Mayoral candidates focus on big issues

Jul 25, 2013

Three candidates are vying for Mukilteo’s top job this year – incumbent Mayor Joe Marine and councilmembers Jennifer Gregerson and Steve Schmalz.

Voters will decide in the Aug. 6 primary which two will go on to face off in the November general election.

To help voters make a more informed decision, the Beacon asked the candidates to answer questions on three of the most pressing issues facing the city.

Each of them also will offer closing comments.

We encourage readers to educate themselves, get to know the candidates and, most importantly, vote!

Our questions:

1. How do you propose the city of Mukilteo pay for the last undeveloped 98 acres of Japanese Gulch, which has been estimated to cost $6.3 million?

2. What changes would you make, if any, to the Mukilteo Multimodal Project and current redevelopment plans for the waterfront?

3. Parking in Old Town and at Lighthouse Park is an issue. How would you fix it?

The following are their answers. -Ed.

Joe Marine

Japanese Gulch

As Mayor, I believe in preserving Japanese Gulch (JG). More than 58% of the voters said yes to purchase JG, however a Bond requires 60%. We have worked hard with other stakeholders to secure funding. In the past three years the State Legislature and the City of Mukilteo have provided $3,680,000 to acquire property within JG. We continue to look for more opportunities, and time is running short.

We have secured $800,000 from Conservation Futures, and another $1 million the State has appropriated. The City is seeking $2.5 million from Conservation Futures. That would give us $4.3 million in hand. The council will decide whether to go to another public vote or raise the taxes from our banked capacity. I prefer a public vote.

Currently, Mukilteo owns a combined 46 acres along the northern and southern ends of Japanese Gulch. Acquisition of the remaining 98 acres would “connect” these ends to create a public space of nearly 140 acres.

In maintaining these properties, volunteers in our city have built new trails, a dog park, and the Mukilteo Community Garden. The Gulch is widely used by our community with dog walks, joggers, bike riders, and other athletic activities.

Waterfront

Personally, I may want to make changes or see something different, however, Mukilteo does not own the 20-acre tank farm on the waterfront, so we are not in a position to turn the entire waterfront into a park and/or waterfront businesses.

Congress transferred the property to the Port of Everett specifically for a Multimodal Facility. The City of Mukilteo has been at the table with a working group made up of the Air Force, Port of Everett, Washington State Ferries, Sound Transit, Department of Ecology, Department of Historic Preservation and the Pointe Elliott Treaty Tribes.

Although we do not have the final say over the development on the waterfront, the city has a strong and respected voice at the table for Mukilteo.

As part of the planned development we will have access to the entire waterfront through the building of a promenade. We are looking to daylight Japanese Creek and open up the area east of NOAA for another waterfront park.

Parking

Most of the parking problem in Old Town comes from commuters who want to leave a car overnight and on the weekends so they can save time and money walking on the ferry. When the ferry terminal is relocated, commuters will have access to closer parking and the Old Town neighborhoods will be less convenient for the commuters.

The biggest problem at Lighthouse Park is there is not enough room to be a popular waterfront park, a parking lot for Whidbey Island commuters and a boat launch with space for trailer parking.

Our vision as we gain access to the tank farm property is to first move the ferry commuters and eventually the boat launch. That would free up more than 200 parking spaces.

Closing Statement

Serving as Mukilteo’s Mayor since 2006 is such an honor, and I’m so proud of our accomplishments:

We built the beautiful new Rosehill Community Center, enhancing our community’s recreational services;

We renovated Lighthouse Park, making it a popular destination for Mukilteo families;

With volunteers and City Staff, we improved access to our gulches with new trails, bridges and a popular dog park;

We built the new City Hall, a facility that will serve Mukilteo residents well for years to come;

We implemented the Mukilteo Youth Advisory Committee and the Police Citizen’s Academy;

We secured, in spite of a declining economy, a AAA financial rating from Standard & Poor’s. Mukilteo is one of only 5 cities in the state to achieve this distinction;

We have been ranked three consecutive times as one of the best small cities to live in America by CNN/Money Magazine; currently ranked #9.

My leadership and connections at the city, state, and national level will continue to help move Mukilteo forward. I’m looking ahead to:

Keeping Paine Field free of commercial service and continue championing for aerospace manufacturing;

Being the community’s voice regarding waterfront development;

Securing Japanese Gulch for future generations;

Encouraging healthy economic development.

Jennifer Gregerson

Japanese Gulch

I think it's critical to preserve Japanese Gulch – and we're doing it with a lot of grant dollars. I'm very proud of the 24 acres we've already preserved. I'd love to connect the community garden with a sports field and hiking trails down into the rest of the gulch, and the dog park.

We have $1.8 million in grants right now, thanks to help from the state and county, including Rep. Marko Liias and County Councilmember Brian Sullivan who have both endorsed me.

I made sure we started a partnership with Forterra, a professional land conservancy group that can help us negotiate the best price for the gulch and save this land for future generations to walk, bike, and play. I believe that they can negotiate a better price.

Forterra is also helping us work on another $2-2.5 million county grant. The entire gulch will cost more than the grants we're getting; we may have to close the gap with Mukilteo dollars. I’m open to considering closing the gap through a ballot measure, with property taxes or through existing Mukilteo reserve dollars.

Waterfront

I support relocating the ferry terminal on the waterfront. The location will create a new main street intersection at Front Street that can be pedestrian-friendly and free of ferry traffic. This can be a safe and vibrant entrance to our waterfront.

I’m looking forward to better transit connections at the new terminal – more spots for buses and an easier way for ferry riders to access other options, rather than parking and leaving their cars.

The new location will also enable us to meter cars as they head up the Mukilteo Speedway, lessening impacts on Mukilteo residents. We can’t do this effectively now.

I want to make sure there is a home for the artists we have on our waterfront currently; there should be space available either in the new areas developed or we should work to help relocate them in the city. I will make sure we create an active space on our waterfront that you’ll want to visit.

If I’m elected, there will be no road down Japanese Gulch to the ferry terminal. I don’t support putting a highway through our future parkland.

Parking

I have heard from people throughout the city that they dread driving down to the park and battling to find a parking space. We began the improvements at Lighthouse Park when I first joined the council. We created a wonderful amenity with an incredible demand.

The City had a $1 million federal grant that could have helped provide parking in the area, but we’ve lost the grant because the city administration let too much time pass.

Moving forward, we need to manage the waterfront parking demand better.

I support state funding assistance for Community Transit bus routes. We need more frequent bus service in Mukilteo on the routes that serve our city and lead to the waterfront.

The relocated ferry terminal will also help improve access into the park; visitors won’t have to wait for the ferry to offload before they turn left on Front Street. It won’t add parking but should improve the experience.

If additional parking for commuters is needed, I don’t think Mukilteo should pay for it. There is money in Sound Transit’s project for a parking garage, and it makes sense for Ferries and perhaps Island County to invest in parking.

Closing Statement

My 10 years’ experience as your councilmember has been quite an education.  It’s taught me that we need a fresh perspective and new priorities in the Mayor’s office. I’m asking for your vote to be the next Mayor of Mukilteo so I can bring a clear, new vision to this important role.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

• I want to strengthen our connection to our schools: the Mukilteo School District is a key part of what makes our city great.

• I want to make sure we're providing public safety services in the most efficient and effective way. I won't let my ego get in the way of finding the best solution or examining opportunities.

• I will be your voice on the issue of commercial air service at Paine Field; we need to preserve Paine Field for aerospace manufacturing and Boeing. I created our Paine Field defense fund and have voted to replenish it over the years. I want to also strengthen our support for aerospace in Mukilteo. We should expand the aerospace innovation zone to include the major employers and areas in our city, not just on the other side of the airport.

Steve Schmalz

Japanese Gulch

I’ve always supported preserving Japanese Gulch for park and recreational use. I’ve always admired the effort of the volunteers of the Japanese Gulch Group in their commitment to preserve the gulch.

Unfortunately for the negotiation process, the estimated price should have never been disclosed as it is entirely from the seller and not part of the negotiation process which is currently underway. The value needs to be determined via an appraisal, which is also currently underway.

It appears the city will have $4.3 million in grants and that should be our initial offer. If the seller doesn’t agree to that, then we should see how much of the 98 acres that will purchase.

My next step would be to look for additional grants and private funding. I’d also look at where we can make significant cuts in the existing budget to offset the difference, starting with cutting the Mayor’s salary and the federal lobbyist.

Although the council has the authority how to use the property tax banked capacity of $318,000 per year, I wouldn’t support that, as that amount was understood to ensure Rosehill bond payments of $900,000 per year are met.

This ensures the property is saved for parkland and recreational use without unnecessarily raising taxes.

Waterfront

I would like to see safety improvements for the recent changes at our waterfront. According to WSF’s own numbers, ferry traffic has decreased over the past 15 years. Traffic and congestion has increased due to the renovation of Lighthouse Park and the limited parking options. Expanding the ferry holding area has resulted in more pedestrians at the intersection.

I would like to see a pedestrian bridge combined with an underpass to Lighthouse Park, allowing pedestrians safe access across the narrow SR-525 bridge and direct access to Lighthouse Park without having to compete with vehicle traffic at the ferry dock intersection.

I’d work to restore the Mt. Baker crossing, which would provide vehicles and pedestrians alternate access to the waterfront area.

Reducing the vehicles at the waterfront is necessary, and by building and promoting the Mukilteo Park and Ride, we could have a shuttle service between the park and ride and the waterfront.

Government should have to play by the same rules they impose on developers. This means the promenade that has been promised should be built prior to construction of the new ferry terminal.

We could always save taxpayers $100 million by incorporating the above improvements and not moving the ferry.

Parking

When Lighthouse Park was renovated and the Rosehill Community Center built, the public parking that previously existed was never incorporated into the planning process. This has contributed to the parking mess in Old Town and Lighthouse Park.

To solve the current parking issues, we need to start with a better parking policy and enforce it. Instead of up to 22 hours of free parking in Lighthouse Park, we should set a 4-hour time limit and incorporate paid parking for non-residents. Residents would get a sticker allowing them to park free.

The parking lot on 3rd Street is reserved for Rosehill guests only, but they tend to park on the streets instead of the lower lot, which remains empty most of the time.  Either we need to encourage Rosehill guests to use the 3rd Street lot or open it up to general parking when street parking is not available.

Other considerations would include working with Sound Transit for overflow parking when the Sounder isn’t running, look at a parking garage next to the SR-525 bridge, and incorporate the Park and Ride to use public transportation down to the waterfront.

A more active police presence would ease the current, frustrating parking experience.

Closing Statement

Since I moved to Mukilteo almost 10 years ago, I have been interested in the well being of our city.  I have attended many City Council meetings, have studied the issues and have a good understanding of the city’s financial situation.

Before I was elected to the council in 2011, I thought the leadership in the city could be improved, and since I have on council, it only has solidified my suspicions. Mukilteo residents deserve better, and I’ve always had the best interest of Mukilteo residents in mind.  As mayor, I’m committed to the following for Mukilteo:

• Working smarter for a balanced budget without raising taxes and using our reserves for operations;

• A Park and Ride that would serve our residents needs and ease waterfront parking and traffic congestion;

• Build more sidewalks and other needed public safety projects;

• Prioritize Rosehill for our residents and incorporate plans for a gym;

• Support aerospace manufacturing and oppose commercial flights;

• Invest in local businesses;

• Reduce the mayor’s salary (which was increased by 136%) and use the savings to help purchase Japanese Gulch;

• Communicate better with the council to eliminate problems like the IT disaster, hiring department heads without reasonable due diligence, and imposing red light cameras.

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