The Tacoma Sun

LIGHT FOR ALL
 

Tacoma City Council Candidate Michael Hardy Answers Tough Urban Questions From the Tacoma Sun

By Erik Bjornson

Introduction:

Below are the questions and responses sent to Michael Hardy, candidate for Tacoma City Council District #7. This at-large district is current represented by councilmember David Boe who is running to be “retained” in the district.
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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.
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Tacoma Sun Candidate Questionnaire
Candidate:  Micheal Hardy
Position:  Tacoma City Council – At-Large No. 7

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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 council member?
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Answer: Graduating from Pierce College with Honors was a great accomplishment for me, and my AA degree included many business related courses. My studies at The Evergreen State College included classes in Project Management and Environmental Science. Serving as Commander of one of the largest Veterans Service Organization in the state has helped to prepare me for this position, as has my commitment as President of the Board of a local Non-Profit. No particular book has stood out as a guide to being an advocate of Tacomans; but Wolf’s Non-profit Management books have helped sharpen my focus, as has a series on Project management.
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2) Growth management
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Q II: 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 5000 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: Tacoma’s strength and character comes from its open area’s and its space. I would work to get the empty buildings rented,  the vacant storefronts leased, the empty condo towers that promised so much, and delivered so little, occupied. My plans would center on the population that is already in place, and the business owners who are working  hard yet struggling. These are the people who realize the beauty and opportunities that Tacoma has to offer. What we need downtown is jobs that offer permanent employment, not walking paths and exit Pagodas.
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It has to be economic development that becomes the backbone of our elected leaders. To sit on our hands and watch Russel Investments move, and Nalley Valley shut down is maddening to Tacomans. These were firms who cared about Tacoma, who spent time here and enjoyed giving back and participating. Spending money to recruit business from outside Tacoma is not the same as having a business that wants to be here because they like it here.
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Small business owners need the support that Tacoma can offer. Instead of being targeted as “cash cows”  for the city coffers they should be treated as partners. Business helps create an identity to communities. The infrastructure needed for these companies is already in place and with city support these firms will be here for decades. It is not my plan to pack more buildings into what we have, and ruin what I consider a gem.

3) Pierce County Felon “Dumping Ground” Issues
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Q III: 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?
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Answer: Yes, the report has some great points, but should have been more in depth.  I would have liked input to the selection process used to place these felons and deviants in areas of Tacoma questioned. The report cites “saving money” as a reason for setting up work release centers but said nothing about how much it actually cost us, as residents. If property values decrease because neighborhoods become more dangerous, this hasn’t saved any money.
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The “sprawl” issue discussed earlier should be added to this equation.  How many good families left Tacoma because of the felons, predators, and drug dealers that this policy placed among us?  How many businesses? The actual cost is much more to the residents than what this report or the News Tribunes series of stories leads us to believe.
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Finally, I would like to see exactly where in Tacoma these offenders were placed. How many in East Tacoma, how many in the South End? Was placement fair or were these criminals placed in the less affluent areas of Tacoma – areas less likely to complain.
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The Pierce County Sheriff’s web page relating to sex offenders and other criminals  misleads us. For example, in the District 1 area around Orchard and N 15th, there are three offenders within a one mile radius. But several blocks away in District 3, in the area of 12th and Union, there are 11 offenders residing inside a half mile radius. District 5 has nine “offenders” within a half mile radius of 66th and Warner, but one of these offender sites lists “multiple” residents, unnamed (in contrast to the other neighborhoods).
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Why report differently? If we report by the half mile in districts 3 and 5, we should measure by the half mile in district 1.  If we list the offenders by name in districts 1 and 3, we should do the same in district 5. And “multiple offenders” is just not specific enough. (Info from the Pierce County Sheriff web page.)

4) Restoration of Winthrop Hotel
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Question IV: 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?
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Answer: Yes, and I am one of the people who would love to see the Winthrop restored. But I don’t remember the Davenport being restored by Spokane; it was a private contractor whose business was restoring properties. Times have changed a bit since Walt Worthy did his rehab of the Davenport. Financing is undoubtedly harder to come by, but developers might be in a more generous mood with the business climate stalled. In order to receive my support the project would have to make financial sense, and use local talent to staff the construction jobs. And by local, I don’t mean workers coming down here from Seattle.
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This job should be done as a private construction project. The city of Tacoma should not be in the hotel business, but could provide incentives to attract a better project. Examples of this would be including some low income housing in the project, to give the developer guaranteed income while helping low income residents. A grant might help the project, and maybe tax incentives could be offered.

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5) Rebuilding Tacoma
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Q V: 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?
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Answer: The government of the City of Tacoma already has a strong presence in downtown Tacoma, as does the Federal and State Governments. Private industries and business are needed to cap off the project that became a long and costly revitalization effort. We have to remember that rebuilding Tacoma means more than just spending money downtown. Tacoma is a vast area, with many neighborhoods that also have problems. If downtown is beautiful, but the area surrounding downtown is blighted, nobody is going to make the effort to travel downtown.
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And honestly I like the downtown area as it is. I like that I can drive downtown  without gridlock, and I like that I can find parking in a reasonable amount of time. To me, the wonder of Tacoma, especially downtown, is the open spaces and panoramic views. The merging of ocean and mountain with our rolling hills and landscape is beautiful.
Mixed use centers are excellent solutions to “empty and blighted” buildings mentioned in this question –  they can be acquired and refurbished at reasonable cost. And still leave us with green space. The properties mentioned are not just surface level parking lots, they are what is left of 1) a 20 foot hole in the middle of downtown and 2) a dilapidated building that was on the verge of collapse.
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And there were no options. We had a major employer that wanted to be here, and needed parking. There was no-one else who had a plan to develop this property, or showed interest. This was a win-win situation. The problem was the same with the other property –  there was no interest or plan to restore or rehab. Tacoma couldn’t leave a pile of brick and glass on the street. So, they  became a parking lots.
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The term “vacant lots” is a developers term, a negotiating expression to acquire property at a reduced cost. Your “vacant lot” is my “natural space”, or “open field.” Other cities DO have this type of property – Tacoma is not unique in having sections of undeveloped land.
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However, what we do with these properties is unique. We grow veggies there, and plant flowers, and walk our dogs. We take off our shoes and run our feet through the grass. Residents of Tacoma do not see an empty field and dream of development, and neither should Tacoma’s leaders. We should see the beauty in what we have, not in the changes we can make.

Building Walkable Neighborhood Centers and Downtown
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Q VI: 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: No. The city is not responsible for providing long term parking. Building apartment buildings and office towers that neglected parking is selfish and irresponsible. There are costs to living downtown, and parking is one cost that should be the burden of the property owner or vehicle owner. Building neighborhood centers or Mixed Use Centers that do not have parking available is short-sighted and wasteful. Paid parking during business hours helps customers, and businesses.  Short term paid parking is beneficial to downtown. The benefits of better parking design accrue to the community, rather than to the building, or property owner.

To have the designs of Seattle or Portland a goal of Tacoma would be a huge mistake. These cities are awful for walking and parking is a challenge. Understanding what we have here is the first step to making Tacoma the envy of the nation. There is not a better waterfront in the world, and our downtown is very accessible and user friendly. We don’t have to shoehorn other buildings and cram more development into our tight spaces. There are better options.

Restoring Tacoma’s Streetcars

Q VII: 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: No, I support bus routes over streetcars. Streetcars create more noise and traffic confusion. Streetcars are so much more expensive initially and have to be dedicated to a particular route. Overhead conductors are ugly, and require more poles to be placed.  The system as a whole makes me think of a jumbled birds nest. The infrastructure is already in place for buses, and when needs change, or streets are blocked by accidents or emergency vehicles, buses are easily rerouted.

Pollution Issues in Tacoma
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Q VIII: 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?
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Answer:  Emissions from diesel and gasoline engines are the biggest contributors to fine particle pollution, but in Pierce County smoke from wood stoves are also a major problem.
The county’s air quality consistently drops in winter when more people heat their homes by burning wood. There are estimates that 75,000 homes are heated with wood burning stoves.
I have also heard a report about Tacoma’s air problem that suggested that the topographical features and terrain of Pierce County was a hindrance to free air flow.

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Our vehicles get tested at every other registration period, so I don’t believe it is OUR vehicles. Our current pollution problem is due in part to our greatest asset, the Port of Tacoma. Truck traffic is huge in this area as we have one main road that handles vast numbers of combination vehicles. Locomotive delivery systems have not shown much improvement. We won’t close the port. No ban on wood stoves, or other heating systems is supported by me at this time. And changing the terrain is impossible.

Crime Reduction Proposal by City Manager Eric Anderson

Q IX: 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: City Manager Anderson’s goal is commendable and is working. These things take time, and the TPD has been very effective in identifying the major criminals in our area and putting them behind bars. Eric Anderson’s goal is supported by me, and I would be willing to give the city manager any tools or resources that he needs to get the job done.

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 have read some of them. This does not seem to be an impossible hurdle, or a problem that can only be handled by legal action. As more and more cities and states ban these distracting signs it will become evident to Clear Channel that their signs are dangerous and put public safety at risk. A voter referendum on this matter would certainly help, as would public boycotts on any products advertised by Clear Channel.

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: Yes to a point. Negotiation seems to be an even better alternative, as brightness and contrast, as well as length of time of a particular ad appears are all negotiating points. So is donating billboard time to highlight city programs, and emergency situations such as Amber Alerts – which could be shown within minutes. Locating an unfair number of billboards in any section of town would not be acceptable to me.

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?
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Answer: The B&O Tax is fair, where it sits. There are costs associated with living in an area as beautiful as Tacoma. The costs must be shared by all of us, residents and business alike. For new business, waiving the B&O tax for the first year seems reasonable, and for small business waiving the B&O tax for two years should help them establish a customer base.     Comparing Tacoma to Fife or University Place is just not fair, as we have so much more to offer. Consider that no business ever really pays a tax. Only the buyer of the product or service pays a tax. The business increases the cost of the product to compensate for the tax, and the increase in cost makes the product less competitive in the marketplace. Taxes always create a black market, or underground market, as both producers and purchases look for ways to get around them. As a result, the city will always lose money by the imposition of new taxes. Look at the cigarette tax as a great example. People did not stop smoking, they just stopped buying from businesses in the city, and went to the tribes. The city and state have not earned a penny more from the increased taxes as they did before the hike. The effect was penalizing the profits of the business owners.

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For more information, see Vote Michael Hardy on Facebook.

published July 11th, 2011

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