Below are the questions and responses sent to Keven Rojecki, candidate for Tacoma City Council position.
The questions being asked to Tacoma City Council candidates this year from the Tacoma Sun are very specific and address such issues as the Winthrop Hotel, Parking Requirements, Tacoma Streetcars, and Felon Dumping Ground Issues.
1) Jail releases
Question: The media has reported that the Pierce County Jail currently releases nearly all of the people who have been arrested in Pierce County into downtown Tacoma even if they are arrested in Orting or a remote area of the county. Would you support a plan which would transport some or all of the jail releases to the places where they were arrested or where they live when their sentence ends?
Yes, I support plans to reduce the high burden of offenders who are released from the Pierce County Jail on our city streets and will work with the State, County and other cities to end this practice. We should also go a step further; we must find solutions that reduce offender recidivism. By improving the outcome of people released from jail, we are ensuring a safer community. Both of these ideas would raise awareness to citizens who fear for their public safety and provide solutions so that the City of Tacoma is not a dumping ground for criminals.
Additionally, an idea would be for the City and County, and collaboration with other cities in the County, to enact ordinances that take from successful state legislation that promotes “fair sharing” of post-incarceration of offenders among Washington Counties. Promoting a risk and deficit assessment of each offender prior to release will allow for more coordination at release with each jurisdiction involved. We should also work with many of the government and non-profit groups that work to provide assistance for transition from jail to the community they live within.
2) Growth management
Question: Over the last 30 years, Pierce County has been known for suburban sprawl which has caused the loss of farmland, pollution, traffic congestion, and disinvestment in Tacoma.
If you are elected, how will you address the effects of sprawl and growth management in Pierce County and the relatively low rate of investment in Tacoma?
With passage of the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County have made progress to reduce suburban sprawl, but more work is needed locally and regionally. The GMA was state legislation that required local governments to develop comprehensive growth policies and has been the basis by which cities, counties and designated regional boards plan for urban growth relative to open space and environmental protection, economic development, affordable housing, sprawl and transportation issues.
We need reform in our city planning that develops strategies to apply public resources that stimulate private investment in our community. Currently the City Council is reviewing a proposal by the Planning Committee to improve upon Tacoma’s mixed-use centers and reform their commercial and residential zoning restrictions in order to foster growth and expansion. This plan causes the city to focus not just on downtown but on the multiple key business districts located throughout Tacoma’s neighborhoods. The Planning Committee’s intent with this proposal is to concentrate our urban growth in not only our downtown but also in these mixed-use centers that will be used as transit hubs, local business centers, and office space for smaller businesses wishing to bring their services into neighborhoods.
The comprehensive plan resonates with the successful Urban Growth Area Planning established within the GMA. Effectively, the state desired that counties establish specific urban growth areas that would become the focal point of urban growth by setting heavy restrictions on regions not labeled such, and therefore focusing business, commercial, and heavy residential growth in these urban growth areas. In Tacoma we can use a similar plan on a smaller scale to effectively do the same. We need to start developing not just our downtown, but our neighborhoods’ mixed-use centers so that we can foster the investment and development Tacoma needs, throughout our city.
The lack of investment and need for economic development opportunities are serious issues for Tacoma, and both are priorities in my campaign. We need to reinvest in Tacoma and bring back the vitality and prosperity to our streets that were experienced with the rebuilding of Union Station, establishment of UW Tacoma and other great public and private investments. We must also stimulate investment in each neighborhood mixed-use center; very few sustainable investments have been made in over a decade and the City Council needs strong leadership that works with our neighborhood and business leaders to improve our neighborhoods.
To address sprawl and lack of investment, we need to take action now. The first thing city leadership must do is to stop treating Tacoma like a suburb and start treating it like a city. Much of our city’s planning has been suburban in mentality yet we are not a suburb but rather a rapidly growing city. Tacoma is a major seaport on the West Coast, we are the state’s third largest city – trailing Spokane only by a few thousand people – and Tacoma is the metropolitan center of Pierce County, which hosts a population of nearly 800,000.
In order to re-invest in our city the City Council needs strong new leadership that is bold as well as willing to look at every option. For too long we have left things up to the market hoping that our city would prosper in due time. This has not worked for America’s economy and it will not work for Tacoma’s. We can also focus on simple goals that improve the quality of life for every citizen. It’s time for us to take action and we must use every level and branch of government to do so and bring collaboration with business leaders for long-term development with these goals in mind.
3) Pierce County Felon “Dumping Ground” Issues
Question: As you know, Tacoma and Pierce County have a disproportionate number of released felons placed by the Department of Corrections as described in the Tacoma City Club report: 30 Years of DOC in Pierce County, Was It worth It?
If re-elected, what do you plan to do, if anything to reduce the number of felons placed in Tacoma and Pierce County? Do you agree that Tacoma and Pierce County should have no more than their pro-rata share based on population? How can the concentration of felons in Tacoma be reduced to the city’s pro-rata share?
Yes, I agree that Tacoma and Pierce County should not have more than our fair share of felon’s released in pro-rata of its population. In recent history, Tacoma and Pierce County had a higher population of felons on our streets because of Washington State Department of Correction facilities located nearby. The practice of releasing felons at a higher rate than any other city or county must stop and is a serious public safety concern that will take leadership from the city, county and state government.
Since the Tacoma City Club report, Governor Gregoire signed into law Senate Bill 6157, which changed provisions affecting offenders who leave confinement. This legislation is a step forward, but more work must be accomplished to bring safer streets and to reduce the recidivism of post-offenders who choose to stay near the inner city. Many of the felons released from confinement are incarcerated by the city, county or state and coordination amongst these jurisdictions is necessary to provide long-term solutions.
We must address these critical issues now to support a more livable city and bring a greater sense of security for each neighborhood. With city, county, and state support we can start re-proportioning our felon population throughout the state, rather than dumping everyone here in Tacoma and perpetuating our city’s crime problem.
4) Restoration of Winthrop Hotel
Question: A great many Tacomans would like to see the Winthrop Hotel restored as Spokane has restored the Davenport Hotel.
What is your position on this issue? Do you support the goal of restoring the Winthrop Hotel back into a hotel as the News Tribune and others have advocated?
What ideas do you have to make this goal of many Tacomans a reality?
Yes, rebuilding the Winthrop would be a significant step in reinvesting in Tacoma. The Davenport has been a huge success in Spokane and we should take a similar course of action to renovate the Winthrop. The primary concern is of course money as the hotel’s renovation will cost millions. The short-term investment would benefit the city with long-term stabilization on cleaning up areas of the city that deter private development opportunities. The Winthrop project would also create new economic development opportunities as the Link light rail line is in close proximity. Additionally it would turn what is currently blight upon our downtown into a symbol of revitalization and reinvestment in our city.
We have two overall options with the reconstruction of the Winthrop. We can allow the Winthrop to be sold to a developer under conditions and guidelines that will ensure the building is transformed into the hotel or mixed-use center. Alternatively, the city can utilize bonding or alternate revenue sources to create a public-private partnership and rebuild the structure in an effort to pull together a foundation of new opportunities for downtown development. The first option allows the city to avoid making a major investment and distribute funds during a recession while the latter allows the city to take advantage of the low cost of land and building space to make a long-term and cost-effective investment.
Regardless of which route we end up choosing I will strongly advocate as a City Council Member to restore the Winthrop as I believe the City Council should lead the way for stimulating reinvestment in Tacoma. Further, the state can also be an enormous benefactor to revitalizing the Winthrop and other properties; my experiences and relationships with State appropriation leaders will help bring capital improvement revenue to make this project a reality.
5) Rebuilding Tacoma
Question: Despite the progress made, Tacoma still has a large number of vacant lots, and empty and blighted buildings relative to other west coast cities. What role can you and Tacoma take, if you are elected, to support the rebuilding of downtown Tacoma and Tacoma’s mixed use centers?
When it comes to rebuilding and revitalizing our city we must make priorities. Before we begin investing in new developments we need to look at the vacant lots and empty buildings throughout our city. We must begin our efforts of reinvesting in Tacoma with these sites. Let’s stop spending the city’s limited resources on pet projects and invest in revitalizing. While I believe we have an amazing convention center in Downtown, I am saddened that I rarely get to see it used for the potential it was built. We do not have the urban vitality or hotel space to support large events at the center. As a leader on the City Council I will choose to rebuild, reinvest, and revitalize our dilapidated and empty buildings with strong leadership, partnerships with community business leaders, and state leaders ready to invest in our city.
Tacoma needs to jump start its economy and urban vitality with long term vision that promotes public investment and public/private partnerships that resolve problems, not complicate them further. The lack of class A office space, hotel rooms to support thousands of convention goers and a lack of retail stores in our downtown has hindered and prevented further business investment in our city’s core. As new “For Lease” signs show up in windows all over our city at an enormous rate, we cannot continue to ignore the harmful effects these have on our neighborhoods.
6) Building Walkable Neighborhood Centers and Downtown
Cities such as Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, San Francisco have removed their off-street parking requirements to allow parking to be built based on market demand. This also has the benefit of reducing sprawl, reducing pollution and allowing the construction of walkable neighborhoods.
Do you support removing the off-street parking requirement in downtown Tacoma and in Tacoma’s mixed use centers?
Yes, with provisions that periodically evaluate the reduction in off-street parking requirements. By reducing the off-street parking requirements the city would effectively establish a plan that promotes higher density and pedestrian friendly mixed-use centers. The reduced requirements would encourage alternate transportation choices such as bicycles, streetcars, buses, and light rail, all which I strongly support. If these requirements are approved, the city must move toward a multi-modal transportation system and provide capital investment in high capacity alternatives while prioritizing transportation corridors in areas near mixed-use centers. It is essential that Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma work together to find solutions that make the reduction in off-street parking sustainable for the future and meet the intended goals of reducing sprawl and developing neighborhoods we can walk in.
7) Restoring Tacoma’s Streetcars
Question: Many Tacomans support restoring Tacoma’s streetcar system. Gas prices have recently been at record levels. Do you support restoring the streetcar network in Tacoma? What steps would be needed to be taken to make this happen?
I strongly support any and all efforts to bring back our streetcar system. Currently cars are our primary means of transportation throughout the city and we have an opportunity to reduce environmental concerns and provide economic development opportunities that create a more livable city for all citizens. Tacoma is growing rapidly along with the greater Pierce County region. We need to develop long-term solutions to an already overwhelmed transportation system. I believe the City of Tacoma must provide the capital investment, build a coalition of economic partners, and bring mass transit options into our city.
VIII) Pollution Issues in Tacoma
Question: Parts of the City of Tacoma are currently failing the pollution criteria set by the State of Washington. What actions will you take if elected, if any, to reduce the pollution level in the city limits of Tacoma?
Our environmental goals in Tacoma need to be: One, expansion in our light rail system from beyond Tacoma’s downtown and reach into each of our neighborhoods to lower CO2 emissions and improve air quality. Two, continue to make progress and expand opportunities for green construction and sustainable design. Three, we must address the environmental concerns that contaminate Commencement Bay and make certain that our drinking water supply is safe and healthy for years to come.
We have been discussing the use of mass transit throughout Tacoma for over a decade. The time for action in now; we need to begin construction of a viable streetcar/light rail system. We can do this with strong leadership and public financing that will remove cars from the road and provide economic opportunities that also enhance the vitality of our neighborhoods. We cannot simply wait for business interests to make green buildings and sustainable design principles through the normal route. We can help businesses with leadership that shows reward and investment for a better Tacoma. I would take lead as a City Council Member to work with the Office of Sustainability on programs and initiatives that set benchmarks for the reduction of green house gas emissions as one of my first actions in office. The drinking water, by ways of rivers and streams, along with Puget Sound are not free of chemicals and pesticides. We can further our education and work toward making each of our citizens aware of their actions and how this impacts our natural resources. If we fail to correct standard behavior by most, we have failed to lead the effort toward reduction and elimination of the things that pollute our environment.
Through education, benchmarks, and immediate action I hope to bring resolution and change to Tacoma’s environmental challenges.
9) Crime Reduction Proposal by City Manager Eric Anderson
Question: City Manager Eric Anderson has set a goal to reduce crime in Tacoma by 50 percent in 14 months. What specific steps, if any, will you take if elected to reduce the crime rate in Tacoma
The proposal to reduce crime by 50% in 14 months is unrealistic if our approach to prevention and early intervention programs remain unchanged or not funded appropriately. We must look at a balanced approach to keep criminals from re-offending and deter our at-risk youth from wandering the streets. The City Council must provide the resources for a multi-faceted program that includes prevention and early intervention programs as well as enhancements to prediction and response of criminal activities. A citywide program that partners with citizens, community organizations, and city departments to create a citywide strategy is essential to a successful reduction in crime.
As a firefighter, I know the importance of public safety and the resulting impact on our community if citizens fear for their safety. My plans would include looking to other communities’ plans that reduced violent crime, reduced gang activity, and created more livable neighborhoods. Specifically, I would bring together new partners to develop a realistic plan that includes prevention, early intervention, new technologies, and promote volunteer opportunities in neighborhoods. It has been shown that strategies which rely on close cooperation between the police department and the community result in decreased crime and improved relations.