. The bureau did not have any problems with Ruston maintaining a volunteer department. Stebner said he had worked with the Pierce County Fire Marshal last year. Stebner said they would provide all fire inspections for $500 per year. He will get the information to the mayor.
The mayor is waiting to hear about a meeting on the collective bargaining for the town employees.
Stebner wanted a study session to discuss the dog park. He did not think the current situation was tolerable. The town attorney will circulate a draft ordinance and his research on other dog parks. A notice will be put at the park and in the newsletter for a study session at 6 pm on February 17th.
Stebner deferred to Albertson to report on their meeting at the school gym. He also wanted someone to contact Tacoma about upgrading their lighting along Pearl at the same time as Ruston.
Huson did not have any comments.
Hedrick commented on today's inauguration.
Albertson discussed the meeting with The Commencement today. He and Stebner made it clear they want the space returned to Ruston by the March 12th deadline outlined in the lease. The town will have to decide what the space should look like and who has to pay for those changes.
Albertson thanked Kunkel for stepping in as interim police chief again. He wanted Point Ruston to let the full council know when the buildings would be completed in Ruston and what the revenue projection was for the town from that development. He complained that council liaisons did not bring back information to the council. He also wanted the council to be careful about raising the utility rates. That money would come directly from town residents during very difficult economic times. His comment on the inauguration: "the long national nightmare is over".
Hunt felt that residents would be willing to pay the actual cost for services, especially if it meant keeping Ruston viable. She wanted to explore a lower rate for seniors or those on a fixed income. The town clerk told her that the town already has such a system in place. Hunt also reminded Albertson that she makes a report to the council each time she meets with Point Ruston.
Stebner wanted to rebut some of Hunt's comments on utility rates, but it was decided to wait until the study session on the issue. The meeting adjourned abruptly at about 8:15 pm.
Monday, January 19, 2009
There are only two items on the agenda for tomorrow night...
- Call to Order
- Roll Call
- Flag Salute
- Agenda Approval
- 1. Business Engineering Services for Infrastructure
- 2. Point Ruston Lease
- Public Comment
- Mayor's Time
- Council Time
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I’ve often said (and I know a LOT of people will agree with me) that Tacoma is the biggest little town you’ll ever find. Everyone somehow runs into people they know all the time, all over town. I almost weekly seem to run into folks I haven’t seen in years.… and don’t get me started on my sister. She works at an in-store bank branch and I swear she really does know everyone in this city.
But Ruston is the real deal, it is a small town. It’s not like Fircrest or Fife that are little cities, it’s a for-real slice of Americana small town. As much as I am froth with Tacoma Pride, I cannot help but feel that annexing Ruston will not be their salvation. Even if the town goes completely insolvent or whatever and Annexation is the only hope, I still don’t think it is the best.
These days, especially with high mobilization and media, retail & cultural homogenization, we’re losing our identity. Tacoma? Nope, South Sound. Bellevue? Nope, Eastside. Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle Everett? Nope, Puget Sound. You get my point. In our modern rush-rush, all-the-same, no-tolerance-for-different society, it is a breath of fresh air from the past to see small towns.
I hope Ruston can figure out it’s path and place, but remember this lesson that Iceland just learned: Don’t try to run with the big dogs if you aren’t one. Ruston should not try to be UP or Fircrest or Tacoma. Ruston needs to be Ruston.
13 Posted by Thorax O'Tool Jan 4, 05:24 PM
Salvation cannot come alone from for-profit and commercial interests; they are but a part of the equation. Unless Ruston can solve the equation for X, they’re gonna fade into the background of the larger city like every other small town seems to be doing. Rustonians have to really sit down and figure this out.
Joining T-town will bring many benefits… but what will the cost be? Even the closest, tightest-knit urban neighborhood isn’t as tight as small community can be. The loss will be the identity, and the community. There is nothing wrong with being a part of a city neighborhood. Hell, I’m proud of the 98403; I wouldn’t have moved into my place if I didn’t like the area.
But Ruston will find that as the years go by, and the assimilation becomes complete, they’re just going to be a part of North Tacoma. and not the most unique one by any metric. Is that a price worth paying? I can’t answer that, I’m a Tacoma Boy, not a Ruston Boy.
Some may ask: “T’OT, if you’re not a Rustonian, why do you care so much?” It’s not because of some super-special feature of the town, or whatever. It’s because I see a mirror of Tacoma in Ruston. Granted, T-town has a much more established personality, but like Ruston, Tacoma is still in the throws of an identity crisis. Tacoma is finally, I think, starting to realize that we’re not Seattle, we are Tacoma. We have our own unique identity and need to be true to it or else be stuck as a wannabe forever.
The same goes for Ruston. Trying to be something else will only destroy your identity. Like it or not, eventually the Point Ruston mess will be resolved and a whole buncha new buildings and people will call the town home. They may live in the town, but where will they work and shop? Where will they go to the park? That’s right, Tacoma. I’m not complaining, that’s good for my city.
But if Ruston wants to remain viable and able to live off of it’s own resources, taxing the $h*t out of the few businesses it has is not smart. Taxing property into the stratosphere is not the solution. My suggestions? Keep the property tax about par with T-Town’s. Take on some inexpensive projects to visually identify Ruston as a different municipality. For example, get new street signage that looks radically different from Tacoma’s. Paint your fire hydrants some bizarre color (yes, some of us notice those things). Drop the tax on businesses to a level that makes being in Ruston financially beneficial compared to other local cities. Maybe have all new small businesses pay like no tax their first year (the toughest year) and gradually scale the taxes on from year 2 thru 5, or whatnot.
Sorry for the rambling, it is late and I get this way when I’m tired. The long and the short of it is: Ruston, get your act in gear or be a Tibet.
19 Posted by Thorax O'Tool Jan 7, 12:52 AM
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Ruston School reunion last August saw over 200 people gather to remember and share stories. One of the event organizers, Carol Gore, shared these with us...
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
6 pm Study Session: Silver Cloud Substantial Development Permit Application
The mayor opened the meeting by noting that Councilmember Albertson’s questions at the last meeting led to this study session. The mayor asked the town planner, Rob White, to run through the main points.
White presented some new handouts to help explain the process. He noted that Ruston must follow three main areas of state law on this permit: 1) Shoreline Management Act, 2) Growth Management Act (GMA) and 3) State Environmental Policy Act. The GMA requires the town to adopt a Comprehensive Plan, which is intended to be a 20-year written vision of what the community wants to be by guiding things like density, open areas and such. All of Ruston’s codes must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The town must stay within state law, but can be more restrictive (within reason).
White then outlined when a SEPA review would be required (most any development more than a single family home). This environmental review has been completed for this project. White has most of the town’s codes, regulations and land use permits/forms available on the web now.
Albertson felt that SEPA rules required a 35 foot height limit “from the natural state of the land” within 200 feet of the shoreline. He defined “natural” as before remediation of the former smelter property, not after the protective cap was installed. It was noted that Ruston’s code defines natural grade for measuring height as the level of a remediated property (because most properties in town have been remediated). It was also pointed out that Tacoma has accepted the same definition for their portion of the property and that the grade of the land prior to clean up was actually higher than it is now that remediation is complete. If one wanted to go back to the “original” grade, it would be below sea level since most of this property is man-made slag.
Albertson then expressed concern about the process. For this permit, the council is issuing “findings of fact” that he felt required the council to directly take testimony and check the record carefully against the findings. The town attorney pointed out that it was the planning commission’s role to take testimony and determine the findings, which the council then confirmed. This is the process Ruston has set out in its codes and has always used in these situations.
Council Member Stebner was concerned about the insurance ratings that might be impacted by building heights and the fire department. (This issue was researched by the fire committee, who recommended simple steps to meet the concerns – read their report here.) White noted this issue was not addressed as part of this development permit, but would have been addressed as part of the SEPA review.
7 pm Regular Council Meeting
After the flag salute and approval of the agenda and previous meeting minutes, the only business item was brought to the floor, Ordinance 1275: Silver Cloud Substantial Development Permit.
Albertson again stated that he had a problem with the council saying they had this slate of “findings of fact” when no one would confirm they had checked the findings against the formal record.
Council Member Huson felt the public benefit far outweighed Albertson’s concerns and that the project included huge amounts of public access and view corridors.
Council Member Hunt wanted to know what the setbacks on hotel building were going to be. Huson noted this was a closed record hearing and the town attorney advised that she could not ask for new information, only clarification to the current record.
The final vote was a tie with Hedrick and Huson voting to approve, Albertson and Stebner voting against. Hunt abstained since she could not get all the information she felt she needed to make a decision.
The tie pushed the final vote into the mayor’s lap. Mayor Hopkins stated he was in favor of this development and honestly felt it was in the best interest of the town. He felt that Albertson’s concerns about the process needed to be clarified so they don’t run into this issue again, but he respected the opinion of the town planner – therefore he voted in favor of the permit. He noted that he “hoped we could all see our way through this and find some common ground.”
Claims and Payroll were approved.
- Jim Wingard felt the vote tonight was a long time coming and congratulated the leadership on making the right choice.
- Terry Knapp wanted to know if the federal stimulus packages would include grants to upgrade the town’s sewer system.
- Hopkins and Hedrick had met with Tacoma Power and he felt they had made progress towards the goal of re-establishing the former relationship that allowed Ruston to buy material and labor for its electrical system at cost.
- The police chief position has been opened up again until January 31st. There were 4 new well-qualified applicants.
- Tacoma Water will be assessing a $280 fee for each of Ruston’s 25 fire hydrants, so expect an unplanned bill of $7,000.
- After reviewing the council rules, Hopkins noted the council had said they would appoint liaisons each January. After some discussion, it was confirmed each council member would keep the same roles (Stebner ~ Parks, Huson ~ Land Use & Development, Hedrick ~ Public Safety, Albertson ~ Budget & School, Hunt ~ Infrastructure).
- The mayor is exploring pricing on better weapons for the police department and looking into the cost of snow equipment.
- Point Ruston is interested in renting the council chamber space at the school, so future meetings will be held at town hall.
- He is working to upgrade the town web site so more information and forms can be available to people at home.
- Stebner welcomed anything would help upgrade the utilities.
- Huson was sorry to see the meetings have to return to town hall but understood the need for revenue.
- Hedrick had confirmed that Ordinance 1267 (which provided incentive based salary increases for the police) had not been included in the 2009 budget. The council would have to find $70,000 to bring the budget up to speed. He also announced there would be a non-binding visit by someone (sorry, didn’t catch who) to review the fire service portion only of the Point Ruston development and assess the cost to upgrade. He pointed out that the Obama grants were focused on projects that could be completed in 120 days. Without having the town sewer system engineered and a plan in place, the utility would not qualify. It was agreed to ask the new town engineer if they could provide that planning within the scope of their current contract.
- Hunt noted that Ruston does not require residents to pay a fee to have a burglar alarm. She wanted a study session to talk about the issue, but the attorney said he would draft an ordinance.
The meeting then went into executive session to discuss pending litigation for 30 minutes (but we didn’t stick around for final adjournment).
Monday, January 12, 2009
On the other side is a note from "Your Mother" to "B". This too speaks of a far different time, when all that was needed was the name and town for mail to be delivered. Thanks for sharing an important picture of Ruston's past, Jim!
Friday, January 9, 2009
The popular sea wall promenade is closed until the hillsides stabilize. Many Rustonites will have to find somewhere else to take their walks for a few days. Stay safe, everyone!
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The mayor said there are 4 new applications and he is pleased with their caliber. Applications close on January 31st and the civil service commission will begin their process. I think there was supposed to be a civil service meeting tonight. I'll post any information I can gather about their discussion soon.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I'll post more details from the meeting this weekend after I review the tape. In the meantime, Jim Wingard has posted his observations at Ruston Insider. One note though, future council meetings will held at the town hall on Winnifred Street so the town can rent out the council meeting room at the school. ~ Karen
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Here is the agenda for the meeting at 7 pm ~ hope you can attend!
- Call to order, Role Call, Flag Salute
- Agenda Approval
- Approval of Minutes (Dec. 15th and Dec. 22nd meetings)
- Regular Business: Ordinance 1275: Silver Cloud Substantial Development Permit
- Claims and Payroll
- General Public Comment
- Mayor Time
- Council Time
- Executive Session to discuss on-going litigation
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Friday, January 2, 2009
The casino has put forward an undisclosed settlement offer (which includes an offer for this casino to pay the same rate as larger casinos in Fife). And in an effort to rebuild some business, the former casino space will be used for dancing and karakoe soon. Warm up those vocal cords and dust off those dancing shoes, Winnifred! No need to leave town to party anymore.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Happy New Year to one and all! I thought I'd invite anyone who wants to give their wish list for Ruston in 2009. What are your priorities? What do you think the council and mayor should be focused on? What are your hopes and dreams for this little town? We did something similar last year as this blog was getting started. It's a good way to get the creative juices flowing and put words to the background emotions that often guide us anyway.
I'll take a first stab... I have long wished that we could get closer to that balance of being a close-knit neighborhood that maintains connections but allows for difference of opinions without harsh retribution. I think we've made great strides towards that goal this year. I think this would be my highest priority ~ it lays the foundations for the collaborative effort needed to get to the other goals:
- a clearly defined vision for our future (mission statement, goals, road map)
- support to grow our local businesses
- get started on infrastructure upgrades
- build a sustainable tax base with new development