Mayor Lukson began the June 1 Richland City Council meeting by reading a proclamation recognizing the Juneteenth celebration on June 19. Some members of the council had indicated at an earlier meeting that they viewed such a proclamation as “partisan.” Apparently, they were a minority.
The council spent most of the hour-long meeting discussing a request that the 500 square foot dwelling unit minimum size for the central business district be eliminated. The Richland Planning Commission submitted the proposal to the council after the commission voted unanimously to approve the change.
Ziad Elsahili, president of Fortify Holdings from Portland, OR, requested the change in order to convert the Days Inn Hotel on Jadwin Avenue into apartments. According to Elsahili, who spoke during the council’s public comment period, his company will spend between 30 and 50 thousand dollars per unit adding kitchens and providing other upgrades. He said that the rental price has not yet been determined.
Reviews on internet sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Travelocity generally describe the Richland Days Inn as showing its age. The hotel was built in 1974. Nobody mentions the murder there in April 2020.
In an email to the Observer, Interim City Manager Jon Amundson said that the rooms at the Days Inn were about 330-360 sq. ft. The Park Place apartments, about a block away on George Washington Way, have some efficiencies in that size range. According to Amundson, Park Place received an administrative variance to allow their smaller units.
Councilmember Bob Thompson said at the last council workshop on May 25 that Richland wasn’t Portland and he didn’t think there was a market for such small apartments. However, on Tuesday he had decided, “The market will tell us.”
Councilmember Sandra Kent agreed with Thompson saying, “Government shouldn’t get in the way of progress.”
Other councilmembers weren’t convinced. Councilmember Terry Christensen worried that the city could lose the budget-priced Days Inn that he described as being popular with sports tourists. “My heart is with tourism,” he said.
Christensen didn’t believe the remodeling and conversion would upgrade the area. He said, “Low rent areas are the areas with the most crime.”
Councilmember Marianne Boring objected to the zoning change because she said that surrounding residential zones already allow smaller units. She said she thought that changing the central business district zoning would allow too many small units in the area. Boring said that she might approve a percentage of smaller units being allowed in the central business district but would not approve changing the entire zone.
Before being appointed to the city council to fill a resignation vacancy, Boring served for about 14 years on the Planning Commission and close to 20 years on the Board of Adjustment.
The vote was 5-2 on this first reading. Before the change can be adopted, the council must vote on it again at a second reading, probably at the next meeting on June 15.
Some Richland city councilmembers believe that celebrating the end of slavery is too partisan for a city proclamation recognizing Juneteenth.
Councilmember Bob Thompson worried that the city could be sued for commemorating an event that 45 states recognize as a holiday or observance. It became a paid state holiday in Washington earlier this month.
“Council needs to look at controversial proclamations,” he said.
Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, was the day in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and residents learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves celebrated their freedom, and the date has been commemorated ever since.
The long-serving members of the current council have a history of dismissing minority concerns. In 2017, the city council spent a year refusing to approve a statement that Richland was “a community that celebrates people from all quarters and rejects hate, bigotry, homophobia and antisemitism.” The city finally agreed to a resolution that stated that the city “welcomes all people.”
During the debate, Councilmember Terry Christiansen famously said that in the 1940s and 1950s, black people who worked at Hanford preferred living in Pasco.
Christensen, along with Councilmember Sandra Kent, failed to appear at the council meeting when the “welcomes all people” resolution passed 5-0.
Public Safety Facilities Planning
Police Chief John Bruce would like to move the police station from central Richland to property the city owns on Queensgate. He and Fire Chief Tom Huntington asked the council to approve a feasibility study for combining fire and police space and adding additional facilities.
Bruce said that the police department building had become overcrowded and he needed more space.
Thompson responded “Most crime is in N. Richland between the bypass highway and central Richland. Presence resonates for citizen in high crime areas.”
Thompson didn’t ask how long it would take for police to travel from Queensgate to the crime area around his home near Meadow Springs Country Club. In 2018, his girlfriend called Richland police to his address after an altercation with Thompson. She was charged with hitting him. Domestic disputes are one of the largest categories of police calls.
Thompson was arrested not far from his home in 2019 for drunk driving.
Bruce said that police have mobile offices and could use the fire stations in their patrol areas for paperwork. He added that moving the police department to Queensgate would free the land next to the old city hall site for development.
Councilmember Marianne Boring noted that that would make the central Richland property more desirable. She supported the feasibility study.
Some Richland residents have noted that with the razor wire around the wall protecting police vehicles, the police department building looks like a prison in the middle of the downtown area.
Fire Chief Tom Huntington discussed the need for two new fire stations, one near Horn Rapids and another in the Badger Mountain South area.
Dwelling Unit Size
A developer wants to turn the Days Inn on Jadwin Ave. into an apartment building. The developer, who was never named, called each of the members of the council to lobby for a zoning change to allow dwelling units smaller than 500 square feet.
The Richland Planning Commission has approved the change but Councilmembers were skeptical. Thompson argued that just because people live in small apartments in Portland doesn’t mean that people will live in them here.
Park Place Apartments, a luxury complex on George Washington Way about a block from the Days Inn, has studio units that are less than 500 square feet. According to Interim City Manager Jon Amundson in an email to the Observer, “On February 13, 2018, The Crown Group applied for and was granted an Administrative Variance by former Development Services Manager Rick Simon.”
Public Art Survey Discussed
Over 300 Richland residents and a few from outside of Richland were surveyed about their support for public art. While most enjoy the public art, some did not appreciate the art at the Queensgate roundabout.
Boring suggested funding be dedicated to the Richland Arts Commission for projects. Christensen said that he believed that it was better to fund projects as they come up. In the past he said, there was a pot of money for public art but it wasn’t used.
At the Tuesday Richland City Council meeting councilmembers met with their newly hired consultant to discuss how to evaluate their interim city manager. The council also decided to plan a workshop on how to select proclamations since some people weren’t happy about their April 20 choice, National Infertility Awareness Week.
The agenda that the city posted on April 30 did not include the manager discussion, item 13. It was added later. Washington open meeting laws are notoriously lax and last minutes changes are allowed. According to RCW 42.30.077, “Nothing in this section prohibits subsequent modifications to agendas nor invalidates any otherwise legal action taken at a meeting where the agenda was not posted in accordance with this section.”
Consultant Marsha Fraser will be paid up to $20,800 to help the council evaluate the new interim city manager’s performance. Her contract goes to December 31, 2021, but after spending some time with the council she noted that it could take longer, maybe until January or February.
Councilmember Terry Christensen said that the council had to finish by December 31 because they had promised the interim city manager.
Fraser displayed two lists of competencies that the council committee of Councilmembers Michael Alvarez and Sandra Kent and Mayor Ryan Lukson had put together.
Councilmember Terry Christensen said, “Communication from the second list jumped right out at me.”
He added, “What we had before really, really was not good.” He continued, “Lots didn’t get before the city council.”
He indicated that the previous city manager had filtered information and communicated with some councilmembers more than others.
Councilmember Bob Thompson said that the council felt like the staff was making policy.
The consultant mentioned that there would be input from the interim city manager and staff. Some councilmembers frequently appear to have not read their packet material or have knowledge of the items on the agenda.
Correction: The city attorney is Heather Kintzley.
Delinquent Utility Bills
Administrative Services DirectorCathleen Koch reported to the Richland City Council Tuesday that the city had finished 2020 with expenses under budget. However, it wasn’t all good news.
Despite receiving $500,000 in Covid relief to help customers with utility bills, about 4000 have unpaid bills and a little more than $2 million is owed. That’s 10 times the $200,000 that was delinquent in 2019.
Koch said that the amount seems to have stabilized and the $2 million was not growing;
Councilman Terry Christiansen asked Finance Director Brandon Allen, “How does the city plan to handle the shortage.”
Allen replied that without the ability to shut off the utilities because of Covid restrictions, it was difficult to know who might be taking advantage of the situation. He added that shutoff wasn’t an option until at least July or August. He explained that the department was notifying people by mail and also making phone calls to explain to them their options .
Residents who are still struggling are directed to the county’s relief program.
Washington vs. Blake
Richland City Council continues to struggle with the Washington Supreme Court decision, Washington vs. Blake. The court’s decision that a person couldn’t be charged with possession of an illegal drug that they had unknowingly effectively gutted the state’s drug laws.
The Washington State Legislature’s fix, SB 5476, that recently passed, re-criminalizes the possession of illegal drugs as a gross misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill requires that police divert people to treatment for their first two arrests. Only on their third or later arrests for possession can they actually be referred to the prosecutor for charges.
City Attorney Heather Kintzley pointed out that even State Representative Brad Klippert voted yes on SB 5476. She said that Klippert explained, “It is better than the supreme court gave us.”
According to Kintzley, the city never had an ordinance criminalizing drug use because the crime was a felony and the city had no jurisdiction over felony crime. For that reason, she said, the city had two options – do nothing and leave enforcement to the county or write a local ordinance that adopts the state’s new law. She pointed out that the new law expires July 1, 2023.
Councilmembers decided to wait and see what other local jurisdictions do before picking an option.
With that decision Mayor Ryan Lukson said, “We probably ended this discussion 30 minutes earlier because Bob [Councilmember Bob Thompson] is in Seattle.”
Changes to zoning
Councilmembers reviewed five proposed changes to zoning. Two of them would change commercial zoning to residential zoning.
Councilmembers expressed the most concern with changing the zoning from commercial to residential at the intersection of Meadow Drive South and Center Parkway. That change would mean that there was no commercial development at the busy intersection.
Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the changes listed before there is a final decision.
Automated External Defibrillators
Richland Fire Chief Thomas Huntington and Captain Michael Van Beek described to councilmembers how the department continues to improve its cardiac survival program.
Soon the fire department will be able to provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to some new construction, some large gatherings and city properties like parks. Van Beek assured the council that the AEDs themselves would instruct users on how to use the device.
A program that alerts off-duty firefighters with AEDs to a cardiac emergency near them is also being developed. Van Beek showed a table (below) that gives the statistics on how likely a heart attack victim will survive an attack at home and in a public location.
In conclusion, if you have a heart attack, try to have it at a restaurant and not your own home.
Richland city councilmembers proved Tuesday night what many residents have known for a long time – they do not read the packet of information given to them before the meetings.
In response to citizen questions that came up about a mini-storage development planned on Wellsian Way, Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky read the information to the councilmembers that he had included in their pre-meeting packet.
Councilmembers laughably gushed over Rogalsky’s presentation of material that they received last week but obviously never looked at.
Councilmember Terry Christensen praised Rogalsky for answering all of his questions.
After Rogalsky finished his reading, Councilmember Bob Thompson asked, “What is the project?”
The first sentence of the one-page project summary on page 32 of the packet clearly says, “ABC Wellsian Way, LLC intends to construct a commercial mini-storage development at 302 Wellsian Way…..”
The city will give the Spokane mini-storage developer an easement that was intended as an extension of Davenport Street to Wellsian Way, because, according to Rogalsky, it is the policy of the city to create taxable use for property that is not economically productive. Rogalsky said that the developer will make road improvements elsewhere that will make the easement donation worthwhile.
School children currently use the easement as a path to walk to Carmichael Middle School and Richland High School.
According to Rogalsky, a 30-foot-wide section will remain as an undeveloped pathway because a water pipe lies under it.
Rogalsky used a sharpie to show where a stormwater pipe that drains the Davenport and Comstock Streets area runs though the developer’s property. Since the city doesn’t have an easement for the pipe that has been there for about 60 years, it must be moved.
Rogalsky claimed the pipe was of little use but plans to give the developer $20,000 to relocate it. Apparently, his sharpie ran out of ink before he could mark the relocation site.
After the packet reading, the council voted to approve the item.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to include a list of the city’s ten infrastructure priorities that Interim City Manager Jon Amundson provided.
Here’s a quick summary of expected and surprise items discussed at the March 23 Richland City Council Workshop. You can watch a video of the meeting at Richland CityView.
Richland police chief supports body and dashboard cameras for officers
Richland Police Chief John Bruce supports body and dashboard cameras for his officers.“They improve behavior of officers and citizens,” he said. He added that the cameras worked well for the department in Texas that he previously headed. According to Bruce, it could take a year to put the program in place in Richland. He estimated that for five years the program would cost $1,303,951.26.
Most of the city councilmembers agreed with Bruce except Councilmember Michael Alvarez who favored a public vote in November, a suggestion that was ridiculed by Councilmember Terry Christensen.
Guess who’s paying for American Cruise Line’s new dock
Surprise!! Mexico isn’t paying for the wall and American Cruise Line (ACL) isn’t paying for their new dock at Columbia Point. Your tax dollars will. Richland Parks and Public Facilities Director Joe Schiessl said that either the city or the Corps of Engineers would build the dock and lease it to ACL. I wonder which one it will be (-:
Council doubts promises made by developer of the Columbia River tract (promises, promises ^^^)
Councilmembers wonder whether Pacific Partners out of Eagle, Idaho will compete the project they promised on the D, E and Q tracts near the Columbia Point Golf Course or will they just build apartments and skip out of town without building the offices and retail promised for Phase 2. Remember, ACL promised to build a new dock.
Councilmembers ponder whether the city should make a little extra from water rights assistance to Battelle and West Richland.
The state has a pot of money for trails
The city’s sudden interest in the Island View to Vista Field bicycle and pedestrian trail stems from the Washington state’s special funding pot for such projects. The trail also branches to Meadow Springs. A preliminary package will be submitted in cooperation with Kennewick for $16 million which will include the bridge over Highway 240.
Ten “secret” priority projects
Surprise!! The city has submitted 10 “secret” priority projects to Senator Patty Murray for potential federal funding. I say “secret” because Councilmember Bob Thompson said he didn’t know what they were and added, “They might not be my priorities.” After the meeting Interim City Manager Jon Amundson provided the list below:
R240 / Aaron Drive Interchange Modifications – This project will resolve a regionally significant traffic congestion issue and enable both the City’s downtown redevelopment vision and the regional industrial economic expansion. The total cost is $30,000,000
Fire Station 76 in Badger Mountain South – The project will enable achieving the City’s standard for response time in this rapidly growing area of the City. The total estimated cost is $6.5 million for facility and equipment.
Downtown Connectivity Improvements – This project will modify the main streets in downtown Richland to one-way streets so that improved bicycle, pedestrian, and parking options can be provided. This is the critical infrastructure investment the City plans to make to jump-start the remaking of central Richland into a vibrant downtown that leverages the nearby Columbia River shoreline and park system. The total cost is $16,600,000, with the possibility of implementing it in phases. The first phase is estimated to cost $5,000,000.
Island View to Vista Field Trail Bridge – This project will provide pedestrian and bicycle connectivity across SR240 near Columbia Center Boulevard between the Columbia River waterfront and residential and commercial development south of SR240. The lack of pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in this area has been identified as the highest priority obstacle in the Tri-Cities to overcome to enable non-motorized travel. The total cost is approximately $16,000,000.
1,341 Acre Transmission Line – This is a new pair of 115kV transmission lines connecting BPA’s regional transmission system to the newly annexed north Richland properties. The lines, three miles in length, are needed to support heavy industrial development in this area. The total cost estimate for this project is $3,000,000.
1,341 Acre Sewer Pipeline – The City and Port of Benton are developing this land transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to local control several years ago. The development objective is to recruit large site industrial companies to locate in the Tri-Cities on this unique property. The sewer pipeline will provide City sewer service to the property, thus enabling it to be near shovel ready for the right industrial development client. The total cost is estimated at $4,000,000.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Aeration System Upgrade – The City’s 35-year-old wastewater treatment plant requires an upgrade to its aeration treatment process. The needed upgrade will position the City to continue to support residential, commercial, and industrial development for years to come. The total cost is estimated at $8,400,000.
Dallas Road Substation – This project will construct a new 25MVA substation on City-owned land in the Badger South area. The substation is needed to support the rapid growth of this area. The total estimated cost is $5,000,000
Water System Resiliency Improvements – Pursuant to the federal America’s Water Infrastructure Act, the City recently completed is required system assessment. The assessment identified facility improvements for site security and electrical energy supply resiliency that are recommended. The total cost of these improvements is estimated at $3,200,000.
Street Light Retrofit to LED technology – This project will retrofit approximately 5,400 existing old technology street lights to the most current energy-efficient LED technology. The total estimated cost is $3,000,000.
Rejected – developer Greg Markel’s plan for the old city hall site
Surprise!! Developer Greg Markel submitted an “urgent” offer and proposed plan to the Richland City Council for development on the old city hall site. Nobody knew why the offer was deemed urgent, but it was quickly panned and rejected. Thompson said it looked like a strip shopping center. Lukson pointed out that the so-called, mixed-use development had a total of 11 apartments. Parking seemed to be the focus, possibly to accommodate Markel’s failed Dupus Boomer’s restaurant building on the corner of Swift and George Washington Way.
Councilmembers pay a lobbyist to do their job
Surprise!! Since at least 2009, Richland has been paying lobbyist Dave Arbaugh a retainer of first $2700 a month and now $3000 a month to lobby Olympia. Why aren’t city councilmembers, state legislators and state senators doing their job? And, if they are, why are we paying Arbaugh?? This issue merits its own article….coming soon.
Councilmember Bob Thompson appeared as a name on a Zoom black square at the Richland City Council workshop meeting Tuesday night. During the two hours Thompson’s name appeared, he said nothing.
Mayor Ryan Lukson directed a question to Thompson. Still nothing. Was this REALLY Bob Thompson or someone masquerading as the man who never misses an opportunity to lecture on any topic.
Lukson explained, “Bob is under the weather.” Lukson was also a black square, but a talking black square.
Thompson missed the Feb. 16 meeting without making a courtesy call to Lukson. The council excused him anyway.
During the discussion about police deadly force incident investigations, Police Chief John Bruce assured the council that police officers have been well trained to consider people in the background when they start shooting.
Bruce lived in Texas when three Pasco police officers fired 17 times, gunning down a rock thrower in the town’s busiest intersection at rush hour. Investigators plucked bullets out of a convenience store, and a storefront, not to mention the victim, before giving up on ever finding all of them.
The police shooting discussion lasted for about 20 minutes with few questions from anybody. Then it was on to matters that the council really wanted to talk about – small four-wheel vehicles on city roads and speed limits for electric bicycles and scooters.
Apparently, residents in Lukson’s Meadow Springs neighborhood would like to use golf carts in their community. Kennewick and West Richland have already adopted regulations for their use.
The councilmembers had plenty of opinions on this, everybody except Thompson who said nothing.
Councilmember Phil Lemley recalled how he once accidently flipped a golf cart. Thompson did not even have a comment about that.
Next up, speed limits for electric bikes and scooters and regulations for shared scooters. Lots of spirited discussion on the pros and cons of these. Not one word from Thompson.
The council decided to request input from the public before proceeding with these changes. Thompson did not weigh in.
Richland City View’s official video of the workshop shows no black. Thompson has vanished, whoosh, gone. Check for yourself.
Thompson did not respond to a request for comment.