Jim Merritt, Candidate for Mayor of Tacoma
Below are the questions and responses sent Jim Merritt, candidate for Mayor of Tacoma.
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?
Yes, I feel it is reasonable to transport people back to where they were arrested or where they lived prior to their arrest. It is not acceptable for Tacoma to be the only area in the State of Washington where new releases are placed in this manner. We must push for better control of this situation.
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? How would that plan be different, if at all, from what is in place now?
I am against suburban sprawl with all of its ramifications. I believe in promoting dense growth in the urban centers. I have rejected working on projects that contribute to urban sprawl in my architectural practice. A reasonable and basically open discussion of the early stages of the planning and permitting process is important. The idea is a matter of the community needing to be well aware of the impact of proposed projects. This does not need to be laborious and onerous to identify issues to consider. The community can be helpful to work toward endorsed solutions at this early stage. The developer/investor will know the criteria for the project. It should be easy to explain in a two page document about an upcoming project which would benefit the community. We need to understand the impacts of large-scale developments before a project is committed but at the same time move the project along to provide family wage jobs in a timely manner. This is part of being a “customer friendly” city to encourage significant job growth.
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?
No, it has not been worth it. Tacoma and Pierce County has suffered a high crime rate because it has been used as a dumping ground in the past. I continue to get reports that this practice still is occurring.
If 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 be reduced to its pro-rata share?
Tacoma and Pierce County should have no more than its pro-rata share based on population. As Mayor of Tacoma I will work closely with the Tacoma-Pierce County Sheriff Department and Pierce County Courts in creating a solid and plan for released felons. This plan will include placing felons back in the cities or states where they lived prior to their sentence.
4) Restoration of Winthrop Hotel
Question: A great many Tacomans would like to see the Winthrop Hotel Elks Temple restored as Spokane has restored the Davenport Hotel. What is your position on this issue? What plan would you support?
What ideas do you have to make this goal of Tacomans a reality?
Yes, I support the restoration of the Winthrop Hotel and the Elks Temple. As an architect I have a solid understanding and experience in preserving many Tacoma buildings such as: Washington State Historical Society Museum; Tacoma Union Station; Carlton Center; Jefferson Square; Colonial Square and the Tacoma Rialto Theatre, just to name a few. I have given presentations to several business and civic groups in Tacoma, with detailed plans for restoring the Elks Temple and have met with business entrepreneurs in offering ideas for restoring the Elks temple. I will proactively work to see that both of these projects are completed with positive results. We must get these two projects done. The Elks appears to have a winning formula which I support and I have ideas to move the Winthrop forward and relocate the subsidized housing.
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 Pierce County take, if you are elected, to support the rebuilding of downtown Tacoma and Tacoma’s mixed use centers?
As an architect, I have led many projects that have helped to revitalize Tacoma’s downtown and its neighborhoods. I worked to restore Union Station into the beautiful federal courthouse it is today. I collaborated with the UW Tacoma to convert the Pinkerton building into the Institute of Technology. Historic structures should be seen as assets, not a liability. Just look at what happened to the Luzon building. That whole block used to be lined with historic buildings and now sits under-utilized as a parking lot. As mayor, I will continue to find creative, new uses for blighted areas. I fully support the Focus also on the mixed use centers with a comprehensive master plan approach that really includes the citizens in each neighborhood involved in the planning.
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?
I support removing the off-street parking requirement in downtown and in Tacoma’s mixed use centers. Tacoma needs to move away from strip-mall style development and become more pedestrian friendly. The emphasis also must include a comprehensive transportation system (ie street cars, etc.) to make the auto less necessary.
7) Restoring Tacoma’s Streetcars
Question: Many Tacomans support restoring Tacoma’s streetcar system. Gas prices are now at record levels. Pierce County plays a large role in transportation systems in Tacoma. Do you support restoring the streetcar network in Tacoma? What steps would be needed to be taken to make this happen?
Yes, I support a Tacoma streetcar system. The steps needed to make this happen are:
1)Design and develop where the streetcars would travel through Tacoma highlighting the most effective routes, business districts; neighborhood areas, etc.
2)Host a series of Town Hall meetings to inform and gain public input
3)Develop a plan which will tie the dense zones (ie mixed use centers)
VIII) Pollution Issues in Tacoma
Question: The City of Tacoma is currently failing the pollution criteria set by the State of Washington. What role can Pierce County play to reduce pollution in the city limits of Tacoma?
Tacoma and Pierce County can work closely by implementing these three plans:
1) Develop a full network of bike pathways through the City to reduce auto use.
2) Work for a concentrated tree planting program throughout the city to include a “reforestation” of the tideflats (with significant edge plantings of significant scale to make a difference.)
3) Collaborate with all the neighborhoods of the City to develop an effective and well received plan developed through a grassroots approach to define appropriate mixed use urban living and working centers throughout our city. My strategies are to work with the neighborhoods and all interest groups to define a future that would embrace the needs for living and working in a quality “green” built environment.
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. Given the predominant role Pierce County plays on the criminal justice system, what steps will you support the County government in taking so that the City of Tacoma can succeed?
In addition to working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Pierce County Courts to return released felons to the counties where they were arrested and to improve the tracking of felons released here, I will encourage the County and City government to increase job training, local job creation, and other educational opportunities. I support the County and City in working with neighborhoods and local non-profit organizations to assist in the fulfillment of basic needs of families. The County should also emulate the programs of other Cities that have successfully reduced their crime rate.
My approach as an architect will be to gather information from other locales to implement effective remedies. We need to include the private sector in the City’s initiative.