Major choices face voters in county’s urban communities

May 26, 2013 

Voters in Thurston County’s three most urban cities will make critical choices for their governing councils during this fall’s general election that could alter the path for each municipality. Each city has four council seats before the voters.

The Olympian’s editorial board sat down with representatives from all three municipalities this week to ascertain the important issues likely to arise during the campaign.

TUMWATER

Candidates in Tumwater should prepare to offer an outlook and path forward on the brewery property and surrounding area. The brewery usually dominates any discussion about the future of Tumwater.

Tumwater has extended long-term brewery planning to include surrounding neighborhoods. Candidates might have differing visions about how to blend adjacent residential and commercial areas into any new uses for the brewery property.

The Council is planning road improvements for Capital Boulevard between Trosper Road and Israel Road. This will be a significant undertaking. Affected businesses and commuters will have concerns about the length of the project and how construction zones affect customer traffic.

Candidates should have an opinion on the efficiency of city services, in particular, the city’s plans to move and merge its municipal court system with Thurston County. Council members cite the lack of space and security as reasons to change. Candidates might question the cost of the merger, or tout the benefit of additional services at the county.

OLYMPIA

Candidates in Olympia should offer their vision for revitalizing the downtown core.

The city has implemented some initiatives and has more in the planning stage. New police foot and bicycle patrols start next month with revenue from the 2012 public safety levy. The council passed a more restrictive sidewalk interference ordinance, and the city continues efforts to restrict the sale of single serving high-potency alcohol. Candidates might question the effectiveness of these changes on downtown.

Any discussion of creating a welcoming downtown must include homelessness. The focus for candidates might center on two important issues: if and where to locate a low-barrier shelter; and, keeping the conversation at the regional level.

Most of the county’s social services for homeless people reside in the city, so for that and other reasons, the homeless congregate there. This makes homelessness seem like a strictly Olympia issue. Candidates should address that perception.

Other questions facing candidates include the lingering Shoreline Master Program and the approval of the city’s comprehensive plan. How to engage neighborhoods in city planning should generate debate, as could city management in the wake of resignations and investigations into working conditions in the parks department.

LACEY

Candidates should understand the clear impact that Joint Base Lewis-McChord has on this community.

More active duty military and their families live in Lacey than any other regional municipality, including Tacoma. When retired military residents are counted, Lacey’s population with a direct military connection reaches 25 percent.

A strong vision for the opportunities and challenges created by the military presence likely will resonate with voters.

Candidates will face new development concerns. Lacey is implementing a water plan that could lift the 2006 moratorium on development within the urban growth area and trigger substantial growth. Also, the Gateway development project is regaining momentum since a clear owner has emerged and the economy is improving.

Any discussion of growth should also include a vision for use of the current glut of vacant office and retail space.

These are the issues seen by city staffs and incumbent council members. Do voters and challenging candidates agree? Perhaps not.

Whatever issues voters consider most important, the key is to question all candidates thoroughly and cast an informed vote.

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