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City Council: Town Center Power Outage, Fire Station Bond, and Parking Issues All On Tap

Mercer Island City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed EMS/Fire bond proposal and receive a report from the city on the June 25 car accident that knocked out power to nearly half the Island

Mercer Island City Council has busy agenda at tonight's (July 16) 7 p.m. meeting at in council chambers on a range of important topics.

Several City Councilmembers have requested the city report on why at 77th Ave. SE and SE 27th Street knocked out power to the Town Center business district and about half the Island's nearly 10,000 residential customers.

On the consent agenda, the 2012 Residential Street Overlays and Pedestrian/Bike Improvements Bid Award and atuhorization to complete the First Hill Booster Pump Station Improvements Project are scheduled.

For regular business, the council will hear the first reading of a Fire/EMS levy-lid lift bond ordinance to fund the construction of a new South-end , breathing apparatus and three new fire trucks over the next 10 years for $4.8 million.

The levy-lid lift bond ordinance, if approved by City Council, would require a 50 percent-plus-one majority of voters to approve the measure. If a resolution were to be placed on the November ballot, it must be filed with state and county election officials no later than Aug. 7.

Also for council consideration is the Open Space Conservancy Trust Work Plan, the Agreement Monitoring Report and new parking restrictions on the shoulders of three major arterial roads around the community collectively known as "the Mercer Ways" (East Mercer Way, West Mercer Way and North Mercer Way).

The meeting will also be broadcast live on the city's local television channel, MI-TV Channel 21, starting at 7 p.m.

Ray Burt June 29, 2012 at 12:03 PM
As I have mentioned before, expect the folks who ran the NOT THIS SCHOOL BOND to reorganize and launch a NOT THIS FIRE STATION BOND. After all, the Fire Station was build the same time as the schools, has been kept up to date and consistency suggests the NO folks will be aghast at the notion of tearing down a perfectly good structure instead of remodeling it. That said..why does a new fire station need 50% + 1 vote but a new school need 60% +1 vote? This doesn't seem right.
Kendall Watson June 29, 2012 at 03:28 PM
It's state law. The City Council in a practical sense has a choice (three choices, actually) on how to finance this: 1) Bond Levy (60%+1), 2) Levy Lid-Lift (50%+1) and 3) Councilmanic bonds (approval needed by council only). The council decided to pass on councilmanic bonds in late last year/early this year. A Levy-Lid Lift bond is what the city got approved in 2008 for Parks maintenance and operations funding. State law will require the city, if the bond is approved, to pay back the balance in 9 years. I've attached a sheet to this story that compares the using either a Levy Lid-Lift and Bond Levy to fund the Fire/EMS improvements the city is asking for.
Ray Burt June 29, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Thanks for the clarification. Now there is even more expectation for the NOT THIS SCHOOL BOND folks to rally against the fire station. I'm sure they'll argue the city council deliberately took a route that requires fewer percentage votes than a new school -- after all the requirements could have been the same, but the city council said NO. Interesting to see how the one city council member to join the NO campaign votes on this one...as it's pretty clear it won't earn his support given previous comments.
Ira B. Appelman July 16, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I don't know what the schools groups are going to do, but I've been opposing demolition of perfectly good Island buildings for years -- way before the latest failed demolition/rebuild schools bond. The south end Fire Station was built in 1962 and is surrounded by a neighborhood of houses built in the 1960s and 1970s (and 1950s!!). There has been some remodelling and expansions, but it wouldn't even occur to those neighbors to consider demolishing and rebuilding their houses because they cannot afford to waste money like local government can. There is absolutely no doubt that the Levy-Lid Lift will be chosen because the City Council is certain it cannot get a 60% vote. Councilmanic bonds aren't an option because they don't raise taxes; they are paid off with a revenue stream like the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET), but in a down economy those revenue streams are down and not available. Our "community leaders" can afford to THINK BIG because they're spending what now-Mayor but then-Councilmember Bruce Bassett once called "funny money." Off-line, the City Council is planning a demolition/rebuild of City Hall moving it to the Walgreens property in the Town Center. They are trying to get a sympathetic School Board to join in the demolition of the Administration Bldg and schools administration move to the Town Center. It's noteworthy that our "community leaders" are so insulated from the effects of the recession.
Kendall Watson July 16, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Fire Chief Chris Tubbs (in his own words in a Patch Q&A interview, see here: http://patch.com/A-R1T) cited the two engineering studies the city has commissioned to review the status of Station 92 as evidence to support replacing the station, not remodeling it. Of particular note, according to Tubbs, is 1) an upside-down load-bearing beam over the trucks and block masonry that are not expected to survive an earthquake; and 2) the building has designed for programmatic needs that have changed (full-time w/ dorms vs. part time w/ no dorms, faster response time requirements, ect.). Do you have a copy of either of those studies from 1991 or 2009?
Ira B. Appelman July 16, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Yes. The ol' "earthquake" bugaboo that the City used to support the failed demolition/rebuild school bonds. Design Commission Chairman Emmett Maloof posted (appropriately in the "Distorter") the usual, phony warning: http://www.mi-reporter.com/opinion/letters/142124353.html. The south end Fire Station has served this community well for decades. It has survived two major earthquakes, one in the 1960s and the recent Nisqually earthquake. If improvements are needed including remodelling, seismic upgrades and expansion, fine. If the City's story is that the station has been unsafe for decades, then the Fire Chief and the rest of City management should be terminated for gross negligence, allowing employees and citizens to occupy a dangerous building. The programmatic need for full-time vs. part-time changed at least a decade ago. I toured the station during the open house and they have enough space, which can be remodelled or expanded. Islanders don't have the money to demolish and rebuild their houses when they run out of closet space. I agree that you should post any relevant reports that the City has including expert opinion that disagrees with the City Council. However, in my experience, the City actively supresses disagreement, including the firing or forcing out of City Clerk Tina Eggers, Development Services Director Richard Hart, Deputy City Manager Londi Lindell, City Attorney Bob Sterbank, and Asst City Manager and Parks & Rec. Director Pete Mayer.
Kendall Watson July 16, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Sorry all about the typo in the subhed — It's a PUBLIC HEARING to raise property taxes to replace the fire station and replace aging equipment. Missed those key words on the first pass. Darn!
Kendall Watson July 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Well that was interesting – I was assured by a councilmember that a report would be made on the car accident/power outage. I noticed James Cassan, President of Dollar Development and owner of the property was there, but it seemed they were in attendance only to comment (his wife Doris, actually) on parking on the Mercers (they're residents of the Groveland Park neighborhood, off West Mercer Way). Some pretty spicy comments from Mrs. Cassan, at that.
Manuel Cawaling July 17, 2012 at 11:04 PM
I applaud the Mayor, City Council and City manager for their leadership and commitment to ensure public safety. The construction of a new firehouse is within the best interests of the community and a reasonable investment when considering the potential risks to property and life. The opposition’s concerns dismiss sound recommendations. Comparing this plan to the failed school bond is not a fair or insightful . Quite simply, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Studies and common sense show that the firehouse is old and will be structurally unsafe during an earthquake. In the event of a catastrophe, we need our first response buildings to be up and running. True, the current building may possibly withstand an earthquake (depending on the severity and where the quake originates). However, if the quake is serious enough the building would be rendered unusable. It would be a serious risk to public safety if the only firehouse on the Southend went offline during a disaster. When weighing potential loss of life and property, that risk is too great. Yes, homes near the firehouse were built around the same time but we won't expect those homes to be a hub for emergency response. Those homes will not house fire trucks, ambulances, emergency supplies or our first responders.
Manuel Cawaling July 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Yes, the firehouse has lived through several earthquakes. However, those quakes came from fault lines far away from Lake Washington. If the Seattle fault line, located along i-90, were to rupture and shake, much of this island would be decimated and we would need all fire stations operational to handle the resulting fires and rescue operations. Studies already show that a locally centered quake may close the bridges. Mercer Island would not be able to rely on help from neighboring cities. We'd be on our own. $4.8 million is a reasonable cost for emergency services. Comparing this cost to the school bond is not a fair comparison. The failed school bond was $190 million and didn't address public safety. However, I should say that I was a supporter of the school bond and for leveraging public dollars to improve the quality of Mercer Island public education. Concerns about potential earthquakes in a geologically active region like the Pacific Northwest is not “bugaboo.” Looking at the history of the region as well as reports and warnings from scientists and geologists, a serious earthquake is imminent. It's irresponsible for the community to ignore the educated warnings and "hope for the best." The lives of our neighbors, our community's children, the elderly and frail (those most likely to need emergency services), will be at stake. Ignoring this is irresponsible.
Manuel Cawaling July 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM
When considering the worth of this community’s homes and, most importantly, the people; I believe the cost to be pricesless. But, factoring in the state of our economy and the need to be fiscally prudent; $5 million sounds like a good investment and an appropriate cost. I look forward to the public process and a further investment in the future of our community.
Ira B. Appelman July 18, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Who is Manuel Cawaling? He claims to be a voter with a stake in the levy lift election. The King County voters list for Mercer Island is a public record. I searched the list, but I cannot find anyone with the last name of Cawaling. I also looked at the Mercer Island Directory 2012. No Cawaling. Manuel sounds very much like Ray Burt, and I also cannot find anyone with the last name of Burt in the KC voters list for Mercer Island or in the Directory? I have been heavily involved in Mercer Island local issues for over 15 years. I have ALWAYS used my true name and identified myself correctly. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I have always taken responsibility for the information I provide and the opinions I express. I expect others to do the same. I would like to know the MI Patch policy on alias posting. I think the Distorter was having a problem with alias posting so they required commenters to have a Facebook account. I don't think alias posting is consistent with Mercer Island community values.
Ira B. Appelman July 18, 2012 at 08:01 AM
Even though Cawaling and Burt don't appear on the KC voters list for MI, I would like to respond anyway. A pattern has developed of our leaders demanding demolition/rebuilds, but the voters supporting remodelling only. In the 1990s, the School Board proposed a plan that included demolishing and rebuilding one of the grade schools. Islanders overwhelmingly rejected that plan, but supported remodelling only. In 1998, the City proposed demolishing and rebuilding the community center. Islanders rejected that supporting remodelling, but the City did it anyway. Recently, Islanders rejected the District’s demolition/rebuild plan in favor of remodelling. But our leaders continue to push anyway. Most Islanders don’t know that the City is currently working on demolishing City Hall and rebuilding it in the Town Center. The south end Fire Station is solid and the City has been free to make seismic, space, and functional improvements if it so desires, but the City has seen fit to do little of that over the years. I expect that government officials will have as a goal treating taxpayer money as if it was their own. Most taxpayers must care for their property within a budget, repairing, making do, and, less often, remodelling or expanding their homes. Almost none demolish their homes and rebuild new because they have other expenses they need to cover. Why shouldn't government live by the same financially responsible principles that constrain its citizens?
Kendall Watson July 18, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Manny is the Executive Director of Youth Theatre Northwest. He sometimes also attends local events and community fora, such as City Council and the School Board. As the leader of one of the largest youth-related enterprises on the Island (and someone very familiar with earthquake safety standards, as their own facility is an unrenovated structure from the late 50s early 60s), it seems reasonable to suggest that he has a vested interest in local public safety.
Kendall Watson July 18, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Jeff, got a particular hot spot on Mercer Island for mobile phone-using drivers? I'd like to do a story on this...
Kendall Watson July 18, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Hi Ira, Patch's Terms of Use are located at the bottom of the page. You and all the other commenters on Mercer Island Patch agreed to observe these guidelines when you subscribed to Patch. Here is the link and relevant sections in answer to your question: mercerisland.patch.com/terms Relevant sections: Registration: "We ask that the e-mail address you provide when you register be a valid e-mail address for you. We encourage, but do not require, that the user name you provide be your real name." Acceptable Use: "Patch is under no obligation to enforce the Patch Terms of Use on your behalf or based on a claim by you that another user has violated it. While we encourage you to let us know if you believe that another user has violated these terms of use or has engaged in other unacceptable behavior, by reporting it to support@patch.com, Patch will make the sole determination as to whether Content is acceptable for the Service."
Ira B. Appelman July 18, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Hi Kendall: In my opinion, I believe, that Patch shouldn't allow commenters to use aliases. I think everyone should own what they write. I'm not saying that Patch or anyone else is violating any policy. I am saying that Patch should adopt and enforce a policy that aliases aren't allowed. I believe the Distorter was allowing aliases, but because of the comments they were getting, they decided to disallow aliases by requiring commenters to have a Facebook page. I believe Patch should adopt a similar policy to disallow aliases. When I was in graduate school, I reviewed the literature that clearly showed that people were, on average, far less responsible when they could do something anonymously compared to when their responsibility for action was known. I'm not claiming anyone is violating any Terms of Use; I'm claiming that the terms of use should be changed. Since writing my comment, I've learned that Manuel Cawaling is the Director of YTN Manny who approached the Council in 2009 to bail out Youth Theatre NW when it was about the go bankrupt. (http://www.mercergov.org/files/061509.pdf). The Council voted a $37,000 bailout for YTN. As far as I know, Manny isn't a registered voter on MI for the ballot measures he discusses. I still don't know who Ray Burt is. Both Manuel Cawaling and Ray Burt are free to respond to my comment to correct any mistakes they claim I have made. I'm happy to correct any errors now and in the future.
Kendall Watson July 18, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Thank you for acknowledging the error, Ira. You are welcome to advocate, as I have done, changes to the Terms of Use policy to support@patch.com.
Manuel Cawaling July 18, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Though I appreciate the conversation, my opinion remains the same. And my concerns are focused squarely on public safety, specifically in the area of emergency response. In the event of a catastrophic earthquake (which scientists predict is likely for the region), Mercer Island needs a reliable and usable fire station on the South end to coordinate emergency response. Emergency response facilities are expected to seismically perform at a higher level than other buildings or residential homes. Why? Because in the event of a catastrophe, these buildings are the hub for property and life saving operations. A fire station that is rendered unusable in the hours after an earthquake, will not be able to save homes or lives. Comparing the cost of a $5 million dollar firehouse to the value of all the homes on Mercer Island and the priceless value of human life, I think it's a good investment. Yes, the building could be rehabbed but building from ground up will ensure the most structurally sound facility. Yes, I don't live on Mercer Island but I am very invested in the community's public safety. Not only do I spend an enormous amount of time and money in this community but I deeply care for the children and families we serve and will therefore advocate for their public safety. Additionally, as Executive Director for a business on Mercer Island, I have standard expectations from the city government; reliable public safety. And yes, my name is Manuel Cawaling.
Ira B. Appelman July 19, 2012 at 01:10 AM
All Islanders are for reliable emergency response, great schools, parks, city services, but that doesn’t answer the issue I’ve raised: Most taxpayers must care for their property within a budget, repairing, making do, and, less often, remodelling or expanding their homes. Almost none demolish their homes and rebuild new because they have other expenses they need to cover. Why shouldn't government live by the same financially responsible principles that constrain its citizens? The City Council and School Board are on a demolition/rebuild bender not agreed to by Islanders. The Council demolished and rebuilt the community center with saved funds and councilmanic bonds, despite Islanders saying NO in the largest bond loss in MI history (66% against) in 1998. The Board proposed demolishing and rebuilding our schools, which the voters overwhelmingly rejected (60% against). The City is, nevertheless, pushing to demolish and rebuild the south end fire station and, unbeknownst to Islanders, working in secret to demolish City Hall and rebuild in the Town Center. (End Part 1 of 3)
Ira B. Appelman July 19, 2012 at 01:11 AM
These issues are dribbled out to the voters one at a time as the most important issues in our lives. Today it’s the south end fire station and emergency response. Yesterday, it was the schools and preparing our children with a 21st century education. The day before, it was the community center and nurturing our multi-generational community. Tomorrow, it will be City Hall and providing critical services in an emergency. We already voted a $15 million levy lift a few years ago because the City claimed our parks were falling apart and we had to “protect our property values.” The earthquake bugaboo is always prominent as a reason to demolish/rebuild, as it was with the old community center that, to the embarrassment of the City, survived the Nisqually earthquake with no damage. The current fire station levy proposal nearly doubles the size of the station, providing room for more fire fighters than will ever occupy the station, and bundles an emergency vehicle, freeing up funds for other council purposes. (End Part 2 of 3)
Ira B. Appelman July 19, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Now to the alleged great concern of Mr. Cawaling for earthquake safety. In the 1990s, our five schools were remodeled and moderately expanded, including earthquake upgrades, all supported by bonds passed by Island voters. During the most recent school bonds election, it was revealed that the 1990s earthquake upgrades were NOT extended to the North Mercer buildings. IN OTHER WORDS, EARTHQUAKE UPGRADES WEREN’T PROVIDED FOR THE BUILDINGS THAT NOW HOUSE OUR YOUNGEST CHILDREN. If the City, District, YTN, and Mr. Cawaling were so concerned about the susceptibility of our public buildings to earthquakes, they certainly would have protected our youngest children. So I ask Mr. Cawaling, “How much money has Youth Theatre NW spent on earthquake upgrades under his leadership?” His answer will save me and the District the trouble and expense of public record requests. The City Council and School Board would never tolerate staff dribbling out programs one at a time, each time claiming the program was the most important thing in the world. That’s what the City and District do to voters all the time with these bond and levy issues. There needs to be a larger, more coordinated discussion of all Island bond and levy needs following the financially responsible principles that Islanders follow in spending their own funds. (End Part 3 of 3)
Robert T. Brown July 19, 2012 at 04:02 AM
It's no surprise that Manuel Cawaling said that he applauds the Mayor. A year ago, he endorsed him! ( http://electbruce.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/ytn/ ). As I said about the principals of the previously proposed schools included in the School Bond, they all don't live on Mercer Island, and thus would not end up paying taxes here. As Councilmember Cero said at Monday's meeting, the money for the rescue truck should come from diverted funds from places like the "beautification fund" and "arts fund". Additionally, bundling non-essentials with essentials is almost always a bad idea. The vulnerability of the station to an earthquake always seems to come up. Seeing that there are nearby power lines and even an adjacent power station, this Fire Station appears inaccessible in the case of a "catastrophic earthquake".
Manuel Cawaling July 19, 2012 at 04:10 AM
It is true, our building has seismic issues. Though our building will likely remain standing in the event of a serious earthquake, it will be rendered unusable. Therefore, because of our genuine concern for the safety of our children and families, we are actively creating a plan to move out of our facility in four years to a newer, seismically superior facility. This issue is very important to us. To clarify, the Nisqually Quake was centered on the Nisqually fault line which is just outside of Olympia. How different would the impact have been on Mercer Island facilities if a quake originates along the Seattle fault, running through Mercer Island? Mr. Appelman, I certainly respect your opinion. And the nature of debate and conversation allows and welcomes diverse views. We just see things differently. Best wishes to you.
Ira B. Appelman July 21, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Dear Director Cawaling: Thanks for your comments. If the District and the City believed that your Youth Theatre NW building had seimic issues that affected, as you say, "the safety of our children and families," your building would be red-tagged by close-of-business. If you want to keep your job on this Island, if you ever detect a condition that affects the safety of children, call 9-1-1. The seismic safety issue (which is one of many safety issues continually monitored) is only raised publicly when the City or the District wants to replace a building. In the 1990s, the District remodelled and expanded the five schools including seismic upgrades. We learned recently that they were so concerned about earthquakes that they DID NOT UPGRADE the North Mercer campus where our youngest and most vulnerable students are housed. I believe the Superintendent was assured recently by professionals that there was no immediate danger from those buildings. Improvements to the south end Fire Station have been discussed at City Council FOR DECADES!!! In the interim, we've voted two multi-million dollar levies for parks, which apparently had a higher priority. Next in line is the demolition of a perfectly good City Hall becase the urbanizers running the City don't like WHERE THE VOTERS VOTED IN THE 1980s TO SITE IT and want it in the Town Center. Expect the reasoning that City Hall COORDINATES emergency response, so we need demolition/rebuild to bring it up to seismic code.
Kendall Watson July 21, 2012 at 10:38 PM
It was also mentioned several times at the Jan. 2012 retreat that moving City Hall to the Town Center could help boost local businesses there.
doris cassan July 21, 2012 at 11:20 PM
If the Council wishes to boost local businesses in the Town Center, why is the zoning so restrictive? Mr. Watson you might wish to investigate why the Town Center has empty store fronts. Is it not true that the cities that continue to thrive are the cities where the elected officials help create a business friendly environment? D.Cassan Doris Cassan
Kendall Watson July 22, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Thanks Doris. Your husband's company, Dollar, was subject to quite a bit of criticism from a few councilmembers earlier this year who seemed to surmise that rents were too high for the businesses there, driving them away, not to mention their complaints about parking. However, it looks like the Planning Commission and many on the council are in favor of revising the restrictions on tenants like the "No-net loss" and "60/40" regulations. I plan on writing about this and would be happy to interview Mr. Cassan. Please contact me at kendall.watson@patch.com. Thanks for the comment!

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