A road map for re-election

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series of interviews with candidates running for Tacoma City Council. For earlier interviews with contenders Marty Campbell, Jonathan Phillips, David Curry, Marilyn Strickland, Harold Moss, Donald Powell, Jack Pleasant, Lauren Walker, Ronnie Warren, Robert ‘The Traveler’ Hill, and incumbent Spiro Manthou, visit the Index archives online at http://www.tacomadailyindex.com .

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It’s Monday afternoon at a coffee shop near 72nd Street and Interstate 5, and Councilmember Julie Anderson is observing the activity outside. Supporters for two of four candidates vying for an open, at-large seat on City Council madly wave campaign signs at drivers. Positioned at one corner, candidate Marilyn Strickland is joined by a small group of her supporters. On the other side of the street, an equal number of supporters line up for candidate David Curry.

It’s another election year, and Anderson is enjoying some of the comfort that comes from incumbency: her race for Position 7, an at-large seat, isn’t nearly as competitive as the Position 8 race.

That’s not to say she’s phoning it in this year. You can still find her seeking support at neighborhood and community meetings. She’s secured key endorsements from many senators, county councilmembers, colleagues on city council, and civic leaders. And she’s raised approximately $24,500 in campaign funds.

But she is expected to easily win re-election. At press time, she was leading the Primary Election with 82 percent of the votes. In the General Election Nov. 6, she’ll likely face perennial candidate Will Baker, who has gathered 13 percent of the votes in the Primary (colorful outsider Robert ‘The Traveler’ Hill has collected approximately four percent of the votes).

Anderson, 42, was born on an Air Force base in Illinois, and arrived to the Tacoma-Pierce County area during the 1980s to attend Evergreen State College. While a student, she began working for a non-profit agency that specialized in residential treatment for emotionally disturbed youth, and managed a group home in Tacoma.

“That’s when I discovered Tacoma, started renting houses here, and decided it was a place I wanted to adopt,” she explains.

Over the years, she worked in the fields of policy administration, advocacy, and community service. She was a political strategist for Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington, executive director of the YWCA of Pierce County, campaign manager for United For Fairness, and district manager for the Dome District Neighborhood Business District.

In 2003, she was elected to City Council. Two years later, she was appointed to Sound Transit’s Board of Directors, after then-board member and City Councilmember Kevin Phelps abruptly resigned. The role has added another layer to her job as councilmember — namely, fielding questions from local residents on regional transportation issues: Will Sounder cross over Pacific Avenue to connect with Lakewood Station and knock out a handful of businesses near the Dome District? Or will it tunnel under Pacific Avenue, as some local architects prefer? When will downtown Tacoma’s Link Light rail extend to Sea-Tac airport? And when will we see reverse commutes on Sounder?

Outside City Hall, Anderson is a senior policy advisor for Community, Trade, and Economic Development, a department of Washington State government. She is also president of City Club of Tacoma, a Board Member for the Tacoma Community College Center for Ethical Development, and Steering Committee member for the multi-partisan Women’s Political Caucus.

I met Anderson to discuss her candidacy, transportation issues, growth at the Port of Tacoma (and its impact on the city), Broadway / St. Helens LID, a streetcar system in Tacoma, and other issues.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: Why have you decided to seek re-election?

COUNCILMEMBER JULIE ANDERSON: Because my constituents asked me to. Because I’m having fun. Because I feel like I need to leverage and capitalize on all the experience I gained in the first term, and I think I can make the best of that knowledge in a second term.

INDEX: What kind of experience?

ANDERSON: For example, I hadn’t worked in local government and I had never been an elected official before. Understanding bonding. Understanding all of our public utilities and lines of service. How rate structures are created. Our relationship to the utilities board. On and on and on. Technical things like that about the inner workings of a city that, looking from the outside, from a grassroots perspective, you wouldn’t know about.

INDEX: What was your impetus to run for City Council in the first place?

ANDERSON: I had some exposure to lobbying elected officials — locally and in the state Legislature — as a social service provider trying to secure more money for domestic violence victims, trying to get rules changed, et cetera. I already had that exposure, and had a great deal of success at it. When I was ready to leave the YWCA, I spent a year doing career counseling, really trying to figure out what I wanted to do. In job assessments, skill assessments, and personality tests, over and over again, the results kept pointing to be[ing] a judge, be[ing] an elected official. I knew I didn’t want to go to law school. I knew that being a judge would be a very long journey. I looked at the skills set of successful politicians, the success I had lobbying politicians, and I decided to do it in a very calculated way. It was a good match for my skills and personality.

INDEX: I want to go through some issues. First of all, Sound Transit. How did the opportunity to serve on the board arise. I know then-Councilmember Kevin Phelps, who was also serving on Sound Transit’s Board, stepped down. Was it something you jumped at? Or something that you were asked to do?

ANDERSON: Both. Kevin was in a position where he had gained a lot of credibility and a very positive reputation on the Sound Transit Board. He recommended me. He looked at the councilmembers on Tacoma City Council, and thought I would be the best fit. Again, with aptitude and skills and time available. At that time, I wasn’t working. John Ladenburg, the County Executive, is the person who makes the appointment. It’s a common misunderstanding that I represent Tacoma City Council on the Sound Transit Board. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious I don’t. It’s a regional body. Your job on there is to bring local intelligence to a regional system. My job is to build the best regional system I possibly can for everybody that lives in that region, with the limited funds available. I would say that I was selected for the position. And, yes, it was something I jumped at and absolutely wanted to do.

INDEX: You said it’s not necessarily your position to represent City Council on the Sound Transit Board.

ANDERSON: Correct.

INDEX: But is it your job to represent the residents of Tacoma?

ANDERSON: My job is to bring local intelligence and a local perspective to the decision-making process so that when other people representing Seattle or Redmond, when they weigh in, I want them to hear how their decisions, or how their perspectives, would impact the City of Tacoma. I want them to keep in mind emerging needs, such as the University of Washington branch campus and what that’s doing to ridership.

INDEX: Let’s talk about Sounder crossing Pacific Avenue in order to connect to Lakewood Station. There appear to be two plans: one involves a bridge over Pacific Avenue, and cars traveling underneath. Another, which a group of local architects prefer and promote, involves the train tunneling under Pacific Avenue. How are you processing these two views? What’s your position on how Sounder should cross Pacific Avenue?

ANDERSON: I have some guiding principles that I’m using to help me form an opinion. But an opinion has not been finalized. I really am open-minded. The number one variable is affordability. Sound Transit does not have the ability to create new revenue for this project. It is unrealistic and inaccurate to think that because Seattle did undergrounding as part of its system that we have the same money to do it. We have cost allocations and a funding formula that keeps local money local. So we can only spend the money we generate locally. We do not have as heavy a tax base and funding base as Seattle does. Plus, we don’t have the ridership. We can’t grow anymore money. We have a finite amount of money left in Phase I to fund this last bit of this project. Even doing the grade separation that we started out suggesting, which is the one where we have an overpass over Pacific Avenue, it’s in excess of the financial capacity of Sound Transit. Everything is blown out of the budget. Every scenario we are talking about is overbudget. This exceeds dramatically the financial capacity, the physical dollars we will ever have. A lot of my decision-making criteria are going to be what we can afford to do. I have formed an opinion that we can’t significantly delay Sounder service to Lakewood. It’s already about a year-and-a-half overdue. The modifications we are studying — whether it’s an at-grade crossing with a different route, whether it’s a cut-and-cover, or it’s a grade separation — are going to significantly delay it further. We made a promise to voters. We know the need is there. We know it’s a good thing for the City of Tacoma, and this southern corridor of the Sound Transit system, to extend Sounder as far as we can. And we have already started breaking ground on the Lakewood Station. We need to get it there. And construction isn’t getting any cheaper.

INDEX: But what would you say, though, to critics who argue Tacoma isn’t getting its fair representation at Sound Transit?

ANDERSON: I would say they are flat wrong. We got a lot of early components of a system, and we have definitely got our money’s worth when you look at the entirety of Phase I. There are some communities that are still waiting for something. But it’s because we have the ridership. It has nothing to do with political advocacy. It has nothing to do with representation or political advocacy. It has to do with ridership, needs, what makes sense as a regional system, how much revenue you can raise, and spending it efficiently. As a result of all those things, we have Link. We have a multi-modal transit center. And, if we can get it done, we’re going to have a Sounder train that goes all the way to Lakewood. We’re also going to have increased Sounder trips, and a reverse commuter trip, starting in September.

INDEX: On that note, why has it taken so long to get the reverse commute going?

ANDERSON: It’s been in our plans all along. It was fully funded in our Sound Transit plans all along. As you know, we use tracks that we lease from Burlington Northern for that line. Burlington Northern said, ‘We could give you this much capacity, but we’re going to phase it in because we will have commuter and freight conflict. As soon as we are able to increase the track and signal capacity of our line, then we will give you more capacity.’ That had nothing to do with Sound Transit. That was Burlington Northern’s ability to finish their own capital projects. That has to do with the D Street grade separation. That’s a huge part of it. The project got more expensive than they expected. There were construction delays. Burlington Northern was not able to make all the capacity improvements they needed to phase in stuff. We’ve just been waiting for their improvements to be completed so that we could start adding those additional trains and reverse commuter trips. By the way, through advocacy, because we know this has been driving people crazy — especially people in Auburn — we actually negotiated some accelerated trips. The reverse trip that’s going to start in September, it was part of our original agreement, but they’re starting that early. Also, the capacity we generated during the construction — the I-5 lane closures — was negotiated with Burlington Northern. We did some really hard arm-twisting for that. They didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to do any of that, but we begged them. Give us an extra trip early, and help us accommodate I-5 construction.

INDEX: Is it more difficult dealing with issues as a councilmember? Or being a board member on Sound Transit?

ANDERSON: They are really different problems. In local government, it feels like you have more flexibility to solve problems, with more than one way to solve a problem. For example, you have seen us twist and turn and think about how to fund infrastructure — and we have some local tools to do that. We just have to have the political will and talk to voters about it. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. We get to decide that locally. In Sound Transit, we are so hamstrung by the enabling legislation, we don’t have that flexibility. Explaining that to the public and local jurisdictions when the demand is so great. We’ve done a good of whetting peoples’ appetites, and not being able to respond to that. But I know that Sound Transit on its own could have passed an additional tax package to accelerate those projects a lot sooner. Left to our own devices, if we could have managed that, it would have been great. But we have absolutely no discretion in that regard. We are just a hostage of our state Legislature. That’s really frustrating. You also have a lot of dynamic tension between different jurisdictions. I think I’ve done a great job of representing the local community, getting Tacoma’s fair share. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the light rail Link extended from Sea-Tac all the way into Tacoma, and not stop in Fife or Federal Way. The Pierce County delegation supported that, and they all worked hard on that.

INDEX: The city’s planning commission recently asked City Council to revisit the Sounder route in order to see if it fits in with the city’s comprehensive plan. Is City Council planning to look at it?

ANDERSON: Absolutely. That’s a reasonable request. It’s been done before, but we’ll do it again. It’s good due diligence, and it’s a reasonable request.

INDEX: The Port of Tacoma is expanding aggressively, and a number of businesses on Tacoma’s tax rolls are being moved out of the area. Is the City of Tacoma doing anything to keep these businesses in Tacoma and on Tacoma’s tax rolls?

ANDERSON: Oh, yes. Even though to the general public — the eminent domain issue, the expansion of the Port — felt like sudden and surprising news, it wasn’t sudden or surprising to the City of Tacoma at all. That’s been part of the long-range plan for the Port of Tacoma for quite some time, and they have been working arm-in-arm with our economic development department on relocation in the City of Tacoma. I think of it in tiers. The first tier is to keep those jobs and that tax base in the City of Tacoma, then within Pierce County, then within Washington State. Making sure that businesses don’t close their doors. Our staff has been doing almost case-management work with the Port of Tacoma and, more importantly, with the Economic Development Council in the area. Everyone has been working like a team on it for quite awhile.

INDEX: ‘Case-management’ in the sense of trying to find new locations for these businesses?

ANDERSON: Correct. Site selection. Also trying to identify what their growth needs are. While you are moving, what can we do to help expand your business? What kind of amenities do you need? By the way, here’s a suite of tax packages that we have. Relocating you within an empowerment zone. That kind of stuff.

INDEX: The roads that are down there on the tideflats —


INDEX: Right. How much of that is the City’s responsibility? How much of that is the Port’s responsibility?

ANDERSON: We’ve been arguing about that since I’ve been on City Council. That’s one of those learning things during the first term. We are going to continue arguing about it, I think, probably forever. State government has convened a port and local city tax board to study this, because it’s not just Tacoma that runs into this. Seattle, certainly. Vancouver. We would like some sort of standardized recommendation for how to deal with infrastructure improvements and local impacts that ports have on local communities. I can tell you this: it’s not all the City’s responsibility. It is true that we certainly do benefit from having a healthy, growing port. We benefit economically. But so does the entire region and state. So it shouldn’t be just the City of Tacoma’s responsibility for fixing those heavy-freight corridors that take such a pounding. Just because we are the front-door delivery agent for the rest of the state doesn’t mean we need to foot the bill. It’s a state problem, federal problem, and port problem — not just a City of Tacoma problem.

INDEX: Property owners are voting on a Broadway / St. Helens Local Improvement District this week [EDITOR’S NOTE: During yesterday’s City Council study session, City staff announced that property owners had voted to pay for cost overruns on the $14 million LID project that would bring infrastructure and street improvements to an area downtown]. How would you like to see that turn out?

ANDERSON: I hope they vote to swallow the additional costs. By the way, the property owner with the biggest additional cost is the City of Tacoma. People keep forgetting that we are paying into that as well, and the cost increases are being passed on to us in the same way for other property owners. I hope everybody takes a deep breath and says, ‘Yes.’ More importantly, I hope the next time the City contemplates doing — we’ve got to find a different terminology for this different type of LID. I’m going to call it a municipal LID just because nobody else will name it. But the next time we contemplate a municipal LID, I don’t even want to contemplate another one until the City Manager can prove to me that it’s going to be managed differently. There have been too many false starts. There was not good communication. The Council was unclear about what kind of voting methodology we were going to use. It was just a mess every single step of the way. It’s a shame because I loved the vision. I loved the municipal LID as a big-bang tool to jump-start some important projects. I want to see it used on MLK and that upper spine of Tacoma. I want to see it used on Portland Avenue and McKinley. But I’m not going to go through that mayhem again. We need to be absolutely clear about what we are trying to achieve. We have to have a lock-down communication plan. We have to do a much better job at cost-estimating. But I have a feeling that the City Manager and the staff have heard all this feedback, and they want to change it, too.

INDEX: How do we get a streetcar built in Tacoma?

ANDERSON: We’ll probably be using LIDs to some extent. We do it in partnership with Pierce Transit. We need to be careful to set expectations with citizens that are achievable, which means we aren’t going to have a streetcar system that goes to every mixed-use system all at one. Like Portland, it’s going to be phased in. I know that people think downtown gets a lot of attention and too many resources, but it’s going to have to emanate from downtown because that’s where our transit centers are, and that’s where the bulk of commerce is. And one of the functions of a streetcar is getting people to jobs. So it’s going to have to radiate from downtown. We’re going to have to be strategic about where the streetcars go to in Phase I, Phase II, et cetera. We’re going to have to look at ridership. We’re going to have to look at construction costs. Also, transportation patterns and parking meters. We’ll be strategic. We’re going to be very, very committed to public input because people will be making commercial decisions 20 years out based on what we say we’re going to do with streetcar routes.

INDEX: Finally, what is your job outside City Hall?

ANDERSON: I am a senior policy advisor for Community, Trade and Economic Development, which is a department of Washington State government. I’ve been doing that for four months. My work at CTED is to look 10 and 15 years out at very complex policy issues that might be facing this state in the areas of economic development, workforce development, job creation, and a carbon-neutral economy. Also, low-income, affordable, and workforce housing. To take those many complex problems, distill them down into simplified form, and then figure out ways for CTED to either leave, get out of the way, or find a way to help, and make policy recommendations.