Below are the questions and responses sent to Joe Lonergan, 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 Issue
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.
Answer: Tacoma Police are currently in discussions with County corrections officials about alternatives to releasing offenders from outlying cities into Tacoma. The Council’s Public Safety committee has expressed interest in this, and I agree it’s worth pursuing. However, I caution that it’s not a major solution to Tacoma crime issues–just one of many incremental contributors. I have actively worked on other grassroots solutions and will continue to.
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?
Answer: The Puget Sound Regional Council’s “VISION 2040″ is an ambitious plan to concentrate the growth of both people and jobs in five Metropolitan cities including Tacoma. Already this trend was starting when the economic downturn hit. With intelligent development of mixed use centers, and with COUNTY officials helping steer growth to the cities, rather than creating more and more residential development in places lacking the needed schools, roads, etc. we can “bend the trend.” I will hold Pierce County leaders accountable on this.
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?
Answer: Senators Mike Carrell and Debbie Regala led the way in legislation two years ago that has virtually ended the imbalance in releases to Pierce County. It will of course take time for the errors of the past to be corrected. Continued efforts to make sure offenders are both monitored and assisted to find legal employment must continue even in this time of State budget shortages. I will insist on this.
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?
Answer: Like the Harmon Lofts, Albers Mill, Union Station, UW-Tacoma, the proposed project at the Elks Lodge and dozens of other projects, we need to seek sensible market-driven solutions to restore and/or re-purpose Tacoma’s historic buildings. The fact is market conditions do not make the restoration of the Winthrop to its original purpose likely. Affordable housing options in Tacoma are in high demand and the Winthrop helps to fill that need with 200 residents who call the Winthrop home. Current discussions regarding bringing Tacoma Housing Authority in to manage the property are welcome. I believe that together with THA we can make sure this well-managed, safe and affordable housing is an asset to our community and in keeping with the needs of our city. There may be some great opportunities to make this building mixed-use with retail on the street level and housing above which would be in keeping with well thought-out and thoroughly debated ideas such as those contained in the Vision 2040 plan for responsible regional growth.
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?
Answer: Actually infill was happening at an increasing rate during the five years preceding the last two years of slowing in the economy. One complaint is that some of the infill done on those vacant lots–or replacement of dilapidated buildings, was not well designed and did not have the best effect on the neighborhoods. When the economy turns up, our attractive land values relative to King County will invite projects to fill those vacant lots–the key is to be ready with proper planning to get what Tacoma wants there, including job-producing facilities locating here. I will work for certain targeted, priority development–a grocery store in South Tacoma is just one example.
6) Building Walkable Neighborhood Centers and Downtown
Question: 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
Answer: The current Council is directing the City Manager to move deliberately toward a true “parking system” made up of garages, street parking and transit connections. I support this effort, working in close partnership with Pierce Transit.
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?
Answer: Pierce Transit is already doing pilot studies of Bus Rapid Transit on Pacific Avenue, and possibly on other High Demand routes including Sixth Avenue. There are infrastructure issues in having room for safe passage of either streetcars or express busses mingling with heavy auto traffic on limited right of way, but I absolutely support exploring these possibilities for moving people into and around Tacoma.
8) 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?
Answer: My district (Council District 5) includes much of the area cited for higher than allowed small particulate matter in the air in winter. This is due in part to people depending on wood stoves for heat. The state has made a small incentive fund available to change out these stoves to gas or electric furnaces, but the cost of energy will continue to be a barrier for those on limited incomes. I will fight for more effective incentives that will work long term in the real world.
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?
Answer: I have been active in crime-reduction efforts for six years on the South End Neighborhood Council. I will continue to work closely with Community Based Services, Safe Streets, and TPD Community Liaison Officers and other community organizations as we develop and implement measures aimed at prevention, intervention and suppression of criminal activities. My survey of hundreds of District Five voters shows that this is by far their number ONE issue, so it is mine too. You can view the results here: http://www.joelonergan.com/viewpoll/24