By Marianne Lincoln
Pierce County’s Centers and Corridors Proposal (C&C) is NOT a plan. It is a pathway to build and sell thousands of houses. It is a proposal that keeps jobs in the planning department and jobs in housing construction, real estate and mortgage industries.
Pierce County has gone on a promotional tour for the proposal across community groups and public meetings all over the area this past month. They created a nice dog and pony show with beautiful maps and posters on easels and had department employees to tell people all the about the amenities that would be included and the neighborhoods that would become ‘oh so much better’ with this kind of center development. ‘My, isn’t this going to be lovely.’
Here is what is missing in the proposal and why I say it is not a plan.
Five years ago, I commuted to Bellevue to work at Microsoft. This past week, I began commuting again to a position in South Seattle. In those five years, the number of people living in Pierce County and commuting to King County has grown significantly. Simply, housing is far less expensive in Pierce County and jobs are far more available in King County. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, King and Thurston Counties have far better job prospects than Pierce County.
That quickly highlights two problems. Where are the jobs for the 60,000 new people? If not in Pierce County, these folks are going to be commuting to a neighboring county.
Then there is the road issue. No thanks to a locked up legislative system, our state didn’t have a transportation plan for a couple years. No new highway projects were provided funding. In fact, to many legislators, a “lowering taxes” mantra was more important than building the infrastructure we desperately needed. The number of backup ups has grown and grown. People, frustrated by the freeway’s average speed of 20 m.p.h. at peak commute times, got off the freeway onto the side roads. At 35 m.p.h., surface streets are faster to travel than the freeway. Traffic volumes have built on those surface streets and they are at or over capacity as well.
Consider that with commuters on the freeway, local commerce, trips to school, soccer, the grocery store and post office are still happening. With commuters packing up every surface street, no one is getting around the neighborhoods either. On the return trip from Seattle, I have driven on the Sumner Tapps Highway, East Valley Highway, West Valley Highway, Shaw Road, North Meridian, and I-5. Every one of those routes is backed up with miles of cars. Once south of the Puyallup River, SR162 to Orting, Shaw Road, Meridian, 94th Street, Fruitland, Woodland, Canyon Road, SR512, Waller Road, Portland Avenue and Pacific Avenue Yakima/C Street, and Steele Street/Spanaway Loop are also packed with cars.
This is now, before the 60,000 new people. The problem here is that the development of roads and local jobs has not kept pace with the growth of housing. This is called concurrency. Concurrency is a cornerstone of the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). A REAL plan includes all the affected aspects of growth.
[I must also comment on the unfair bias of many Seattle- based environmental organizations that have consistently dissed the construction of SR704 (the Cross Base Highway) by throwing up immigrant squirrels and butterflies over the needs of local citizens of whom they have no understanding of the plight of commuting around an 18 mile long military base. You enviros don’t get it – stay out of our business unless you will also help us stop this additional construction debacle. If you don’t help us with this C&C insanity and our aquifer, shut up about the highway because you are a useless hindrance. The Hudson Bay Company and indigenous people brought those oak trees up here from Oregon, they are not a rarity, they are imports.]
If the roads are packed with cars, then any reasonable planner would discuss building and widening roads, park and ride lots, buses, street cars and trains. This is the infrastructure that government pays most of the cost to build. Yes, impact fees to developers cover some of this. Understand that currently our county has impact fees, but they do not charge the full fee to the developers. Over the past 25 years since the GMA, Pierce County has gotten behind farther and farther on supporting infrastructure. In the housing bust between 2008 and 2012, Pierce Transit ceased most services it was providing in the mid-county area.
The planners pushing C&C, have not made it clear that they are talking about an area that is almost the size of the City of Tacoma in population. With 60,000 new residents, it will be the largest city in the county. The county has a regional council made up of cities and a couple of council member who are NOT from this designated area. There is NO REPRESENTATION of the affected communities on the county regional planning authority. The Pierce County Regional Council allocates transportation dollars, so the affected area gets very little toward its needs. The City of Tacoma has two representative on that council, smaller cities each have one. This “City of Pierce,” due to its size, should also have two, not ZERO.
Infrastructure includes roads, transit, sewers, government services (like schools, police, libraries, parks, services) and most of all places of employment that are family wage jobs. In the Frederickson community meeting, a county planner noted there is a plan to make commercial corridors with the zoning. Most of us have seen the commercial corridor that is called Meridian (SR161) on South Hill. Retail jobs are not generally family wage jobs unless you have two or three. Pierce County cannot build a city the size of Tacoma on local retail jobs and school wages. That would only force people to neighboring counties to seek work.
Crime is an issue. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies are working in an area far larger than any of the local cities with far fewer personnel. Crime has increased significantly with the additional high density population. Read that again, density = more crime. There will need to be a plan to provide more deputies in the area according to the plan.
Another huge incomplete goes to the awareness of water resources. Local water companies in the mid-county are supplied by underground water and wells. The area sits on a designated “Sole Source Aquifer,” (SSA). In Federal Regulations, you cannot take water from a different water resource and feed it into an area designated as an SSA. In plain English, you cannot take water from the Green River (Tacoma’s water source) and pump it into houses over the SSA. This SSA is replenished by rainwater. The water table must be maintained to feed the wells. The recent Hirst Decision at the Washington State Supreme Court is having a serious impact on the ability to place new wells into the ground water resource, particularly outside the urban growth boundaries. The point being, fresh ground water is a limited resource. There is only a certain size a community can grow to over an SSA. Pierce County has been ignoring the serious implications of this fact in its projects of housing units.
And now we come to the reality of – poop. Only a small portion of this area is connected to sewer lines. Every house, every business, every school, every apartment building has effluent. Call it gray water, brown water or whatever else goes down the drain, it needs to be dealt with. 30 years ago, every home in Parkland was forced to connect to sewer lines because the shallow wells in the area were becoming contaminated from groundwater pollution of septic systems. Everything that is flushed in the mid-county gets pumped to Chambers Bay. That treatment plant just went through a major capacity upgrade. When will this construction require an additional upgrade? There is no plan available, but there is a sewer map here.
In every livable community there must be school, libraries, parks, police, auto a driver licensing and other government services. I am certain in a city the size of Tacoma, there should be more than one park or library branch. Along with businesses and family wage jobs, there must be services and places to play, visit and assemble. Are there community center buildings planned for the local community organizations to meet in at no or a very low, reasonable cost? Where are the churches, places to marry, court services? Please don’t say everything will all still be in that smaller, big city to the north.
At this time, Centers and Corridors is a proposal to build lots of housing units, with a faint promise that if they build it, the businesses will come. It is a field of dreams designed to keep Planning and Land Services busy issuing building permits. Granted those permit issuers and the builders have living wage jobs. But the MUST be more and it is not on the table or even on a schedule to be on the table. At this time, it is merely job security for developers, not a PLAN for a livable community. It MUST be fleshed out or it must be stopped.
Travelling from Boeing Field to the Pierce County line right now takes about one hour. Travelling from the Pierce County line to Graham can take from one to two hours. That just doesn’t make sense. Pierce County, you need infrastructure. Do NOT do any more feeding of the piranha until you do.
And did anyone consider that as your neighboring properties sell to high density development, the value of YOUR property will go up? Yes, that rezoning will eventually cause your taxes to skyrocket, possibly taxing you out of your home.
Among other wonderful attributes of our area, the view of Mount Rainier that is blocked from the roads by two-story houses close to streets, waterways, streams, ponds, trees, frogs, ducks, geese and other environmental features that are being destroyed for rooftops. How do we maintain a reasonable amount of these quality of environmental life features?
The short answer to your Centers and Corridors proposal at this time is NO.
- There is no accompanying plan for economic development and jobs
- There is no accompanying plan for surface streets, arterials or freeways
- There is no accompanying plan for mass transit (trains, light rail, express buses). Please note the mass transit map for the Tacoma area who will actually have less people)
- There is no accompanying plan for crime prevention and additional Sheriff’s Deputies suitable to the higher crime densities bring
- There is no accompanying plan for necessary government services (like auto and driver licensing, post offices, libraries, schools, area parks)
- There is no accompanying plan for sewers lines and capacity
- There is no accompanying plan for water supply or protection of the Sole Source Aquifer.
- There is no accompanying plan for maintaining the identity of the communities for which you are proposing to blur the distinctions between. You are throwing years and year of many people working on FOUR distinct community plans down the drain. Hope your new treatment plant can choke through it.
- There is no accompanying plan for green belts. Views, trees, ponds, streams, frogs and other environmental features are important to a community too, unless you are a downtown urban wasteland. Street trees and storm ponds are no substitute. Green belts are a quality feature of planning, see Bellevue for an example.
And, to the members of the Pierce County Council and the County Executive, we expect better of you. Please get on board, live up to our needs and direct your staff to do so. We are YOUR voters.
You have work to do, do it first. Help your mid-county with the problems you already have given them. Proper planning has been dodged and deflected for so long, there is no room left on any of the roads for commuting in Pierce County.
Here are some video clips from the Frederickson Community Meeting from some people who have community planning experience.
I am not actually saying no, growth will happen, But I am saying… NOT UNTIL…