Key forums, hearings and decisions in the works for 2018 will have lasting effects on the City of Destiny for years to come. Here is a rundown of some of the most important issues Tacomans will be talking about in the New Year
The future of Tacoma’s publicly owned Click! Network will face decisions on several fronts in 2018.
Tacome City Council, for example, has already passed a resolution for the Tacoma Public Utility Board of Commissioners to require its wholesale partners to follow “Open Internet Policies.” The resolution came in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s shift away from “net neutrality” that will allow, at least in theory, Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge customers different rates based on customers Internet usage, speed requirements and streaming media subscriptions.
Click supporters have said for years, particularly since offers to lease out the system to a private company bubbled up in recent years, that the public Internet system is needed to boost the number of “connected” households to encourage civic engagement and promote education. About 40 percent of households in Tacoma do not have access to the Internet.
The current exploration of Click’s future involves the system expanding into the arena of “bundling” phone, cable and Internet services alongside private companies since the current system only partners with local ISPs that then provide those services. Details on those plans will come forward in 2018.
But the next glimpse into Click’s future will come before spring, when TPU selects a new director. Click will most certainly be mentioned in those discussions. People can voice their thoughts online at MyTPU.org/feedback through Jan. 15, for example.
Much like in 2016 and 2017, developments, plans, activities and the future of Tacoma’s working waterfront will consume watercooler discussions in the coming year.
The City of Tacoma, Port of Tacoma, Pierce County and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians are in the early stages of drafting a detailed roadmap of the Tideflats’ future called a subarea plan. Those discussions promise to be an interesting display of fireworks, egos and conflicting visions that will split between two basic camps. The city and the tribe will want tighter rules and outright provisions against heavy industrial operations involved with fossil fuels, while the Port of Tacoma and the county will fight for looser rules in an effort to create jobs for the region. The Tideflats is designated a “Major Industrial Center” after all not only because of its shipping terminal operations but because of its stock of land that is zoned for heavy industrial and commercial uses.
“The Tideflats subarea planning process and corresponding regulations adopted by the City of Tacoma will define what activities are allowable at the Port, regulate development on key industrial lands, and otherwise significantly influence the long-term vitality of this important regional asset,” according to a port memorandum on the issue.
The next step is for the four entities to develop a scope of work, timeline and select a contractor to facilitate the work.
Point Defiance Bypass
While the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the crash of an Amtrak train during its first run on new tracks last month will take years to sort out, details about who did what and when about the crash will pepper the local news cycle through 2018.
What is already known is that the Dec. 18 derailment killed three people and injured scores of others.
The train was travelling almost double the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour when it jumped its tracks at a curve to then cross Interstate 5.
Amtrak 501 was the first passenger train to use the $180 million Point Defiance Bypass tracks that were supposed to shave 10 minutes off the commute by separating container trains from passenger trains by shifting passenger trains to track further inland rather than share tracks along Puget Sound.
State transportation officials have announced that Amtrak passenger rail service will not return to the Point Defiance Bypass route until added safety features are installed, however the additions are neither required nor a statement about the track’s safety.
“The decision was made to be sensitive both to the people involved in the tragic derailment and ongoing passengers,” Washington State Department of Transportation officials stated. “WSDOT also wants time to reach out to communities along the bypass before service resumes.”
Passenger trains have returned to the waterfront route while the safety upgrades are installed.
Tacoma City Council is rethinking how it connects with residents after it passed a resolution last month to suspend the council’s practice of holding its Citizens Forum during the second council meeting of each month. The council is now working with the Center for Dialog and Resolution – at a cost of $25,000 – to develop a replacement way for people to voice their thoughts on city governance. The January forum has been cancelled but February’s will be up for the current council to decide.
The forums have become increasingly unruly with a rising tide of protesters using profanity and personal attacks against individual councilmembers during their allotted three minutes of addressing the whole council on any topic. People will still be able to offer their thoughts on specific city topics on the council’s agenda as well as during public hearings.
The basic plan is to keep the doors open for some sort of monthly Citizens Forum, just likely outside of regular council meetings. Those details will be part of the roster of proposals from the Center for Dialog and Resolution.
Many people spoke against the end of the monthly forums, saying they provided times for people to voice their concerns and frustrations with city officials as well as connect with other like-minded people. Some of them conceded that the forums can get unruly at times, but noted that the heated words are born from frustration that could get even hotter if the forums disappear entirely.
Discussions about how the forums will change will come in the months ahead with a new plan expected by the end of the year.
Tacoma residents, tired of hitting potholes and rumbling down gravel streets that were once paved, approved two street-improvement packages in 2015 that will lead to an estimated $500 million to road repairs and transportation upgrades in the coming decade.
The next update about the progress on street improvements will come this winter, when city officials present their year in review for 2017 — a requirement of the street initiatives.
At last count, some 844 blocks of residential streets have been improved. The city has 5,614 residential blocks, however, so work will most certainly continue. About half of the city’s streets are poor or failing, after all.
Details are available at TacomaStreetsInitiative.org.
The first emergency resolution to stem the tide of large homeless encampments appearing in vacant lots around the city passed the City Council last summer. It has since been renewed twice. The most-recent resolution came at the end of 2017 that continues the city’s contract with Catholic Community Services to operate the Stability Site on Puyallup Avenue through 2018.
The site features a large tent that serves as an umbrella structure over 80 smaller tents inside, with another 20 shelters outside as well as portable showers, handwashing stations, laundry facilities, and restrooms.
None of the work to solve the homeless crisis comes cheap. The city’s three-phase strategy hopes to not keep people from sleeping on the streets but to solve the underlining issues that landed them there in the first place, namely mental health and dependency issues that require treatments that are simply not presently available in the numbers needed to treat people in need.
At the end of 2016, business boosters said 2017 would be the “year of the crane” with a long roster of commercial and residential developments taking shape during the year to come as foreign investors and large development companies continued to turn their eyes toward Tacoma.
Investors from China and Vietnam alone flowed more than $300 million in projects to break ground in 2017. There were massive warehouses springing up on the Tideflats, condos and apartments downtown and office buildings opening on the Hilltop.
Heck, there were even construction crews finally working on the former Elks Lodge to convert the long-neglected gem into a McMenamins hotel and entertainment hub. Construction on a host of projects will continue through 2018, and even more projects will most certainly add to the sights of construction cranes.
While those projects will add to the economic and residential options around the city, growth won’t come without pains. Rents and housing prices are outpacing wage growth, which is pushing residents either into the suburbs or otherwise straining their finances.
Neighbors helping neighbors
Tacoma City Council established a fund that helped provide defense services for people facing possible deportation because of their immigration or residency status. The move came with the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric since the election of President Donald Trump and his call to force Mexico to fund a wall stretching the length of its border with the United States as a way to control the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country.
Tacoma had already been a “Welcoming City,” so the creation of a deportation defense fund for people faced with questions about their residential status was an extension of that effort. What was a decidedly interesting “Tacoma take” on the fund is that it sets up a $50,000 fund for legal services but also calls for donations to add to that amount. The idea is that if Tacoma residents want the city to spend tax dollars on legal defense expenses for people detained in the Northwest Detention Center because of questions about their residency status, they would be willing to donate to the cause. That largely hasn’t happened, however. So the questions to be answered in 2018 surround the use of that limited funding or find ways to raise the estimated $400,000 needed to fully fund the program. Answers will come as early as this month since the city is preparing to issue a request for proposals for providing legal services.
Individuals will be eligible for legal assistance – as long as funding lasts – if they are able to prove they resided in Tacoma prior to facing deportation, and they meet income standards to be considered indigent and unable to obtain private legal counsel.