TOUGH TOPIC: Homelessness in Sumner
It’s a topic on the minds of communities throughout the Northwest, and it’s a topic that is not new to Sumner. During the Great Depression, individuals, then termed “hoboes” and “tramps,” would come off the trains and gather down by the river behind the Cannery, when it was a cannery. What is the philosophy of the City of Sumner and the Sumner Police Department? This is a big topic, but here are a few very general overviews.
The term “homeless” is too broad to accurately describe varying situations. Chief Brad Moericke talks about the difference between unsheltered individuals and transients. Although they don’t have a physical address, unsheltered individuals identify Sumner as their home, typically have lived here for years and are well known as part of the community. Transients truly are “on the go” and passing through, usually on their way to Seattle. Sumner’s officers often know our unsheltered residents and also try to make contact with transients to understand their situation and help get them resources or headed in the right direction.
Being homeless is not a crime. Police officers still get calls, asking us to arrest someone “for being homeless” or appearing dirty or disheveled. That is not possible. Nor is it true that being homeless equals or assumes criminal activity. Sadly, as a Police department, we see crime committed by individuals in every socio-economic bracket.
Shared space is indeed shared space, which brings benefits and challenges. Our roads, sidewalks and parks are shared space available for everyone to enjoy regardless of economic, gender, or racial status. However, there are norms and laws to keep one individual’s enjoyment from interfering with another’s. That’s why we have laws against overnight camping as well as golfing in parks, skateboarding on sidewalks or consuming alcoholic beverages in public. The Council is considering no longer allowing smoking or vaping in parks. Again, these norms and rules apply to everyone.
What does all this mean for you? As always, please call police when something feels amiss. We maintain the motto that no call is too small. Collectively, you have more eyes and ears on the streets than we have officers, so let us know. Your call keeps us informed and may also give us an opportunity to check with someone new. Last year, a citizen called about a man living in his truck outside their home. The officer checked in with the man who was indeed homeless and a veteran experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Rather than just ask him to move along, our officer, also a vet, connected the man with resources. Today, the man is getting assistance through Veterans Affairs and living in an apartment.
What can you do to help? The most effective way to help is to volunteer, donate or simply ask what’s needed at existing organizations ranging from the Sumner Food Bank to the Emmanuel Food Pantry to St. Francis House in Puyallup or Exodus Housing in Sumner. Working together is much more effective than trying to provide food or clothing on your own. The City of Sumner and our employees support a number of efforts ranging from the Food Bank to the Sumner-Bonney Lake Family Center. We’d love to have you join us.
RUMOR: The Town Center Plan means the City will “take” people’s property in the town center to build high-rises.
FACTS: No, not at all. We’ve had a Town Center Plan for decades, by the way, as well as a Comprehensive Plan. Plans help direct the future by determining what property owners can and can’t do on their property. The idea is to avoid conflicting uses next to each other and give the entire city a general direction it’s going.
Recent updates to the Town Center Plan give property owners within that area slightly different options than they had before if they are interested in developing their land. In some locations, that does include allowing a slightly taller building, a change made at the request of numerous existing property owners as well as the general public who provided feedback for over a year on these rewrites. The updated Town Center Plan does not, in any way, supersede private property rights.
On a related note, the City owns the block where the Red Apple was located. We only own this land because it was originally intended in the 1990s to build a larger City Hall there. Instead, we expanded our existing building in the early 2000s, making the Red Apple site no longer necessary. After recently acquiring the last two parcels, we are finally marketing the property for redevelopment but that’s in an effort to get ourselves out of the land-development business, not further into it.
Question: why is the City focusing on fixing the SR 410/166th interchange next? Have you seen SR 162 lately?
We have, and that’s why we’re focused on 166th next. There are two main reasons. First, both interchanges are horribly congested, but the 166th interchange has major safety issues with no signals at the westbound ramps. Traffic collision data shows that while the number of accidents are similar, 166th experiences way more dangerous turning accidents than the rear-enders on SR 162.
Second, it’s going to be much quicker and cheaper to fix the 166th interchange. We could complete the fixes for $9.5 million. While that’s not exactly cheap, it’s a lot cheaper than the estimated $30 million needed for SR 162/410 interchange. And it’s not just the interchange that’s the issue on SR 162. The entire highway to Orting needs relief, making it a major project. Getting 166th done gives us an alternate route that will be important whenever SR 162 does go under extensive construction.
And the added bonus? The 166th project also includes replacing the current Salmon Creek culvert with a fish-passage culvert designed to meet today’s standards in this environmentally significant creek. With all the work on orcas in Puget Sound and salmon runs this is a significant additional piece of this important transportation project.
So far, the Sumner City Council included $150,000 in our budget to plan the 166th Avenue interchange improvements. We’re asking the State of Washington to provide seed money in their transportation budget, and from there, we’ll continue to seek grants and other funding sources.
Question: what’s with all the garbage on SR 410 through Sumner?
We’re not sure but have noticed it ourselves and heard many complaints. Garbage removal on any state highway, including through Sumner, falls under the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). We have left a message with WSDOT, alerting them to the issue. If you’d like to contact them directly, they are very active on social media, especially Twitter. Hopefully, we see it cleaned up soon. In the meantime, remember to properly dispose of all your own trash and litter, even cigarette butts.
Question: Why can’t you keep the old bridge for pedestrians?
The old bridge’s last inspection gave it a safety rating of 7 out of 100. It also contains environmental issues like lead paint. Our engineers estimate that redoing the bridge to safely carry pedestrians would cost over $10 million and would require expensive ongoing upkeep. Plus, it’s sitting where about 25% of the new bridge needs to go. There was only so much land to adjust the path of the bridge, and even building the new bridge took months of research into right-of-way and deeds going back to original, handwritten donation land claims.
Question: The old bridge won’t just sit there like in Puyallup, will it?
No, we had different requirements from WSDOT than Puyallup did. Our bridge will be lifted out of place and go away. A piece of it will come back to be included in a park on the west side of the new bridge.
Question: Now that we’re using the new bridge, will Bridge Lighting return?
Yes, but in 2019. We’re driving on the new bridge now, but it’s still an active construction site as the crew removes the old bridge and finishes building the north walkway plus all the decorative lighting/artwork on the new bridge. So, it’s just a little too soon to return Bridge Lighting in 2018. And if a whole year just seems so far away, know that the new bridge will feature some decorative lighting all year long, so lights will come on before November 2019!
Rumor: “The City took the bus service away.”
From time to time we hear this when people ask what happened to the bus in Sumner. No, we did not take bus service away. That was done for us many years ago when the local transit agency announced in 2012 that they were removing regular service throughout our community and limiting service only to the train station, while still collecting approximately $2M in taxes. We asked them to reconsider, but they moved ahead anyway. As a result of their decision, we removed ourselves from being in the transit district. Per their plan, a bus would have come from Puyallup into the Sumner Sounder Station and gone right back out again. There would not have been a bus throughout the city, and they would also have cancelled the shuttle to the Bonney Lake Park & Ride that hundreds of commuters need daily. Worse, their Shuttle service for disabled riders would have left significant low-income and senior residential areas in most of our City without any service at all.
When the City of Sumner withdrew from the transit agency, it lowered our sales tax rate from 9.3% to 8.8%. This was not money collected by the City and used elsewhere. It was a savings to citizens, particularly helping low-income populations that are hardest hit by sales taxes. (Please note that the sales tax rate has since gone back up to 9.3% with ST3 and would have been 9.8% if we were also still in the transit district.)
Plus, by removing ourselves from a transit district, we were eligible to bring in other transit service, notably two key services. First, Beyond the Borders service provides free bus service throughout the entire city for youth, disabled, senior and low-income citizens. They have a fixed route that runs weekdays and service the YMCA, the library, grocery stores and the senior center as well as offering direct rides in certain instances. Second, after extensive lobbying by the City of Sumner and Pierce County, Sound Transit agreed to pick up the vital Bonney Lake Park and Ride Shuttle. Had we remained in the transit district, we would have had neither service nor been able to seek them from other agencies.
A few citizens have said they have called the transit agency who said the City of Sumner cancelled buses. While that’s partially true, it’s not the whole story. What really happened is that the City canceled being in the transit agency only because the transit agency had already canceled virtually all of our bus service, hurting those who needed it most. Today, the city actually has wider service, and we hope citizens use these vital services as that’s the only way of retaining them.
Question: why do you have to remove two trees at Loyalty Park?
We’ve recently been informed that two big-leaf maples in Sumner’s Loyalty Park have reached the end of their life and need to come down. After years of efforts to preserve them, at 100 years old, they now pose a high risk of failure.
These trees were part of a 1996 Assessment that listed both as being in fair to poor condition with decay problems. The City followed the recommendations of crown cleaning and thinning as well as cabling the dominant leaders. That “bought” us another 22 years to enjoy the trees, but they are now at a high risk of failure that cannot be ignored. Last winter, one of the trees’ large limbs fell on a picnic table. Thankfully, no one was present. The lost limb revealed extensive decay and cavities within the remaining tree.
Both the City arborist and an outside arborist confirmed the initial assessment. The City’s Forestry and Parks Commission also agreed that the time had come when the two trees need to be removed. A third tree, a horse chestnut was also evaluated and, with some special care, was deemed safe to remain. The City will follow several recommendations to ensure it maintains the highest level of health for its remaining years.
The City does not take removal of trees lightly. The Arbor Day Foundation designated us a Tree City USA for over 20 years. However, part of an overall urban forestry program is understanding that as living things, even trees reach the end of their life. For that reason, the City used grant funding to start its own nursery last year so that in the future, when mature trees have to be removed, they are not replaced with saplings but with more mature trees that the City has been cultivating already.
Question: do I need a permit or reservation to hold a party in one of Sumner’s parks?
Question: why are the flashing school lights/20 mph signs for Daffodil Valley Elementary activated during odd hours, especially during commute time?
The schools themselves control and activate those lights to slow down traffic when there are children present, not for just traditional school hours. Daffodil Valley has evening programs that serve children weeknights until 6:45 pm. Especially with commute traffic, we need cars to slow down and drivers to remain extra alert for children’s safety.
Question: why don’t you just remove Traffic Avenue from the truck route? Wouldn’t that solve the congestion?
No, it wouldn’t; in a way, it would make it worse. The Traffic Avenue interchange and its lights are failing due to all sorts of increased congestion, not just truck traffic. Although this interchange is owned by WSDOT, the City of Sumner can’t wait any longer and is raising money to build a second bridge with two more travel lanes and pedestrian access as well as upgrade both intersections. This takes $18-20 million in funding. To qualify for grants, the City has to show the need, including the need to move freight. Already $2.5 million has gone to the project from Freight Mobility board as well as further funding from the Port of Tacoma. Removing the truck route would significantly impact the City’s ability to get funding and delay the building of the second bridge that will bring relief.
Question: why are the traffic delays on 142nd Avenue repaving so bad this morning (April 26)?
Sorry about that. No, it should not be that bad through the next six weeks of the project. This morning, the signal at the Costco intersection was not operating properly. The City of Sumner traffic signals foreman was out there this morning with the contractor, and the situation has improved. We expect that traffic will improve for tomorrow’s AM commute. As with construction, there will always be challenges and inconveniences. However, we are very excited about construction and looking forward to a great new roadway surface.
Rumor: just use the main ball field at the Heath Sports Complex if you’d like.
Actually, you can, but there are a couple steps to take first. If you’d like to use the main ball field, please contact Northwest Prospects Academy, who manage scheduling of the baseball field. You can reach them at (253) 301-0491 or via www.nwprospects.com to check the schedule/answer questions. You will also need to fill out a Facility Use Agreement (pdf) and return completed form to Derek Barry before your use can be scheduled. Enjoy playing ball in Sumner!
Rumor: the City doesn’t charge industrial businesses for their water use in order to attract business.
Wow! This one is really not true. In fact, the opposite is true. EVERYONE pays for their water use. Many of our industrial businesses pay utility bills that are between $1000 and $2000 per month. In fact, because water rates are set based on use and meter size, the large industrial businesses are the ones with larger meters, who are thus heavily supporting the water utility infrastructure that everyone enjoys using, including residents.
By the way, the City does not offer any financial incentive to attract industrial businesses. We rely on good customer service, good infrastructure and the old real estate adage of location, location, location.
Rumor: the old Red Apple building was torn down for a Sound Transit garage.
The Real Info: While that location was considered three years ago as one of four possible locations for a Sound Transit garage, both commuters and residents overwhelmingly asked for the garage to go on the existing open-air commuter lot instead, so that is where it will go, not on the Red Apple site. Sound Transit is building the garage with funding from ST2, not ST3, and the continues to progress with support from the City.
In the meantime, the Red Apple building was a derelict eyesore full of asbestos and mold. The eventual plan is redevelopment into mixed-use with housing on upper floors and retail/service on the ground floor. Your participation in the Town Center Plan update helps shape how high future building(s) could go and what style they should have.
To make redevelopment happen, the City has to clean up the soil underneath that was contaminated by an old gas station. During that 2-3 year process, the Council determined it was worth tearing down the building to offer more commuter parking spaces to fill a need for parking. In exchange for offering more off-street parking in the lot, the Council chose to extend restricted parking zones (RPZs) to return street parking to residents. Like any compromise, some commuters and residents are happy with the exchange, and some are really not.