Deputy city administrator wasn’t on list of Gig Harbor visioning priorities

Special to the GatewayApril 2, 2014 

I do not like voting against the rest of the Gig Harbor City Council, but lately, I must object to the direction it has taken on the issue of hiring a new deputy city administrator.

I raised an issue at a past council meeting, requesting some justification to hire. As a council member, I have not seen any findings other than a job description.

Is staff overworked in economic development? I don’t think so. This is just a thought from the mayor, who thinks it’s a good idea.

The idea of our strong mayor and council form of government should get involved in attracting industry into our small fishing village is unattractive to the community. We have an existing industry, which has never gotten much support over the many years of city government until the Maritime Pier.

Why convert the economy of Gig Harbor into an industrial base? Or a professional base? Is the city obligated to fill an oversupply of empty office buildings? Are our elected representatives so oblivious to our people they can only think in terms of improving business?

It seems so.

Don’t the opinions of residents count? Are we elected only by business? No.

I do not believe in talking down to the people as if they have no interest in our future. Sure, downtown is hurting, but not from any action other than past council actions, which allowed such developments as Gig Harbor North, the Russell building or Uptown.

Big box stores have destroyed more than one town. For example, Maryville, Mo., got Wal-Mart, and after a couple of years, most of its downtown businesses closed their doors. Storefronts were still vacant on my last visit. Even a nearby Kmart store closed its doors.

Maryville is a town of 10,000 with a small university. It also has Eveready Battery and Kawasaki factories on the outskirts of the community, as well as surrounding farms. Yet its downtown remains a ghost town.

We pay $35,000 to the Downtown Waterfront Alliance for economic growth. We have a full-time marketing director who earns between $76,000 and $95,000. That person sells Gig Harbor through constant solicitations to get “heads in beds” for the hotels in our community. Lodging tax revenue increased 18 percent in 2013. Tourism thrives here.

Are we going to remove funding for either of those projects? No, city council members are directly involved as they voiced during budget sessions.

I’ve been an advocate of more marine facilities for transient moorage, a fuel dock, commercial fishing, human-powered craft and public access to beaches. I think the waterfront is our best asset, as well as our precious view of it. The future is whether the people of our fine city want economic development, which brings more congestion, more housing, more increases in utility fees and less room for all who live here, or to oppose it.

The Growth Management Act has hurt us the most. Eight hundred thirty new homes are planned on tiny 4,500-square-foot lots by Olympic Property group. Along Hunt Street, Rush Construction had planned even higher-density home development.

Downtown businesses will evolve naturally from the increase in population. Let property owners or landlords attract tenants.

The city has done enough by cutting parking requirements and building a parking lot next to Tides Tavern. Let’s not rezone more forest land for big box stores.

We should remember what people wanted during the Harbor Visioning process. Walkable, views, historic, vibrant, character, etc., stood on top of the list, while retail, services, marine services, entertainment, etc., were on the top of uses.

Instead, the low choices in the visioning have become the priority. An economic development manager was not even suggested.

People either have to stand up, voice their objections, or remain silent to voice their consent.

Ken Malich is an elected Gig Harbor City Council member. He can be reached by email at malichk@cityofgigharbor.net.

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