Jun 29

Mayor’s Update - June 29, 2020

Posted on June 29, 2020 at 4:14 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor,

I hope you’re all happy and healthy and enjoying the beginning of summer here in our beautiful city.

These past few months have been a time of incredible change in the world. On June 10th, I joined in with hundreds of you for a peaceful walk in unity in support of equal treatment for all, and to express solidarity with black Americans. Many councilmembers and other local leaders joined in as well. To honor the day, the City Council and I issued a proclamation declaring June 10th as “Stand Against Racism Day” in Gig Harbor to encourage all of us to fight against racism whenever and wherever it may occur. We will continue to work at ways to show equal opportunities for all.

We are now well into Phase Two of the Governor’s “Safe Start” plan to address the spread of COVID-19. Many businesses and restaurants have been able to reopen on a limited basis and churches are starting to hold limited services again. City employees are starting to come back to work in the office as we prepare to reopen the Civic Center to the public in Phase Three.

The earliest Pierce County could move to Phase Three would have been June 29th, but across the state and the county we have seen COVID-19 cases exponentially increase, with the transmission rates surpassing the amounts needed to transition from Phase One to Phase Two. The Tacoma--Pierce County Health Department has indicated we are in no way ready for Phase Three, and the County will not apply. A modified Phase 2.5 is possible. Our County Health Department is encouraging all residents to follow the guidelines and help slow the spread so we can move forward responsibly.

To try to slow the spread down, the State Department of Health has issued a public health order requiring face coverings be worn in indoor public spaces such as stores, offices and restaurants. The order also requires face coverings outdoors when you can't stay six feet apart from others. There are exemptions, including people with certain disabilities or health conditions, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and children under the age of 5 (though it’s encouraged to have children ages 3-5 wear a covering if possible). Businesses are also offering alternate formats for those not able to wear a mask, including curbside pickup or online ordering and delivery of items. Our Police Department is asking for voluntary compliance with the order. We’ll respond to cases of willful and reckless disregard for public safety, but our approach will be to educate before we enforce penalties.  It is not so much as what the state asks us to do but what the health department through proven science says to do. This virus kills and face masks are the simplest way to stop the spread with the least amount of work.

I know some say it is my public right to do whatever I want. Well I say to those it is also your public right and responsibility to help protect others from actions you may cause. To value others and care as a whole for the health of our community and fellow neighbors. So please, wear your face mask when around others and out with the public.

On the Federal level, the Governor addressed the US House to encourage them to pass the HEROES Act, which would provide state and local aid. Washington would receive $10.7 billion in state funds for recovery, with an additional $1 billion floating down to local governments, like cities. Without those funds, we can anticipate major cuts to services on the state level.  70% of Washington’s current budget is protected by state law, meaning officials can only cut from the other 30%. Unprotected spending items include higher education, corrections, many human services, and natural resources.

Here at the city, staff has processed the applications for our Small Business Stabilization Grants. We had 111 qualified applicants, meaning each business will get approximately $2775, over $1,200. more than the expected minimum of at least $1500. The money to fund these grants is coming from the federal government CARES Act. I’m thankful for the work of our staff and council to get these funds in the hands of our local businesses quickly and with a fair and balanced approach.

On June 5th, I issued a proclamation temporarily suspending certain Special Use regulations and Encroachment Permit fees. This means businesses have fewer costs and barriers in holding sidewalk sales and other outdoor sales on private property and within the public Right-of-Way. We took this on to give local businesses more bandwidth to re-open, be creative and be able to sell products in more ways during the “Safe Start” phases.  The businesses still need to apply as they still need to show proof of insurance.

On June 19th, I rang the bell to re-open the Gig Harbor Waterfront Farmer’s Market. I was able to buy coffee, cherries, beans and sausages – I was impressed at the social distancing and mask-wearing I saw, and proud of our businesses, our citizens and the Downtown Waterfront Association for making this happen – there are some experiences that really make it feel like summer in Gig Harbor, and the Farmer’s Market is one of them.

We are moving forward with plans for bringing back the Gig Harbor Trolley, in partnership with Pierce Transit. We’ll see heightened cleaning and sanitation measures on the Trolley in order to make this happen. This will re-launch in Phase Four, as will Summer Sounds at Skansie and Movies in the Park. We want to retain some sense of normalcy this summer, and we’ve hesitated to cancel these much-loved events and features, but we’re tied to the public health directive in order to keep Gig Harbor safe.


Last week, we also dedicated a new plaque on the Bogue Viewing Platform in the Finholm Marketplace area. It honors two local mountaineers, Marty Hoey and Luther Jerstad, who climbed Mt. Everest and many other peaks. Take a moment to read their story when you walk by. On a clear day, you’ll be able to look out to Mt. Rainier when you visit! This plaque and another are now ADA accessible.

At our Council meeting on June 8th, I proclaimed the month of June as Orca Action Month for the City. Southern Resident Orcas were declared an endangered species in 2005. Efforts are underway to restore our local orca population and I encourage everyone to learn more about their troubles and how we can help out.

City Council came to terms Monday night on a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jerkovich Family to modify their existing pier at Ancich Park so the public can use it to launch their kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. If all goes well, construction will start in June 2021, and be completed by August 2021. This will save the view corridor and a considerable amount of money.

On June 22, Council adopted a new six-year Transportation Improvement
Program (TIP). The TIP lists 28 transportation projects that the City has identified as priorities in the near future. This document is approved each year by the Council and forwarded to the state to be able to move forward with these projects. 

The State Department of Ecology has let us know they intend to start imposing nutrient loading limits on wastewater treatment plants. The City’s treatment plant has received many recent upgrades and improvements recently, but more capital improvements may be required or the City may have to stop issuing capacity reservation certificates and/or consider resolutions or ordinances that limit reservation certificates in our Urban Growth Area. City staff is continuing to work with our lobbyists to oppose these limits.

As you can see, even though we’re still adapting to the changing nature of COVID and the Safe Start restrictions, we’re still active in serving the city, planning for the future, and working to make sure our economic recovery remains in forward motion.

One of Washington States rules for Mayors is as follows: To protect health, safety and welfare of the community and its residents, businesses and visitors. I will continue to work to do this, as you need your health first to be able to succeed.

Stay healthy out there and be kind to each other.

Cheers,

Kit

Jun 04

Mayor's Update - June 4, 2020

Posted on June 4, 2020 at 5:03 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor Citizens,

I want to take a moment and address the unrest across our country over this past week.

Over the weekend, Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey made a statement on the GHPD Facebook page. In it, he denounces the murder of George Floyd as “senseless, unjust, and outrageous.” He also reaffirms the Gig Harbor Police Department’s strong stance against biased policing and our commitment to always do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Please take a moment to read the entire statement.

This week I reached out to Mayors, Councilmembers, and other leaders across Pierce County to encourage other leaders to join or organize a peaceful vigil walk. Our system across the U.S. is broken, and we need to take the lead in showing our community and nation that we need reform and change. Instead of just watching our citizens gather, we can get many of our elected officials, police officers, and public officials to walk in solidarity with citizens and church groups across the County. We all have a lot on our plate, but change can’t happen if we are not willing to help make it happen.

I welcome your input on your experiences in our community, and on what we can do better. I’m here to listen and learn, and to take action to ensure our city provides the same security and justice for each and every one of our citizens.

Last week, I was granted a one-on-one with Governor Inslee to address Gig Harbor’s need for clarity and fair treatment within the re-opening schedule. I worked to make our case, citing the real and urgent economic need for our businesses to be able to re-open. I shared our low number of cases, and our closer proximity to Kitsap and Mason Counties than the remainder of Pierce County.

We fought hard for Gig Harbor to be considered outside of the remainder of Pierce County, and although he denied the request based on how many other cities would apply for variances and consideration outside of their respective counties, I also sent out a strongly worded letter to the Governor and our local businesses about the need to reopen. We know the pressure we applied was considered along with other cities and jurisdictions, and a few days later the Governor softened the requirements for counties to move into Phase Two and introduced “Phase 1.5” to allow for some relaxations of restrictions on businesses in a more timely way.

We’ve also been actively in touch with Pierce County on their application to move to Phase Two of the Governor’s Safe Start plan. The application has been approved by the Pierce County Council and the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. We are currently waiting for the application to be processed by the state.

In Phase Two, here are a couple of the things we can look forward to: gatherings with five people outside your household will be allowed. All outdoor recreation, including camping and beach time will be allowed, but travel would be limited to within the proximity of your home. Manufacturing, new construction, in-home and domestic services like nannies and housecleaning will resume. In-store retail purchases will be allowed with restrictions. Real estate and office-based businesses will resume. Hair salons, barbers and nail salons can open, and restaurants can open under 50% capacity, with tables that seat no more than five. We hope to have an announcement soon on the State’s decision to allow us to move forward.

Last Thursday, Council held a special meeting to approve a new Small Business Stabilization Grant program. Small businesses in Gig Harbor (with fewer than 10 full-time employees) will be able to apply for a grant of $1500 that will be funded by $308,000 of the City’s CARES Act distribution. We’ll be able to award this grant for up to 205 businesses. If more than 205 apply, we will have to randomly select the businesses who receive the funds. This is not the best solution, but it allows us to make sure that the grant amount is enough to make a difference to the businesses who get the money, and distributed in a fair and unbiased way. We will announce the details of the program very shortly.

This time of year is very meaningful for our community – we have a class of graduating seniors that have worked hard and have made meaningful contributions to our community. To acknowledge them, Peninsula School District will be hosting two celebration events:  a Graduate Car Parade at the Tacoma Narrows Airport will take place on June 13th in keeping with social distancing standards, and a postponed, in-person Graduation Ceremony for both Gig Harbor High School and Peninsula High School will take place at PHS’ Roy Anderson Field on July 25th and be live-streamed for guests.  Henderson Bay High School graduates will be celebrated on July 24th at Sehmel Homestead Park.

Although the Civic Center will be closed to the public until June 22nd, we plan to start bringing City employees back to work during Phase Two and reopening the building to the public in Phase Three. Here at the City, our HR staff is hard at work on a comprehensive plan to make sure that everyone is safe as they return to their offices. We’ll be updating the public on the re-opening date for the Civic Center on or before June 19th.

Next week, Council will hopefully approve Ordinance 1445, ratifying temporary suspension of certain special use and encroachment permit regulations. This will allow us to waive fees and shorten the time frame for approval, in order for businesses to hold sidewalk sales. We will also be posting temporary signs throughout town allowing some parking spots to be designated for pick-ups at local business. For those of you who have questions, I’m continuing to go live on www.facebook.com/cityofgigharbor each Tuesday and Friday at 10:00AM, and I invite you to join and ask questions freely. I’m also live on KGHP (89.9FM and 105.7FM) most Wednesdays at 1:00PM with DJ Walrus, and I encourage you to tune in there, too. These are difficult times for all of us, but we are working together to get through it and our City will be better and stronger in the years to come.

Many of you might recall the City used to hold a Leadership Council update in years past. I’ve brought it back to life, collecting a group of leaders from government, organizations, and businesses around town to meet and discuss ways to help each other as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. We are using this group to share ideas, communicate openly, and identify ways in which we can provide support and a quick path to economic recovery. I’ll continue to communicate with this group and arrange meetings to keep an open line of communication and brainstorming going on how we can strengthen our community and our economic outlook here in Gig Harbor.



Stay healthy out there and be kind to one another,

Kit

May 18

Mayor’s Update - May 18, 2020

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 2:04 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor Citizens,

I hope you are well and doing ok as we continue through the lockdown. I know this is hard on all of us. Earlier this month, the Governor extended the Stay Home, Stay Health order through May, and I know that felt disheartening.

I know many of you have strong thoughts and opinions about the re-opening schedule. To share your voice with state government, you can use the Public Inquiries phone number at 360-902-4111. I have been working on speaking directly to the Governor to share our feedback. Here at the City, we are getting a lot of pressure to open some businesses. I do not believe it is fair that a hardware store, or grocery store can be open, while a small business that could have one or two customers at a time is not allowed to open.

Other examples include a Pilates studio that could offer a class for three to five people open with social distance practices. I feel strongly that health and wellbeing falls under the essential business category.

I’ve also heard about a dog groomer not allowed to open, while a pet store that sells dog food can do grooming. Allowing one provider to offer a service while shuttering another isn’t right.

We are getting a lot of pressure from many kinds of businesses that say these phased rules are very hypocritical and not fair to their business. We need some answers from the Governor soon.

In these last weeks, the Governor provided a long-awaited update on the plan to re-open Washington, which included a tentative timeline outlining four phases. We’re currently in Phase 1 where construction projects that were already in motion can resume, provided they follow social distancing and a number of safety restrictions. Landscaping is allowed now too, along with automobile sales, retail for curb-side pickup only, car washes and pet walkers along with expanded outdoor recreation opportunities.

Essential travel is still the only kind permitted through the remainder of May, so be mindful of where you go. Public lands are open for some recreation purposes – you can hunt, fish, golf, play tennis, get on the water with paddle sports, hop on an ATV or off-road vehicle, or go biking or hunting – but social distancing measures still need to be observed. Drive-in church services are now allowed with one household per car.

When we do move to Phase 2, gatherings with five people outside your household are allowed. All outdoor recreation, including camping and beach time is allowed, but travel is limited to within the proximity of your home. Manufacturing, new construction, in-home and domestic services like nannies and housecleaning can resume. In-store retail purchases will be allowed with restrictions. Real estate and office-based businesses can resume. Hair salons, barbers and nail salons can open, and restaurants can open under 50% capacity, with tables that seat no more than five. The earliest phase two is able to be considered is after May 31st.

In Phase 3, outdoor recreation and sports activities from five to fifty people can resume. Recreational facilities can operate at under 50% capacity. Gatherings of less than 50 people can resume along with non-essential travel. Restaurants can operate at under 75% capacity, bars at less than 25% capacity, indoor gyms at less than 50% capacity, and movie theatres at less than 50% capacity. Government services, libraries, museums and all other business activities excluding nightclubs and events with more than 50 people can resume here. The very earliest that Phase 3 will be considered is on June 22nd.

In Phase Four, we can all resume public interaction, with physical distancing. All recreational activity resumes, and gatherings of over 50 people are allowed. All travel is allowed and nightclubs, concerts, and large sporting events return. The earliest phase four will be considered is July 13th.

I want to thank you all for the sacrifices you’ve made in the past few months for the wellness of our community. This has been and will continue to be a time that truly tests what we’re made of. I applaud the parents working with their kids each day on schoolwork and their own telework. I applaud the furloughed workers who have filed for unemployment benefits at midnight to get through. I applaud our teachers for putting together continuous learning plans, and our businesses for adapting to unimaginable circumstances to modify their offers and to survive.

There has been real loss for some in our community – some people have had to bury loved ones without funerals or the ability to say goodbye in person. This has been a devastating time, and all of us have experienced it on different levels. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one. Everyone deals with it differently. It’s not just about coping with a loss, but coping with change that takes time…and a lot of time. Things that help could be writing in a journal, talking to someone, or trying to do things that make you happy. Reach out to a friend for help.

One of the things that makes Gig Harbor an incredible place to live is our shared sense of community. We want to recognize “Lasagna Lady” Michelle Brenner for donating home-made lasagnas to families and essential workers, and Wendy O’Neill, one of the admins of the popular local Facebook group “Gig Harbor’s Positive Town Talk,” who has started fundraising for small local businesses.

We also want to bring attention to those helping to bring a smile to the people around them, from the “driveway dancers” in the Harbor Hill neighborhood, to a surprise appearance by Chewbacca, spotted enjoying the sun in downtown. That’s one really creative approach to wearing a mask.

We have some good news to confirm – the City of Gig Harbor will be receiving a total of $323,100 from the CARES Act for local economic support. We do not know when these funds will arrive, but we are working on eligibility requirements with the state, and will be presenting a plan to council at our May 26th City Council meeting.

The City has been getting many questions about summer events. The downtown Farmer’s Market, presented by the Downtown Waterfront Alliance, will return on June 18. It will likely look a little different, and social distancing will be enforced. We are tentatively planning for the best-case scenario, reaching Phase 4 by the first possible date, July 13. We are working on permits for Summer Sounds at Skansie and Movies in the Park, along with the return of the Gig Harbor Trolley for when we move to Phase 4.

I will continue to give regular updates on the city’s Facebook page with our live Q&A videos. Next week, I’ll be live on Tuesday morning to answer questions on the state’s latest directives and provide updates from the city, and on Friday, we’ll welcome Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. If you have questions, this is a great time to ask.

I want to encourage each one of you to contact your favorite businesses and ask if you can support them in this time. If not, they may not be here when we re-open. Please continue to wear your mask while out in public, this will protect others around you.

Here’s an update on what we’ve been working on with our City Council over the past few weeks:

  • Council met in study session on April 30th to discuss the City’s 2020 budget. They’ll meet on May 28th to review current projects. The city is carefully considering any expenditure in this economic climate. There are tough decisions ahead and we may not fully know how much lost revenue we’re facing until later in the summer. One early number to share: real estate excise taxes for April 2020 were down 24% from last year.
  • A project to supply water and wastewater service for part of downtown continues at Lift Station #6, and we’ve put out an RFQ for a third-party consultant to determine the right size for our police force, for both safety and economic reasons.
  • At the May 11th Council Meeting, Council approved allowing city staff to accept digital signatures for certain types of documents. This will help speed up some processes during the COVID-19 pandemic but will also allow us to be more efficient moving forward.

We also have some updates to share from our city departments:

  • With construction allowed to resume, our building department is now conducting inspections. Two big projects going on right now are the new Peninsula School District elementary schools – building #9 across from the YMCA and building #10 at the Bujacich site.
  • The City’s Public Works crew started performing landscape maintenance again, and is excited to make the City’s landscaping look nice again. Park restrooms are now re-opened and are being cleaned regularly.
  • The Municipal Court has successfully implemented video conferencing hearing via Zoom with live streaming from the court website, allowing us to better serve the community at this time.
  • From the Gig Harbor Police Department, Officer Eddy Dominguez was awarded the department Lifesaving Award for a recent call where he performed CPR for approximately two minutes which saved a life.

We continue to move forward on other projects as much as we can. The City is working towards an RCO grant and a Land and Water Conservation fund grant – if we get these, this could bring $1M dollars in grant funds to the Sports Complex Phase 1B project, covering the construction of bocce ball courts, pickleball courts, a playground and parking.

The City is also working with the Jerkovich family on a lease to allow the City to use their existing pier at Ancich Waterfront Park to build a human-powered watercraft float. This could potentially save the City a lot of money and replace building our own float system, while also saving the Kayak Club from having to meet their $500,000 fundraising commitment. This is in no way a done deal - costs and details will still have to be looked at closely.

We are also exploring options for future use of the Masonic Lodge Building, including remodeling or potentially tearing it own. There are many upgrades needed to make it usable if we remodel, like a kitchen, better restrooms, windows, and ADA access. We could partner with many groups to help find the funds to pay for the remodel.

When we get to Phase 4, we’ll hold a public forum to get your thoughts on what would be the best use the building – potentially even a community hall.

We know there is a while to go until things return to normal, and that there will be a lot of adjustments to make in the coming months. Our city has been through difficult times before and come through stronger and more appreciative of our community and the wonderful place we are lucky to call home. Support each other, be kind to each other, and we’ll see you soon.

Stay healthy out there,

Kit