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Top Ten stories of the year

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2016 was a wild ride on both a local and national level. Here are some of the biggest things to happen in University Place this year.

Up Parks and Recreation program closes its doors at end of year

The University Place City Council voted to end a $400,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund to the city’s Parks and Recreation program as a step to stem its budget troubles. At the end of 2016 the department will be closing its doors for the final time. This closure will affect youth and teen sports, as well as Recreation and Senior Center programming.
“Due to a dramatic deterioration in city financial resources starting in 2009, the city’s 2010 budget substantially reduced Recreation staffing and programs. Economic conditions have not improved measurably,” according to a staff report on the issue. “After an extensive, multi-year evaluation of alternatives, given the city’s financial condition and the need to make adjustments to achieve a balanced budget council directed staff to prepare a resolution that would eliminate the city’s general fund subsidy to the Recreation Department beginning in 2017.”

Pierce County begins to finalize proposal for Chambers Bay Hotel

A new hotel will soon be coming to Chambers Bay that will expand the reach of the county-owned regional park and destination golf course.
Chambers Bay LLC, a group made up of Absher Construction, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Columbia Hospitality, GGLO Architects and KemperSports, submitted a proposal to develop a site on Chambers Bay into a boutique hotel that would have up to 80 rooms as well as a public plaza and trails. The plan became the preferred choice in October over a competing proposal from Valiant Washington.
“We’re pleased to have had two outstanding proposals to consider and are delighted to move forward with Chambers Bay Development,” Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said. “While both proposals had very strong elements, the internal review committee found in Chambers Bay a cohesive partnership with a track record of success.”
The Chambers Bay LLC development team calls for a 60- to 80-room hotel and a signature restaurant operated by Douglas, which would serve as his first eatery outside of the Seattle food scene. Future phases could add more hotel rooms.
The proposal was designed to avoid blocking scenic views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountain range and play off the park’s natural setting and to draw non-golf related activities.
The resort would help attract non-golfing tourists to the area with a premier restaurant, beautiful views and amenities like spa treatments.

Franchise Fee

After a study session on May 2, the University Place City Council stepped closer to charging a 6 percent fee on sewer services.
The proposed franchise agreement with Pierce County would require Pierce County’s Sewer Division to pay University Place a 6 percent franchise fee for the utility’s use of the local streets and other properties. Sewer services are the only utility to not be charged a franchise fee and the rate is identical to what Lakewood charges the county. Power, water, gas, telephone and cable television utilities have been charged franchise fees for years.
The franchise agreement, which would have to be formally approved by the City Council as well as the Pierce County Council, would generate about $360,000. If the fee is passed on to residents, the added charge would come to about $3 a month. But Pierce County doesn’t have to pass that fee increase on to its sewer customers in UP, however, since its sewer rate in Lakewood is the same as UP despite Lakewood charging a franchise fee.
“We are taxing the utility,” Councilmember Kent Keel said. “They don’t have to pass it on.”
Work to begin collecting a franchise fee on sewer services, which affects about 80 percent of city residents, started at a council study session last year that largely dealt with ways to address the city’s $1 million budget shortfall. The city has already announced plans to end parks programs in an effort to save about $400,000. An effort to form a metropolitan parks district to take over parks programs falled at the ballot box last month by a two-to-one margin.
The franchise fee could lower the projected gap since state law allows cities to put the new revenue into their general fund.

Year kicks off with tight election races

The year didn’t see much of a shakeup government wise following elections at the end of 2015, with the University Place City Council looking very much the same.
Kent D. Keel, the Position No. 2 incumbent, won another term in his unchallenged race as did Caroline Belleci, who also ran unopposed for Position No. 7. They will share the dais with Position No. 6 incumbent Chris Nye, who won his reelection bid against Frank Boykin with 61 percent of the vote over Boykin’s 38 percent in early returns.
The University Place School Board will also looked familiar to education watchers with Ethelda Burke retaining her uncontested Position No. 1 seat. Candidate T'wina Franklin went unchallenged in her bid for the Position No. 3 seat as well.
Former board member Annie Fitzsimmons, who ran against incumbent Rick Maloney for the Position No. 5 seat, won with a tight margin of 32 votes.
Board President Mary Lu Dickinson won over challenger Edward D. Arrington for Position No. 4. Dickinson has 60.39 percent of the vote to Arrington’s 39.18 percent.

Fircrest lifts booze ban

Fircrest’s Proposition No. 1 to lift the ban against the sale of liquor won soundly with 75.81 percent of the vote at the end of last year. City residents had voted in 1975 to ban the sale of liquor for on-premises consumption in restaurants, private clubs, nightclubs and related facilities. Areas around the city were annexed over the passing decades and were not affected by the ban. The Washington Legislature passed an amendment in 2015 that authorizes a vote of the people to decide on lifting the ban. The city can now allow the sale of liquor for on-premises consumption in licensed restaurants, private clubs, nightclubs, and sport entertainment facilities in areas of the City of Fircrest that prohibited the sale of liquor for on-site consumption.

Plans for Sound Transit 3 move forward after voter input

The Sound Transit Board is moving forward with a revised package of mass transit projects around Puget Sound that swayed voters this fall. The revised Sound Transit 3 package will speed up several key projects in Pierce County, including the routing of light rail service closer to University Place and Fircrest with a planned station at Tacoma Community College.
A vote of residents of the urbanized areas of Snohomish, King and Pierce counties in November made the plan official. Voters approved Sound Transit 2 in 2008. The first mass transportation package, that formed the regional transit agency, passed in 1996.
ST3’s estimated cost of $54 billion in transit projects will be largely paid for through higher sales taxes, added car tab fees and increased property taxes. The average adult would pay about $17 a month or $200 a year in higher taxes .

University Place Police Department offers Community Police Academy

Last Spring, the University Place Police Department reached out to the community by offering a seven-week program that allowed the public to learn more about police procedures.
Topics covered in the course ranged from what roles community members can play in controlling crime in the city, to what police can do once crimes have been committed. Residents learned how to protect their property from being targeted by criminals and what police officers follow when it comes to criminal investigations and use of force. Issues surrounding gun ownership and police ramifications of the legalization of marijuana in the state further rounded out the course.
“We kind of tailored the course to our own department,” Police Chief Mike Blair said.
Courses are now being scheduled in the spring and fall each year.
Pre-registration for the free course is required and applications are accepted on a first come first served basis until the class is filled. Applicants must be at least 16 years old. Register by calling (253) 798-3141.

Lead in UP schools

Media coverage about water samples around Tacoma schools and then other schools around Puget Sound created a stream of calls to University Place School District offices by concerned parents with questions about the safety of the water in their children’s schools in May.
“Over the last several weeks, we have been in close contact with our water provider, Tacoma Public Utilities, and the Pierce County Health Department to ensure any necessary precautions are taken to keep our water clean and our students and staff safe,” stated Deputy Superintendent Jeff Chamberlin in a note to parents in May.
The testing found that more than 90 percent of 225 water samples were deemed within the acceptable level of lead in water, with 13 samples above the acceptable threshold, taken from four locations at Chambers Primary School, Three at Sunset Primary, Two at University Place Primary School, One at Narrows View Intermediate School, One at Curtis Junior High School and two at Curtis senior high school. All failing water locations were immediately turned off until they could be repaired.

Community Connections Place opens

Community Connection Place, a new nonprofit community recreation center in University Place, celebrated it’s launch on June 14.
“Our dream is to create a safe and supportive environment centered on education, fitness, creativity and wellness,” according to the Community Connection Place Board of Directors.
The recreational center is located off Bridgeport Way and 40th Street, right between the animal care clinic and Washington Federal Bank. The piece of property was recently acquired for the project, near several University Place schools and residential neighborhoods. “Kids will be able to walk there, ride their bikes… It’s located right off the bus line so they could bus there as well,” says Patricia Mannie chairman of the board of the West Side Branch of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, .
Of course, the space isn’t limited for use by the under-18 crowd. There aren’t many community spaces in University Place, and Community Connection Place will offer a more affordable alternative than Chambers Creek for those who need an event space whether for a local non-profit or a birthday party. And, as Mannie adds, “If people didn’t want a recreational center funded by tax dollars, then one funded by private dollars they can get behind.”

University Place teen catches ’em all in Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go swept the nation this summer, and 15-year-old Sam Valadez of University Place became one of the first people in Washington State to rise to the game’s challenge, catching all 145 Pokémon available at the time.
“I started to catch a few in the beginning and I had really a lot of free time so I figured I might as well walk around a bit. I went to Point Defiance and I went to the waterfront at Ruston Way a lot,” Valadez said.
Valadez spent the first month of the game’s life at Pokémon GO hotspots around the city to catch the critters, but it took a little bit more than that to collect the regionally exclusive Pokémon.
“The last one I caught was Kangaskhan. I was able to share account with my Australian friend and they were almost bitten by a snake, in the Canberra area, trying to catch it for me,” Valadez said.
With help from friends far and wide, Valadez was able to complete his Pokedex in early August, a moment that had been a long time coming for him, and it held personal significance.
“My dad had passed away. He was into Pokémon and a Pokémon game was the last present I got from him. That’s why it holds a special place in my heart,” Valadez said.

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