Throughout the West, more smoke and fire is coming. How we receive our smoke and fire, however, is up to us. Do we want these in smaller, recurring, controlled burns, or in rarer but uncontrollable megafires (fires over 100,000 acres)? Megafires and the destruction caused by them is a serious and growing issue in our region.
Dr. Paul Hessburg, a research landscape ecologist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and a member of the University of Washington’s Affiliate Faculty, will discuss this issue in a 70-minute presentation titled “Era of Megafires” that will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 1, in Whitman College’s Maxey Hall, 173 Stanton St. Hessburg will present fast-moving, short, topic-based talks interspersed with compelling video vignettes and photos. After the presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session around topics that are relevant to the community in order to create local actions and address local challenges.
The new Walla Walla Veterans Home is now accepting resident applications. The $34 million facility will serve 80 residents and create 100 permanent jobs in Walla Walla. It will be open in February 2017. To be eligible for admission, applicants must need nursing home care and:
Visit www.dva.wa.gov to download an application or contact Lonna Leno at or
Veterans rated 70%-100% Service Connected Disabled, or whose service connected disability is the reason nursing care is needed, may have their nursing home care paid by the Veterans Administration. Rehabilitative care is also covered by Medicare, following a qualifying hospital stay. The Walla Walla Veterans Home also accepts Medicaid, private insurance and private pay.
To help make the Walla Walla Veterans Home possible, the City Council established the Walla Walla Veterans Affairs Community Task Force and lobbied legislators and VA officials to preserve the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center and earmark millions to improve services. The City of Walla Walla values veterans and believes they deserve top-quality care.
Two off-duty members of the Walla Walla Fire Department, Lt. Eric Wood and Engineer Bryan McIntire, visited the Conconully, Washington, area, which is 20 miles northwest of Omak in the north central part of the state.
They were with Eric’s father, Dan Wood, who is the Assistant Fire Chief in Omak, when a call came over Dan’s radio reporting that a 73-year-old man went into cardiac arrest at a nearby restaurant. When Eric and Bryan arrived at the scene, two volunteers from the Conconully Fire Department had just positioned the patient on the ground. Since Eric and Bryan are paramedics, they assumed patient care duties. The law allows paramedics to relieve EMTs of patient care duties because paramedics are trained in many more life-saving medical procedures.
The patient did not have a pulse when Eric and Bryan arrived. For 15 minutes, they provided oxygen with a bag mask and performed CPR, preventing brain damage.
LifeLine Ambulance, Inc., a for-profit ambulance provider located in Okanogan, Washington, responded to the scene 21 minutes after the call to which Eric and Bryan had responded. After the patient was loaded into the ambulance, Eric and Bryan rode with him and continued to provide advanced life support. The ambulance transported the patient to a nearby state park, where an air evac helicopter had landed. The patient survived and was discharged from the hospital two days later with no lasting symptoms of the episode.
Wayne Walker, the general manager of LifeLine Ambulance, Inc., credited the firefighters with saving the man’s life. In an email to Walla Walla Fire Department Chief Bob Yancey, Wayne wrote, “Eric and Bryan assisted our team seamlessly after it arrived. Both of these paramedics are responsible for saving this persons life and are role models of professionalism by which other should be measured.”
Eric and Bryan will be commended for their actions at the 7 p.m., Aug. 24 City Council meeting at City Hall, 15 N. 3rd Ave., in Walla Walla.
The Port of Walla Walla will provide the City of Walla Walla with a generous grant of $200,000 for Veterans Memorial Pool.
“The Port of Walla Walla supports the efforts to rebuild Memorial Pool and is pleased to offer funding from the Nine-tenths Economic Development Sales Tax Fund, pending concurrence from the Walla Walla Board of Commissioners. This project will serve the needs of the Walla Walla Valley citizens and provide elements (water slides and play equipment) to attract users of the facility to support the ongoing operational costs,” Commissioner Peter Swant said.
The grant will come from the Port’s sales tax fund. Nine-tenths of a percent of the state’s share of locally generated sales tax goes into the fund, which can be used for economic development infrastructure projects in Walla Walla County.
With the Port’s grant, the City of Walla has now raised $1.1 million for Veterans Memorial Pool. The City still needs an estimated $538,000 to fully fund the project.
“The pool is 50 percent complete, and it’s within budget and on schedule,” Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dumont said. “We’re excited to see funding for the additive alternates, which are the attractions like the water slides and other interactive play equipment.”
Construction has proceeded rapidly and smoothly. On July 28, 33 truck loads of cement were poured at the pool site. That’s a total of 340 cubic yards of cement. Change orders have amounted to less than 1 percent of the total project cost.
The City Council will vote to accept the Port’s grant in a future meeting.
Engineering consultants hired by the City of Walla Walla inspected areas where Mill Creek flows under downtown. They identified three areas where the support structures beneath paved areas were in poor condition. Due to public safety concerns, the City notified owners of the private properties that are impacted and have cordoned off City properties to prevent vehicle traffic.
The City is responsible for two of the three areas. One area is located in the public parking lot on the south side of Rose Street across from the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Convention Center. Part of this lot has already been fenced off due to safety concerns, and this fenced off area will increase in size. Temporarily, there will be approximately six fewer parking spots as a result. The City is evaluating reconfigured parking options here. The second area that is cordoned off is located behind the building housing the Kerloo Cellars and Trust Cellars tasting rooms on Second Avenue.
The third area is on private property. A corner of the parking lot behind the Gardner Building at the corner of Third Avenue and Rose Street is not safe for truck traffic. The private property owner is responsible for this area. The support structures in the areas across from the Marcus Whitman could date back to the 1920s. The support structure in the area near the tasting rooms could date back to the late 1800s.
Walla Walla’s philanthropic community is rallying to provide additional funding for Veterans Memorial Pool.
On March 15, 2016, Sherwood Trust agreed to commit $500,000 toward the pool project. The donation will go toward funding the waterslides, shade structures, play structure, and regenerative media filtration system for the two pools. The regenerative media filter is a water conservation item.
Along with a $100,000 donation provided by an anonymous donor, the City of Walla Walla is well on its way toward fully funding the pool project.
Mayor Allen Pomraning said, “Citizens spoke loudly and clearly about the need for a pool in our community, and the City of Walla Walla is committed to meeting that need. Our children should have a fun, safe place to enjoy during the summer, and Walla Walla will make that a reality.”
Nearly 65 percent of Walla Walla voters approved a $5.83 million bond proposition to rebuild Veterans Memorial Pool on Feb. 10, 2015.
On March 3, 2016, the City of Walla Walla received bids from contractors. The lowest base bid for pool construction was $5.78 million. An estimated $2.3 million in addition to the bond revenue will be required for other project costs. The $600,000 in donations bodes well for the City’s efforts to meet its funding goal.
The City of Walla Walla is working earnestly to deliver the pool that voters approved. There will be no tax increases to cover its cost. The recovering economy has put the City in an improved financial position, and together with donor support and the commitment of the City Council, the pool will be built.
The City will provide an estimated $800,000 to cover the cost of the pool. This sum would primarily come from sales tax proceeds from the 2015 Gentlemen of the Road Stopover music festival, which amount to approximately $100,000, along with a 36-month internal loan.
City staff members are collaborating with Walla Walla’s philanthropic community to raise the remaining funds needed by September 30, 2016.
The Gentlemen of the Road Stopover music festival that took place in Walla Walla during August 2015 was an unforgettable event for the more than 20,000 people who attended. Additionally, the festival was a boon for local business owners, who saw an estimated increase of $7,800,000 in retail sales revenue during that month reportedly due to the three-day event. That revenue increase in turn generated about $96,720 in additional sales tax revenue for the City of Walla Walla.
The City’s share of the total retail sales tax rate of 8.9% is 1.24%. Monthly sales tax payments are due to the State one month out, and the State of Washington takes nearly another month to compile the collections and pay the City. So August tax payments submitted by City retailers are received by the City in late October. The City calculated the spike in taxable retail sales and the associated spike in retail sales tax revenue for all of August 2015 by determining the average October tax receipts for the three years prior to 2015 and subtracting that figure from the 2015 tax receipts. Dividing the resulting tax receipts spike by the tax rate yields the estimated August 2015 retail sales increase due to the GOTR festival.
What could the City of Walla Walla do to make the most of Mill Creek? You can go to Open City Hall to see conceptual ideas from Washington State University students and provide your own visions and ideas for Mill Creek. Go to Open City Hall and follow the instructions below to participate.
In 2015, students from the Washington State University School of Design and Construction re-envisioned Mill Creek as it flows through town. WSU Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Michael Sanchez, charged his students with coming up with ideas for reincorporating Mill Creek into the fabric of the city. The students' intentions were to combine cultural, economic, ecological and social aspects of Walla Walla into an alternative way of channeling Mill Creek. Along with accessibility, the designs focus on creating unity in the community and a sense of connection to nature. The students' designs ask us to consider the possibilities for this natural resource. We invite you to share your thoughts on Open City Hall about these conceptual plans and to share additional possibilities the plans may inspire.
The City of Walla Walla has met all the 2015 standards to qualify for the 2016 Association of Washington Cities WellCity Award. By earning a WellCity Award, the City gets a 2-percent discount on health care premiums. The discount results in a total savings of about $96,000 on health insurance premiums for the City and its employees. The official WellCity Award announcement will be in April.
This will be the third year in a row that the City has earned the award. The Wellness Committee and employee participation in Wellness Committee activities and programs make this award, and its accompanying cost savings, possible.
Senior Officer Ascension “A.C.” Castillo was presented the Beyond the Badge Award for assisting a family in need. On Dec. 17, 2015, Sr. Officer Castillo took a call at the front door of the Walla Walla Police Department and met Tara Turner, who was traveling through town with her young children, trying to get to the Seattle area to see her mother who is receiving hospice care. They were nearly out of money and first sought assistance in Dayton, where they were referred to the WWPD.
Senior Officer Castillo asked Patrol Sergeant Kevin Bayne if there were hotel vouchers available, but Bayne said that, unfortunately, that program had ended. Instead of simply sending the mother and her children on their way, Senior Officer Castillo contacted local hotels, trying to arrange for reduced rates. He then contacted the Fraternal Order of Police and solicited funds to assist the family. He secured a night’s stay at a local hotel and $200 additional funds at Wal-Mart. Miss Turner was brought to tears by Sr. Officer Castillo’s efforts and the kindness of our law enforcement community.
On the right side of the entrance to Fire Station 2 on Wilbur Avenue is a curiosity you may not have noticed. It’s a small, red, birdhouse-shaped box built into the wall.
Though it’s an antique now, this fire alarm box was once part of an elaborate system installed throughout town in the 19th century.
Retired Walla Walla Fire Department Captain Greg Van Donge said the fire alarm boxes were still in use when he began his career as a firefighter in 1973.
He said the system, which was essentially a network of telegraphs, was state-of-the-art when it was first installed. There were alarm boxes located at hundreds of intersections around town. When there would be a fire, someone would run to the closest box and pull the alarm, causing a bell at the Fire Station to ring in a sequence unique to that location. For example, the Fire Station bell would ring four times, pause, then ring three times, pause, then ring three more times. While the bell would ring, a ticker tape machine at the Fire Station would also punch out the sequence. Firefighters would then count the bells or grab the ticker tape and refer to a book hanging nearby on the wall. The book contained all of the sequences and their associated intersections throughout town. Some alarms signaled more specific locations, such as schools. Each alarm box was wired directly into the Fire Station and the Fire Chief’s house. A double ground system provided a failsafe, meaning that if there were a break in a line, the alarms would still work.
Captain Van Donge said firefighters were still performing maintenance on the system when he started. The telegraphs in the alarm boxes were powered by wind-up spring mechanisms. After someone pulled an alarm, firefighters would respond to the call and use a special key to wind up the mechanism again. A series of batteries in the Fire Station transmitted the signal tapped out by the telegraphs. When the City built Fire Station 1 in 1974, Capt. Van Donge said there was still a room for the batteries.
Most people were using telephones to report fires by then, but firefighters still responded when the alarm boxes were triggered. The system was eventually removed, and one contributing factor was a high percentage of false alarms. Captain Van Donge said Halloween in 1973 was particularly bad for for pranks. Someone drove around town and pulled 40 or 50 alarm boxes that night, he said. As they always do, firefighters responded.
The City Council meeting on January 13, 2016, marked the first time that streaming audio had been used to provide a live audio broadcast of proceedings.
Meetings had previously been broadcasted on AM radio station KUJ. Broadcasting on the Internet will allow improve accessibility, provide a greater opportunity for citizen engagement, and provide metrics.
To listen in, you can stream the broadcast on the City’s Facebook page and on the City Council page on our website. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin has also agreed to host the stream on its newly redesigned website and promote it online and in print.
The Walla Walla Fire Department teamed up with the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practice Lab (SPL) to give new life to old turnouts – the fire resistant coats and pants that firefighters wear.
The turnouts, made of heavy, canvas-like Nomex, are required to be replaced after so many hours of use. Lieutenant Bo Pingree came up with the idea to take the material to his longtime friend, Chris McGill at the SPL, who collects donations of scrap material from around Walla Walla. McGill works with about 140 inmates who use their skills and their creativity to make new products from the scraps.
Pingree suggested that the inmates use the turnouts to make mask bags and rope bags for the firefighters. Mask bags store and protect the breathing apparatuses firefighters wear. When firefighters enter structures, they will sometimes trail rope so they can find their way out – thus the rope bags. The inmates in the SPL’s Teddy bear shop used the turnout material to make stuffed animals that firefighters paramedics, and emergency medical techs (EMTs) can give to young children during ambulance rides.
The collaboration not only resulted in reduced waste from the Fire Department, but it also resulted in significant cost savings. Rope bags cost $75 to $150 apiece, and mask bags cost $50 apiece. Pingree said he placed an initial order with the SPL for 50 mask bags. That order alone saved the City $2,500. The only things the Fire Department had to purchase were a few spools of thread and some Velcro. And Pingree said this is only the start since the turnouts could be used to make many other useful items.
McGill said inmates at the Sustainable Practice Lab make a variety of items from discarded material. They use old sheets and blankets from the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Convention Center to make new garments. Recently, the Walla Walla Foundry made a sculpture from black walnut. McGill took those scraps to the SPL’s wood shop. All items made in the SPL must be donated to nonprofit organizations.
In the future, Pingree said the inmates in the SPL will take the Fire Department’s old, blue shirts and turn them into quilts that people can use in ambulances.
McGill said, “For these guys to give back to a society they can’t be a part of, that’s a big deal for them.”
The City of Walla Walla has received results from the 2015 citizen satisfaction survey conducted by Cobalt Community Research, a 501c3 organization that provides research and education for schools, local governments, and nonprofit organizations. Survey responses help officials shape policies and priorities for the City. This is the second survey the City has conducted with the help of Cobalt, the first being in 2013.
In 2015 the City’s scores improved in many areas and meet or exceed regional and national benchmarks in many categories. The American Customer Satisfaction Indexsm (ACSI) score rose from 59 to 62. The average score for Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana is 59. Nationally, the average score is 61. The ACSI is a well-respected standard of customer satisfaction metrics for both government and the private sector. The ACSI measures over two-thirds of the United States economy and produces scores for more than 100 federal government agencies.
A random sample of 1,500 residents was drawn from utility billing records. The survey was conducted using two mailings in November and December 2015, which was the same timeframe as the 2013 survey. Cobalt received valid responses from 506 residents, providing an exceptional response rate of 34 percent and a conventional margin of error of +/- 4.3 percent in the raw data and an ACSI margin of error of +/- 1.8 percent. For comparison, national surveys with a margin of error +/- 5% require a sample of 384 responses to reflect a population of 330,000,000.
In comparing the City’s 2013 scores with its 2015 scores, citizens indicated that they:
• are more satisfied in every measure of government management (overall score increased 8 points to 59 in 2015).
• think the economy is healthier (score increased 6 points to 55 in 2015).
• feel very strongly that they would recommend Walla Walla as a place to live and would remain in the community.
• think Walla Walla is a good place to start a business.
• feel the city is enjoyable for seniors and increasingly enjoyable for young adults.
• have a positive community image and think the city is very attractive and a great place to live.
• think Fire and Emergency Management Services are excellent.
• think utility services are very good.
• feel slightly less safe but show increasing satisfaction with the Police Department.
• are more satisfied with shopping opportunities.
• are more satisfied with transportation and street maintenance.
• are very satisfied with Parks and Recreation
• are less satisfied with property taxes (score decreased 6 points to 59 in 2015).
In the 2015 survey, the City added questions dealing with public safety funding, government knowledge, and the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover. Responses indicated that:
• 62 percent would support either a property tax increase or a utilities tax increase to fund public safety efforts, namely those that address violent criminals.
• 81 percent did not know that Walla Walla has the lowest property tax rates and the highest range of services compared to Walla Walla County and College Place.
• 63 percent were not aware that the City had added three police officers to increase public safety.
• 59 percent were aware that the City made major street improvements in response to a 2010 survey.
• the GOTR festival was a safe, “cool” event that benefitted the City.
• the City did a good job managing GOTR crowds and controlling traffic.
Cobalt Community Research conducted the survey as part of a non-profit program called the Cobalt Citizen Engagement and Priority Assessment. The program gives local governments solid, citizen-based data to support resource decisions, to improve services, to measure progress, and to build public trust.
The assessment is powered by the patented technology of the American Customer Satisfaction Indexsm (theACSI.org), the well-respected standard of customer satisfaction metrics for both government and the private sector. The ACSI measures over two-thirds of the United States economy and produces scores for more than 100 federal government agencies.
The City of Walla Walla’s strategic plan calls for effective communication among staff members, and the employee survey helps the City to improve employee satisfaction and benchmark organizational performance from an employee perspective. As in 2013, the City employed the services of Cobalt Community Research to conduct the survey. Cobalt uses the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s National Baldrige Award standardized self-assessment instrument to support planning decisions. The City’s employee satisfaction score improved from 76 in 2013 to 77 in 2015. For private and public organizations in 2015, the average score for the nation, the West, and Northwest states was 73.
Responses indicate that employees:
• Feel colleagues and leaders are highly committed to the City’s mission, vision, and values
• Know their customers and feel empowered to solve their problems
• Know how to tell if they are doing a good job
• Can make changes to improve their work
• Work well together as a team
• Feel they have a safe workplace
• Have satisfied customers and good work products
• Feel the City helps them serve the community
• Feel colleagues are ethical and law-abiding
In order to increase employee satisfaction, Cobalt suggested focusing on:
• Creating a more helpful work environment
• Asking employees for opinions and suggestions more often
• Increasing employee’s familiarity with those whom they serve
• Providing more insight into how the City is performing
• Recognizing employees more often for their work
• Giving employees better control over work processes
In open-ended questions, employees said they would like to see improvement in the following areas: staffing levels; morale, especially union employees; internal procedures and processes for direct service providers (utilities, Police, etc.); communication within departments; team building activities; communication from management; employee recognition; and emergency management procedures/trainings.
Survey participation by 205 employees out of 270 generated a response rate of 76 percent. Consequently, the survey has a low margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent and a high rate of confidence at 95 percent, meaning the results are a very reliable indication of employee satisfaction.
A representative from Cannara, Italy and Walla Walla Mayor Jerry Cummins will sign a Sister City Pact of Friendship at 10:45 a.m. at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. The ceremony will conclude at 11:15 a.m.
Mr. Antonio Baldaccini will be representing and signing for the City of Cannara. He is authorized by the Italian government to do so. Italy’s federal government must approve all Italian sister city relationships and the signing document. The City Council authorized Mayor Cummins to sign the agreement at the Dec. 2, 2015, City Council meeting.
Cannara and Walla Walla share a similar heritage, along with a reputation for great wine and onions. According to the pact, the cities will endeavor to develop a youth exchange program, develop guidelines for helping each other promote culture and products, and feature onions and onion producers at the cities’ respective onion festivals. Cannara’s onion festival draws thousands of people each year.
Walla Walla will become only the second city in Washington to have a sister city in Italy. Seattle has had a sister city agreement with Perugia for more than 20 years.
The City of Walla Walla recently received three grants totaling $4,273,090 – including one for more than $3.5 million - for a project to reconstruct Isaacs Avenue from Park Street to Wilbur Avenue.
On Nov. 20, 2015, the State of Washington Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) announced that it awarded the City a grant for $3,594,500, the largest of three grants the City recently received for the Isaacs Avenue project, which will cost an estimated $15 million.
The TIB received 378 applications from Washington cities and counties for projects requesting more than $301 million in funding. The TIB chose to award improvement grants to 142 of those projects, which will receive a total of $116.8 million. The City earned the ninth largest grant of the 142 awarded by the TIB, and the largest among all grants awarded for projects in Eastern Washington.
Mayor Jerry Cummins said, “This is great news for Walla Walla. The fact that the city received such a generous grant speaks volumes about how important the Isaacs Avenue Project is for improving our public safety and our infrastructure. The Public Works Department has done a tremendous job to secure funding, and this grant is proof.”
The Department of Ecology also awarded two grants totaling $678,590 for the Isaacs Avenue Project, which will go toward stormwater design and construction costs. These grants, in addition to City funding from the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan (IRRP) and the Transportation Benefit District (TBD), will fully fund the western part of the phased construction, which will start in 2017.
“We have been successful in obtaining these grants due to the Isaacs Avenue Corridor Study completed earlier this year. This study, approved by the public and adopted by our City Council, resulted in grant success by focusing on significant safety improvements in this corridor,” said Monte Puymon, Transportation Engineer for the City of Walla Walla.
In 2016, the City will pursue additional grant funding for the eastern phase of the project, with the goal of construction in 2018.
Governor Jay Inslee presented the City of Walla Walla with a “Lifetime of GMA” Achievement Award for excellence in city planning at a Nov. 13, 2015, event marking the 25th anniversary of Washington’s Growth Management Act that was held at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.
The City earned the award for “flexibility and vision in using all the tools of the Growth Management Act,” according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. Walla Walla was one of only five cities in the state to earn the award.
Washington’s Growth Management Act was adopted in 1990 by a coalition of dedicated state legislators and citizen groups that were determined to do something about the rapid, unplanned, disconnected, and unsustainable growth that took place in our state during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the Growth Management Act began, the City of Walla Walla has earned four Governor’s Smart Communities Awards.
Gov. Inslee said, “Quality of life is one of the chief reasons people choose to live, work and play in Washington State – it’s foundational to a thriving community and economy. Over the 25 years since the inception of the Growth Management Act, these projects showcase successful collaborations it takes to effectively plan for business expansion, revitalization of a downtown area and promote jobs, housing, community amenities and regional transit facilities. I’m pleased to recognize these outstanding efforts on this important anniversary.”