Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meet Ruston's Newest Politician

I've asked the candidates for Ruston council and mayor to respond to a few questions. To date, I have heard back from two of the six candidates. I met with Lyle Hardin, the incumbent running to retain his seat on the council. I'll post the notes from our conversation soon. The only candidate to respond directly to the questions is Holland Cohen, who is running against Deb Kristovich for Council Position 2. Read on to learn a bit more about our newest local politician:
Holland Cohen
Why are you choosing to run?
I am running for Ruston Council because I love this community. In Ruston there is a true sense of place - a real sense of community. I know my neighbors; they come to our home for BBQ's and attend our Christmas parties.  In Ruston we take pride in what we do and how we do it. We gather for Easter egg hunts and car shows. And we visit our neighborhood parks or go on a walk along our beautiful new Ruston Way.  I believe we must take great care, and work hard, to preserve the sense of community we enjoy in Ruston. Ruston is the place that I want to call 'home' forever; but I also feel that if this is going to be my home forever I want to do everything I can to ensure that it is a place striving to be its best.

Ruston should be a place we only leave when we want to – not because we need to.  I envision a place that offers a variety of shopping and retail opportunities; restaurants lining Pearl Street, that stay busy morning, noon and night. I imagine what it would look like if our business district were fully occupied, and see sidewalks that are teeming with people - residents and visitors alike - who have come to our beautiful corner to enjoy fully walkable sidewalks, and our safe, passable streets.  I see a place that strives for beauty and art, investing in those little extras that changes ordinary to extraordinary.  I see a town that takes pride in its parks and invests in new play areas for our kids.  I believe that my vision is attainable. And in fact, we may be relatively close. But I also believe that we can do better in preserving and strengthening our community.  I am proud to call Ruston my home.  And I care about doing better. So it’s because I love Ruston that I choose to run.

What are the priorities for Ruston?
I have 3 main priorities if I am elected to serve this community:

First, I will work to implement strategies that grow our economic base. Without an increased tax base our municipal finances are unsustainable. Even with the strong fiscal management implemented under the current Mayor, Ruston continues to run a deficit. We spend more than we take in. This is not sustainable. We have a revenues problem, and a stable fix is to work on strategies that increase our sales tax base. I will work collaboratively and cooperatively with our business community. Streamlined permitting, and efficient processes are critical to all businesses. I will work to update aspects of our code that have become a burden to our local business’s success. We must proactively engage with our local commercial district to help produce a thriving economic base. Increased sales tax revenues will propel our community into the future. We should be a city that businesses want to be part of.  Unfortunately recent decisions have harmed our reputation as a community, and we have relationships to repair with our partners in business. I oppose the Council’s recent decision to impose a moratorium on commercial development and my number one priority is to fix the problems that our local businesses are faced with as a result of our city code.

We are so lucky to be geographically located where we are – the amenities that surround our community place us head-and-shoulders above other parts of Pierce County, and beyond. Point Defiance has 3.1 million visitors per year, and the State Highway serving our state ferry system provides thousands more potential visitors. I will make it my top priority to reach out to the local business community to ensure that our inherent strengths lead to a lasting and continued success. When Ruston’s businesses prosper our city will prosper. Through thoughtful planning, we can create a sustained prosperity for Ruston.   But this means that we must listen to what our residents and business owners are saying. We must ensure that our zoning code reflects the direction and vision that our citizens envision for our community.  We are not Tacoma. Nor are we Gig Harbor, Parkland or Seattle for that matter. We are Ruston. And we must make the best land use planning choices that ensure that our community is best served for future growth and sustained prosperity. I do not believe reactionary planning benefits our town in the long term. We must seek the trust of our business community partners, and make any new businesses know that if they take the risk of setting up shop in Ruston, we will do everything within our power to help them succeed. Arbitrary increases in taxes, moratoriums, and overbearing process will stymie our growth and our community’s future. And while we must ensure that our land use codes are up to date and compatible with our community’s vision, so too must we ensure that our reputation reflects our government as fair stewards of the public's trust.

Secondly, I will work to leverage our partnerships with our local government partners to ensure that our costs are managed as responsibly as possible. For instance, furthering our relationship with Tacoma has the potential to lower our City’s costs and our personal costs. Everybody has a household budget to balance – as does our local government. With Ruston’s utilities all serviced by Tacoma through the willingness of TPU-Power to sell us electricity, TPU-Water to serve our water system, and Tacoma’s general government accepting our sewage, storm water and garbage, we must find more ways to ensure that are costs are kept as low as possible I believe that Ruston pays more than it should for many of the services it receives and we must make sure that our tax payers are asked to pay the least, but receive the best level of service we deserve. If services can be provided through third parties or other municipalities that would meet or exceed the current level of service, then I believe there is no reason for Ruston to continue to provide such services. Examples of partnerships that should be explored include our parks service - we should explore the opportunities for cost savings and partnerships with Metro Parks; planning and engineering services must be examined to ensure that the costs to our business community and citizens are comparable to other municipalities, and if not whether partnerships can be achieved with established planning departments that bring these costs in line with market expectations.  And I believe we should explore third party garbage service. While our city recently invested heavily into its own automated garbage truck and new garbage cans, I believe that we can more efficiently meet our citizens’ garbage needs through third party contracts, removing the burden of maintaining the costly infrastructure from our municipal waste stream. Our local government partners have treated us well and treated us fairly. And we have smartly leveraged these partnerships in many instances, but I believe Ruston can do more to ensure that the expenditures associated with running our government do not continue to exceed the income produced by our community.

My third priority is to continue the betterment of our infrastructure as well as bringing a responsible ‘maturing’ of our land use code. The last four years have seen remarkable change in town – Point Ruston’s completely replaced Ruston Way and the city sponsored sewer replacement project are two projects that we can all be proud of.  These projects took care of some of the most seriously neglected systems in town. But remarkably, these projects were financed by others, with very little cost to the tax payers (though the costs to repay the sewer bonds will be included in the rate-payer structure).  But if Ruston’s antiquated infrastructure is going to keep pace with the pending growth that’s to come, then we must take pains to plan for tackling these every-growing liabilities. We must protect and preserve the stability of our existing neighborhoods by making improvements and maintaining our infrastructure.  At the same time, our zoning code and long range planning must foster a diversity of housing opportunities with a thoughtful eye toward future expansion that stays consistent with the values of the community. However, in pursuing any zoning code changes we must seek-out advice from our resident-citizens and resident-businesses, alike. I pledge to communicate openly and honestly when making decisions that will have an impact and alter the lives of our citizens and local businesses. No decision will please everyone. But I believe it is the duty of our public officials to communicate the rationale for their decisions. Right, wrong or indifferent the decisions that a council makes affects its citizens. Open communication and responsiveness is my promise, and is how I pledge to do this job.

What are Ruston's greatest strengths/weaknesses?
  • Location, location, location.   The greatest strength that Ruston has to offer is our location... We are blessed with some of the most phenomenal natural beauty and public amenities of any community around. We are surrounded by peaceful, natural beauty, which is enjoyed by our residents. The natural bowl around which this town was developed sets up some of the most dramatic and beautiful mountain & water views, rivaling anything else on the Puget Sound. As a city seeking financial independence this also gives us a great advantage in promoting tourists and visitors to town (i.e. outside dollars), as well as giving us an advantage in the recruitment of business.
  • Emergency Services – Ruston Fire and Ruston Police. We have a low crime rate due in large part to our professional police force, who we are so fortunate to have in town. We also have an amazing volunteer base of emergency responders in our fire department.  I personally have seen them in action saving my neighbor's life and can attest to their absolute professionalism.  Fast response times, localized service. We have the best of both worlds with our emergency service personnel and it is a strength of ours that I will work to preserve.
  • Pearl St. Business District. Our Pearl St. commercial district also gives our community a great advantage – if we can capitalize on the traffic that passes through the town along this corridor we will strengthen our town’s bottom line.
  • Proximity to the ‘Market’. We are also proximate to a robust job market with Tacoma’s commercial business district only minutes away and also being relatively proximate to the major metropolitan and business districts north (Kent, Seattle, etc.), which allows our residents to enjoy the benefits and beauty of our ‘small town life’, while directly accessing the broader economy and its jobs. 
  • Community. And last, but certainly not least, our greatest strength is the true nature of our ‘community’. Our neighbors are nice and engaging. We wave to each other as we walk or drive by. We support each other; and we hold each other accountable. We are small enough to make a meaningful difference in our government and our future, yet strong enough and well positioned to continue to do it on our own. We have stable local business anchors that have served our community for many years, and we are on a trajectory to grow into a stronger tax base as Point Ruston develops the Ruston-side of its project. 
  • Business Climate. Ruston has a reputation for not working well with the business and development community. The 10 empty storefronts along our Pearl Street business district are a reminder of our community’s struggle to balance the business community’s and residential interests in town. While empty stores are certainly a sign of the times due to the recession, Ruston residents should not need to leave town for their shopping and entertainment needs.  The potential of our business districts to offer retail shopping and dining is far superior to many other competing areas, yet Ruston is struggling to make common sense zoning decisions that give our commercial landlords and business owners the certainty that they need and deserve to make long-term commitments to our town. Reactionary decisions, be it zoning codes or other regulations that interfere and alter the way an organization conducts its affairs, are not fair and do not create a climate to attract growth.  We can, and we must, do better.
  • Failing Infrastructure. Our sidewalks and streets are not walkable. Even the newest sidewalks built when Ruston replaced the sewer system were not fitted with curb-cuts and ramps. This is not good planning and difficult on our disabled citizens and those of us with strollers (try getting a double stroller lifted up onto every curb at every street you cross).   Also, our recreational spaces are becoming run-down and if left to decay will become nuisances to our neighbors and liabilities to the town. We must prioritize our spending in a way that leverages capital improvements in a meaningful way that provides long term answers to our antiquated infrastructure and town assets. 
  • Community-Wide Involvement.  We must do better to include a much more diverse group in our decision making process. While I am amazed to be the only person to file for a council position other than the incumbents, our council must be inclusive and welcoming as possible. So often the red-tape of process gets in the way of progress. I believe this is off-putting to those who would otherwise be interested to serve on the town’s various committees and boards. Our code should be stripped of arduous, duplicative laws that result in process. Progress should trump process, and as a council person I would focus on ensuring that we proactively reach out to include community-wide voices in our government choices, instead of sitting back and waiting for the community to come to the council. We are only as strong as the electorate.
  • Utility Costs and Govn’t Expense.  We must do more as a government to control the costs for both our residents as well as our municipal costs. Our utilities and garbage can be provided more cheaply. We don't have access to the same recycling programs Tacoma does, and yet we pay more for our garbage collection. Paying more for less is a disservice to our community. We can do better.  

How do you view the balance between residential and commercial interests?
It's important to recognize that both sides sustain each other.  Without commercial growth, our town would not have the financial resources to exist at all.  Growing our commercial sector while sustaining our existing businesses is good for our residents, and good for our government. More commercial options for our residents benefits our neighborhood by not only providing great, localized services, but also sustains our tax base.  However, we must take great care in preserving the charm of our community through thoughtful planning and regulation. 

What are the revenue/expenditure priorities?
Ruston must increase its  revenues if it is going to survive over the long term. We cannot sustain deficit spending forever. The best way to do this is to ensure that we attract new businesses that generate sales tax. There is very little residential property tax value that can be added to our tax roles. There are, however, significant revenues to be had if our commercial business district is built out and fully developed. Ruston must make a concerted effort to ensure that our local business climate is hospitable to new entrants into town, and the best way to do this is to make our land use and zoning codes easy to understand and implement. Our reputation can be made through a simple code that creates a climate that is easy to do business in.  But Ruston’s reputation in the business and development community must first be corrected if we are going to increase our revenues in the pursuit of a sustainable tax base.

My top budget priority is public safety.  Maintaining our police force and emergency response capacity is crucial.  We must invest in a 24/7 police force. It is inexcusable that we are denied full time police protection. Secondly, we must maintain our infrastructure systems and invest in improvements that beautify and benefit our city.   Our streets should be maintained better and those with past due maintenance issues should be made a priority, while focusing on a strategic plan that ensures that we have safe and accessible streets and alleys. Our city must be kept clean as well – regular pick up of litter should be a priority and adequate funding should be provided for garbage cans at strategic corners in the most heavily used parts of town. We also should make better use of our city’s assets – one example is the historic school house. There is unused space in our historic school house, yet City Hall is located in a separate house away from the Council Chambers and the police department, which are located in the school.  This is redundant and costly. For a small upfront investment Ruston could and should co-locate City Hall and Council Chambers together in the school house with the Police Department.  We also must study the other redundancies that can be removed from our small system, and understand whether outside partners would serve us in a more efficient way.

Why should Ruston vote for you?
Ruston should be a place that people want to visit - offering shopping, restaurants, and vibrancy. Ruston should also be a place where people want to live.  We are located in one of the most unique, beautiful settings, right next to the water and all of nature's beauty.  Ruston must treasure what it has, but also strive to gain what it is missing. I believe our town is a place that we can all be proud of.  I believe I have a few good ideas. But I also know that there isn’t a single person in town that knows it all, and I welcome your input and ideas. I will be your voice to help make those ideas become reality. I pledge to be accessible. And I pledge to be responsive. I look forward to talking to the community and learning more about your specific issues, and I can’t wait to meet you at your front doors as I begin this adventure to represent this community that I love so much.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mayor Facing Serious Challenge

Ruston mayor Bruce Hopkins is facing serious illness. Out of respect for his privacy, I will only repeat what was mentioned publicly at the council meeting this week. Hopkins has been in the hospital and is now reported home resting. Everyone is grateful he is doing better and that he has agreed to continue to serve another term as mayor (he is running unopposed this fall). Mayor Protem Jim Hedrick said he was went from worried to shocked as the news of Hopkins illness unfolded. He asked everyone to pray for a full and speedy recovery for Mayor Hopkins. We join him in that prayer. Rest well, Bruce. Your community loves and thanks you (and your wife) for your service - we want you back soon healthy and whole. Until then, rest well.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Other's Think: Moratorium

It's always interesting to see what others outside our little world think about us - such as with the council's recent emergency declaration halting all development in commercial zones. Exit 133 has researched the issue and posted a story here.

The "visioning" meeting that started this process only had five members of the public attend; who apparently wanted a strong residential neighborhood with limited commercial options. The current planning process will tighten existing codes to match this new "vision". The public hearing on the proposed changes to commercial zoning standards will be held tomorrow night, 7pm at the Joyce Community Center (5219 N. Shirley Street).

The proposed changes are available on Ruston's web page here. It's a long read, but very important. Be sure to attend the hearing tomorrow to let your voice be heard. It is unclear if testimony will be limited to two minutes like council meetings, but I believe this will be the only time residents will be allowed to testify.

Quiet Election Season

Very little change is likely for the next four years in Ruston, at least on the political front. All four council members and the mayor up for election have filed to retain their seats. Only one race even drew a second candidate. Residents will actually have a choice to make for Position 2, now held by Deb Kristovich. Holland Cohen has decided to venture into the local politics.

Here is a breakdown of the ballot this fall:
Mayor - Bruce Hopkins
Council Position 1: Lyle Hardin
Council Position 2: Holland Cohen vs. Deb Kristovich
Council Position 4: Jane Hunt
Council Position 5: Bruce Judd

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Development Moratorium

Ruston's recent moratorium on commercial development has made the front page of the local paper. You can read The News Tribune article via this link... Town planner Rob White is quoted as saying the planning commission's recent visioning meeting (with 5 people in attendance) produced some different 'visions' of Ruston's future than are reflected in the current codes - which necessitated the complete shutdown of all development...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Point Ruston Trash

The Nose (columnist at The News Tribune) has a few comments on the trash cans at Point Ruston (link here). I've always been a little miffed there are no cans promoting Ruston out there. Now that the sleuths among us have discovered even the Tacoma cans show the Seattle skyline, maybe I can relax. At least Ruston is spared the controversy.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

No Contested Races So Far In Ruston

As of 9pm Wednesday, 3 Ruston incumbents have filed to retain their seats with one newcomer entering the local political scene. Here is the current breakdown:
  • Mayor - Bruce Hopkins (incumbent)
  • Council Position 1 - Lyle Hardin (incumbent)
  • Council Position 2 - Holland Cohen (currently held by Deb Kristovich)
  • Council Position 4 - None filed yet (currently held by Jane Krock Hunt)
  • Council Position 5 - Bruce Judd (incumbent - appointed and must run for election for the remaining unexpired term)
Here is the link to the current listings.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Timeline To Allow Commercial Development

Ruston planner Rob White provided the following outline of what the process will be for updating the city codes so that the current moratorium on commercial development can be lifted:

Amendment to the City's zoning code is a legislative process which involves the following steps:

1) A SEPA determination must be made and notice provided to the Dept of Ecology and other interested agencies.
2) Notice of the proposal must be given to the Dept of Commerce.  They require 60 days, but usually grant requests for expedited review, which is 2-3 weeks.
3) The Planning Commission will hold a work study session and public hearing on May 22 and hopefully forward a recommendation on to the City Council without the need for additional meetings.
4) I expect to have the amendments to Council for first reading on June 4 and then for second reading and passage at their June 18th meeting.
5) After adoption, the final ordinance is sent to the Dept of Commerce for filing, then sent to the codifier so the online code can be updated.
6) Upon adoption, I expect that the Council will remove the moratorium, which is required to be done by ordinance.

Hopefully the above gives you a better understanding of the process.
As you can imagine, this project has been top priority and will continue to be until it's completed.  The draft ordinances with details on the amendments will be available before the end of the week.  I set up a web page for the project, so check back on Friday for more info.  The link is here:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New Life

The next generation of local geese enjoying a sunny day on the new Point Ruston Waterwalk last week...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Four of Five Council + Mayor Seat Up For Grabs

During sleepy political times like this, getting Ruston citizens interested enough to run for office is a challenge. It will be interesting to see if that trend holds true next week when election filing opens. We could face another quiet season where the biggest challenge is finding even one candidate to run for each office, much less two candidates so voters have some choice.

Out of the five council seats, four will face election this fall. The position of mayor is also open. Ruston could see a major change in direction or more of the same. We will know more by next Friday. Offices facing election are:
  • Mayor (currently held by Bruce Hopkins)
  • Council Position 1 (currently held by Lyle Hardin)
  • Council Position 2 (currently held by Deb Kristovich)
  • Council Position 4 (currently held by Jane Krock Hunt)
  • Council Position 5 (currently held by Bruce Judd - appointed and must run for election for the remaining unexpired term)
Although no one wishes to return to the cantankerous political fighting we have experienced in the past, it would be wonderful for Ruston voters to have more than one choice on the ballot. Even if you've never considered serving your community in this way before, please think about running for office. We need fresh perspective and new voices. The list of open offices can be found via this link. Details about how to file for election are on the auditor's web page here...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Neighbors Moving In

The News Tribune featured an in-depth article this week (link here) detailing the major step forward at Point Ruston first reported here on Ruston Home last Friday. The first new residents of the Copperline Apartments are expected to start unpacking in their new homes by this weekend. If you haven't wandered down to explore the new building yet, get down soon to welcome our newest neighbors. It's a milestone for everyone involved.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

No New Business Allowed In Ruston: Opinion

The Ruston council decided last night that the moratorium on any new business will stay in effect. Staff outlined the emergency exists because there are inconsistencies between zoning code changes that are not yet reflected in the comprehensive plan (which can only be updated once a year). After overwhelming testimony from business owners outlining the very real harm they are experiencing from this moratorium, elected officials directed staff to hurry the process as much as possible rather than lift the moratorium. Officials are concerned the floodgates will open and undesirable business will try to locate in Ruston before the codes can be clarified. One council member said she wants to protect the investments of those who testified tonight by not allowing a bad business to open next to them and decrease the value of their property.

In short, Ruston leaders have determined the small risk of having a unpopular (but legal) business try to fill one of our many vacant retail spaces over the next six to eight weeks outweighs the real harm to current landlords trying to not only improve their property but enhance the quality of life in Ruston. The town attorney confirmed the council can declare an emergency at any time for any reason to impose moratoriums and such legislative action is pretty much bulletproof. Despite the pleas from everyone who testified tonight, the council would not consider releasing the hold on development while they update their codes and plan.

This emergency was declared at the March 19th regular meeting. There was nothing announced to indicate the issue was under consideration. Minutes from that meeting are not yet available. The town has sent out two newsletters since this major action was taken, yet the only indication was Ordinance 1400 filed with the other ordinances on the town web site. The issue came to light this weekend when a potential tenant for the corner building on Pearl contacted the president of the business district to confirm what he had been told by the Ruston planner - no new business is allowed in Ruston for the next six months.

I do not agree that the risk of having a "bad" business open in Ruston while the process of updating our books comes anywhere close to justifying the harm their moratorium creates on our businesses. The business district has been working very hard to recruit and promote this area to potential businesses. All those efforts, not to mention those of the property owners, has been flushed. Even under the expedited process discussed tonight, we lose the best marketing time of the year to recruit new life into our all-to-empty spaces. And such drastic action for what is a normal updating procedure sends the wrong message to potential developers - that we don't care about businesses; that we want to pick and choose what types of business we like and exclude those we deem not up to standard.

There is a balance in life that even applies to legislative action. The risk should outweigh the harm. All voices are important and should be sought out, listened to and considered. That is not what happened with this issue and I am disappointed in our leadership. That's my opinion - what's yours?


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ruston Suspends All New Commercial Development

The Ruston Council passed an emergency ordinance at its March 19th meeting that immediately suspended any and all new development in the commercial zones within town. It appears this may also mean no business licenses will be allowed for any new businesses.

The council is holding a special hearing at their meeting tonight to extend what they define as an emergency moritorium on all new development for six more months. All vacant storefronts may have to remain vacant while the planning comission continues to study the issue of how to keep the residentail nature of Ruston entact while still allowing property owners to develop their property. The meeting starts at 7pm at the Mary Joyce Community Center, 5219 N. Shirley Street.

Link to tonight's agenda
Link to Ordinance 1406 - Extending the Emergency Moratorium on New Development

Monday, May 6, 2013

Great Day For A Run

Yesterday proved to be a spectacular day for a run in Ruston. The Tacoma City Marathon snaked its way across the Narrows Bridge, through Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance and up and down two Ruston streets before exiting down Ruston Way for the final stretch downtown. The route came past my front yard during watering time this morning. After a few requests for a hit from the hose, we set up a shower for runners to run through if they wanted. Most seemed to enjoy the brief cooling as they headed on their way. Yep, a great day for a run in Ruston...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Next Big Step For Point Ruston

This bright and sunny spring day heralded more than just the long-awaited warmth, it brought another step forward for the Point Ruston development. The Ruston Way entrance to the Copperline Apartments is now open to the public, with a walking connection the Waterwalk on the north side of the building. Folks can now loop past the building on their journey down the new walkway.

Loren Cohen, legal manager for Point Ruston, confirmed that the leasing office for the Copperline is open for visitors this weekend, and 30 of the apartments are already reserved. Final inspections are expected in the coming days and Cohen hopes that temporary occupancy permits can be issued soon so businesses and residents can move in.


Shameles Self Promotion

I'll be signing copies of my Ruston history book this Saturday, May 4th at the Tacoma Costco from 11am til 2pm. It's a great chance to pick up the book at big discount. Stop by to say hi!