Serving You, part 2

Communication

The most common thing you encouraged me to do as I started in office was to improve communication at the City. I agreed this was a great idea! This is a big concept with lots of ways to solve it, so brace yourself, this will be my longest article in this series Serving You.

Ok, so what does ‘better communication’ mean? More information? More ‘yeses’? More results? Sure we all want yes and we all want results, but sometimes yes for me means no for you. And sometimes things are moving along and we just don’t know it. So how can we feel more connected?

I think it means relationships. We can only trust our City government if we have a relationship that is built on knowledge and respect. So to me, that means more opportunities for dialogue and building relationships. I spent most of my last three years trying to figure out how we could improve dialogue and thus relationships, and here’s what I came up with so far:

  1. Positive and informative dialogue at the front counter, when applying for development permits = strong development department

  2. Diverse representation in committees (where we move projects forward) to build dialogue across interest groups = strong committees

  3. Easy ways for people to get educated = strong toolbox of education options that are constantly kept up to date (website, list serve, social media, etc.)

  4. Clear ways for our community to ask questions and have dialogue = cohesive message about how to communicate with City staff and elected officials

All four of these ideas were not only time consuming to come to, but are time consuming to develop. I approached the whole council with my ideas about communication immediately after starting on council. The council, like our community, is a diverse group. I realized right away that these were going to take some time to work through together. I have no authority as an individual council member, we make decisions through debate and discussion together.

First: I began doing what I could individually

  • developed a website as a source of information on how the council gets our work done, with lists of committees and some information about their work.

  • created a blog so I can dive into issues and explain the deeper level of some of our work.

  • maintain a Facebook page so I can share updates from my blog and the city website, or other fun community things, as well as easily get messages and notes from the community.

  • held weekly ‘office hours’ to sit and chat with anyone who would like to connect.

Second: I worked together with the council and staff

  • Strong Development Department

    When hiring for our Development Department positions in 2018 our main goal, outside of professional experience, was to hire staff who believe that positive and informative communication are essential to the department. They ensure 1.) development follows our code (which is defined by our community and ratified by council) and 2.) that if our code isn’t serving our needs, it is brought to the council for review. Both new staff members are amazing and already are doing so much good work for our City.

    CHECK! - we are on the right track here, with continued work to keep this strong.

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  • Cohesive Message

    I initiated the creation of a communication graphic to help visualize how citizens can interact with the City to try to create some clarity for the public. The graphic is rather simplistic, so its usefulness is also elementary. However, the process of creating and then referring to the graphic helped further our discussions at the City on communication solutions.

    The strength of our current council lies in our diversity. Each one of the seven of us communicate with the public in different ways, which means we collectively offer lots of opportunities for our citizens to connect! The main drawback is without some cohesion, it can be confusing to know how best to connect with each. However, the overall ability for us to represent all of the community’s viewpoints is strong.

    CHECK (almost) - we’ve worked on it, we have more work to do.

  • Strong Tool Box

    WEBSITE - The council would like to update our website design to be a little more current, which hopefully means easier to navigate. There is so much information there now, if you know what you’re looking for. But we would like to make it easier to find information if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This redesign is a time consuming and expensive endeavor and we have not agreed upon it as a financial priority yet.

    LIST SERVE/SOCIAL MEDIA - The staff already have been doing a lot of work communicating through our list serve and social media. The list serve and the Facebook page seem to be great tools!

    PUBLIC NOTICES - The staff have also already have been doing a lot of work communicating through our required notices for public meetings and development processes:

    The problem with required notices: we are legally required to notice the community about public meetings and development processes. THIS IS HOW we are supposed to communicate. It is a legal requirement so that we can ensure we are giving adequate notice to the public. The problem is, people don’t like it. It doesn’t feel like notification.

    Here’s what it is: it is legally accurate, it is fair, it is dry

    Here’s what it is not: it does not build relationships. If you don’t happen to read the news that week or the city webpage, you miss it. However, if we give more notices than the law requires, we have to do it for every project so we ensure we treat every project equally. This is one area where I don’t have ideas for improvement.

    EMAIL/PHONE/OFFICE HOURS - staff, mayor and council all have their own ways of informing and talking with the public. These are varied and many!

    COMMUNITY MEETINGS - council meetings are a fine place to watch the public process and learn information. They are not great for feeling connected or involved. Same is true for informational public meetings (see below for more).

    EDUCATION - The last piece of the tool box is a conundrum - how can education NOT feel like being told no? When you want to get something done and it is explained why you cannot, that is frustrating. The message does not always get through.

    CHECK (almost) - we’ve worked on it, we have more work to do.

Third: I continued pursuing what we can do as a whole city

  • Strong Committees

    I have been chewing on this concept for three years now. How do we strengthen our working relationships? It took LOTS of conversations with LOTS of different people and groups for me to see the big hole - diverse groups do not have opportunities to work together. We have divisions and misunderstandings, similar to that in organizational silos. So we need to find a way to break these silos and work together.

    It is in committees where we are able to meet in small groups to discuss and debate issues. We find our way forward together. Individual and collective relationships are built and understanding is deepened. This is why I have targeted diverse committee membership as a possible solution to our communication problem. I have two ideas to improve on our current committees:

  1. Develop a residential committee that includes representation from various existing community groups. This is something other council members have worked toward as well, but we have struggled to come to collective decision on the next step here.

  2. Develop a cross-committee program that brings various groups together that are not usually engaged together in work. When people have ways to productively engage, see how projects are moving along, and feel ownership in the process, we will have met our goal in building relationships. If I can bring anything to our town, I hope it is the ability for all of us to discover more connections.

NO CHECK - we have a lot more work to do.

Community Meetings

Annual Council Retreat

Every year the Council has a retreat. Historically the retreat was developed for budget analysis and discussion. In recent years that past focused budget work of the council and staff has paid off in a strong budget and a AA Financial Rating.

With our finances secure, we have had time to discuss other big goals and projects during our retreats. My favorite agenda item has been ‘Your Big Idea.’ Each council member is given time to present an idea or two. It can be big or small - anything! A couple years ago one of my Big Ideas was parking, now that was BIG (that will be Serving You, part 3). One of my Big Ideas this year was a City Block Party.

My City Block Party idea was born out of our discussion at this year’s council retreat about hosting a community meeting. We brainstormed lots of ideas for more opportunities to engage with the public. There are pros and cons to every single one. Community Meetings are great when we have a project (like Pine Street) and we want to answer specific questions and make sure everyone understands the process. They also bring our whole, diverse community together. They are not great for hearing new ideas, addressing diverse concerns or hearing from people who don’t prefer speaking in front of large groups. Thus the Block Party idea was born. With council/mayor/staff running barbecues and our whole community mingling together, we can be available for conversations while having fun together! I hope we are able to put this concept together because it could be a fun and building way to ‘meet’ as a community.

Team Effort

All of my ideas, projects and accomplishments so far have been because of working with my fellow council, the city staff, the mayor and the community. All of us together put our little marks on projects that help push things along. And that is the only way we will continue forward - together.

Please let me know your thoughts and ideas! These projects will always be a work in progress so let’s work together!

Serving You, part 1

Dear Leavenworth,

This is my final year of my first term serving you as your council member. It has been such an education! As a good friend and fellow council member says, everyone should serve on city council. It builds such understanding and appreciation of our political system in general, and our local city’s structure specifically. Simultaneously mundane and inspiring, this work is a blast for me. 

I wrote an article at my half way point, describing what I was just getting engrossed in, so now as I am winding down, I thought I would give another update. That’s why I’m your council member - because you asked me to involve you in your government’s process.

Running for office was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life because, who does that? But it turns out, putting myself out to the people in our community and making a case for my perspective was really fun. I had to engage with people I’d never met before, and talk with them about what they value about Leavenworth, and what they want to see improved. The whole process opened my eyes to the value of elections - elections are the process of our community finding our way forward.

From all that feedback during my candidacy, I have focused my time on 4 main topics: communication, housing, parking, and a community center.

I would like to touch on each topic and describe the process I’ve been involved with so far to date. But all of these projects have included lots of time and people. Giving a brief overview really doesn’t show the process, which is so much more helpful to build understanding! So over the next couple weeks I will follow up this letter with a separate article on each of these topics.

Last, I was planning on using this moment to announce if I will run for office again. After almost a year weighing the balance with work and family, I am still uncertain if updating my commitment is right for me. I would really like to see the projects I’ve been working on move a little farther along, but the amount of time it takes is a challenge. This is a part time gig, but our community demands more. Before I commit, I want to make sure if I have it in me or not.

I share my heart here with you in this letter as a fellow citizen. I have the honor and responsibility of representing your interests as we refine and develop our City rules of engagement. But I am also just your neighbor. I hope this brings your government a little closer to home for you, so you can see it’s yours. Your local government is not run by ‘The Man,’ it is run by your neighbors doing our best to represent you.

Thank you for this honor,

Mia

When You’re Not Looking

Often people stop me in my activities around town and ask, “What’s going on at the City?”

People want to hear, “We’re building a community center” or maybe “We’re building a parking garage” or even better, “We’ve completely figured out how to stop rude tourists from pooping all over town.” Right? You want to know the project you want is getting done and anything less is rather boring.

Who wants to know about processing your sewer water? 

Well that’s what I’m here to do today - be a little uninspiring and yet, make you proud to be a Leavenworthian and tell you about what the City is taking care of when you’re not looking. 

So here’s the list of the mundane, yet critical work your local government is doing for you right now:


Water

Every single day of the year the City is sending clean, clear water to your door. It comes from two sources: our water plant on the Icicle River or from our wells on the Wenatchee River ground water. We are lucky to have these two, well balanced sources and the water rights along with them. In a long term effort, the water team has been working to:

  • Get back unjustly lost water rights from the Wenatchee River

  • Utilize more of our current water rights from the Icicle River

  • Expand our water rights on the Icicle

  • Update our water plant (which is small and very old)

  • Update/replace miles and miles of OLD pipe/transmission lines

  • Update residential water meters and reading system to help make up for our current 20% loss of water

All of these projects are time consuming, collaborative work that have been in process for many years and will continue for many to come. This critical work is ensuring you continue to have safe and tasty water for generations to come.


Sewer

As with our water treatment, our sewer system is processing your waste water every single day, all year long through the ebbs and flows of numbers of people in town flushing, washing, eating and generally sending fluctuating quantities of waste water down the pipes. Our waste treatment plant has won many awards and accolades for its high level of processing, releasing clean water back into the Wenatchee River. And we do all this with NO smell or notice from a plant that is right in town!

We are currently working to upgrade our plant to extract phosphorous from our waste water during warm months. This requirement is to protect the river ecosystem. The City Council approved our Wastewater, Sewer and Facility Plan in 2017 to begin this project. Construction will be complete by 2020.


Roads

Coming out of the winter season, we’ve been able to see the snow plowing our City Crews take care of. With a small team, they make sure all the main arterials, side streets, alleys, sidewalks and other walkways are clear of snow all season long. Sometimes it takes days after a big storm to get everything clear!

Through the rest of the year our crews also focus on general maintenance as well as planning. They do project planning because we do small street repair projects every year! In 2010 the voters approved a sales tax to a Transportation Benefit District that allows us to activate grant money and annually upgrade and repair our small streets (check out my blog article Repairing the Road). We also do one big upgrade project every 5 to 8 years. Our current Pine Street project is more like a 10 year project, that one is not just big, it’s HUGE. Check out our Six Year Plan and other streets info on the City website!


Waste Collection

We just got out of the residential garbage business! The City signed a contract with Waste Management to begin residential garbage and recycling (voluntary) collection February 2019.

Because of our unique downtown, commercial garbage pick up is also unique. Sometimes it is required multiple times daily, sometimes just a few times each week. The City Sanitary Crews are committed to a high level of service to our downtown businesses.

In order to reduce landfill trash and to protect our community within the Apple Maggot Quarantine we offer free commercial cardboard recycling, free single stream recycling and free yard waste pick up! (Leavenworth sits on the boarder of the quarantine area, so it is a management challenge for us.)

  • Commercial cardboard is picked up along with the garbage

  • Single stream recycling drop off is at our recycling center on 14th Street

  • Yard Waste pick ups are in the Spring and Fall.

Check out our City website for more information on all these programs!


Financial Management

Finance is something that everyone cares about and no one wants to deal with, right? We are so lucky to have a very strong finance team at the City. They have built up our investments and savings, carefully managed our debt ratio, and thoughtfully budgeted between our diverse funds. We have an impressive Standard and Poor AA financial rating, which means it costs us less to do big projects!

As a small city we have very unique income, all thanks to our tourist economy. Most cities have their main income source from property taxes. Our money comes from a big mix, no one thing much more than another.

  • We utilize our sales taxes much more than most cities

  • We ensure each department pays for itself (water fees for water use, etc.)

  • We maximize grants for every project possible

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We are audited biannually by the Washington State Auditor’s office and have had reports of non-significance for many years. Check out more info and our audit reports on the City website!


Development

Development in Leavenworth is a diverse endeavor. On the one hand, we have a very healthy economy that is attracting large commercial investment. On the other hand, we have a small residential population of almost 2,000 people. Juxtaposition these two elements and you get a sense that Leavenworth is unbalanced in development focus, but that is not the case.

Comprehensive Land Use Planning is a mouthful, but it means exactly what it sounds like. We look comprehensively at all built elements of our city, integrate our community’s culture and future goals, and come up with a plan for rules governing how we build on our land. Our Comp Plan was written in the 1990’s with the community and is updated about every 7 years. We just went through our community update in 2017.

Our City Code is the specific rules today that help drive us toward those Comp Plan goals. It is a living document, changing a little each year as we find elements that need more clarity, consistency, less redundancy, better focus on our goals, etc. Many of you have likely done projects where you’ve run into struggles or frustrations because the intent doesn’t seem to mach the rule. It is a work in progress. And the most important parts of our Development Teams’ process are:

  • Follow the code and ensure fairness

  • Bring code issues to the Council/community for improvements

  • Keep our goals in mind! We derive our decisions from that community, goal setting process of building our Comp Plan.


Parks

There are four parks and a boat launch in our City. Our parks crews keep these parks in amazing shape, particularly considering they are all rather large and highly used. From bathroom maintenance to watering and trimming the grass, we are so lucky to have such a detail oriented team keeping our parks at this high standard. Soccer, biking, Lion’s breakfast, community gatherings, we can do it all in these wonderful community spaces.

In the past couple years our Parks Crews have brought some automation to our parks. Utilizing technology to make sure the bathrooms get locked on time and the grass is not over watered has been a time, money and water saving project!

In addition to the ongoing maintenance, the Parks Crew does project panning. We have done big improvements every year for the past few:

  • pump track

  • skate park

  • waterfront playground

  • enchantment lighting and field drainage

On our future projects lists are Lion’s Park shelter refurbish, Front Street lawn improvement, Waterfront trail exercise stations, and more!


Community

The most important part of our city is you! All the work of our local government is to keep life healthy and safe. The fun part is us. When we are engaged in the processes of governing ourselves, we have a little more understanding, a little more empathy for a neighbor, and a lot more cohesive goals for building our future together.

Thank you to all my friends and neighbors who come out to council meetings, ask tough questions, volunteer, raise children, recreate and shop in town. All of these things build us up. And I am so lucky to be a part of this amazing community!

Make it Your Town

The Comprehensive Plan defines the way we will use our land into the next 20 years. When you participate in this planning, you help build our future!

I had no idea what land use planning was. Maybe because I was young, but really I think because who does actually know what land use planning (I call it Planning, with a capital P) is besides those who work in the field?

I discovered Planning in the most round about way possible. My path went from art school to trade school to community college to the architecture department at university to, finally the land use department where I found my home and graduated with a BA.

The hidden gem that is Planning won my heart because it is simultaneously the art and science of building Community.

When people come together, physical proximity matters. Whether we meet because of cultural ideals, common interests or being neighbors, streets and buildings cause us to interact in certain ways, which impacts our relationships.

Planning is the process of designing the physical elements of the world around us (the science) to get the social result we want for our community (the art) - at the long term scale. And it is also the development permitting, or making sure we follow those plans - at the short term scale.

Washington State was forward thinking enough to realize that we needed to collaborate regionally to make sure these plans could meet all layers of community goals, from transportation to agriculture to housing. So every city is required by state law to develop a Comprehensive Plan that coordinates with their County (the science) and meets their community’s goals (the art).

The City of Leavenworth created our Comprehensive Plan through a long process of citizen involvement and study. It includes chapters (aka ‘elements’) about Capital Facilities, Economic Development, Housing, Land Use, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, Utilities - all the elements of a town! This is a living community document that changes and evolves over time as we do. It helps us define our goals (the art) and how to achieve them (the science).

Now through the end of 2018 the city is accepting amendments to our Comprehensive Plan. If there is something you don’t think defines our community the way you think it should, submit your proposal!

This is YOUR plan, this is our plan for the future, so help us plan together.

Repairing the Road

Thank you! Voters, past city council & ciy staff, you are the ones that were planning ahead in 2010 when you approved a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) for Leavenworth, funded through a 0.02% sales tax.

I am thanking you now as it is on my mind with the assumption of the TBD into the City. In order to cut down on administrative time and costs, the City of Leavenworth would like to ‘assume’ the special district.  We are having a public hearing on the assumption at our December 11th, 2018 regular Council Meeting.

I’m sure you won’t come, no one ever comes to our TBD board meetings. They are rather uneventful in that we see numbers and talk about street projects. It means we are doing our job to see to it that the streets are kept up and the money is dilgetntly utilized.

The thing is, when the streets are falling apart, everyone cares! But running the TBD is so simple and easy. Look at what it has accomplished every year since it’s inception: 

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All of these projects cost a total of about $10.8 million.

The TBD contributed about $1.4 million, meaning we were able to take that ‘seed’ money and use it as a contribution/match to get large transportation grants.

So, thank you! Thank you for creatively thinking about how to activate a little bit of ‘tourist’ money to bring in lots of other money. Thank you for taking care of and improving our town. And, frankly, thank you to our visitors who help us pay for our city maintence!

I’ll always encourage you to come down and check out a council meeting. If you make it to our Public Hearing on December 11th, you will get to hear about this amazing, though quiet district and how we are working to make it even more efficient and effective for Leavenworth.

What's in a Community?

You are! And I am! And our next door neighbors!

It takes all of us to be a ‘community.’ The ones who raise kids, the ones who run businesses, the ones who volunteer, the ones who build buildings, the ones who go for walks around town. Yes, even simply walking through your neighborhood builds up our community! When streets are empty, crime rises. When streets are full of neighbors, gardeners, dog walkers, crime drops.

So, in all our uniqueness, we each make up important, integral parts of our greater Leavenworth community.

I received my ballot in the mail today. On it is our Upper Valley Parks and Rec Levy. This levy is a renewal levy that we see every six years to support maintenance and operations of our Community Pool.

This is a wonderful opportunity to support your community - because even if you’re not a swimmer, you know we all play our unique roles to make us all strong. The swimmers are an important part of our community, as our walkers and our business owners. I encourage you to look at this community asset for the important role it plays.

By supporting the Community Pool, you support our youth’s swimming lessons so we don’t see drownings in the river and lake. You support people who are recovering from injuries or surgery who get to use the pool for rehab. You support our elderly and those who benefit from low-impact exercise.

And more than anything, you support the human diversity that is critical to the success of our town and thus, you build up our community.

Vote Yes on our community pool renewal levy*. See below for data on the pool.

 
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Community Pool Data

  • The taxing district is officially called the ‘Upper Valley Parks and Recreation Service Area’ (PRSA). It is a special tax district as defined under Washington State code.

  • Founded by the voters in the Parks & Rec District in the year 2000

  • Parks & Rec District is about the size of the Cascade School District. If it’s on your ballot, you are in the district!

  • The Parks & Rec District is run by a Board of Directors (not the Leavenworth City Council) who represent the different areas of the district:

    • City of Leavenworth

    • Chelan County

    • Cascade School District

    • Peshastin Community

    • Chumstick Community

  • The Pool is the only activity under the PRSA

  • Pool construction was paid for by a bond that expires in 2020

  • Pool is operated by entry fees (40%) and maintenance and operations levies, that must be renewed every 6 years (60%)

  • The current budget does not account for long term maintenance and several projects have persisted, unfunded. For example, the pool needs to be resurfaced (about $150,000 project).

  • August 2018 levy renewal on the ballot asked to increase the levy rate from the current rate by $0.03 per thousand in order to more accurately cover the maintenance cost of the pool. The pool could have been resurfaced at this level. The levy failed by less than 1%

  • The November 2018 levy renewal on the ballot is asking to renew the levy at the same rate we have been paying, or about $16.50 per $100,000 of property value. Maybe $50/year for many home owners!

  • Many community members have asked if our Lodging Tax could help pay for the pool. The answer is yes it is possible, but not right now, and likely not the entire amount of the levy. The Leavenworth City Council determines how the Lodging Tax is used, under the guidelines of WA State. It would take time and reallocation of funds to make this work. In the meantime, in order to operate the pool the levy needs to pass. There would need to be collaboration between the City and the Parks & Rec District to achieve this (which takes time).

  • The levy needs 60% approval to pass

  • If the levy fails, the pool will likely not operate in 2019

*The Leavenworth City Council passed a resolution in favor of this levy

Where’s the Parking?!

When I hear all the frustrations around town about the lack of parking, I think boy, the time has come to deal with this already! But I was surprised to learn that our City staff and council have been working to improve it for a long time. 

Not that long ago (5 years) the City bought the old fruit warehouse and turned it into a lot right in the heart of town. They have painted lots and streets to fit more cars. They have improved pay booths to make it simpler for visitors to pay. Lots of work has been done. But for as much as things have improved over the years, there are many needs that are not being met.

That’s why the City Economic Development Committee asked to conduct a study of parking, to get a clearer sense of what the issues are so we can target improvement.

Rick Williams Consulting just finished a study with a ‘toolbox’ of solutions to our current issues. At the September 2018 City Council Study Session the council agreed to take that study and move forward with adopting the principals and forming a working committee to start implementing those solutions.

Parking Solutions

The first step in building solutions is actually NOT building parking lots - its building partnerships. Finding places to park in a small area of land is all about efficiently using the land we have. So we set goals for building parking. We call them our Guiding Principals:

  1. Coordination: with the City as a leader in providing parking for visitors, employees and residents we will encourage business involvement, set up clear signage and communication, and develop and support a stakeholder committee that will direct projects.

  2. Priority users: prioritize user types in various locations, like on-street downtown versus parking lots; lots that require shuttles or walks; and residential neighborhoods.

  3. Active capacity management: encourage shared parking in areas where parking is underutilized and implement new strategies when parking capacity is at or above 85% in areas.

  4. Information systems: 1.) continuously measure performance to inform decision making and 2.) create and improve signage, maps, way finding, website, apps and branding of parking system.

  5. Integration with other modes: use alternative modes of transportation to reduce car parking needs, emphasizing employee opportunities.

  6. Future supply planning: continue planning for the future.

  7. Fiscal management: the parking system must be financially sustainable.

These principals are the framework for all projects on our to do list which we will start working on right away!

Make it Happen

Planning is a boring, time consuming process, but we want solutions that will last. We are taking this project seriously. This year, in 2018, parking stakeholders will be invited to join the new advisory committee to begin implementing these projects. Next year in 2019, you will start to see additions, changes and improvements in our downtown parking system.

Many changes you will not SEE because they will be in partnerships - like off site employee parking programs, shuttling and parking lot sharing. All of these will reduce the demand on our downtown spots and lighten the load.

Short term, long term, lots of projects on the list will get us there. Parking will not be solved. As we manage being a tourist town, we will continually manage the parking needs that come with it.

As always, send me a comment or a note with your thoughts!

 

Living in Leavenworth

It's happening! Slow as public process can be, you have diligent representatives working for you.

The City of Leavenworth staff, mayor and council have all heard our community's struggles to find housing, let alone something you can afford. So we just started a NEW Housing Committee to work on this issue!

Last year in 2017 Mayor Farivar ran a Housing Task Force who dove into the challenges of renting and buying homes in Leavenworth, to look for attainable solutions. Though our small city government has a limit to what can be accomplished (quickly), we did determine a strong list of recommendations to, at a minimum, increase the supply and diversity of housing units.

Following up with that work the City Council has formed a new Housing Committee that just started in April! We have met twice now and will continue working through the next several months to define our work. We will focus on 3 areas (as defined by Council Resolution 04-2018):

  • Initiating a discussion regarding the collaboration on regional housing issues and potential regional housing solutions.
  • Exploring possible funding options for assistance of work force level housing.
  • Reviewing and monitoring the implementations of municipal code language as it is developed and approved via the City Council and Planning Commission. The Committee shall evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the code language.

The good news is that over time with this work, Leavenworth will become a well balanced city with a continued vibrant, residential community - that our current residents and interested new residents will not get priced out, but be able to find housing that works for their diverse needs.

The bad news is that local government does not built to help you rent an apartment or buy a house next month. Our work will be ongoing, medium to long term work. The results will not be quick, but our goal is to retain and improve livability in Leavenworth for our future. We will not become a tourist hole where the whole town is like one resort - we will keep honing our development to retain our live-work-play balance.

We have an amazing community! I aim to not only keep, but improve life for our residents through promoting housing as diverse as we are and an economy to support our livelihoods.

Half Way Through

Happy New Year! January 2018 and I am halfway through my first term as your council representative. It's hard to believe it has only been two years because we have done so much, but at the same time it's really flying by.

I have heard from you through emails, conversations, phone calls, and through the survey I sent out during my campaign, asking what your goals are for Leavenworth and how you hope to improve our town.  From all of this I heard you say these were the most important issues to you:

  • More housing options
  • Less expensive residential development standards
  • More access for residents parking in town
  • Employee parking in town
  • Public recreation/Community center/community services
  • More economic diversity
  • Improved infrastructure

I went to work right away learning about how our city system works so we can improve these areas. The first thing I learned is our council does its work through committee, so I joined the committees that focus on these issues. All of these issues are easily divided into three categories and that is where I have focused my work.

1. Affordable Housing

This is a big topic that is complicated to define and complicated to solve. Thankfully our Mayor is also on board for working on this issue and started the Affordable Housing Task Force in 2016. Serving on this committee I worked with a diverse group of people to make a recommendation to the City for ways to diversify housing and create lower cost options. The committee lasted until June 2017 when we made our recommendation.

The City Council has now directed our Planning Commission to study housing and these recommendations as their top priority for this year. They will give us their recommendations for code changes and additions focused on meeting the goals from the Task Force. This work will also address some of the issues with challenging/expensive residential development standards.

There were a few recommendations that the Planning Commission is not able to work on - like regional partnerships and new financing options. I asked the Mayor to create a new committee that will work on these longer term, more complicated issues. I expect we will start this work in the next month or so.

Lastly, in 2016 we took a look at our short term rental code. This was a big project with lots of community input. Short term rentals bring in significant income for landlords, more like hotels and create a commercial enterprise in our residential neighborhoods. In order to maintain home prices and our community culture, we reaffirmed our Bed and Breakfast Permit rule. This gives homeowners an option for additional income through short term rentals, but keeps big money out of the neighborhoods. We also instituted enforcement and cleaned up the poachers.

2. Parking

Parking is a beast of an issue in our town. We just don't have that much square footage and we have a lot of people coming through, throughout the year.

Right away at our first Council Retreat in 2016 I asked if we could put it on our agenda, so we brought it to the Economic Development Committee. In committee we decided we needed to get some definitions about the subject and some recommendations for ways we can improve in the short and long term. So we hired a parking consultant who started working with us in the spring of 2017.

We are in the middle of the process with our consultant right now. Part of their role is to work with our community to better define both the issues and the solutions - so look forward to more information coming out from them, including a community meeting!

We will take the work done with the community and make improvements right away! And the longer term projects we will be able to start laying the groundwork for future development.

3. Recreation

In the Economic Development Committee I have also focused on promoting diverse industries. The next big industry that is gaining traction in Leavenworth is Recreation. Since recreation is more of a regional industry that has specific benefit to Leavenworth, it takes lots of collaboration. I am working toward opening those doors for Leavenworth!

On the Parks and Recreation Service Area (PRSA) board I am working to investigate if we can provide more public recreation than just the pool. Since the City of Leavenworth serves only 2000 people, it is not easy to afford many recreation amenities. But the PRSA serves the larger upper valley and would be a great venue to open that door for more. Look forward to more community outreach and a public meeting coming this spring so you can let us know what you want!

In terms of improved infrastructure I was pleased to discover past council members and our staff have already been working diligently on this. We have a street repair and replacement program so that each year one or two streets are improved and we have a capital facilities replacement schedule. Currently our water and sewer plants are going through an upgrade plan, as is our public works facilities. Additionally, through community projects and a new bond you passed this year our parks have seen a new pump track and skate park and will see Enchantment Field upgrades and a new play structure in Waterfront Park. I am on both the Public Works and Parks committees so I can continue to help these projects along.

It's been a wonderful two years working to keep Leavenworth growing beautiful and strong! I am so thankful for you and this whole community. Thank you for all your involvement in making Leavenworth amazing, from coaching youth sports, to serving on non-profits, to your volunteerism! We are a loving community full of fun and adventurous people.

Please keep letting me know how to serve you better:

Have a coffee with me at my office hours: Thursdays 8:30a at Good Mood Food

Send me an email: mbretz@cityofleavenworth.com

Give me a call: 509-888-1596

Cheers to the next two years!

Mia

We Are Traffic

Traffic.

Congestion.

Waiting for a light to change. Waiting for a parking spot. Waiting for your road to clear. Waiting for a left turn. Waiting.

What is traffic? Is it waiting? The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has a system of categorizing roads by the "Level of Service" (LOS) they provide, rated A through F, from 'free flow' to 'at capacity.' They aim for roads to rate B or C in most scenarios and often recommend infrastructure improvements for roads rated E or F.

But discussing traffic like this makes it sounds like we are discussing the weather. This morning is sunny with clouds expected this afternoon.  This morning the roads are clear with traffic delays expected this afternoon.

The thing is, traffic is not like the weather.  It does not happen to us.  We create it.  Traffic is people.  Without people there would be no traffic.  With people behaving differently, we would have different traffic. We are traffic.

There is a whole discipline of psychology dedicated to the study of behavior in traffic because of the serious community impact driving behaviors have on society. That's why we have laws like seat belts and no cell phone use.

Consider this list:

  • how long we are willing to wait
  • how quickly we drive
  • how distracted we are (phone, food, kids)
  • how confident we drive
  • how defensively or aggressively we drive
  • how often we drive
  • how many errands we combine vs. taking individual trips

These are behaviors, characteristics and choices of each driver on the road.  Each has consequences for how many cars are on the road, how fast they are going and how carefully and respectfully they are considering other drivers - which in turn has consequences for congestion and accidents.

If we are traffic then we need to look no farther than our own nose for solutions to traffic.  While million dollar projects may offer some opportunities for transporting ourselves from one place to another, thinking about how and when we move ourselves as a community may have a far greater impact.

One WSDOT engineer said that as soon as they build another road or another lane, it is full of cars.  People change their behavior to fill up the new road because they see it as an opportunity to drive more often. When they may have avoided the road or combined trips, they now have no incentive to do so. Traffic is no better off than it was before the new road.

I traveled to Bogota, Colombia in 2007 to study transportation and water issues.  A professor turned politician, Antanas Mockus, had been mayor a few years before. He implemented a series of often hilarious strategies to change the behavior of drivers in his city, reducing traffic fatalities by 50%. The tactics used were specific to Bogota, but the idea that traffic can change through behavior modifications alone is well understood.

One modification we can consider is how we think about traffic.  Traffic is pretty specific to cars on the road, but there are many diverse ways to think about travel.  If we re-frame our conversation from "traffic" to "transportation" we can talk about freely moving to where we need to go the most effectively.  We can talk about buses, bikes, walking, trip patterns, and systems to organize these. When we just talk about traffic, we stick ourselves in a box with much fewer solutions.

Our own Link Transit is paving the way, (re)defining travel.  They 'Connect Communities' by thinking about how people want and need to move around the area. Their definition has nothing to do with cars (if you have them or don't or use them or don't). They are providing transportation options and hope to serve as many diverse groups as possible.  These efforts relieve traffic, reduce carbon emissions, provide opportunity to move all people, and reduce costs to individuals.

We Are Leavenworth

The City of Leavenworth is working on two big tranportation projects this year:

I hope through both of these projects we can work with our community to determine ways to move ourselves and think about transportation that is outside of what we are used to.  Perhaps we can define new modes, better flows and more effective habits to improve our experience moving in and around Leavenworth.

This will be hard.  It is difficult to change habits and think about structures (like how you drive through town) in new ways.  But it will be worth it and I know working together, we can do it.  And when we do, we will have easier travel and better experiences for our whole community from visitors to school children.

How can you be heard at the City?

It is so frustrating to send emails or make phone calls and feel ignored and unheard.  There are a few things that are usually happening if you don't hear back when you send an email:

  • You contacted the wrong person and your thoughts didn't get forwarded
  • Your concerns are making headway, just slowly and in a way that you can't see
  • Your comments are part of a large receipt of public comments and it is not feasible to respond to them all

In an effort to help our citizens be heard and feel heard our staff created the cool graphic below that shows different ways citizens might give input and where it will go. 

There are 4 basic ways to connect:

  1. Send in information (email, Facebook, etc)
  2. Talk with Mayor or staff
  3. Talk with a Council member
  4. Attend a meeting and submit or stand up and comment

Once a comment is received it has a few different potential paths:

  1. City staff may be able to deal with the issue directly
  2. The issue may be brought to a committee or the Council Study Session for discussion
  3. The issue might be able to go straight to a Council Meeting for a vote
  4. The issue may get dropped for lack of support

It is challenging to follow up with every citizen on every issue, so we encourage you to check in and connect again!  The City Administrator, Mayor and Council contact information is on the city website.

City process is slow on purpose.  Deliberation based on community input is the whole point of local government.  When we take the time to hear all the voices, go through all the procedures ensuring consistency, and to thoroughly study options, we are closer to community represented decisions.  It can be frustrating and arduous but we build the city we want by working together.

So stay informed and keep in touch and we will keep in touch with you. The whole point is how we get to the end. And we are never done until we are dead!

I'm There for You - NEW Office Hours

This month I am starting office hours, so if you want to pop in and see me, chat about current issues in town or get updates on projects, I can be there for you!  I will host a rotating coffee hour and lunch hour every Thursday.

Starting November 3rd I will be available during the lunch hour (11:30a - 12:30p)  at Good Mood Food.  This will continue every other week.

Starting November 10th I will be available for a coffee hour (8:30a - 9:30a) at Good Mood Food.  This will continue every other week.

As a working mom, it is hard for me to find meeting times in my weeks.  I know these times aren't good for everyone, so always feel free to email me, give me a call (509-888-1596), or connect on Facebook.

We have a tight, involved community and I want to support your ideas and visions for Leavenworth!

Check out my new CALENDAR to make it easy to see when my meetings are!

Thank you!!!

This week I am so proud of our staff! They received 2 valuable recognitions for performance: Our waste treatment facility received the Wastewater Treatment Plant Outstanding Performance award and our administrative team received a "clean report" for our special audit of 2015!

The treatment plant achieved full compliance with it's pollutants discharge system permit, which is not easy to do year round, all day, through the weather.  The award was given by the WA State Department of Ecology who works for the citizens to ensure safe, clean water.  The team of staff at our plant deserve high praise for a job so well done!

Did you know that WA state auditors work for you, the citizens as well? They check our finances and policies every other year to make sure our operation is healthy, the flow of money is accountable and we are following the rules (including our own). 

This year we had a special audit because we received over $750,000 in federal grant money last year, which triggers a special audit.  This is the first time in recent history we have needed this special audit, but we came out of it with a "clean" report and no recommendations from the WA State Auditor's Office. This is thanks to our finance team who was diligent in record keeping and to our Public Works team in holding preconstruction meetings and ensuring the granted projects were executed well.

You can feel proud that your city is being managed very well compared to others around the state. If you see any of them around, give a big thank you to Herb Amick and his crew, Chantelle Steiner and her team, Joel Walinski and the wastewater treatment team!!

Skate Park Development

Since all the hype this spring and the demo of our old skate park, the City Council Parks Committee has formed a sub-committee for developing a NEW skate park.  The Cascade School District and the City have formalized an agreement for paying for a replacement and will work together in the process, though it will be driven by the city.   Additionally, local skateboarders have formed their own committee that is working in tandem with the City Skate Park Sub-committee on each step through the process.

The first step for our sub-committee was to determine a site.  We developed a list of sites we thought might be good options then put them to the community for their thoughts.  After discussion with locals and local skateboarders in particular, we found the top sites were two different options in Enchantment Park. 

Our second step was to put together a Request For Quotes (often called an RFQ) that describes our desires and requirements for designing and building the park.  The City Council approved the RFQ and the City is currently accepting quotes from skate park design firms! An important part of our requirements is to have beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of features built into the design.

Our hope is to determine a design-build firm by October and begin working with them on design though the fall.  We will continue to outreach to the public, and local skateboarders in particular, through the design process.  In working through the design we expect one of the two top sites will become clear which will work better.

I am thrilled we are taking quick strides to see a new park soon!

March Council Meeting Recap

Here are the notable Council discussions and decisions in March.  Also, are some community highlights of things that happened this month.

Discussion Topics

  • MEADOWLARK - At the study session we discussed the Meadowlark Development at length.  Even though after this meeting MEND determined they would stop the Meadowlark Development project, this was a notable conversation because of the discussion of communication between the city and developers.  MEND submitted a letter to the council of frustration with communication even after a work group was formed.  I am committed to working on better communication for our citizens and developers and take this example as one that we do not want to let happen again.
  • ADU CODE CHANGE - At the study session we discussed Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) code changes.  This was one of a series of conversations over ADU's and how we can change our code to help diversify housing in Leavenworth.
  • COUNCIL RETREAT - At the study session we recapped where we are with goal setting from our retreat.  We enjoyed long conversations at the retreat in goal setting so we did not have time to finish.  We will finish our Goal Sheet in study sessions over the next couple months.  The big projects the council brought forward are:
    • more recycling downtown
    • developing a comprehensive transportation circulation plan for the city
    • researching parking downtown and the long term plan for parking lots P1 and P2.
  • COMMUNICATION - At the March 22 meeting, I presented a communication issue with the Mayor.  I asked for it to be discussed by the Council at an executive session and the Mayor required it be discussed publicly. I am sure to some it came across as a strange thing to bring to a public meeting, and I fully agree.  I would have much preferred to keep it between the Council and they Mayor; however, I am optimistic we will find a path forward with improved process, even if it is bumpy.  Essentially, I wanted to discuss with the Council the Mayor's management of Council and committee meetings.  The discussion was covered in the April 6 issue of the Echo and will be in the Meeting Minutes.

Decisions

  • GRANTS - At the March 8 meeting, we awarded five groups funding for advertising for new events/festivals through our annual Lodging Tax Grant program.  It was a total of $10,000.
  • AUTUMN LEAF - At the March 22 meeting, we approved $15,000 for festival operations funded by the Lodging Tax fund.
  • PLANNING COMMISSION - At the March 22 meeting, we approved the Mayor's reappointment of Andy Lane.
  • ADU's - At the March 22 meeting, we approved amendments to the code to expand options for housing through Accessory Dwelling Units.  This is the first step in a long process of amending our code to offer more housing options.  Changes include:
    • allowing parking spaces from an alley
    • increased unit size to collaborate with the county (up to 1,200 sq ft depending on lot size)
    • no longer necessary for owner to occupy one of the units
  • WASTE TREATMENT FACILITY PLANNING - At the March 22 meeting, we approved an amended contract with Varela & Associates for a Facility Plan and a General Sewer Plan for a new waste treatment facility.  Our facility is old and will need replacing in about five years.  The contract is not to exceed $193,988.
  • HIGHWAY SIGN - At the March 22 meeting, we approved a maintenance agreement with the WA State Dept of Transportation (WA DOT).  WA DOT is putting in an electronic sign on our highway on the west end of town.  They were good enough to follow our Bavarian design code, but ask the City to maintain the Bavarian part of the structure.

Community Highlights

  • Ribbon cutting of Commercial street was on March 17. View the Downtown Master Plan.
  • Our longest standing council member Michael Molohon resigned this month.  The council will select a new member to take his place.  If you would like to be the next council member, you can send in a letter of interest to the City by April 12!
  • City paid for the insurance for the annual event Bike n Juice

If you have questions about any of these projects, please let me know!  As always, the minutes are available for your perusal.

mbretz@cityofleavenworth.com

Good Communication. . .

"Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I haven't posted an article here in a while, so I thought I would break the silence.  I have been doing a lot of processing lately - not something easy to write about.  Talking with people with projects in town, working with other city officials and staff, and researching on my own have preoccupied my last few weeks.

After a couple months in my new position, the need to build relationships has risen to the top.  I want to not only better know the people I am working with, but know how to work together better.  Being an elected official is complicated because of the specific legal processes that must always be followed.

I am taking some internal time to work on my relationships with our council, mayor and staff.  It is challenging and inspiring.  I think the quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh says, communication is emotional, but rewarding.  That is the process of being in a new team and figuring out how to make it work, and that's how I feel now.

As new council members we were thrown into action.  We are making decisions and determining priorities from day 1.  That's the job. But it's impossible to do a great job and feel really good about your work without knowing your team and being able to work well together.  Through all the unique people and all the rules guiding us, we have to find our way to work together - to trust each other.

"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principal that holds all relationships." - Stephen Covey

February Council Meeting Recap

I know it is hard to make council meetings and, let me tell you, I get it.  The nitty gritty details can get a little arduous and finding the time in your day to sit through it is not a top priority.  If you ever do get a chance, though, it is great to see your democracy in action!

In the meantime, I plan on publishing my monthly recaps of notable action and discussion before the council here on my blog, so here is my report on February. . .

Discussion Topics

  • We discussed the engineering to upgrade the lighting and fencing at the city parking lots near the fest hall this year. Yes, we are obeying our own design standards in for the fence and light fixtures!  We'll have some great new electrical potential in the lots as well.  Estimated project date of 2017.
  • At our study session we had a wonderful, thorough discussion on communication and the flow between citizens, council/mayor and staff.  The staff is creating a visual flow chart to both help the elected officials and citizens better understand how to bring new ideas.
  • We discussed some parking regulation amendments so that our private security company can take over enforcement and relieve the Sheriff's department of the task.  This will appear as a resolution and an ordinance at a March meeting.
  • Our Annual Budget Retreat is March 4th.  We will be meeting to discuss priorities, goals and finance for the next year and beyond.  Each council member is challenged with bringing one NEW idea to the table for discussion.  Let me know if you have A BIG IDEA!

Decisions

  • We approved a new, updated contract with the Humane Society for animal control.  Citizens can now call the Humane Society if there is an issue with an animal in town.  They will continue to receive animals at the facility and will help with our feral cat problem.
  • We annexed the new school district property into the city.
  • We changed our fence code so that fence permits are no longer required.  There are still legal guidelines that must be followed, but without permit review.  Make sure you know the rules before you build and feel free to come in and ask questions!
  • We proclaimed February 23, 2016 as World Spay Day along with many other cities across the world to help promote animal care.  Get your cat or dog spayed or neutered!
  • We amended our Rate and Fee schedule - a few house cleaning issues and one relevant one: we approved the Parks and Recreation Service Area Board's recommendation of a $0.25 cent increase to daily rates at the pool.  For you pass holders, there is no change in the rates, so enjoy and support your pool all summer long with a season pass!

Community Highlights

  • We are giving grants!  Due March 1st is the Group Funding Grant given to new festivals and events to aid in their advertising.  We give up to $10,000 out of our Lodging Tax income, so apply!
  • We heard your concerns about employee parking downtown.  What a great community conversation on Facebook this month!  The Economic Development Committee took up the issue and will be working on some solutions for resident access to crowded downtown and employee parking.
  • Subscribe to our list serve and stay up to date on what's going on in your city government.

If you have questions about any of these projects, please let me know!  As always, the minutes are available for your perusal.

mbretz@cityofleavenworth.com

Doing Businessness is All Pleasure

At the Chamber of Commerce annual dinner and auction tonight, we shmoozed.  There's no other way to say it, but does it matter? That's the point!  Getting to know each other.

It is amazing to go to an event like this and get to know the people running businesses around us in Leavenworth.  What diversity of interest and skill!  We are such a cool community that people of such divergent life views can come together and do business. 

Everyone I met tonight was passionate about their product, not their bottom line.  It looks to me like Leavenworth is trying to give something to the world that makes an impact, and as a side allows us to prosper in one of the best places on the planet.

That is definitely something to come see.

The community that plays together, stays together

Today I had my first meeting of the Parks and Recreation Service Area Board of Directors.  For those who don't know, currently this area is a public service area that is nearly the same size as the Cascade School District.  It is solely responsible for the community pool in Leavenworth and all of the land owners within the service area contribute a property tax to support the pool.  The service area was created in the late 1990's.

I love the PRSA because of its potential.  It is an established special district that can work for its community - that is much larger than the City of Leavenworth proper.  The good news is the pool is supported by the community and with the new levy (as of 3 years ago) is stable.  We are ready for more.

If our community is interested in a true Parks and Recreation department, the PRSA is where that will happen!  Today we heard from a community member encouraging us to consider Ski Hill and after school activities in our work.  And there are dozens of other opportunities out there that are begging for attention.

At our next meeting this board will look at strategic planning as a next step to defining the future of bolstering our greater Leavenworth community's recreation!

Let me know if you have thoughts on this issue by commenting below or connecting with me:

mbretz@cityofleavenworth.com

I'm a Fire Fighter . . . Are You?

What a lesson I learned today in fire fighting from our Chelan County Fire District 3 Chief Kelly O'Brian and new Assistant Chief Glenn Brautesett today.  They graciously showed me around our fire station and chatted about their goals for fire fighting in Leavenworth.

And you know what? It turns out our best efforts in this field are NOT in fighting fires - they are in preventing fires!  So much for those sexy Hollywood shots of huge ladders rescuing children out of top stories.  By the time the ladder gets there, the building is usually toast.  They're just working to keep the fire from spreading.

I know a little about fire prevention, you know, from Smokey the Bear.  Like never leave a camp fire unattended and follow burn bans and Stop, Drop and Roll.  More recently I've been informed by the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition about how to keep my roof fire-safe from wildfire embers.

But what a great lesson that urban fire prevention is at least as relevant.  There are more people to save than in the forest and more activity that creates fire.  We need to make sure our buildings help prevent fires from starting and spreading.  Especially here in Leavenworth where we depend on a volunteer fire crew and we live in HOT, DRY country for half our year.  Our Fire Department will do its best to put out fires, but what if there were a fire fighter on the scene when the fire started rather than 10 or 20 minutes later?  That's what a sprinkler system is! A fire fighter on the scene at every fire.

So today I decided as a city council member, I am one of our town's newest fire fighters!  I will be fighting fire through prevention, working with our fire department to educate and outreach to residents and businesses how to keep your buildings fire safe.  I will work with the Planning Commission and Council to develop our building code to promote and incentivize for fire safe buildings.  I am not on our Council Public Safety Committee this year, but I look forward to the recommendations they make to the council in collaboration with the Fire Department as well.

Fire fighting is a community effort that I hope you will all join in with me.  We will keep our town safe every day and if worse comes to worse, we know we can count on Fire District 3 to come through for us.

Check out the Chumstick Wildfire website for great information on how residents; businesses; and forest land owners can prevent fires!