President Belton and PLU Regents need to work with their community

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Editorial, Marianne Lincoln

In many places in recent issues of “Resolute,” the magazine sent to alumni and supporters of Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), the text says how the university works with their community. One article in particular: George Zeno talks Parkland, equity and community partnerships. (PLU Associate Vice President of Advancement) “No one organization is going to meet its mission by itself. A collective impact model is a community-centric partnership structure that convenes community stakeholders to co-design approaches to solutions of complex social and economic challenges.”

So if PLU is really interested in community partnerships, why have they been so secretive in the past four years about their plans to sell large portions of their campus real estate holding without consulting the Parkland Community? (i.e., their golf course, private homes, Gonyea House, Parkland School)

The answer is partly that Pierce County is allowing them to get away with that through their planning and zoning processes. If you do not know where to look through a computer, you will not find out what is happening.

Even the Scandinavian Cultural Center, housed in the ground level of the University Center has been severely cut back in their leadership and programs. On top of being closed for two years for the pandemic, this year, when it reopened, the new director was only part time with no additional paid help other than a little student assistance. The volunteer Council members for the Center have put in over 750 personal hours to compensate for the changes. Much of the SCC Council contacts and supporters are PLU alumni and donors. These are people that appreciate the University and have provided large donations and endowments.

In the case of the Parkland School, the Regents made the decision to sell the property without posting a yellow sign that would have alerted the neighbors to the beginning of the process. The ad in the classified section of the Tacoma News Tribune elicited zero public members to testify at the hearing to remove the historic status from the building. In fact, it referred to the property as a PLU historic property, not the “Parkland School.” When the public, through a banquet at the Scandinavian Cultural Center, learned of the de-listing and demolition plans, within two days gathered 37 public to attend on the Landmarks Commission Zoom Meeting. The issues [de-listing and demolition] now have been moved to a new hearing on June 21 at the Pierce County Annex at 6 pm, an in-person meeting.

On June 6, Councilmembers Jani Hitchens and Marty Campbell held a Community Listening Session at James Sales School from 6:30 -7:30pm. Everyone wanted to talk about saving the Historic Parkland School. The community was begging for time. Two days notice, or even one month, is not enough time to organize alternative purchasers to save the school.

June 6, Councilmember Hitchen said, “I know that Councilmember Campbell and I are working on a letter along with [Washington State] Representative [Melanie] Morgan just to ask them to pause and see what we can do.”

PLU needs to quit hiding its plans from the neighborhood where it sits. It needs to engage this community in meetings, (they have meeting space) and get community participating and ideas about what they need. There is a Parkland Community Plan registered with Pierce County. One must wonder if it was ever considered. It appears all PLU is doing is searching for the top dollar, regardless of community need. This is not sitting well with long-time residents or PLU grads in the area.

A large number of Garfield Street businesses are also up for sale. The changes to the area could be significant and potential buyers need to be warned to consider the Parkland Community plan as it was in 2000, because that would give them a better idea of how to fit in with any new plans. The modified 202 Community Plan was hacked and modified by Pierce County Planning and not approved by the community, as evidenced by community testimony at every turn. Presided over by Executive Bruce Dammeier, a developer himself, the County 2020 Planning efforts benefited developers and growth, not community and environment.

PLU, as a private, neighborhood located institution, needs to recognize and truly act on involving the Parkland Community in major plans, not just write feel good quotes in a mailer. The success of their neighborhood directly reflects on the University. Right now, they can’t possibly like what they see in the mirror.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Judy Scott says:

    Spot on!! Other than fir the Scandinavian Cultural Center, PLU will not get one more dime from me. I am disgusted and frustrated with the leadership . They lack integrity and now I do not trust them! This is NOT what PLU has meant to me for so many years. HYPOCRITS!!! You have betrayed community trust because you are hand in hand with the Developers- like our County Executive is.

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