Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Waterfront Access, Taxation and Economic Stimulus

There has been much discussion recently about the Waterfront Access project (and proposed development), taxation (I think there should be discussion) and betterment of the City. The following are excerpts of my remarks on these matters that I have recently posted on

Issue #1) Berm Access Improvements

The action approved by a majority of city council was to provide a PORTION of the funding for the road/access improvements through the railroad berm. There is no city funding going to directly support any development activity by Gramor.
The road/access improvements are necessary, regardless of any/what/when development occurs at the waterfront. At some point in our lifetime, the waterfront will be developed. In order for the waterfront to be developed, there needs to be adequate and safe north/south access through the berm.
The key reason the City must move forward with these access improvements now is that the Port of Vancouver and BNSF are pressing forward with rail upgrades. I am to understand that BNSF has indicated there will be no further work allowed in their right-of-way (disrupting rail commerce), anytime in the foreseeable future. In other words, now or never.
I submit that public access to our waterfront is important enough to take advantage of this window of opportunity that is available...for the long-term future of the waterfront, regardless of who ultimately develops it, and what is developed. Frankly, it's too bad our federal railroad isn't more cooperative about allowing work to occur through the berm. I suppose it's understandable that they don't want to disrupt rail traffic...and our economy will appreciate that...but having to complete the access improvements now had obviously put the City is a bit of predicament about finding money sooner than later.

Issue #2) Funding of the Access Improvements

I had expressed reservations several times in discussions at Council about City Manager's proposed funding.The short story is that construction of improved roadway access through the railroad berm to support the density of development on the waterfront that is visioned on that 26+ acres is the tune of an estimated $33 million. The City Manager was able to find $8 million readily available from road/utility money buckets. Graymor (the developer) agreed to kick-in the same amount of money that the City could come up with...$8 million. With additional State, Federal and BNSF monies, there was still a 'gap' of $7.5 million.
Fact is, I'm still bothered by the fact that City Staff felt compelled to find the additional 'gap' funding. Why not let the developers take care of that? After all, it's a measly $7.5 million, in comparison to the hundreds of millions the same developer will be investing in the project. After some back-and-forth with Staff, I was reminded that we are talking specifically about a) public access through the railroad berm, and b) the developer is spending an additional $60 million to build-out the public infrastructure on the property itself. Lastly, the 'gap' funding as finally proposed by the City Manager is manageable. The $7.5 million will be bonded for (because the money is needed now for the construction of the access), and the debt service on the bonds will be paid by REET and money from the Pavement Management Program.
I will be working to restore the REET money to the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Alliance and Parks, as well as restoring full funding (in the least) for pavement management.

Issue #3) Funding of Other City Services and Taxes

Interesting to me that there has been little discussion about Council raising utility taxes, as well as garbage taxes. Is it that citizens in Vancouver don't mind paying more taxes? Is it that citizens in Vancouver believe the City is run efficiently and more taxes are necessary? Is it that citizens want more services from the City? Was it the masterful job of the City Manager to put public safety (police and fire) in the line-of-fire of budget cuts, unless taxes were raised?

Maybe I shouldn't be so concerned about raising taxes anymore...

A majority of city council approved of increases in utility and garbage taxes to generate approximately $4.2 million in new revenues. With a gun to our temple, the City Manager laid it out that if no new taxes were approved, this $4.2 million would come out of the hides of our police and fire departments --- the other city departments simply couldn't sustain such a cut. The city's public safety departments were USED to twist the arm of Council. Some said 'Uncle' and some didn't.

My position: In 2007, the City spent $121.4 million in general funds. This $4.2 million in new taxes represents about 3.5% of the annual operating budget. Really?!? Each and every city department couldn't find 3.5% in cost savings and efficiencies to stave-off tax increases? Remember, 3.5% is 3.5 cents on every dollar.

My position: Our current economic turmoil aside, the City needs to get serious about prioritization of services, sustainable funding for services, and really creating an 'open for business' environment. There is a lot of lip-service paid to 'open for business' by those who have never had to run a business, or even work on the private-side. Without such a perspective, or with a guaranteed check every month, it's easier to raise taxes and fees of all sorts. I've recently been made aware that another business is leaving Vancouver for the more friendly confines of another city in Clark County.

I'd like to see the City (and City Council) discuss a restructuring of government and a reconsideration of tax/fee issues like the business license fee and head tax, impact fees, utility taxes.

I will advocate for the following actions (and possibly others) to stimulate economic growth and jobs in our community:#1) Remove the business head tax, #2) Eliminate traffic impact fees and concurrency analysis, #3) Reduce utility taxes, specifically for business, #4) Revisit the Cable Franchise Fee, #5) Reduce utility taxes on Senior Citizens and others that qualify as 'low income'; #6) Reduce/eliminate park impact fees; #7) Create a Utility Tax District that allows for each and every property to pay a minimal and proportional tax for road maintenance. Tax to be based on the number of trips generated by the property (for example, a homeowner might pay $5/month, whereas McDonalds might pay $500/month); #8) Create a Metropolitan Parks District (or similar), where the voters decide if and how much to support parks/recreation/trails. By taking Parks out of the city's general fund, that general fund money would then be used to beef-up staffing in Police and Fire; #9) Ask the voters to consider supporting bonds to pay for updating/new fire facilities. Most of the fire houses need upgrading in order not to crumble in an earthquake. How much sense does that make to have inadequate fire stations???; 10) Work with the County Commissioners to further combine and reduce overlap of services, resulting in further operational efficiencies; 11) Formulate a business advisory council to provide recommendations and feedback to the Mayor of Vancouver.

Issue #4) Difference between Me and the Mayor (coming)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Stormwater Regulations

The following is a Local View that I have prepared for submittal to The Columbian regarding potential new stormwater regulations. After contacting The Columbian today, I understand that a submittal has already been made and will be published this coming Sunday...

Local View: Vancouver City Council Must Carefully Consider New Stormwater Regulations

Tim Leavitt, Professional Civil Engineer
Vancouver City Council member

The Washington State Department of Ecology (WADOE) has mandated that #1) cities like Vancouver implement new development regulations for managing stormwater runoff for private property, and #2) the city adopt new practices for handling stormwater runoff from.

These new rules from the State may be considered as an ‘unfunded mandate’. When a Federal or State requirement is placed on a local agency (city or county) and that requirement has an associated cost to implement, but the Feds or State don’t provide any supporting money, the new rule is termed an “unfunded mandate”. Then, under threat of violation and sanctions our community is saddled with figuring out how to pay for implementing the new requirement. Seem unfair to us local folks? It is.

City Practices for Stormwater Management

Contrary to the suggestion in the recent Local View (Sunday Columbian; Bertish and Goldberg), new practices by the City to manage runoff from public property is not the primary issue of concern in the community, so let’s discharge of that in short order. Most will agree with the need for the City to improve its own practices for stormwater management. Unfortunately, many roads in the City were constructed long before there was consideration for the environment. In these cases, the rain from a storm washes over the street, carrying toxic pollutants like oils and heavy metals directly into the ground or into waters of Burnt Bridge Creek, the Columbia River, or other surface water bodies. To minimize further damage to our environment, this situation must be corrected. However, this correction will cost money…and a lot of it, contrary to the Sunday Local View. The City is mostly developed already; there is no room now for ‘planning for stormwater filtration, bioswales and low-impact development’ as was suggested.

However, it needs to be made clear that should WADOE continue to mandate the wholesale implementation of the new stormwater rules, the potential costs to the City are significant. In fact, the City of Vancouver joined some 30+ other agencies around the State to ‘discuss’ the legalities of these new rules. To date, WADOE has not budged from their position, suggesting that they’d rather have the matter taken-up in court to resolve. If no progress is made in negotiations, and the court finds in favor of WADOE, you can expect to pay more taxes to support the implementation of these rules.

Development Regulations

The proposed new development regulations are of more pressing concern to property owners, environmentalists and the development community. WADOE developed a set of new stormwater regulations, collectively called the Western Washington Manual, to be used by engineers for designing stormwater facilities. These regulations are based on environmental conditions in the Puget Sound area of our State. Ironically, much of the Puget Sound area is exempted from these new restrictive rules because the existing high density of development.

Simply stated, some of the new rules don’t apply reasonably to our community, and the result is significant negative impact to undeveloped land in many parts of the City.

The ramifications on local environment, land-use and sprawl, and economy may be staggering if the City adopts new rules wholesale from WADOE. Designing stormwater ponds to the new rules will result in much large storm ponds, dramatically higher costs and less return on investment for each individual property. As a consequence, many properties will be rendered useless for development. Commercial and industrial properties will remain barren; resulting is less construction, less availability of services and retail, and fewer jobs. Properties will drop in value. Impact fees and tax revenues to all local and state agencies will diminish.

The new rules do not enhance the quality of stormwater runoff from a private development. Those requirements of the Western Washington Manual are already required by the City. The larger ponds are due to new rules for storage and release of stormwater runoff from development. A larger pond stores more volume of water for a longer period of time. Consequently, there are negative environmental impacts and land-use pressures to consider. Expert biologists and scientists have identified that cool, clean water is an important component of supporting a healthy environment for fish and other aquatic organisms. Lengthy storage of stormwater runoff and eventual discharge to nearby streams will result in incremental temperature increases to waters entering into our creeks and streams, very much in contradiction to the understood conditions for healthy aquatic habitat. You don’t need to be a scientist to come to such a simple and accurate realization.

Furthermore, as land within the urban areas of the city is rendered useless by unnecessarily restrictive stormwater regulations, the pressure will mount to expand urban growth boundaries for larger parcels. Larger properties, located further from urban centers are typically lower valued (or otherwise stated, less expensive to purchase), and can accommodate the larger stormwater facilities needed to comply with the new regulations. The typical afflictions of sprawl will follow: need for more public infrastructure (including, of all things, more public stormwater facilities), more miles on the automobile, more greenhouse gas emissions, etc., etc.

There is an age-old contradiction between urban growth areas and environmental regulations. One issue pressures the other. As environmental regulations increase, resulting in less viable development opportunities near the urban centers, pressure mounts to expand urban growth boundaries to bring in more suitable and larger lands for needed development. The goal of minimizing environmental impact by development is thus defeated as urban sprawl and environmental degradation proceed further from the core of urban centers.

Actions and Decisions

The path toward a reasonable solution to this matter is for the City to adopt a modified version of the Western Washington Manual, such as was done recently by Clark County. After a long public process with opportunity of significant input from the community, the County adopted a modified version of the new regulations that are considered by those of us involved in these matters to be more reasonable and applicable to our area. Ecology isn’t happy about this and has threatened the County with sanctions. However, the County has taken the right steps, completing an exhaustive public process and adopting a regulation that is more practical and still effective for our area. The City should follow suit; any action otherwise would be reckless.

Lastly, either the Governor or the Legislature needs to step-in and address the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach WADOE is taking with cities around the entire State of Washington.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vancouver Working Group

As the Columbia River Crossing project continues to progress, the City of Vancouver and CTRAN have the 'say so' in the design of light rail transit north of the Columbia River. Specific issues such as the alignment, design of stops and transit centers, and design of park and ride facilities, are under consideration. To this end, both the City and CTRAN Staff collaborated to create a citizen/stakeholder advisory group, known as the Vancouver Working Group. The purpose of this group is to learn of and consider options for the issues noted above. This group of citizens/stakeholders will provide feedback to the Vancouver City Council and CTRAN Board of Directors. Those bodies will consider the feedback from the Vancouver Working Group, as decisions are made in the Project Sponsors Council (Leavitt for CTRAN, Pollard for City of Vancouver).

I've had some back-and-forth dialogue with one citizen (Bob) who is in disagreement with how the Vancouver Working Group (VWG) was formulated. Bob believes the members of the VWG should have been interviewed in a formal process like other City boards/commissions.

The following is a copy of our discourse:

Jesus Christ Tim! Does it not bother you at all that this just popped up on Columbia Crossing Project stationary??!! You should really try and take off the City Council hat and try to see this stuff from my point of view. Just how in the hell does this group advise City Council objectively about anything to do with the Columbia crossing Project?? Since when does the Columbia Crossing project run City Council!! Stuipd question, that last one... !!

Hey Bob --- Last night at CTRAN we received a presentation from Staff and the Consultant hired to shepherd the process with this Vancouver Working Group. The group has been put together to provide to: 1) Learn more about the light rail options (e.g., alignment and loading/offloading), and potential impacts/opportunities for downtown, and 2) Provide input and feedback about preferred options to the CRC, City of Vancouver and CTRAN. Then, the City and CTRAN will consider that feedback as each body deliberates about some of the details. It appears that the participants identified have varying degrees of support for light rail, although, they will not be asked whether or not they support light rail. That question has passed. Now, it's a matter of what works best for the community, neighborhoods and businesses affected by this project. tim

Tim; So am I to understand that you have no problem with the fact that Matt Ransom all but lied to City Council Monday, when he claimed that the Transportation Department had appointed this "group", when in fact this is really an offshoot of the Columbia Crossing Project Office?? Do you recall anything I have said to you over the past 2 years about Bold Leadership, Integrity, Clear Communications, et al?? Are you completely blind to the way this looks on this side of the City Council's podium?? You really need to go review the CVTV video of the Workshop from Monday, and listen to what was actually said before you comment too much further... Tim, do you recall the controversy over in Portland this year, about the re-naming of Interstate Avenue for Caesar Chavez? A lot of people were pissed off the most because the entire process that City Council had set up was ignored in order to favor some special interest group. That is exactly what I see going on here. The City of Vancouver, under Mayor Royce Pollard, has found a way to get light rail endorsed in this town, without ever taking the issue before the voters. And you are endorsing his efforts to date?? Your votes prove that you largely do, and your words today prove it again. City Council has chartered a wide variety of Boards and Commissions in order to advise Council on things like the amount of City Council's Paychecks. I submit that the City's involvement in the Columbia Crossing Project is at least as important as the paycheck we give you and the rest of Council, and deserves a properly appointed Citizen's review council; NOT what we have with the "Vancouver Working group". I say it again Tim, these policies will come back to haunt City Council some day, when we finally get the Federal Transit and Transportation people in here to judge for themselves what has been going on. And Jeanne Stewart is absolutely must come to the voters some day for this in order to get the money to operate and maintain it. Good luck selling that in light of how the process has worked to date. Bob

Hey Bob -- I think you might be reading more into this than there is….there's no conspiracy going on with this matter.Just engaging stakeholders to help identify the best approach to building high capacity transit within the parameters of the locally preferred alternative. As part of the public outreach and engagement, the CRC suggested that the City and CTRAN Staff collaborate to identify the list of citizens of our community to participate in the Working Group. In fact, several of the members are known to been quite vocal about their opposition to light rail transit. The CRC is involved because they are funding the effort to engage in the citizens! As we heard last night at CTRAN, the group was formulated with specific intention to get differing opinions about how LRT could work in downtown and to Clark College. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm at a loss as to what you are reading into this effort as a negative to the project and the community.If you would like to participate in the Working Group, I will drop a note with Staff and it will happen… What a debacle the City of Portland created, with renaming of several streets in the City. My votes on recent issues are both supportive and in opposition to Royce (and other councilmembers).I think there are some of those that you agree with me and some that you don't. But to suggest that I have fully supported what Royce is simply incorrect. IN FACT, if you review the council decision on the locally preferred alternative, you will see that I motioned to remove all reference to accepting tolling as a funding mechanism. The entire council, with exception of the MAYOR, supported my position. He had the nerve to say to the entire community, "Tolls should be accepted". I disagreed and the council supported me. For the record, Jeanne Stewart is 'right' about the need to come to the voters for operating and maintenance monies for high capacity transit, but Bob, that has been a known, and accepted fact from the start by everybody involved. In fact, at CTRAN we (again, under my leadership as Chair of the Board), emphasized that CTRAN won't ask voters for capital $$$ to build LRT, and would ask voters for operations and maintenance. Jeanne isn't saying anything new nor anything that isn't already understood and expected by the rest of us! tim

Tim this is not about conspiracies, it is about open Public meetings, and the way the City of Vancouver goes about seeting them up. The City has an established process for forming these groups. The City has violated this process at least twice in the past month alone. That is the core issue at hand here, and putting me on a committee in violation of accepted procedures solves nothing else either! I will seek my remedies elsewhere. B

I think I see now where you're going…

However, there is a bit of misunderstanding here.
There is indeed an established process for appointing members to established boards and commissions that serve at the pleasure of the city council….like the Planning Commission, the Parking Advisory Board, etc.

But, there are many other advisory groups that are created to provide feedback to the council that aren't city-recognized and established (as in historical) advisory boards.
For example, I have personally participated in advisory boards/groups like: Development Review Fees Stakeholders Group (prior to being on Council), Haagen Park Master Plan Citizens Advisory, Pacific Park Master Citizens Advisory, Critical Areas Ordinance Advisory Group (as a Planning Commissioner), etc.
There is no specific protocol or requirements the City or City Staff must follow to create these citizen input groups. The 'Vancouver Working Group' is the same thing…
So, there is no violation of any accepted procedures and you participating is no violation either.

If there's are any legit criticisms to such groups like the 'Vancouver Working Group', it is:
A) The City or City Staff have 'stacked the deck' to favor a pre-determined outcome.
B) The City or City Staff had a pre-determined outcome before forming the group, and are simply jumping through hoops with the 'working group' to 'check the box'.
I think those are legitimate concerns to be expressed anytime a group is formed.
However, in this case, as I mentioned previously…the makeup of this group appears to be pretty balanced with both supporters and skeptics of LRT.

In any event…enough on this. I hope this makes sense now Bob. I have no reason or desire to give you any misdirection, misleading information or spin. I am all about facts and data…that is my personal inclination and driven in by my engineering background. Fact is, I'm not that good at political schmoozing and 'wheeling and dealing' because I'd rather deal with factual reality. On this matter, I'm simply trying to give you the whole picture so there's a better and correct understanding of what the working group is. You want to be more informed of what's going on in our community than most, and I appreciate that and am willing to assist in that. I've given you the facts on this issue and you can chose to do with them what you will…


CRC Project Sponsors Council

With 2009 quickly approaching, the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) process is pressing forward.

Since the discussions and adoption of ALL of the local agencies of the Locally Preferred Alternative --- New Interstate 5 Bridge with Light Rail Transit -- the 39 member CRC Task Force had completed its responsibilities and was disbanded.

The CRC Project Sponsors are those public agencies that have a key role in the project and ultimately have to accept certain components. For example, the public transit agency in Clark County, CTRAN, is a Project Sponsor because CTRAN is anticipated to be the owner/operator of the light rail transit system in our community. The other Project Sponsor include: Trimet, City of Vancouver, City of Portland, Metro, RTC (Clark County Regional Transportation Council), and WSDOT & ODOT.

The Governors of both Oregon and Washington have appointed representatives from all the Project Sponsors to continue where the Task Force left off. This group is known as the Project Sponsors Council.

The Governor appointees include (in no particular order):

Fred Hansen, Trimet (CEO)
Steve Stuart, RTC (Clark County Commissioner)
David Bragdon, Metro (Board President)
Tim Leavitt, CTRAN (Vancouver City Council)
Paula Hammond, WSDOT (Director)
Royce Pollard, City of Vancouver (Mayor)
Sam Adams, City of Portland (Mayor elect)
Matt Garrett, ODOT (Director)

The primary purpose of this group (facilitated by co-chairs Henry Hewitt and Hal Dengerink), is to reach decisions on the project design refinement. More specifically, this group is to advise the departments of transportation on project development. Recommendations will be made after considering technical information, receiving input from advisory groups and reviewing public comments. This group is charged with advising the project on these issues:

  • Completion of the Environmental Impact Statement
  • Project design
  • Project timeline
  • Sustainable construction methods
  • Compliance with greenhouse gas emission reduction goals
  • Financial plan
To date, we have had two meetings.

The primary issue of consideration (and significant to the project) at this time is the number of lanes to be included in the project. The project is proposing a varying number of traffic lanes throughout the project, based on the locations of on-ramps and off-ramps. As you might suspect, there's a real issue with providing adequate merging and traffic weaving distance so drivers can SAFELY enter and exit the interstate.

My observation is that there appears to be a misconception about the number of lanes and the purpose of the lanes. At the December Project Sponsors Council meeting, Staff completed a detailed presentation about the number of lanes. There has been much talk (or malicious rumoring) that the project will construct twelve (12) new lanes of traffic. This inaccurate rumor has incited some opposition to the roadway portion of the project. Unfortunately, the suggestion that the CRC project is constructing 12 lanes of traffic is not entirely accurate. Indeed, there are 12 lanes for a short distance on only the bridge to accommodate the three (3) through lanes (as exist now) and the merging/weaving activities for the nearby on-ramps and off-ramps. There is NOT 12 lanes of traffic funnelling from Washington into Oregon!!!

The December presentation demonstrated the safety and design issues resulting in the proposed number of lanes throughout the project. Any reduction in the number of merging/weaving lanes will result in freeway conditions that are not safe for traffic at speed. At this point, I have no reason or inclination to support anything less than the safest conditions a new project will provide for automobile and truck drivers.

Updates to come as our meetings continue...