The Tacoma Sun

LIGHT FOR ALL
 

Tacoma City Council Candidate David Boe Answers Tough Urban Questions From the Tacoma Sun

By Erik Bjornson

Introduction:

Below are the questions and responses sent to David Boe, candidate for Tacoma City Council District #7. This at-large district is current represented by councilmember Boe who is running to be “retained” in the district.
.
The questions being asked to Tacoma City Council candidates this year from the Tacoma Sun are very specific and address such issues as the best method to restore the Winthrop Hotel, removing harmful Parking Requirements in downtown Tacoma, rebuilding Tacoma Streetcars, and addressing the Felon Dumping Ground Issue.

.

Tacoma Sun Candidate Questionnaire
Candidate:  David Boe
Position:  Tacoma City Council – At-Large No. 7
.

Q I: What education and experience do you have to qualify you to be a member of the Tacoma City Council? What books have you read that you believe that would give you insights as to how to be an effective councilmember?
.

Answer:  I guess the short answer is that since I was appointed to the Tacoma City Council in January 2010, the current City Council believes that I have the education and experience qualifications for this position.  Having been a member of the Tacoma Planning Commission the previous 5-years to the appointment (the last three-years as Vice-Chair), they recognized their need to have a member with expertise on land use issues.   I also bring my experience from serving on the Tacoma Arts Commission where I was appointed to be a member of the 1992 Cultural Plan Steering Committee.  A unique qualification that I have for this city-wide position is that my wife and I have lived in both the South End and North End of Tacoma – and as an architect I have worked on projects across every district in the city (so Boe Knows Tacoma).
.
My formal education started with completing an Associate of Arts Degree (Liberal Arts) at Normandale Community College, followed by a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture at Iowa State (Go Cyclones), and the equivalent of a Master of Architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.  During my five years in London, I spent two-years as the Project Coordinator for the Canary Wharf Light-Railway Station .  Since 1996 I have had my own architectural practice in Downtown Tacoma – and I think the perspective of being a successful small-business owner is an important voice in the make-up of the City Council.
.
As for books that are appropriate to my brief tenure on the City Council, I think Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote,’ Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities, and ‘Surely You Must be Joking Mr. Feynman.
.
What many folks may not comprehend about a City Manager-led form of government is that individual council members must be able to work well with their peers on the dais – as it takes at least 5 votes to get anything accomplished.  Trained as an architect, I am ingrained with a collaborative spirit and working with my fellow council members has been the most gratifying aspect of this challenging, but rewarding, service to the citizens of Tacoma.  Having been married to the same woman for the past 29 years, I do understand the value of a good compromise on occasion.
.
Q II: 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. During the last 10 years, Tacoma has grown less than 5,000 residents while Spokane grew by 13,000 and Pierce County grew by 95,000.  If you are elected, would you work to add more density to the City of Tacoma? How would your plan, if any, be different from what is in place now?
.
Answer:  Density, Density and more Density (thus the moniker ‘Density Dave’).  I was on the Planning Commission when the City Council passed the Mixed-use Center Zoning Ordinance in 2009 – but in my opinion these regulations did not go far enough to provide incentive for development – and cracking this issue open is one of the main reasons I have decided to run for a full term (that and an awareness that very few members of the past City Council(s) have had a deep understanding of urban design).  The first issue I brought to the table once on council, and with luck will be passed this year, is to go to a market base parking requirement for new construction in our urban centers and commercial zones.  Many of our zoning regulations are out-of-date and provide more barriers than incentives for new development.  I contend that the 6th Avenue Business District continues to flourish due to existing buildings being allowed to be renovated and/or converted without requiring city mandated additional off-street parking lots.
.
Another issue is Land Banking (of which the City of Tacoma is just a guilty as the private market).  We need to get development on these ‘vacant’ parcels in order to positively change the market for new development.  Right now you cannot actually lease new construction for what it costs to construct the project.  Think about it.  The cost of a new building is pretty much the same whether you build it in Tacoma or in Kirkland (not including the land that is) – but in Kirkland you can get mid-$20s to $30 per square foot whereas the market in Tacoma is closer to $12-15 per square foot.
.
So most of the development that happens in Tacoma is by individuals or companies that want to develop here (thinking with their heart more than their head in many cases) or they require significant government assistance (City, State or Federal) to make their projects pencil (e.g. UWT, museums et al, Elks).  There is no silver bullet to solve this ongoing conundrum, but we need as many development tools in the toolbox as possible AND look at every policy decision to see how it creates additional residential density in our urban centers.  For example, the route of the streetcar expansion, for me, should be the one that maximizes transit oriented development opportunities.

.
Oh, and we should not be building anymore surface parking lots in our urban centers – another change that needs to be incorporated into the zoning code (i.e. new stand alone surface parking lots should not be allowed or permitted as a primary use in our urban centers).
.
Q III: 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? http://cityclubtacoma.org/images/uploads/DOC_Report_final1.pdf.
Have you read this report? What specific steps would you take, if any, to reduce the number of felons being place in Tacoma and Pierce County?
.
Answer:  I had not read the Tacoma City Club Report until you referenced it here in this question, although I was a new member on the City of Tacoma Planning Commission in 2005 when the Special Needs Housing Moratorium was enacted due to the concerns about an overly high concentration of release facilities in the Hilltop.  In my opinion this report accurately portrays the situation.  Like other job growth policies that have been introduced into Tacoma over the years, it was sold as an ‘economic generator’ without looking at the possible unintended consequences of such a success (e.g. Immigration Detention Center in the Port of Tacoma).  So local leaders courted the Department of Corrections in the past, agencies and organizations were successfully set-up to meet the need, and very low cost of housing makes it economically more viable than other urban centers in the state (see Item No. 2 above).  I pledge to continue working at the local and state level for Tacoma and Pierce County to reduce the total number of work release offenders to our ‘fair share’ distribution with the rest of the state.
.
Q IV: 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? What plan would you support, if any, to restore the Winthrop Hotel back into a hotel? What ideas do you have to make this goal of Tacomans a reality?
.
Answer:  I think the best way forward is to consider putting together a multi-faceted group of developers with a wide array of funding sources – and look at dividing the building interior into a number of distinct zones.  For instance, storefront retail could be managed by a commercial retail developer, the Crystal Ballroom possibly managed by the Broadway Center (which would give it another unique venue for performances), the lower floors of the tower for student housing related to UWT, and the top floors of the tower managed by an experienced hotelier.
.
All of this will require close coordination with an entity like the Tacoma Housing Authority to work through the HUD voucher program that the current residents are using for their accommodation – and possibly look to additional housing being added, or converted, in the area to meet the existing population need.  I also think we need to look at incorporating a Historic Tacoma Public Development Authority in order to address the cause of historic buildings that are facing critical challenges like the Winthrop (e.g. Old City Hall and the now lost Luzon Building).

.
Q V: 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. In fact at least two new surface level parking lots have been created downtown in the last couple of years (the Sauro site and the site where the Luzon building was). What role can you and the City of Tacoma take, if you are elected, to support the rebuilding of downtown Tacoma and Tacoma’s mixed use centers?
.
Answer:  I voted a loud ‘NO’ on Sauro.  But as noted earlier, it takes 5, not three, to win the day.  In addition to what I presented in response to Question 2, we need to look at multiple development incentive options given the size of the task – and one of these is really about educating our County, State and Federal partners about the reality of funding huge road projects that in reality just make it cheaper to build sprawl out in the rural areas.  Yes we have GMA, but if we are investing billions in new roads to make it cheaper to build in Graham, why would someone invest in Tacoma?  We really need to shift the paradigm.
.
I don’t want to get all James Howard Kunstler on you, but until we hit $8 a gallon, we’ll need to look at every opportunity to provide incentives for development in our urban centers.  Providing transit options will be a huge selling point in my opinion.  Tacoma is blessed with a wide variety of neighborhoods and growing Business Districts that are literally 10 minute by car, 20 minute by bicycle from Downtown.  McKinley Hill/East Side, South Tacoma, Central Tacoma, Hilltop, Stadium, 6th Avenue, and North End – many with amazing affordable historic housing stock.  This is a huge asset when planning for a connected city with transit, bicycle avenues, and good roads, curbs, gutters and sidewalks.  The Broadway LID has been a great boost to development and I will work to get similar projects to grow out from the neighborhood mixed-use centers to connect the entire City.  I am very proud to have worked on the Mobility Master Plan and making quality streets for pedestrians, bicycles, and transit is far, far overdue for Tacoma.
.
Q VI: 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 the cost of housing, 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:  I guess I should have read all of the questions before writing my earlier comments.  So do I support removing the off-street parking in requirement in Downtown Tacoma and in Tacoma’s Mixed-use Centers?  That is an absolute YES!  And with support from constituents this coming year, we can take another step to update the City of Tacoma Zoning Ordinance that still has regulations mired in 1980’s thinking.
.

Q VII: Restoring Tacoma’s Streetcars
.
Question: Many Tacomans support restoring Tacoma’s streetcar system. Gas prices are now 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:  Yes.  As noted previously, for me the routes need to reference the historic streetcar routes – as anyone who bicycles in Tacoma can tell you, you need to always think like a streetcar when planning your route to minimize the uphill climbs.  But we also need to make sure that the route makes damn good urban design sense AND maximizes neighborhood property for transit-oriented development potential AND we need to get real about ridership.
.
I personally think the route selected for the initial LINK was an urban design disaster once it leaves Pacific Avenue (and for those of you that like to pick on Tollefson Plaza – it’s the train that creates the majority of the problem – it doesn’t stop, it dissects the space so that is has no ability to have the much needed active frame to an open public space) – and thus it is going to take creative and critical thinking to vision routes that are appropriate for Tacoma now and the future (the current route up Commerce was based on politics and not good urban design).
.
You want to make Downtown and our Mixed-use Centers attractive for development?  Well then we better figure out how we can have a quality of life without relying on the single-occupancy vehicle.  And we are also going to have to get creative about financing and operations given the recent Pierce Transit funding situation.  I am not saying it is as easy as running the Streetcar to the Mall and/or to the Casino – but it might include long-range planning of a route to the Mall and/or to the Casino.

.
Q VIII: Pollution Issues in Tacoma
.
Question: The City of Tacoma is currently failing the pollution criteria set by the State of Washington. If elected, what specific measures would you take, if any, to reduce pollution in the city limits of Tacoma?
.
Answer:  The South Tacoma Air Quality Non-Attainment is a significant environmental health issue that is going to require close collaboration between all of the Federal, State, County and City partners to create an equitable solution (and it is an issue that in many ways is fueled by the need for a population to have inexpensive ways to heat their homes).  There is no easy way to address this issue – but I believe that my creative and collaborative skills can be an asset in developing a successful resolution.  It also is going to take some hard looks at how we think about wood fireplaces and wood stoves.
.
While Air Quality is huge –we also need to look at storm water capacities and sanitary infiltration.  I will continue to work with my council colleagues to foster and coordinate regulations that hit many of the environmental concerns on multiple levels.  For instance, the Urban Forestry project can help to increase the natural storm water capacity provided by an increase tree canopy (and reduce heat gain from the built environment) while infrastructure projects incorporate Complete Streets and Low-Impact Development Standards to address storm water issues at their source.  Tacoma has made great strides in addressing many of the industrial polluters – and in many ways we do not celebrate the advancement that we have made – but we still need to be vigilant especially regarding protecting ground water quality.
.
Q IX: Crime Reduction Proposal by City Manager Eric Anderson
.
Question: A few years ago, City Manager Eric Anderson set a goal to reduce crime in Tacoma by 50 percent in 14 months. Unfortunately, the goal was not reached.  What can be done in your opinion to reduce crime in Tacoma?
.
Answer:  We need to build on the great work already completed by the Community Policing Programs through the Police Sub-stations, great community programs like Safe Streets, and creating incentives/market for more quality affordable housing in our urban centers.  Tacoma needs to become a city of homeowners and not house renters.  Basically do you want live next door to a rental or another home owner?  Home ownership breeds strong community spirit – that and good curbs, gutters, sidewalks and street trees.
.
Q  X: Tacoma’s Central Neighborhood Council has posted dozens of articles on the electronic billboard issue located at:
http://cnc-tacoma.com/proposed-electronic-billboards.  What percentage of these articles do you estimate that you have read?
.
Answer:  I imagine I have read most if not all of them – and they have been very informative.  Well done to the CNC for leading the charge in response to this issue.
.
Q XI: What is your position in relation to the settlement proposal that the Tacoma City Council is considering regarding digital billboards?  Do you support it? If you were elected to the Tacoma City Council, would you authorize the City of Tacoma to expend financial resources to defend the Tacoma’s current 1997 billboard law?
.
Answer:  Well I did vote to proceed with the settlement precisely because it was going to require the Planning Commission to review the signage code and look into all the details of digital billboards.  Having served on the Planning Commission, and knowing the great individuals currently serving on the commission, I had complete trust in their abilities to delve into the details of the issue (something sadly we on Council are not afforded the luxury of time to allow us to typically get into the weeds).  I have been most impressed by the time and effort by the community in getting to the public hearings and submitting public comment and I have tried to make each of the Planning Commission public hearings to hear the testimony personally.
.
I have stated repeatedly that first we need to get our signage code right before we proceed to look at options for settlement or potential litigation action.  Our sign code needs to include design guidelines on the signage structure themselves in order to graphically illustrate non-conforming signs.  We also need to incorporate unequivocally clear language about the removal of non-conforming signs and have delineated a clear process for the removal of blighted signs (such as we have Code Enforcement for derelict buildings).  And for me, all non-conforming signs must come down before any new code compliant billboards are erected.
.
As for digital itself, I am not a fan of internally illuminated signs at all because they produce glare (i.e. you are seeing the light coming at you instead of reflected light off the surface of the sign).  If only indirect lighting is incorporated as a standard, I do not see how internally lit digital signs could be in compliance.
.
Q XII: Many cities near the City of Tacoma such as Fife and University Place as well as unincorporated Pierce County do not have a B&O tax which many people allege has caused businesses to move out of the City of Tacoma.  Last year, the City of Tacoma raised the B&O threshold to $250,000.  Hence, businesses in Tacoma grossing less than $250,000 pay no B&O tax.  If elected, would you support further raising the B&O tax threshold? If so, how far would you raise it?
.

Answer:  I am very proud to say that I voted a strong ‘Aye’ to the raising of the B+O threshold in my short tenure on the Council.  And yes, we need to look at ways to step-by-step remove this anti-business tax.  Having paid this tax as a small business owner, it amazes me that it is calculated on gross income.  Gross income!  I understand that this makes it simple to calculate the tax, but it totally penalizes businesses that are successful but net only a small amount of profit.  The reality is that B+O makes-up a significant amount of the City’s General Fund, so we are going to have to look at other ways to fund projects or at least look at a way of collecting a more equitable tax – and/or look at ways of funding projects and particular services outside of the General Fund.
.
Conclusion

.
It has been a privilege to serve on the City Council.
.
As a small business owner I have created jobs, maintained budgets and managed people.  As your elected City Council member I will continue to focus on job growth, controlling the line on expenses and holding the City accountable by asking tough questions.
.
I believe Tacoma is a beautiful city, but we have more work to do to improve the livability of our neighborhoods.  Through smart and responsible planning we can repair our streets and sidewalks, increase our transportation options and improve safety through-out Tacoma.
.
With your support I will continue to bring this vision forward.  I greatly appreciate your vote.

For those interested in learning more about my campaign check out http://www.voteboe.com and ‘friend’ my campaign on Face Book at ‘Vote Boe.’

To see some of my urban design thoughts for Downtown Tacoma, checkout my award winning ‘Imagine Tacoma’ blog on Exit133:  http://www.exit133.com/features/?c=Imagine_Tacoma
.
And for a little about this transition between full-time architect to full-time architect/part-time politician, check out this article from CityArts in March 2010:  http://www.cityartsonline.com/issues/tacoma/2010/03/drawing-inspiration-0 and
.
http://www.cityartsonline.com/issues/tacoma/2010/03/behind-scenes-march-tacoma-cover-shoot-david-boe
and
http://www.cityartsonline.com/issues/tacoma/2010/03/more-david-boe-interview

and Voter Pamphlet Information (page 28):  http://www.co.pierce.wa.us/xml/abtus/ourorg/aud/elections/archives/pri11/2011primaryweb.pdf

published July 7th, 2011

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment