Peace Park project to receive $400k from state

Council shocked by additional funds, upset over loss of Japanese Gulch funds
By Brandon Gustafson | Mar 07, 2018
Councilmember Bob Champion

To the surprise of the Mukilteo City Council, the city is to receive $400,000 from the state Supplemental Capital Budget for the Peace Park project.

The park, which has been discussed in some form since 2016, would be a place of reflection, would honor the victims of the July 2016 shooting in Mukilteo, and is almost certainly going to be located at Byers Park (601 4th Street).

According to Jeff Price, the recreation and cultural services director for Mukilteo, groundbreaking for the park would likely begin this summer, and the goal would be to finish the park next spring.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said Sen. Marko Liias helped in the city receiving the state funds.

"The epidemic of gun violence tragically left its mark on our community in the summer of 2016, when Jacob, Jordan and Anna were taken far too early,” Liias said in an email to The Beacon. “Though it cannot compare to the lives they may have lived, it is my sincere hope that, through their commemoration at a new Peace Park, our community will keep their memory alive."

There have been concerns voiced by councilmembers in the past regarding parking and access to Byers Park.

Alexis Gemmer, one of the Kamiak graduates who was at the shooting in 2016, believes Byers is still the best spot.

Gemmer said when she and Paul Kramer, whose son, Will, was shot at the party but survived, visited Byers for the first time, they fell in love with it and the view of the water.

“Parking is a problem, but most people are going to go there once and not go back,” Gemmer said. “Really, the only people thinking about this park are me, my friends and the parents involved. If people think crossing the street is too much of an inconvenience, then good riddance.”

Councilmember Bob Champion was not only surprised by the seemingly random addition of funds for the Peace Park, but was also shocked when looking over the state budget and seeing funds missing for another Mukilteo project.

“The capital budget that was approved in January had money for our waterfront restoration and Japanese Gulch,” Champion said. “The new budget removes $721,000 for the gulch daylight (project).”

The park originally was going to be a small project, and then turned into a two-phase plan where the first phase was going to cost roughly $78,000.

Now, Champion is concerned with the project increasing in magnitude.

“When I think of what I approved and what I’m OK with, I’m OK with ‘Mukilteo Strong’ being a pocket park that is an area of reflection that’s at Byers and meets the Byers’ stated intent for the property that’s been given to us,” Champion said. “I think we kind of are spinning out of control and going beyond that.”

Champion said he will be writing to Liias and the other representatives of the 21st Legislative District to voice his displeasure over receiving funds for the Peace Park, but losing the funds for the Japanese Gulch project.

Councilmember Scott Whelpley, who has time and time again voiced his displeasure over the ever-increasing scope of the Peace Park project, said he also was surprised by the $400,000 allocation, and believes they should reconsider where the park goes now that there’s additional funds.

“I have heard so many different debates over whether it’s Byers Park, and a lot of citizens have said they don’t think it’s a safe place,” Whelpley said. “I personally don’t think it’s a safe place.

“Now that that dollar amount is there, those people who are basically determined to have it at that place, you have $400,000. You don’t have to have it at that place. You can have a better place. Now you can afford it.”

Councilmember Anna Rohrbough noted this is an extremely emotional topic and that the murder and recent teen suicides are things she wishes could have been avoided.

“All of us want the same outcome,” Rohrbough said. “We would have rather had none of this happen … I as a city councilmember would love to support any process in that healing. Unfortunately, as a councilmember, we are uniquely positioned to make difficult decisions.

“When I saw the $400,000, I think some of the emotion is that it would have been nice to have a little more transparency that that was coming, especially when we just talked about this less than a month ago.”

Rohrbough said the whole process has gotten far more complicated, and she also thinks they should consider a different location because the Byers site is  not easily accessible for kids and teens.

During public comment, former Mukilteo Councilmember Kevin Stoltz said he thinks Byers is great, but also has concerns with safety and parking.

Vicki Bratvold, the owner of the house where the 2016 shooting occurred, talked about the emotion and complexity surrounding the project. She also cited the ACES student who was arrested for planning a shooting as well as the Parkland, Florida shooting as tragedies that make a project like this so important.

“Hearing all the different sides, it’s a lot of emotions, it’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of process for all of us in this community that have gone through things,” Bratvold said. “It started with the shooting in Mukilteo, but it’s become so much greater because there’s so many other things going on.

“For Mukilteo to create a space, it can mean so many things to so many people.”

Gemmer also spoke during the public comment period and agreed with many of the councilmembers that the scope of the project has increased dramatically since the idea was initially raised, noting they’d originally thought of just a small space with some plants and tiles.

Gemmer said using $400,000 on this project would be a waste of money, and said there just needs to be a few parking spaces and that people can ride the Community Transit, then walk the rest of the way to the park.

“This isn’t a place to take your 5-year-old to come hang out, this is about a purpose,” Gemmer said. “If you buy a huge park and fill it up because you have all this space, I think it’s going to be away from the point.”

Councilmember Whelpley applauded Gemmer for being a voice of reason, and apologized because “the adults have made it a wreck of what it was supposed to be” when it’s supposed to be about the youth in Mukilteo.

“If you guys (who were there at the shooting) want it there, that’s great if it’s simple,” Whelpley said. “We don’t need this money, and it’s actually taking away from other things that are really important to the rest of the city … I think we’ve gotten lost, and I’m glad you’ve basically opened our eyes to what’s really important.”

Council President Steve Schmalz said this project is tough because of the topic and because they haven’t done anything like this before. He said the council needs to be involved in this project every step of the way.

“It’s not building a road, or a building or a structure; it’s emotional,” Schmalz said. “Whether we have $1,000 or $500,000 or $50,000, sometimes simpler is better.”

Councilmember Richard Emery closed the discussion on the matter, saying they need to take some deep breaths and come back to it after they’ve had more time to think about the project and the new funds.

Comments (4)
Posted by: mario lotmore | Mar 08, 2018 23:35

Has Senator Marko Liias taken state money to payback to his friend the Mayor of Mukilteo? We are a town of 22,000; in which the Mayor's friend and former Mukilteo policy analyst, Marko Liias got $400k of state money to pa...y for a fancy monument "aka park." This is a perfect example of the disconnect between our elected officials and the needs of the community. I would like to remind Senator Liias and Mayor Gregerson that Snohomish County and specifically Mukilteo has a heroin crisis - not a gun violence crisis. The number of heroin deaths in Snohomish County eclipses any gun related deaths. How can these two elected officials look in the eyes of future parents whose children have died because they decided to spend money on a park instead of drug prevention programs? You tell me the Mayor couldn't use this money for an after school program? Welcome to the new tax and waste Washington State Senate.

Posted by: Denise Sackner | Mar 09, 2018 07:27

Well, this is a debacle.  I urge Council to manage the funds to the original, simple scope of the project. This isn't and never was about more than the original shooting, making it so, is wrong. It is disrespectful to the victims and families and is pulling politics and agendas into a tragedy. If you spend 400k because you 'have' it, shame on you.

Posted by: Charlie Pancerzewski | Mar 11, 2018 00:00

The Pioneer Cemetery on 5th and Webster, just 3 blocks from Byers property is kept and used like a park by the City and residents. It has a sweeping view of the Sound and Whidbey Island and park bench for those who want to sit and reflect. The large fir and maple trees and shrubs with well maintained lawn sound very much like what those who want a place to reflect is like. It is not used much and there is ample parking. The Pioneer Cemetery has a large US flag which is uplighted at night. No need at all for another park 3 blocks away that would be what most have said they wanted. It is not advertised and many in Mukilteo probably do not know it exists or have ever been to it. There are no signs on the Speedway directing traffic to it so visitors don't know it exists.

Posted by: Joe Kunzler | Mar 14, 2018 19:52

" I would like to remind Senator Liias and Mayor Gregerson that Snohomish County and specifically Mukilteo has a heroin crisis - not a gun violence crisis."

"The number of heroin deaths in Snohomish County eclipses any gun related deaths."

Uh Mario... Mukilteo < Snohomish County.

So happy a plurality of the folks of Mukilteo listened to me, not Mario.

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