City of Walla Walla

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NEWS & PRESS

We want YOUR input on the current state of the City’s Parks and Recreation facilities and programs as well as your vision for the future. The Parks and Recreation Plan for the City of Walla Walla is intended to function as a vision of what the community would like to see parks and recreation facilities and programs develop into over the next six years while also providing a roadmap to achieve that vision through an inventory, assessment of needs/demand, and capital facilities plan. (Please note that this does NOT include facilities owned and operated by other organizations throughout Walla Walla.) The survey should take about 10 minutes. None of the questions are required, but we do ask that you think about each question before deciding to skip it. Thank you very much for your input!

Click here to take the survey

City Council explores ward voting

Published in News

In 1960, the city adopted the council-manager form of government we have today, with a seven-member, at-large City Council that represents the citizens and a City Manager who administers the day-to-day operations of the city.

In 2016, the City Council unanimously voted to explore electing some or all members from wards. Council Member Barbara Clark opposes establishing wards, and Council Member Tom Scribner is in favor of establishing wards. They share their viewpoints below.


TERMS
At-large voting – Voters elect council members to serve the population of the city as a whole. According to the National League of Cities (NLC), an organization that advocates for more than 19,000 cities, at-large election proponents favor this method because:

  • Council members can be more impartial and concern themselves with the problems of the whole community instead of those of a single district.
  • Vote trading may be minimized.
  • The candidate pool may be larger, resulting in better-qualified Council members.

Ward voting – Those who live in a particular area may vote for candidates that represent that area. Ward, or district, elections give minority groups a better chance of representation. Several court decisions have forced jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to ward elections, mostly to increase representation of minority groups. According to the NLC, ward voting proponents favor this method because:

  • Council members may be more sensitive to problems that affect smaller areas.
  • Council members who represent a specific district may encourage more citizen participation in government and elections.

 

Against Wards

By Council Member Barbara Clark

I think almost everyone wants the city council to be representative of the full diversity of our residents in Walla Walla.  Our existing system of city-wide eligibility for council positions does a good job of providing that, and there appears no reason to believe that replacing it with a ward system would be an improvement.

 

Our existing system has worked well.

The current election system has produced councils that have actually been quite representative of our general population.

In the almost 20 years I've been on the council, we've had a good economic and occupational mix of members.  Many of those members would be considered middle-class, quite a few were low income, and one, I believe, was wealthy. Throughout that time the vast majority of council members have been actively employed. 

During the same 20 years, the majority of members have been of European heritage while three have been Latino.  For context, U.S. Census figures for Walla Walla County show Latinos as 2 percent of the population in 1970, 5.4 percent in 1980, 9.7 percent in 1990, 17.4 percent in 2000, and 19.7 percent in 2010.  Two of the Latinos on the council defeated Anglo opponents in their election bids, and the third ran unopposed.  One Latino member was elected by the council as Mayor, and another was elected Mayor Pro-Tem. In 1993, one member of the council was black.  This council history clearly demonstrates Walla Walla’s willingness under the current system to vote for people of diverse income levels, employment status, age, race, and ethnicity. 

 

Only 25 of the 281 cities in Washington have ward elections.

In very large cities, election by wards makes sense, because introducing oneself to tens or hundreds of thousands of voters requires expenditures of time and money that make running for office unrealistic for most people. In the biggest cities in our state, the wards are larger than the entire population of Walla Walla.  Each ward in Seattle has a population of about 95,000.  In Spokane it’s 71,000, and in Tacoma it’s 40,000.  Walla Walla is small enough for candidates to knock on every door if they want to.  They can make themselves known to the public at no cost by participating in candidate forums and through letters to the editor and social media. Walla Walla history also shows that candidates who spend the most money don’t necessarily win, since we’re likely to either know candidates personally or know someone who does.

 

The proposed ward system will not result in greater economic, ethnic, age, or gender diversity.

While the proposed ward system might result in greater geographic diversity than we’ve sometimes had among council members, none of the proposed wards are homogeneous as to income, employment, age, color, cultural heritage, or political orientation, and that means we cannot expect election by wards to assure these more important kinds of diversity on the council. 

For example, those who believe a ward system would assure greater Latino representation on the council might find it interesting to note that of the eight candidates running for council seats this year,  neither of the two Latino candidates resides in the proposed Northwest Ward, while the candidate who does live there is Anglo.

The only consistently under-represented group on the council has been women, who make up half the population of the city.  Although two women have served as Mayor in the last 30 years, and I’m glad to have been one of them, women have never held more than two seats on the council at any one time, and more often only one or none.  Wards wouldn’t fix that.

An election system known as ranked-choice voting is specifically designed—as wards are not—to increase the voice of minority opinions and groups, but it isn’t available in Washington State.

 

Whom we elect is important to the whole community.

My votes tend to go to candidates who are thoughtful, care about the community, and try to contribute to the well-being of us all.  I want representatives who work respectfully with others and who will spend the time and effort necessary to make good decisions for everyone who lives and works here, not just for themselves or their own ward.  Without evidence of unfairness or dysfunction in our current system, it concerns me to think we might change to an election system that would give an advantage to someone simply because of their home address.

My hope is that people who care about the city and its present and future residents will participate in both neighborhood and community-wide projects and organizations, and that they'll encourage others with a positive vision to join them.  I think that's the best source of good and representative council members.

For wards

 By Council Member Tom Scribner

"If you are not at the table, you are on the menu."

Someone more clever than I first said the above. But I agree with the sentiment. Which is why I think electing council members from wards is a good idea. Walla Walla is not a homogenous community. There are distinctly different parts of town composed of different socioeconomic classes, different ethnic and racial groups, and different priorities and interests. All of these different groups, classes and priorities are not always – sometimes not at all – at the council table. They should be. Or at least we should do all we can to increase the opportunity for them to be so.

The primary reason for election of council members by ward is to increase diversity on council. We (speaking of all Walla Wallans collectively) are diverse. We have a large Hispanic population; we have wealthy people in some parts of town; we have blue-collar and low-income people in other parts of town; we have homeless people and people who think it is – or should be – our mission to assist the homeless; we have people who want the homeless out of town; and we have young people and families and retired people and senior citizens. And all of these groups, and many more, are not uniformly distributed throughout town. Different parts of town are empirically, visually, socially, and economically different.

And here's the thing: Historically, not all of these different groups and parts of town have been equally – if at all – represented on council. Don't believe this? Look at the present city council. All seven of us are white, old, and retired, and three of us live in the same precinct. (There are 26 precincts in Walla Walla.) We are not a very diverse group. We are not very representative of our entire community. And we are kidding ourselves if we claim to understand, think for, and represent all groups and parts of town. We do not, and we cannot.

So if diversity on council is of value, if we want to increase representation of that diversity, if we want more groups and points of view at the council table, then we should do whatever we can within reason to create diversity on council. Election by wards will do that.

 

The Plan

The motion before council is for four of the seven council positions to be elected from wards. For this purpose, the city will be divided into four wards – with as near as possible an equal number of residents in each ward. (Ward boundaries have not yet been determined.) To be a candidate in a ward, you would need to live in that ward. Per Washington law, if there are three or more candidates for a council position, only residents in that ward would vote in the primary. The top two candidates would then go on to the general election. In the general election, the candidates (regardless of what ward they lived in) would be elected citywide. That is, all Walla Walla residents would vote for all council position candidates in the general election.

 

The Benefits

Diversity on council. More groups, interests, and parts of town being represented and at the table. An increased buy-in to local government since it will be more representative and responsible. An increased opportunity to be elected with a corresponding increase in interest and involvement in local government. And, at least potentially, the avoidance of a lawsuit filed against the city in federal court.

But not everyone agrees with diversity on council as a goal. It took lawsuits filed in federal court, one against Yakima and one against Pasco, to get those cities, which previously elected all council members at-large, to implement election of council members by ward. Yakima spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorney fees fighting a losing battle. And Pasco, seeing what happened to Yakima, recognized it would lose and, rather than incur the expense of defending against the lawsuit, agreed to change its council election system from at-large to election by wards.

Still, some of my colleagues on council are opposed, some even vehemently. I do not find their reasons for opposing election by wards persuasive. Here is why.

 

Opposition reason 1: The current at-large system of electing all council members is not broken; no need to fix it.

Who is to say? Seven old, retired, middle to upper-class white people may not constitute a broken system, but if diversity – visible and actual – is a goal, then we are a long way from achieving such.

This was the very argument made, unsuccessfully, by Yakima. That Hispanics could be elected, that historically we have had three or four Hispanics on council, that we could have blue-collar people on council, that different parts of town could be represented is just that: a possibility. It is not, unfortunately, our reality. Moreover, if diversity on council is a goal, to say that the present system of electing council members is not broken is to ignore the obvious, and history.

 

Opposition reason 2: If we had wards, there would not be enough people in each ward to get people to run for council, or we would not get "the best" candidates.

At a recent candidate forum, the audience members asked candidates about their position on election by wards. One candidate said that if we had four wards, then that would result in each of the four wards having about 8,000 residents. Not enough people, he said, to have candidates for council. Tell that to the 160-plus towns in Washington (out of a total of 281 cities and towns) that have fewer than 8,000 residents – most of them way fewer.

College Place has approximately 9,000 residents and a seven-member council. They have no trouble getting people to run for all seven positions. If Walla Walla goes to wards, we are talking about one candidate from 8,000 residents. Better yet, what about Waitsburg, with 1,230 residents; or Dayton, with 2,555; or Pomeroy, with 1,395? They all have city councils. Are we to say that people in Walla Walla are less interested in being on council, or that our pool of potential candidates is not as good or talented or whatever as in those towns? I think not. On the contrary, if potential candidates in wards felt they had a better chance of being elected, they would be more apt to run. In Yakima, after the federal judge ordered that they change their election system to wards, they saw an increase in the number of council candidates.

 

Opposition reason 3: If elected from a ward, that council member would not represent the entire city, only his/her ward.

First, see the above comments about the fallacy of thinking that we seven white, retired, old, middle- to upper-class people – three of whom live in the same precinct – can legitimately claim to understand, identify with, and represent the entire town. We can't and don’t.

Second, what is wrong with thinking about a specific part of or group in town that has not been at the council table? For those of you who are proponents of "state's rights" on a federal level, isn't electing council members from wards a "state's rights" issue writ small?

Third, this argument ignores Washington law. Per current law, even if Walla Walla moves to election of council members from a ward, this means that the candidates for that position will have to live in that ward and that the primary election (if there are more than two candidates for the position) will be limited to residents of the ward. At the general election, all council candidates, regardless of what ward they live in, will be elected citywide. Which is exactly the system used to elect our three County Commissioners. They must live in one of three districts in the County, they are initially up for election in a primary limited to voters in that district, and they are then elected countywide at the general election. So even if we have wards, candidates who live in them must still appeal to and be elected (in the general election) citywide.

 

Opposition reason 4: Ward-based city councils are corrupt.

I have heard one member of council often state that he has lived in cities with wards and that those cities are corrupt. Maybe they are. But corruption in government is not limited to those systems that have wards or districts or a similar method of electing whomever. I am unaware of any studies or articles, and the referenced council Member has cited none that argue or suggest that a ward system is inherently corrupt or corrupting. This unsubstantiated argument, in my opinion, is totally specious.

So there you have it. Do we want more diversity on council, so that more groups, more parts of town, and more interests have a place at the council table? If so, election by wards should help us achieve this goal. If you disagree, if you think that anyone can run for and have an equal chance to be elected to council; if you think that seven white, old, retired middle to upper-middle class people really understand and represent all parts of town, then oppose election by wards. But be prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees if and when a lawsuit is filed against Walla Walla (as lawsuits were filed against Yakima and Pasco). And be content, depending on who you are and where in town you live, to be on the menu, not at the table.

 

 

 

A final copy of the Mill Creek and Walla Walla County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update is now available

The Mill Creek and Walla Walla County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update has been completed and is available by clicking here.

The purpose of the Mill Creek and Walla Walla County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is to reduce the impact of wildfire on Mill Creek and Walla Walla County residents, landowners, businesses, communities, local governments, and state and federal agencies while maintaining appropriate emergency response capabilities and sustainable natural resource management policies. The CWPP identifies high risk areas, as well as recommend specific projects that may help prevent wildland fires from occurring altogether or, at the least, lessen their impact on residents and property. The CWPP was developed by a committee of city and county elected officials and departments, local and state emergency response representatives, land managers, conservation district representatives, and others.

The Mill Creek and Walla Walla County CWPP includes a risk analysis at the community level with predictive models for where disasters are likely to occur. This Plan will enable Mill Creek and Walla Walla County as well as its communities to be eligible for grant dollars to implement the projects and mitigation actions identified by the committee. Although not regulatory, the CWPP will provide valuable information as we plan for the future.

Last night, the Walla Walla City Council voted 6-0 to allow the relocation of the temporary sleeping site at Par 72 Drive to an area within the Service Center lot at 55 E. Moore St. The location of the Service Center can be seen on this map: http://bit.ly/wwservicecenter

The Service Center is where, among other departments, Parks and Recreation and Public Works are located. The interim zoning ordinance that permits the relocation has a one-year time limit for the sleeping camp. During that one-year period, the City will collaborate with the community to provide permanent, barrier-free housing solutions.

City staff members have issued the following recommendations to City Council Members:

  • The primary function of the area will be to provide homeless residents with a place to sleep safely and to connect with social service providers.
  • There will be an 8-foot-tall chain link fence around the site with barbed wire at the top.
  • Street-side fencing will be covered with a privacy/wind screen, and there will be two gates (per fire code) for access. There will be no access into Service Center area.
  • Internal signs will provide contact information for social services.
  • The City will provide water, portable toilets, and a garbage dumpster.
  • The gate/office will be staffed from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. by an overseer to register residents.
  • A security guard will be posted at the site from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily.
  • There will be 24-hour surveillance of the site.

City staff members recommended to City Council Members the following rules for the temporary sleeping site:

  • Residents will be assigned sleeping spots.
  • The sleeping site will open in the early evening and must be vacated each morning.
  • All personal items will be stored in a secure storage area/container or must be taken out of the area each morning.
  • No dimensional lumber, tin roofing, extension cords, generators, etc., will be allowed.
  • No minors, fires, drugs, or alcohol will be allowed.
  • Violation of these rules will result in expulsion.

The City’s no-camping ordinance will remain in effect. The ordinance prohibits camping and storage of personal property on streets, sidewalks, parking lots, planting strips, medians, parks, or any other public property, rights-of-way, or parks. It also prohibits living in an RV on public property.

There are a number of positive developments in the community that will increase housing access in Walla Walla and provide more mental health and social services:

  • Christian Aid Center will be expanding its facility.
  • Voters will decide a Walla Walla County measure seeking a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund housing access.
  • Serenity Point Counseling expanded its services to accept walk-ins.
  • Comprehensive Mental Health will be completing a clinic in College Place.
  • Life Church’s Better Together program is providing assistance, including financial counseling, to those in need.
  • The Walla Walla Veterans Home, an 80-bed nursing facility, will be accepting residents.

Construction will be finished this summer on a teen center, which will offer counseling, medical assistance, childcare, employment assistance, recreation, and a supervised overnight shelter for homeless youth.

This is a community issue that will require a community solution.

To read answers to frequently asked questions regarding the homeless issue in Walla Walla, please go to http://bit.ly/wwhomeless

Citizen satisfaction score rises again

Published in News

The City of Walla Walla has received results from the 2016 citizen satisfaction survey. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) score rose from 62 to 63. Survey responses help officials shape policies and priorities for the City.

In 2016 the City’s scores improved in many areas and meet or exceed regional and national benchmarks in many categories. The average score for Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana is 61, as is the national score. The ACSI is a well-respected standard of customer satisfaction metrics for both government and the private sector.

In comparing the City’s 2015 scores with its 2016 scores, citizens indicated that they:

  • feel the City is communicating more effectively to the community (score increased 7 points to 63).
  • feel the City is spending dollars wisely (score increased 6 points to 53).
  • feel the City is open to citizen ideas and involvement (score increased 5 points to 59).
  • are more supportive of the current administration (overall score increased 5 points to 62).
  • are more pleased with the performance of their local government (overall score increased 4 points).
  • are more pleased with the Walla Walla Public Library (overall score increased 5 points to 78).
  • are more pleased with the transportation infrastructure (overall score increased 4 points to 63).
  • feel Walla Walla is a safer place to walk and bike (score increased 5 points to 70).
  • feel Walla Walla is a safer place to walk at night (score increased 5 points to 59).
  • are less satisfied with housing affordability (score decreased 3 points to 46).

In the 2016 survey, the City added a question dealing with glass recycling. Responses indicated that 58 percent would be willing to pay $1 per month for glass recycling. 

The survey was conducted by Cobalt Community Research, a 501c3 organization that provides research and education for schools, local governments, and nonprofit organizations. A random sample of 1,500 residents was drawn from utility billing records. The survey was conducted using two mailings in November and December 2016, which was the same timeframe as the 2015 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.

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 Index (theACSI.org). The ACSI measures over two-thirds of the United States economy and produces scores for more than 100 federal government agencies.

Click here to see a full survey summary

 

The City of Walla Walla Public Works Department is working on locating and fixing pavement damaged by frost heaves. Frost heave occurs when water in the soil freezes and expands. This expansion is very powerful and can move or destroy what had seemingly appeared to be solid construction.

The amount of precipitation the area received between December 2016 and February 2017 was comparable to the amount of precipitation the area received between December 1995 and February 1996, during which time there was significant flooding. From December 2016 to February 2017, the area received 5.75 inches of rain and 34.1 inches of snow. From December 1995 to February 1996, we received 9.43 inches of rain and 25.3 inches of snow.

Because we had above average amounts of precipitation and endured a rare period of sustained, below-freezing temperatures, the soil froze to a much greater depth than usual. The average low in December 2016 was 22.8 degrees, which is 5.6 degrees below the average. In January 2016, the average temperature was 21.5, which is 14 degrees below the normal average. In addition, the overnight low temperatures in December and January were below freezing on all but five nights.

In the past, frost heaves popped up during the course of the normal freeze-thaw cycle. The Public Works Department allowed the soil to dry out and settle, and then crews repaired the pavement. This year, frost heaves have been far more damaging to the streets than in the winter of 1995-96. To date, crews have identified 72 areas of pavement damaged by frost heave. They are prioritizing the list and will begin working on the top seven locations. Those areas include the following:

  • Bridge St. from Alder St. to Ruth St.
  • Howard St. from Alder St. to Pleasant St.
  • Maple St. from 1st Ave. to Catherine St.
  • Cherry St. from 5th Ave. to 6th Ave.
  • Ankeny St. from Whitman St. to Pleasant St.
  • Sycamore St. from Whitman St. to Pleasant St.
  • Division St. from Walla Walla Ave. to Isaacs Ave.

Since plants are not making hot-mix asphalt until late March or early April, repairs will be very temporary. Crews will dig out 12 to 18 inches of street surface and saturated subsurface material. They will partially fill the hole with a foundation of larger rock, which will not sink into the wet soil, and top it with finer rock. Once hot-mix asphalt is available, crews will pave over these areas. Until temporary repairs can be made to all of the spots damaged by frost heave, we encourage citizens to avoid driving over them. To report frost heaves or other areas in need of repair, call the Street Division at 527-4363 or email .

 

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.

WDVA Home Rendering 1

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:

  • have served at any time in any branch of the United States Armed Forces;
  • have received an honorable discharge; 
  • reside in Washington; 
  • be the spouse or widow of an eligible veteran; 
  • or be a Gold Star Parent.

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.

Vacationing paramedics save a man's life

Published in News

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.

Pool rendering2

 

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.

BridgeParkingCondition-01

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.

pool

 

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.

City Qualifies for 2016 WellCity Award

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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.

Lives Once Depended on a Little Red Box

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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.

City Council Goes Live On The Internet

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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.

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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.” 

Citizen Satisfaction Score Jumps Three Points

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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.

Click here to see the full survey results.

City Employee Satisfaction Score Ticks Upward

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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.

Click here to see the full survey results.

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.

Public Works Secures $4.2 Million in Grants for Isaacs

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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.  

GMA-award

 

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.”

Isaacs Avenue Improvements

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Interested in more information about the Isaacs Avenue Improvements Project? Check out the latest information at the Isaacs Avenue Improvements Page

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