Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mayor Meets with Isthmus Group - Isthmus Bill ESSB 5800 Moves Toward the House

Above: Downtown Olympia, Budd Inlet and the Olympics

Olympia - With both parties making an effort toward finding common ground, Olympia Mayor Doug Mah met with about 20 people gathered at a meeting of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association on the evening of March 12. Mah, who said he had just eaten at the Olympia Oyster House with his wife, got right to the issue. Mah explained his new proposal to fund an isthmus park and Percival Landing and said, "We would like to capture the energy you have already started and build off of that base."

At the city council meeting on March 10, Mah proposed a plan to fund the isthmus park and Percival Landing by asking Olympians to approve a property tax levy. The levy, if approved, would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $105 for a period of 20 years. The proposal, as it currently stands, does not include the critical parcels owned by Triway Enterprises.

Mah acknowledged that some people may be skeptical of his proposal. "We have a unique and unprecedented opportunity in what I proposed Tuesday night," Mah said. "We have an opportunity to address current city needs...and address a strong desire to see a park on the isthmus. It makes sense to move in an orderly fashion, east to west, instead of hopscotching around."

In response to a clarifying question, Mah said that his proposal is "west-parcel neutral" meaning, it does not take a position on, or include, the parcels owned by Triway Enterprises.

Mah was hopeful city voters would approve the tax, mentioning that the recent fire district and Timberland Library levies passed in Olympia by over 60% of the needed vote.

Meanwhile, SSB 5800 passed the Senate on March 5, moving closer to save the isthmus area from an Olympia city council approved rezone to building heights of 90 feet. The strong, bipartisan vote, from all regions of the state, was 36 yes, 10 no and 3 excused. Senator Karen Fraser of Olympia sponsored the bill and, with the help of statewide constituents, succeeded in impressing senators from all over the state that Olympia's views are worth saving and that the thin strip of land connecting east and west Olympia is a shoreline of statewide significance.

Now the bill goes to the House of Representatives, where it will be scheduled for a hearing in the Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Geoff Simpson, the week of March 22nd.

Mah said to the group last night that he does not support ESSB 5800. "Local control is a big issue. If Senator Fraser had wanted to raise the heights there, we (the city) would have been all over it." Mah also disputed the idea that the isthmus is a "shoreline of statewide significance," as stated in the bill. "The isthmus is has public infrastructure that goes all the way up the bridge."

Representative Sam Hunt was also in attendance. Hunt is sponsor of the companion bill to ESSB 5800 that did not get a hearing. Representative Hunt said he will be working with Representative Simpson to arrange two groups of panels to present the perspectives of both sides of the issue.

Gerald Reilly, Olympia Isthmus Park Association chair, asked Mah if a combination of private, public and state funding, including grassroots community philanthropy, could be blended to reduce the amount the city is requesting of its residents.

"It's possible, but the city doesn't have a good record for this. The Hands On Children's Museum is a good example of public and private funding because they address both education and conservation efforts, which is what funders like to see...."

Reilly is hopeful that more city-community interest group conversation will take place and that the Senate bill will pass the House. "Let's continue to extend the hand of cooperation and stick to our values," he told the group later, after Mah left. "The first thing that has to happen is an enlightenment of the city with our perspectives, and this is just the beginning of that...."

Above: Daffodil buds on the Capitol Campus signal Spring is coming.