Monday, March 30, 2009

Easter 2009

Sherri Forch and Council Member Huson are heading up the efforts to continue our newly restored Easter Egg Hunt for the little ones and breakfast for the whole family. This year, the breakfast will a simpler affair consisting of a continental breakfast on Saturday, April 11th at about 9 am, followed by the egg hunt at 9:30 am.

Donations are needed of wrapped candy, change (or the big bills) and small toys. Eggs will be stuffed with the toys, candy and coins this Saturday at the regular senior meeting, 1 pm at Town Hall (5117 N. Winnifred). Stop by town hall with donations before Saturday, and again on Saturday to lend a hand if you can. Council Member Huson had donated about 3,000 plastic eggs that need filling!

Here are some pictures from last year's event from Sherri...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Point Ruston In The Spotlight Again

One of the neighborhood writers for the New Tribune had a story yesterday on the project. Check it out here.....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Protest at Point Ruston

The News Tribune has an intersting article about the Carpenters Union protest yesterday at Point Ruston, aimed at subcontractor Rain City and its problems. Point Ruston was not the only focus of the protest, the group moved on to another location after about 3 hours here.

At the end of the article, Loren Cohen has some interesting tibits; like Rain City has been replaced by a new company (with the same owner), but who has a contract with the labors union...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New, Very Local High School Planned

There will be a new math and science high school opening at our doorstep next fall - housed in portables at Point Defiance Park. We can attest to the living laboratory and natural beauty of the location. It will be great to have some young, budding scientists in the neighborhood! The News Tribune has more details...

The Neighbors

by John Heineman

My Lady has a garden
that's a wonder just to see
She spends more time there
than she ever does on me

The neighbors all come by
when she is not around
And wonder at the stuff
she has growing in our ground

What makes her garden bloom so well ?
they insist that they be told
And they continue to question
What secret does she hold ?

You've got to share just what She does
to kill the slugs
and avoid the mould
What makes her roses last so long
When ours just wilt
. . . and look so old

Then one day they all gathered 'round
as I swept my walk and stair
You just got to tell us
to keep her secret private
just isn't very fair

Well, I said . . . she does exactly
the same as you
Try talking to your flowers
that's what I heard her do

Well, they all went home
muttering, two by two
Like somehow I was keeping back
what I really knew

As the days went by
my Lady's garden bloomed and grew
With Bleeding Heart and Trillium
and other rarities from the 'wood'
and the splendor of it all
was the wonder
of the neighborhood

Then they came back to see me
"We've tried to do
just what you said, you know
. . . and nothing that you told us
have made our garden grow"

"Matter of fact . . . a lot have died,"
reported a neighbor with a frown . . .
"And I planted ones just like that . . ."
and he pointed to the ground

"Well", I asked, "What did you say ?"
they hung their heads in embarrassment
and reported in this way:

"Oh my dear, I love you
please do bloom for me"

And another said . . . . she even cried !

"Well, no wonder," I said,
"That's probably
why your flower died."

"Well, tell us"
they all cried,
"What does she say to her flowers ?"

"Well, she never acts so whimpy
as to ask them "please to bloom
Actually what I heard her say
shouldn't be shared in Public
with company in the room."

"Come-on tell us."
"We'll mow your lawn."
"We'll wash your car."
"Just tell us what she tells her flowers
to make them bloom so keen."

They leaned in like a huddle
of a team on the 10 yard line
And I cleared my throat
Knowing a lot was resting on
my future mowing
and sidewalk, clean-up time.

Well, I'll be honest . . .
they all held their breath
. . . . but you've got to promise,
not to breath a word.

They all crossed their hearts
an pledged their honor
not to tell
whatever it was they heard

"Well, we had this yellow rose, I said
that hardly bloomed at all
It was in the middle of the flower bed
and hadn't grown very tall

an I saw her grab the stem of that small rose
like a mic in a Reno Club
She looked around the garden and reported,
Testing . . . One, Two, Three . . .
are all you plants out there listenin' to me ?

And she turned and spoke
to that little Rose
in a voice for all to hear
"You better bloom, you little Whimp,
or I'll rip-you-out
roots and all . . . . . . .
Is this message clear ?"

"Your kidding," whispered a nature lover
as the rest gave a wide-eyed gasp
and leaned in closer yet
"Well, what happened next," they demanded . . .
their foreheads beaded with sweat.

"Well, the Rose, it lost its petals . .
and it just died, dead."

"dead ?" questioned a little voice.
every one stared at me . .
not a word
was said . .

an I continued . . . .

"But you should have seen
those other plants bloom
in that damned ol flower Bed

After she yanked that Rose Bush out
those flowers just went wild."

Well, those neighbors they just looked at me
an not one of em'
even smiled

"It's true I said . ."
an they began to walk away

. . . . . . and nothing's been the same at all
since that sunny day.

I'm glad you like Her garden
I appreciate you commin' by,
But it's turnin' dark . . .
. . . and I'd like to stay an talk
But I've just finished mowin' my lawn
an I still gotta
sweep my walk !

Monday, March 23, 2009

Planning Commission: March 25, 2009

The planning commission will be meeting on Wednesday to review parking of commercial vehicles in residential areas. Here is the agenda and background information:

In The News

UPDATE: Wednesday, March 25th: The News Tribune is reporting that the hearing on this issue has been delayed while the contractor, Rain City and the Carpenters Union try to reach a settlement. Full story here...

The subcontractor working on Point Ruston's first building is facing a complaint filed by the Carpenters Union. The hearing that had been scheduled for Monday was delayed until Wednesday, according to The News Tribune. You can read the full story here...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

House Bill 2285

I'm catching up on a few things today. Here is some background on House Bill 2285 that would allow for joint LID projects. The bill is currently making its way through the legislature.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chance To Explain

I recently asked the council and mayor to provide their reasons for voting to invite negotiations for annexation with Tacoma. Council Member Albertson responded with the email below. Council Member Huson called to talk over his views on this and other issues. I've summarized Huson's comments below with his permission. ~ Karen
Council Member Huson is not convinced discussions with Tacoma will yield anything productive. The issue of annexation has been broached before without an enthusiastic response from Tacoma. He feels it is important for the council to review any letter sent to Tacoma before it is sent to ensure it reflects the council's position. The council wants to talk to Tacoma about having the larger city provide services as well as annexation. He voted against the motion on March 2nd because it did not include a provision for the council to approve the final wording before it was sent.

Huson stated clearly he is not ready to give up on Ruston yet - hopefully not ever. He is concerned that the police budget is so big (slightly less than half the total budget). He did not think there would be any decision on any of these issues until the research was done.

He is supportive of having the council do everything they can to develop the current business core. When he was on the planning commission, they wanted to raise the building height to 45'. He supports having the planning commission look at this issue again. "You can't do a Class A commercial building at 35' as we saw with the recent variance application for The Ruston Building," he noted. He hopes that building can start soon.

He feels the town should look at selling its surplus property before considering annexation. There are several pockets of land Ruston could sell. That was where the idea of selling Ruston Park for development began.

He is not enthused about giving up to Tacoma with $3.5 million in the bank. On a personal level, people don't declare bankruptcy until they have done everything (take out loans, go out on limbs before jumping ship). He feels the town should follow the same course, exhaust all possibilities before annexation is considered.

Having said that, he feels we need to come to grips with our services. What revenue do we need to grow our services to meet future demands as the population increases. He thinks that right now our services have surpassed our revenues. He hopes we can hold on until our revenues increase enough to find that balance again.

He continues to strive to keep the council meetings calm and businesslike. He doesn't think it is productive for the council to fight in public. But he would rather spend his time outside the meetings working on positive things. For instance, he and the mayor recently met with Pierce County about potential grants for upgrading the storm sewer system.

His priorities continue to be to get Point Ruston developed and address our infrastructure needs. He feels we are lucky to have Point Ruston moving ahead even in the current market. We should be happy with the level of activity and supportive rather than throwing up roadblocks.

From: Karen Pickett []
Sent: Tue 3/3/2009 5:56 PM
To: Albertson, Dan; Hedrick, Jim; Hunt, Jane; Bradley Huson; Stebner, Wayne; Hopkins, Bruce
Subject: Annexation

Dear Mayor and Council,

The vote last night to begin discussions/negotiations with Tacoma for
annexation was very important to our community. I am inviting each of you to explain why you voted as you did on the motion last night and why you would not allow public input before you made your decision. I think voters would be very interested in what you have to say on the issue.

Your response will be posted on the Ruston Home blog. I hope you can find time to provide your input into this important issue.

On Tue, 3/3/09, Albertson, Dan wrote:
From: Albertson, Dan
Subject: RE: Annexation
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 7:07 PM

Dear Ms. Pickett,

As a matter of policy, I choose not respond to people who run websites which post altered pictures of Town Council members in Nazi uniforms. These types of websites, including yours, have, in my opinion, done great damage to the Town of Ruston and its image in the community. I believe we should focus on the issues to try to solve the Town's severe financial problems, not the kind of personal attacks posted on your websites.


Dan M. Albertson
Council Member
Town of Ruston
Tuesday, March 3, 2009 8:28 PM
From: "Karen Pickett"
To: "Albertson, Dan"

Thank you for your input. I am sorry you are not willing to share your reasons for your important action at last night's meeting. To clarify, as you know the website you are referring to is no longer being used for precisely the reasons you state; it was being used by all sides of our contentious issues to attack each other rather than dialog. Besides the one photo you focus on, there were and have been many attacks against those who disagree with current council members. The council member pictured in that photo is not offended and I am sorry you are not able to put this behind us as well.

The Ruston Home site is carefully monitored and offers a variety of opinions. I believe wholeheartedly we can disagree without attacks, which is what this communication tool strives for. It is important for people to understand what your goals are on this issue and why you think negotiating for annexation is the best use of our energy during the current financial challenge. I hope you will reconsider and share your opinion.


Friday, March 20, 2009


Anthony's funeral will be held tomorrow, Saturday March 21st at 11 am at Mountain View Funeral Home. His obituary was in yesterday's paper. The family suggests donations to Spokane Hospice in lieu of flowers. I understand there may be a memorial fund set up soon to benefit Anthony's daughter Katiya soon. I'll let everyone know if that is confirmed.

UPDATE: Saturday, March 21st: Anthony was well-loved as evidenced by the many who crowded into the chapel today. At the graveside, just as Katiya placed the eagle feather in the crypt and the native blessing was given, a hawk flew overhead ~ calling and diving several times. I think Anthony was letting us know he's ok and he'll be watching over his own....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Council Meetings: March 16, 2009

Study Session:
I arrived at about 6:20 pm as things were wrapping up. The council wanted to know what Ruston's taxing authority was, what Ruston's credit rating was and if there were any restrictions on how the town can use any tax revenue they generate via different taxes. The mayor will arrange for someone from the AWC to provide input on the town's financial situation. The study session adjourned about 6:30 pm.

Council Meeting:
The meeting began at 7 pm with the flag salute. When it was time to approve the agenda, Council Member Huson moved to limit discussion to 10 minutes for each business item. Council Member Albertson thought it was better to not set a limit on a specific item since some will move quickly and some may require more than 10 minutes. The 10 minute limit was approved 3-2 with Council Member Stebner and Albertson voting no. Albertson then asked to have the issue of building houses on Rust Park moved on the agenda to be discussed just before the dog park. Stebner seconded his motion, but it failed 2-3. The final agenda was approved with the 10 minute limit by a vote of 3-2.

Minutes from the March 2nd meetings were approved with some minor corrections 4-0 with Albertson abstaining.

Staff Reports:
Police: Sergeant Kunkel reported that the department just completed two audits, one for training and one for the juvenile justice system to ensure the department is within state guidelines. The department is asking for applicants for the fulltime position again after the last 3 applicants either found other employment or had other problems. Oral board interviews will be conducted on Saturday for reserve officers. Calls last month included domestic violence, 911 hang ups and false alarms. The department has applied for a grant that would provide 3 printers and scanners in the patrol cars.

Fire: The fire chief was not able to make the meeting, but provided his report in writing to the council.

Ordinance 1278: Regulation of Private Alarm Systems (Second Reading)
Council members want to see a sample permit before voting on this issue. Stebner expressed his concern that the council passed the 2009 budget without making any spending cuts. He did not support anything that would increase costs to Ruston residents. The issue was tabled 5-0

Ordinance 1280: Designating Permitting of Off-Leash Areas (Second Reading)
Huson noted there were two current proposals without a plan for the exact configuration of the area or clear policy for its use. The mayor was directed to discuss the issue with the maintenance department since they use some of this area for storage and come back with a firm proposal. Council Member Hedrick asked for research on whether a single fence was sufficient or if two fences with space between would be required. The motion to table passed 5-0.

Sewer Charges: (First Reading)
After some discussion and clarification that this rate increase only passed through a recent rate increase from City of Tacoma, the first reading was waived and the increase was approved 3-1-1 with Stebner voting no and Albertson abstaining.

Resolution 439: Consenting to the City of Tacoma's Formation of LID
Albertson wanted to see the specific terms of Tacoma's LID before voting. This resolution leaves negotiation open. The bill pending in the legislature, if passed, would require approval by both jurisdictions. Hedrick noted that Tacoma passed their resolution last Tuesday. Stebner wanted the resolution to state clearly that Tacoma takes all the riskof the LID. The issue was tabled until more questions could be answered 5-0.

Discussion of COM-P Zone Maximum Height
There was no formal action needed on this issue. The council generally agreed that increasing height along Pearl Street might add incentive to encourage new development. The planning commission has discussed increasing height allowance from 35 ' to 40' only in the commercial zone along Pearl Street. Stebner wanted parking requirements increased. The planner thought the current regulations encouraged redevelopment. Council Member Hunt confirmed that Ruston's parking regulations are the same as most other communities. Mayor Hopkins mentioned that Vancouver has recently thrown out parking regulations as a way to encourage transit use. Hedrick felt he would rather have a parking problem before increasing requirements. There was some discussion of commercial vehicles parking in residential areas. That issue will be addressed by the planning commission soon.

Tacoma Recycle Contract Renewal
The current vendor is requesting a 5 year extension rather than the usual 1 year. This vendor does not accept glass. The public works supervisor recommends renewing for one year and see if the town could find a service that would take glass. The issue will be on the next agenda.

Junk Vehicles (Albertson)
Albertson felt there was a problem in parts of town with junk vehicles. After some discussion, it was decided that any vehicle that cannot start and does not have a current registration would be required to stored where it was not visible from the street. Albertson will draft an ordinance for consideration.

Fines Imposed Pertaining to Point Ruston (Albertson)
Albertson had two concerns after reading the Seattle Times story: 1) where was EPA's protection and 2) he did not like Point Ruston's reaction. Point Ruston handed out a press release before the meeting and Albertson was glad to hear they are concerned about public and worker safety. He felt that local jurisdictions should be in charge of health and safety. He wanted EPA to attend a study session and answer to their concerns. Hedrick volunteered to draft a resolution stating the council's position. Stebner asked Mr. Cohen if the rumor that there had been a fatality at the site was true. Mr. Cohen said "Of course not".

Council Member Huson's Proposal to let Point Ruston developer build houses on Rust Park (Albertson)
Albertson wanted to confirm the rumor that Huson had discussed the idea of selling Rust Park to Mr. Cohen for development. He wanted to know why the council should spend money on improvements if a sale was pending. Huson noted he had mentioned the idea several times. He felt that if Ruston gets a new park off Bennett Street, it might make sense to sell Rust Park and any other surplus property. Former Mayor Transue had suggested the same idea. Albertson thought it was a terrible idea, you can never have too much park space. Mayor Hopkins felt that liquation of the town's assets should be included in any discussion of annexation, along with exploring all options for Ruston's future.

Claims and Payroll Passed 3-0 with Albertson and Stebner abstaining

General Public Comment
JJ McCamment with Point Ruston asked the council to get their questions to her by March 29th so they could have time to address them before the meeting on April 6th. She updated the council on the status of the LID bill at the state.

Mark Schacht thanked the town for painting stripes on the road near his house. He was concerned about a bucket of tar on the roof of a nearby building. He wanted to know what the policy was for allowing Ruston police to work outside Ruston boundaries and why they were using a motorcycle given the budget crunch. It was noted the motorcycle was given to Ruston for free and maintenance costs were very low.

Doug Smith used to live in Ruston and was member of the Ironworkers Union. He felt worker safety was good at the Point Ruston site. He noted the fines were because a subcontractor had not followed Point Ruston's procedures. He felt the project was safe and would add to our community.

Mike Cohen noted the discussion of houses on Rust Park was a casual conversation of trading the OCF Park for Rust Park and building affordable housing to meet Ruston’s requirements.

Loren Cohen stated that EPA was concerned with safety as is their team. New procedures were put in place as soon as this problem was discovered.

Terry Knapp wanted to know if there had been any valuation of Rust Park done yet.

I encouraged the council to use their time and energy to find solutions to the budget deficit rather than on annexation discussions with Tacoma.

Lyle Hardin wanted to know if Ruston had any liability for how the park is being used currently. If so, he felt the town should address it immediately even before a formal decision was made on a dog park. He was sure any vendor offering glass recycling would charge for that service.

Mayor's Time
He had written a letter to Tacoma as instructed asking to discuss services and annexation. The council had a copy for their review. He will be sending a similar letter to Pierce County to discuss the same issues. He wanted to talk with South Prairie, another small community that has survived hard times to see if they could offer any advice. He noted the deficit this year did not mean bankruptcy was eminent, but caution was needed. He wants to see as much research as possible to ensure that Ruston exists and continues to exist. The town planner noted he is getting interest from developers wanting to locate here outside of Point Ruston.

Council Time
Stebner wanted the mayor to get the letter out to Tacoma soon. He wanted to see if Metro Parks would be interested in using Rust Park for baseball games. He felt all agenda items added by council members should have their name listed.

Huson confirmed the Easter Egg Hunt will be held on Saturday, April 11th. Volunteers are needed.

Albertson asked that the council be informed when the letter is sent to Tacoma.

Hunt noted the cost for candy and breakfast is expensive. There should be money set aside for the event in the town budget and citizens can make donations.

The meeting adjourned about 8:50 pm.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Anthony Coffee

Anthony may not have lived in Ruston, but his handiwork is displayed in many of our yards, rock walls and landscaping. He headed up the yard replacement crew the last couple of years, after working on and off on the project for most of the last decade. He knew this town as well as anyone.

He was much too young to die. He leaves children too young to deal with this loss, not to mention his parents, siblings and friends. You could say he lived life to the fullest; partying hard but coming to terms with sobriety this last year.

Anthony was a talented artist. He could turn a yard into a work of beauty, a paper canvas into a spectacular work of art. He cared deeply about his family and friends. He leaves a legacy of warmth, humor, compassion and commitment to doing right by people.

So, to our friend we say goodbye. You will be missed by all who knew you. Paint us a beautiful sunset from time to time and we'll raise a glass of sparkling cider in your name. May your children grow old knowing that though you loved them for a short time, it was with a depth and intensity to last them a lifetime.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Brief Report: Council Meeting, March 16, 2009

Just the basics tonight ~ I'll have more later in the week:
  • Approval of Minutes (study session and regular meeting on March 2, 2009) Approved
  • Staff Reports
  • Business:
  • Ordinance 1278: Regulation of Private Alarm Systems (Second Reading) Tabled until sample permit can be reviewed
  • Ordinance 1280: Designating Permitting of Off-Leash Areas (Second Reading) Tabled until more questions answered, area can be defined
  • Sewer Charges: (First Reading) First reading waived, passed tonight 4-1 with Stebner voting no. Passes through new sewer rates already imposed by Tacoma.
  • Resolution 438: Utility Extension Agreement Approved 3-1-1 (Stebner no, Albertson abstained)
  • Resolution 439: Consenting to the City of Tacoma's Formation of LID Tabled
  • Discussion of COM-P Zone Maximum Height Discussion only, council supported having Planning Commission study the issue
  • Tacoma Recycle Contract Renewal Tabled until next meeting
  • Junk Vehicles (Albertson) Albertson will draft ordinance for council to consider
  • Fines Imposed Pertaining to Point Ruston (Albertson) Hedrick will draft resolution
  • Council Member Huson's Proposal to let Point Ruston developer build houses on Rust Park (Albertson) Discussion only, no action set
  • Claims and Payroll Approved
  • General Public Comment (2 minute limit)
  • Mayor's Time Draft letter to Tacoma to council today for review, will be contacting Pierce County for same discussion
  • Council Time Stebner: See if Metro Parks wants to use playfield for baseball, have agenda items from other council members also show their name. Huson: Easter Egg Hunt, Sat. April 11th. Stebner: Wants letter to Tacoma to be sent asap (before mayor goes on vacation). Hunt: candy, breakfast costs for Easter Egg Hunt could use donations from public.
  • Adjourn About 8:50 pm

Agenda: March 16, 2009

UPDATE: Monday, March 16, 1:55 pm: The last business item tonight was placed on the agenda by Council Member Albertson. It does not mean there has been any formal proposal. Any council member can place anything they want on the agenda.

The formation of the LID with City of Tacoma for the Point Ruston project has been added to the agenda too.

Copies of the ordinances and background information are available on Ruston Reports.

Tonight promises to be a long and busy night for the council and mayor. Things begin at 5:30 pm at Rust Park to examine where the fence for the dog park should be placed. Then at 6:00 the council moves to Town Hall (5117 N. Winnifred) for a study session to discuss potential taxes on various utilities. At 7 pm the regular meeting begins. Here is the agenda:
  • Roll Call
  • Flag Salute
  • Agenda Approval
  • Approval of Minutes (study session and regular meeting on March 2, 2009)
  • Staff Reports
  • Business:
  • Ordinance 1278: Regulation of Private Alarm Systems (Second Reading)
  • Ordinance 1280: Designating Permitting of Off-Leash Areas (Second Reading)
  • Sewer Charges: (First Reading)
  • Resolution 438: Utility Extension Agreement
  • Resolution 439: Consenting to the City of Tacoma's Formation of LID
  • Discussion of COM-P Zone Maximum Height
  • Tacoma Recycle Contract Renewal
  • Junk Vehicles (Albertson)
  • Fines Imposed Pertaining to Point Ruston (Albertson)
  • Council Member Huson's Proposal to let Point Ruston developer build houses on Rust Park (Albertson)
  • Claims and Payroll
  • General Public Comment (2 minute limit)
  • Mayor's Time
  • Council Time
  • Adjourn

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Weather

What a surprise to wake up to more of the white stuff today. The birds were still singing like any other mid-March morning, but the sounds didn't fit the picture. I hope everyone survived the rain, hail and wind that followed today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Update on The Commencement

UPDATE: Monday: March, 16, 2009: The Mayor has confirmed he is not aware of any new lawsuits pending on this issue. He noted further, "The kitchen is not a functional kitchen and would require modifications to the structure. While I agree it would be very nice to have I am afraid it will pose a lengthy delay. That being said, we have instructed The Commencement Group to remove their tenant improvements. That will leave us with the old walls."


UPDATE: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mayor Hopkins has provided this update on sharing space with The Commencement in the school building:

With regard to the community center - we do consider it shared space effective 3/12/09. The Commencement Group has been notified that we consider the space shared and that the town would like to have the space completely open so it can accommodate meetings and other social gatherings.


I asked Paul Wagemann of The Commencement to give an update on his project. His response to my questions are below. I've invited Mayor Hopkins to provide his input on the joint use of the sale center at the school building, but I have not received a response at this time. ~ Karen

  • When do you anticipate occupancy?

Our plan is to have units ready by June.

  • How many units have sold?

We have approximate one third of our units with pre-sale contracts.

  • How is pace of sales? Have current market conditions impacted the project?

We have 75 buyers who have come back repeatedly and have interest in the project. The tours I have given since we have painted interior walls have received rave reviews. As you know we have fantastic condominiums with priceless views.

  • What is the latest on the sales center -joint occupancy issue from your perspective?

I proposed a plan in October 2008, (see attachment) to the Town. I further suggested modifying the south half of the room from March through June while we complete our model unit and still accommodate a Town Hall meeting area. In the interim I proposed that we have input from lessor and lessee and develop a plan that makes sense to all parties. Unfortunately, to date the verbal communication is to demo the room to bare walls. Our lease is clear that approved additions/modification do not have to be removed until the end of lease. Our position is that a large meeting area makes sense but what it looks like is not clear yet. Moving the model kitchen to the back corner may add value and functionality to the room and The Town. We have not yet resolved this issue and continue to work with The Town.

  • Has there been any resolution to the parking on the OFC issue?

No. We are still working that issue with The Town.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Council Meeting: March 2, 2009

Here is what I found interesting at the last council meeting. As always, I encourage everyone to attend the meetings for yourselves and get the full flavor... Karen

The meeting began with the usual flag salute and agenda approval with executive session for contract negotiations added. Ordinance 1281 was changed to the first item of business (variance request for The Ruston Building, LLC) and junk vehicle discussion was removed with agreement from Council Member Albertson.

Hedrick moved approval of the meeting minutes. With slight corrections, they were approved 5-0

Staff reports:
Fire: January report: 1 fire related call, 4 medical aid. Chief Torbet asked if he could give some input on the proposed fire inspection ordinance. He noted that the town had missed adopting the latest international fire codes. He felt that needed to be done as soon as possible to assist with the inspections. There is 1 new EMT in training and 2 residents staffing during the day in bunkhouse next to Town Hall. Repairs had been completed on the bathroom (via volunteer efforts). The 2008 average response time dropped almost a minute from the previous year. Council Member Stebner asked about the rumor of a street light fire. The chief clarified the call was regarding a street light in the alley of Rust Way during a heavy rain event. Water cascading down the light made it look like a fire from 49th Street, but it was only an illusion.

Police: Chief Kunkel reported that the application period for the police chief had closed on January 31st. The department lost another officer to Des Moines. The mayor asked the chief outline the some of the benefits that enticed the officer away: $ 7,000 signing bonus, $10 more an hour, better family benefits, an assigned car, 401K in addition to retirement. The department is in the process of hiring a new officer with prior police experience who is currently a dispatcher. At the February 12th civil service commission meeting, the commission updated the lateral and entry-level list. In other business, they had an attempted strong-arm robbery they were following up, a domestic violence call, a report of gang graffiti. The department was awarded a $1,900 non-matching grant from Sheriff/Chief Association for new radar and breath tester. The chief also outlined various training completed by several officers.

Ordinance 1281: Ordinance Pertaining to Variance From Height and Rear Yard Setbacks (First Reading)
The town planner gave overview of the request by Ruston Building LLC for height increase and rear yard set back reduction. The planning commission recommended approval of the request to increase the building height from the allowed 35’ to 39’, 8’’ and allow the rear yard to match existing set back. They set two conditions: 1) the construction permit must be applied for within 24 months and 2) the drawings submitted be substantially the same as what will be built.

The applicant was invited to give an overview of project. They noted the rear yard setback requested matches other buildings in this area on a small parcel. The height variance was architectural issue. The comprehensive plan calls for 3 stories with residential over retail, as is proposed for this building. Normal ceiling heights and canopy requirements for 3 stories on a mixed use building look much better at the requested height. The outdoor canopy can then be placed at least 10’ on street level to avoid being damaged easily. Mixed-use buildings have more fire protection requirements, which requires more space between floors. The roof needs a parapet to screen vents and such. Other jurisdictions don’t include parapet in building height measurements but Ruston does, which further restricts what can be done within the allowable height. They are building a Class A building.

Council Member Huson explained that when he was on the planning commission, they recommended 45’ height in that part of Ruston (to mirror Tacoma’s heights in that area), precisely so there would be room to build a quality building. The town council changed to 35’. He suggested having the issue remanded back to planning commission to be looked at again. Stebner asked about parking and was told there was no need for a variance for parking. The building will have 3 floors as allowed, so parking requirements are adequate. Stebner said the council had been concerned about shadows on the neighborhood when they reduced height allowances to 35’. The applicant noted the issue was looked at for this project. The alley is the only area impacted with this request for a 5’ increase, and it does not block views.

Hedrick confirmed the parking adequate. Albertson was not concerned about heights with this variance; it would not block anyone’s view in Ruston. He thought it was a great project, a dramatic improvement. Council Member Hunt was happy with planning commission/staff review and recommendations.

After some discussion, Huson moved to waive second reading, which passed 5-0. Huson then moved for adoption of the ordinance, which passed 5-0 to clapping from the audience.

Ordinance 1278: Regulation of Private Alarm Systems (Second Reading)
Stebner wanted to know if this included car alarms. It will only apply to home and business alarms. Car alarms can be brought up as separate issue. Hedrick confirmed who is required to obtain permit. Everyone who has an alarm will be included, both monitored and unmonitored since both will bring a police response. Albertson confirmed this was the first reading since there was not a quorum at the last meeting for the first reading. He outlined some changes and the ordinance will come back for a second reading. The fire chief expressed concern because some alarm systems had been set up to call Tacoma in emergencies. The town will work to be sure the correct information is provided as part of the permit process.

Ordinance 1279: Fire Inspections (Second Reading)
Stebner wanted to know why the town the town wouldn’t use the county the fire marshal rather than our department for the inspections. He wanted the issue studied first before voting. The mayor said that in addition to the cost of using Pierce County, immediate actions gives town residents better insurance ratings and gives our department familiarity with the buildings. Chief Torbet felt most departments do these inspections in-house. These pre-incident planning and inspections are going well and benefits everyone.

The ordinance also removes police chief as acting fire chief, bringing the code in line with what has been the practice for 20 years. The town attorney noted the rule was from 1930’s and no longer needed. Stebner expressed concern about daytime coverage. Chief Torbet assured him that coverage is planned for and provided, especially with the resident program. Albertson wanted to be sure businesses know they will be visited and suggested the notice be part of the business license process. Clerk agreed and will implement that change. Chief Torbet outlined what is done now: On the first visit, information is provided to the business on what is required and an appointment is set for a later date. Business are given time to get up to code. If problems found, time is given to make corrections. Goal is to keep people and structures safe. The ordinance passed 4-1 (not sure who voted against)

Attorney asked if he should make changes that were discussed and bring back new ordinance (such as that fire inspections are mandatory). Albertson noted a Supreme Court case that does not allow inspections without a warrant. Chief Torbet let the council know that all these issues of entry procedures and inspections are covered in the fire code that town needs to adopt.

Ordinance 1280: Designating Permitting of Off-Leash Areas (First Reading)
Stebner suggested having a large area, invest the money to do it right or not at all. An area has been suggested carved out northwest of diamond. The plan is to move the fence if feasible and remove the baseball backstop. Stebner did not think the town is taking care of field enough for use for baseball anyway. Hunt did not like giving up area still used by kids/families used for dogs. Stebner wanted to know how the cost of the current proposal compared to bid 2 years ago. Huson suggested meeting at park to define the area exactly, then get a bid on new fence. Hunt requested a review of the grant that created the park to be sure it did not preclude use of the park for a dog park. The council will meet at the park at 5:30 pm on Mar. 13th before the study session.

Discussion of Annexation Options (Stebner)
Stebner thought the town should open up talks with Tacoma to explore what annexation might mean for Ruston. He felt if things “don’t change extremely drastically, we’re going to be there either way”. He thinks there is an advantage to talk now to see if it is better to go sooner than later since the town might be a better negotiating position now. He would want the issue given to citizens for a vote before making a decision, after the council explores their options. He asked if the council was interested. There was a long pause with no response.

Albertson then said he felt it was negligent not to talk to Tacoma. The council’s decision to commitment of funds for upgrading utilities along with the current deficit shows the town is depleting our resources. Huson said he ok with talking to Tacoma, he had tried to talk to them before about annexation and police/fire services. He did not feel the town could continue to afford these public safety services. He suggested the mayor write letter asking Tacoma to begin negotiation on these issues.

Albertson wanted the mayor and one council member meet with Tacoma and report back to the full council. Hunt wanted compare all the taxes paid in Tacoma to Ruston and compare services for those dollars. Albertson made a motion to direct the mayor to send a letter to the Tacoma mayor requesting to meet to discuss annexation and police/fire services. If Tacoma willing was willing to talk, the mayor and one council member would meet with him and report back to the rest of council. Stebner seconded the motion.

Huson asked to have a draft of the letter approved by council at next meeting, noting he would not approve the motion unless the council approved letter first. Albertson felt the executive (mayor) should carry out the council’s directive without review. The mayor said his competitive spirit was not ready to give up. If the council wants to talk to Tacoma, then talk to Pierce County, look at every avenue possible. He felt what Ruston pays is dramatically less than our neighbors pay. He noted that other small towns have retained their autonomy and felt we should to explore all options. Stebner agreed that the council should study the financial impacts of annexation on town residents. Ruston does not have the same bonds or levies, will we have to pay if we annex?

The mayor said it was hard to have this discussion looking over his shoulder at portrait of WR Rust (Ruston’s namesake). Someone from the audience stated it was demoralizing. Hunt wanted to be the councilperson to meet with Tacoma since she is the numbers person. She said she had confirmed AWC is happy to have someone come in and help Ruston do a 3 or 5-year plan with financial planning.

On a side note, the mayor informed the council that they had just taken a second $100,000 draw on the surplus fund (as allowed in the current budget). Albertson felt that confirmed that the mayor should support talking to Tacoma. The mayor clarified he had stated that Ruston should talk to everyone. He felt we could figure a way out. Albertson said he only wanted to talk. It may help bridge the understanding and increase cooperation, “talking helps”. Hunt felt the council should appear professional and that no one should go around behind mayor’s back to give input or get feed back from Tacoma officials. Albertson then “called for the question” to close discussion and require a vote on the motion. An audience member asked if the public could speak before vote but was told no. The motion passed 3-2 with Hedrick and Huson voting no.

Hedrick then asked the town attorney if council had the authority to direct the mayor to write a letter. The attorney will get back to the council.

Claims and payroll
There was more discussion on paying the locate company. It was decided to pay only for calls within Ruston and withhold the rest of the payment. The motion to approve passed 4-0 with one abstention (not sure who abstained)

Public comment
Jim Wingard noted that Tacoma charges homeowners for sidewalk repairs, allows 45’ heights on Pearl Street and utilities cost more. He asked the council to bring Tacoma to public meeting, let public ask questions and have this discussion in open session.

Ken Brown thanked the council for approving the variance and wished them luck in the tough decisions the have to make.

Terry Knapp noted that as a citizen who comes to many Ruston council meetings there were 2 council members gung ho on this issue, two who were not. He felt any discussion with Tacoma should have one council member from both sides so all viewpoints are represented.

Lyle Hardin felt the council should know the procedure for annexation before talking to Tacoma. Tacoma does not want our infrastructure problems. He felt the council should have the attitude that we want to keep our town when/if they talk to Tacoma, and have an attitude of creativity for solving things like the sewer problem. He was glad the council had decided to spend the money to study and design the sewers so we can get grant to cover some of cost to build it. He felt that the attitude would carry the town forward.

Mark Schacht applauded council for looking at alternates with Tacoma. He felt the town was going downhill fast and Tacoma was the best way to provide services. He urged the council to be realistic. He felt it was time to cut employee hours because we are going broke really fast.

Connie Maglione was very disappointed with the council vote. She felt most of the council members had come on board with a direction, that direction is where the town was with the vote to pursue annexation talks. The council had squandered lots of money, paid a former police chief quarter million dollars and was still squandering money on lawsuits. She asked the council to think about the lawsuits the town is facing. She felt the town should have pretty good idea if they were going to win before they walk into a court room – think about it before spending money to prepare. “Are you in a hurry to bankrupt this town? I feel it’s a disgrace… everyone of you who voted for this tonight. I wouldn’t ever support you ever again on my council. I brought you in here to protect my town, to better my town, to support the people of this town…. Why would you do this to us?”

Brent Tia, Ruston resident and a commercial real estate broker thanked the council for the variance vote, stating it would help the town stay competitive and improve the ascetics of the area. He had heard people were putting their hope in retail sales tax at Point Ruston to keep town afloat, but that won’t come for 4 o5 years. So he felt it was smart to focus on other development to carry us until then. He confirmed the town’s surplus funds are around $3.6 million.

Mayor time
He will bring council up to speed as soon as possible on the current status of budget rather than wait for the first quarter report.

Council Time
Stebner acknowledged there was “lots of frustration with going to Tacoma”. He encouraged folks who are frustrated to come up with their own plan to save Ruston. “If it’s important to you, make it happen. Figure out where we can cut, where we can grow to produce more income for the town. If you can think of something, I’m all ears.” He then noted he knows of several houses going into foreclosure and asked how the town can ensure the lawns are cut and houses not trashed.

Huson said he is working with Sherri Forch on the Easter celebration. He does not want an elaborate breakfast this year, maybe coffee and donuts. He hoped the town would cooperate as in the past.

Hedrick had no comments.

Albertson responded to pubic comments by noting that the council is informed on how annexation could occur - most likely council could do it, but they have indicated they want to allow the citizens to vote first. He stated there is a solution other than talking to Tacoma, to balance the budget each year. But for 2009 that would mean each household had to pay $3,000 more in taxes. On the issue of the former police chief, a former mayor had terminated the chief. Albertson had recommended firing the attorney who advised the mayor on that issue and citizens should complain about settlement to those who made that decision.

Hunt had attended AWC conference recently in Olympia. She noted that other communities spent time with legislators lobbying for projects in their area before conference. She felt Ruston should be doing the same thing and watch the legislative session closely to support bills that would benefit the town. There was more discussion on the council decision to spend the money to get the sewer project “shovel ready” so it could qualify for federal stimulus money at some point.

The meeting adjourned at about 9:15 pm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In The News

There is a quick note in the Tacoma Daily Index about the potential vote today by Tacoma's city council on the joint LID with Ruston.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Point Ruston Update

I'm working my way through the recording of the meeting last Monday. Here are the details of the study session update on the Point Ruston project and the proposed LID improvements.

Mayor Hopkins introduced Point Ruston, but had Council Member Hedrick give background on HB 2285 to assure folks that the town has not entered into any agreements yet. Hedrick confirmed the hearing was that last Friday, where representatives from Tacoma and Ruston testified. The committee approved the bill and sent it the house rules committee. The cut off is Friday after next to move to the house floor. If approved there, the bill would go to Senate for same process. Albertson was upset he had not been informed of the bill and given the chance to testify. He asked that council members be informed of any future similar issues.

JJ McCamment then gave a presentation (outlined in slides here). Their research found it is difficult for Ruston to sell bonds – $10 to 12 million in bonds is a challenge for our size. There was concern about Ruston’s liability as well. Pt. Ruston hired several experts, who looked at 3 options; 1) traditional LID, 2) private financing, or 3) private/public partnership (final choice). Remediation of the roadbeds will be done before bonds are sold, eliminating environmental liability. Only when improvements are done will the municipalities sell bonds and LID issued (private financing until then). While only a very remote potential, but if LID fails, only Tacoma would have to repay bonds.

Tacoma will consider the inter-local development agreement on Tuesday. HB 2285 would allow any two jurisdictions that want to work cooperatively to create a single LID rather than two in each municipality. The schedule was outlined, including the Baltimore Street improvements that will be built as the project progresses. The reconnection of Baltimore is currently slated for 2011.
Point Ruston has three requests of the council: 1) support of HB 2285, 2) council approval of a single LID and 3) the vacation of right’s of ways along with acquiring the new street with improvements. Council members asked several questions to ensure the LID financing, environmental and construction standards would be adequate and inspected during the work.

Lyle Hardin was concerned about having Ruston Way closed in the summer and its impact on Ruston’s businesses, and the impact of water and local springs on the road quality on Baltimore Street. Terry Knapp clarified how Ruston Way would be phased. Jim Wingard was supportive even though there would be some short-term impacts. Beth Torbet wanted to know how to support HB 2285 and expressed support of the improvements even though there would likely be a huge impact on her business.

The study session adjoined just before the regular meeting was scheduled to begin.

I found these two slides especially interesting. In addition to the property tax, construction and sales taxes (even during construction) will be significant: $95 million in one-time gross tax receipts to Ruston, $44 million on-going; construction and sales tax of $5.6 million and annual revenues of $24,000 in utility taxes on new the infrastructure in the project. ~ Karen

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Foreclosure Workshop

JJ McCamment, who works with Point Ruston, sent along the following information after Council Member Stebner mentioned some people in town are facing foreclosure. She has confirmed that Ruston residents are welcome to attend this workshop that will provide information to help those who find themselves facing such a difficult challenge.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Materials Available

The full packet of Point Ruston's presentation slides on the LID from Monday's study session are availble on Ruston Reports. They outline all the justification and reasons to support these requests.

The information for the last council meeting is also available at Ruston Reports by clicking here....

Can Turkeys Be Managed?

Turkey management workshop available in Ruston
(sorry, I couldn't resist - the pun is NOT directed at anyone in particular)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Council Meeting: March 2, 2009

Here's a brief overview of the meetings last night. I'll have more this weekend after I listen to the tape:

Study session on LID update:

The discussion began with Council Member Hedrick discussing House Bill 2285. This bill is extremely important for this project and Ruston as a financing mechanism for two jurisdictions to work together on a common project. Council Member Albertson then complained that he felt left out of the process. J.J. McCamment gave the slide presentation (I'll get a copy posted soon). If the pieces don't fall into place (Ruston and Tacoma approving the LID and HB 2285 doesn't pass) it will be hard for the town to afford these improvements.

Public comment was allowed: Lyle Hardin was concerned for the businesses in Ruston and the impact new development might have. Jim Wingard supported the process. Beth Torbet appreciated that Point Ruston has been keeping the businesses informed of the schedule and asked how the community could support HB 2285.

Council meeting:

1. The council moved Ordinance 1281 - Variance for height & rear setbacks to the first order of business. After the presentation they waived the second reading & voted 5-0. They also want to have the planning commission look into revising or change the heights to reflect what was initially recommended by the planning commission a few years ago (a 45 foot height limit for 51st and Pearl).

2. Ordinance 1278 on Alarm Systems: This was the first reading so the ordinance will come back at the next meeting with some corrections.

3. Ordinance 1279 on Fire Inspections passed 4-1 with Stebner voting no.

4. Ordinance 1280 on Off-Leash areas: Council Member Huson proposed meeting at the park March 15th @ 5:30 to take measurements and see how the proposal fits into the space.

5. Ordinance 1282 on Sewer Charges and Resolution 436 on Utility Extension Agreement were both removed from the agenda.

6. Discussion of annexation was led by Stebner. Council Member Albertson moved to direct the Mayor to write a letter to Tacoma and Stebner seconded it. When someone in the audience asked if the public could speak to the issue, Albertson & Hunt called "point of order" and all input was denied. Albertson then asked the Mayor to call for the vote, which was 3-2 with Huson and Hedrick voting no. The Mayor asked the attorney if he had to comply with the motion. After looking at Albertson, the attorney told him he would be forced to follow the council's direction.

I'll have details on the rest of the meeting this weekend.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Point Ruston In The News

The headline story today in The News Tribune has an update on the Point Ruston development (read it here...). Progress continues, good news for Ruston's future...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Council Meeting Agenda: March 2, 2009

Tomorrow night promises to be long and busy for Ruston's mayor and council. First up is a study session at 6 pm to hear an LID update and council liaison reports, probably focused on the Point Ruston development.

At 7 pm is the regular council meeting. Since there was no quorum at the last meeting, this meeting will cover material from two meetings. We'll be dealing sewer rates, annexation and the proposed new building on 51st Street. Please attend and let your thoughts be known. Everyone has two minutes during public comment ~ and you can talk as much as you'd like to council members outside the meeting.
  • Roll Call
  • Flag Salute
  • Agenda Approval
  • Approval of Minutes: Study Session for February 2nd and 17th and Regular Meeting for the same nights
  • Staff Reports
  • Business:
  • 1) Ordinance 1278: Regulation of Private Alarm Systems (Second Reading)
  • 2) Ordinance 1279: Fire Inspections (Second Reading)
  • 3) Ordinance 1280: Designating Permitting of Off-Leash Areas (First Reading)
  • 4) Ordinance 1281: Ordinance Pertaining to Variance From Height and Rear Yard Setbacks (First Reading)
  • 5) Ordinance 1282: Sewer Charges
  • 6) Resolution 436: Utility Extension Agreement
  • 7) Discussion of Annexation Options (Stebner)
  • 8) Discussion of Junk Vehicles (Albertson)
  • Claims/Payroll
  • General Public Comment
  • Mayor's Time
  • Council Time
  • Adjourn

Stack Hill Open House Extended

Stack Hill is extending the open house for its new model home and sales center from noon until 3 pm today. Jim Wingard has a copy of the article/advertisement from today's Tribune on his blog here....