Monthly Archives: December 2007

Common Sense Solution for Speeding

A reader sent this video to me. It’s in German, I think.

With Bremerton set to embark on the use of traffic cameras for stop-sign runners, here’s a solution for speeding the city could consider in the future. I found a translation on the Web, but I can’t verify that it’s accurate. It’s below the video.

“What are you doing Gisela? The camera is already running. Come here. I will show it to this guy! He won’t drive through here any more. Gisela, don’t film the flowers, come here! He’s coming. Let me hold the camera. Boy oh boy!!!! Great !!!”

Marriott in Bremerton

A few weeks back the buyers of the old city hall building in downtown Bremerton told me they had applied with Marriott to get the Fairfield by Marriott label for the new hotel they’re planning to build on the city hall site.

It appears they were approved. Go to their site and you’ll see as much.

We are currently in the design phase for the construction of a 130-unit Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Bremerton, Washington. We are scheduled to break ground in January of 2008.

Hotel Concepts owns the Hampton Inn on the waterfront. The owners say shipyard clients make up the bulk of their guests.

On the site you’ll also see plans the company has for hotels in Tacoma and Seatac.

I’m also checking on the status of the former Howard Johnson’s on Kitsap Way near the freeway.

Little Time for Drama

Before taking over the Bremerton beat I covered Bainbridge Island for three years. The first and most obvious difference between the two city councils was in the length of the meetings. Islanders commonly talk well into the night. The Bremerton council seldom stays past 8 p.m.

Wednesday, however, the agenda was packed with meat. It’s the annual comprehensive plan amendment time and there were parks, bikes, pedestrians and building heights to discuss. Additionally there was something about building heights on Highland, not part of the comp plan.

I didn’t come to the pro forma meeting in the first-floor chambers. I got to the building after everyone had gone upstairs for the study session. The security guard at the bottom asked if I was going to the top floor, which I was. He said I needed a pass to get up there. What he meant was an electronic security pass, because without it the elevators wouldn’t work. Further, he said it had always been that way.

I knew he was wrong on the last point. I’d gone to several meetings in the past after hours and never had to wave an electronic card in the elevator. Furthermore, you can’t schedule a public meeting and make it impossible for people to attend. On Bainbridge three times I arrived at city council meetings to find the doors locked, because the city had them set on a timer. It was a mix up all three times. In this case, because I hadn’t experienced it before in Bremerton, I thought someone had unwittingly broken the open meetings laws. The guard used his card to let me get up the elevators. After the meeting Ken Bagwell, assistant city attorney, told me it was a goof. They know the rules.

The meeting itself, because there was so much meat, was good even if it was long. But long meetings make people punchy or nervous. Council President Will Maupin was charged with pushing things along. Councilman Brad Gehring was asking questions about the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan about how much emphasis was being placed on bikes (edited to add: and not so much on pedestrians). Maupin, conscious of the clock, said “I think we’re wasting our time talking about it,” because the questions Gehring was asking wouldn’t be addressed in concrete for years.

Nonetheless, there are solid reasons to ask questions when plans are being drawn or risk losing a chance when the council starts appropriating money. Gehring was obviously peeved and said, “If we don’t waste our time talking about it, we’re not doing our job, are we.”

The moment was brief. Council members in Bremerton do have their likes and dislikes about each other, but generally they keep up the decorum. Contrasted with Bainbridge, where the mayor recently cried in a council meeting and where council members are accused of theater, the drama on that dais in Bremerton is minimal.

No judgment here, just my observation.

The meeting got out after 9 p.m.

‘The Love She Gave Cost Her Life’

varner.jpg
A vision of Christmas Past. Pam Varner hands out gifts as a Christmas Angel in 2001.

Years ago I read a book, Immortality by Milan Kundera, that among many topics includes some treatment of how some of us try to achieve immortality through our work.

Woody Allen said about immortality the concept, not the book:

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Who knows if Pam Varner considered her legacy when for 31 years she was a key figure in a Kitsap County program that makes sure Christmas happens for low-income families? Those who knew her, though, will tell you she left one.

“This is Pam’s legacy,” said Rene Corey, a volunteer working the Christmas Angel event Thursday at the Masonic Temple of Bremerton. “When I get tired I think, ‘This is Pam’s work.'”

As if working the program while she lived here weren’t enough, since 2001 Varner flew home from Maryland each year to resume her super shopper role.

Her former co-volunteers said her enthusiasm was contagious. When challenges arose she often defused any tension by repeating that it was all about the kids.

She missed this year’s event and won’t be back.

In September she was killed and left in the trunk of her car. Her daughter was charged with the murder.

My story is here.

A story Chris Henry wrote about her can be found by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

The Washington Post stories about her murder can be found here.

Continue reading

Bremerton Skyscrapers, and Low Rooftops

There are a chest full of stories to write from Wednesday’s City Council meeting, but let me tell you about a few.

In the process of developing its downtown sub-area plan, the city took a look at building heights. The current max is 120 feet, but structures using wood framing can’t realistically go higher than 80-feet and meet fire codes, according to city staff.

To get more elevation a building has to use a stronger material, such as steel or concrete, but to do that economically requires at least 180 feet. So the city is proposing something that’s been used in Seattle and Federal Way, said Geoff Wentlandt, city planner.

“It’s not really that outside the box.”

The city proposes allowing higher heights by having developers build structures with a smaller footprint. The benefit to the city is the builders would create amenities, such as walking paths between buildings that would create shortcuts within downtown. For builders, it allows them to build structures with comparable square footage as wider and shorter buildings, but to charge more because of the increased view properties.

The issue will be up for discussion again at the next council meeting. The council spent some time deliberating the fairness of a requirement that there be 80 feet between towers, but the reality of how many tall buildings Bremerton can expect may have been explained best when Wentlandt said, “We’re talking about towers, but we’d be lucky if we got on or two of these.”

The issue of heights also returns to Highland Avenue. In 2005 the council approved 60 feet for the area west of Sixth Street between Washington Avenue and Pleasant Avenue. Wendy Priest, who lives on Highland in the middle of that zone, has come back in one of her last efforts on the council proposing that a section of Highland be dropped to 40 feet in exchange for allowing transfer development rights.Priest has corrected me on this issue. She is not the one bringing it to the council. You can read her full response in the comments related to this post.

A developer, instead of building up to 60 feet throughout the district, could get 80 feet anywhere except Highland by buying 20 feet of development rights from Highland residents.

Two years ago Highland residents wanted a blanket 40-foot limit. Their rationale was that their street has historic architecture and character that should be preserved. They lost. If they win this time, they’ll not only get to keep the heights they want, they might get some money as well. That money is in exchange for a rule that prohibits them from building up, a right most of them didn’t want anyway. For those who do, however, it could be a way to settle the issue and satisfy most everyone.

There are already two potential developments planned for the street that won’t be affected by the new rules the council could accept.

Additionally, the council will consider whether to change property tax abatement rules it passed last year that gave owners of improved multi-family properties a 10-year property tax break. The new rules passed by the state will make the breaks last eight or 12 years, depending on whether some of the housing is set aside for low-income residents. The council may also allow apartment construction in the new ordinance, something it did not when it approved the existing rules.

I plan to do full stories on each issue.

No Place to Potty

This kid shows us all how to come prepared for an extended splashing in the fountains along Bremerton’s waterfront. It’s this or a long walk up the stairs and into the ferry terminal.

At Wednesday’s Bremerton City Council study session, City Councilman Brad Gehring asked about a situation at one of the city’s unexpectedly popular locations.

Folks in the city figured the Harborside Fountain Park with the five bulbing fountains would be nice.

What they apparently didn’t expect was people hanging around long enough to need a bathroom.

Gehring asked why there were none. Councilman Will Maupin said Gary Sexton, the city’s economic development guy, didn’t expect that kids would want to stay in the fountain water as long as they have. They’re designed for water play and wading, but people have been lingering. As a parent, I can tell you if I have time on my hands, the weather is nice and the kid’s digging the fountain, I’m staying planted on a bench with a book.

This all makes me less critical of the kid I saw peeing in the fountain right after it opened. He had nowhere else to go.

Read the Automakers’ Suit Against Bremerton

If you read the story or the blog entry about the automakers’ lawsuit against Bremerton, you may remember that the attorney representing the manufacturers had no comment.

You can, however, read the lawsuit here (PDF file). It’s eight pages.

One of the commenters on the story, Michael, calls what Bremerton wants “double taxation.” The city would collect twice on a car sale, once on the wholesale transaction and again when the dealer sells it retail. Then there’s sales tax, making it more than double. That’s true on more than auto sales. Any company doing business in Bremerton, be it a company that sells to other businesses or as a retail outlet, is subject to the B&O tax, because it’s a tax on revenues.

The city has decided it doesn’t like collecting the tax and that it’s a hindrance for businesses, so it’s working on phasing it out.

From the story:

The entire issue could be moot in the future if Bremerton is successful in eventually eliminating its B&O tax. The City Council agreed to raise the exemption for businesses paying the tax for the past two years. The city formerly exempted companies that saw less than $20,000 gross revenue, but it taxed all the gross revenues once they exceeded that level. In December 2006, the council agreed to raise the exemption level and change it to what Lyon called a “true exemption.” This year businesses don’t pay B&O tax to the city on the first $40,000 in revenues. In 2008 the exemption will increase to $60,000.

In the mayor’s November newsletter he writes, “The goal of the City is to totally eliminate the B&O tax in the next few years.”

The Biggest BUTT in Town

David Nelson writes:

butt2.jpgA package was dropped on my desk late Friday afternoon. It didn’t have a name or return address, just a mysterious and bulky manila envelope sealed with tape just asking to be handled with caution. Opening it, out fell a business card, and a present that delighted those of us still in the office.

It was a white t-shirt, reading:

B.U.T.T.
Bremerton Underground Transit Tunnel
The Most Famous B.U.T.T. In town’

For those paying attention to satirical t-shirt goings on in the area, this should ring a bell. The shirt is a take-off of a Seattle coffeehouse barista’s campaign that encourages people to ‘Ride the SLUT’ — a reference to the new South Lake Union Trolley (though, as the PI notes in this article, the real name is South Lake Union Streetcar).

Monday I got in touch with Chester Peck, the Bremerton man and amateur shirt designer who came up with B.U.T.T. “If they’ve got the SLUT, we’ve got the BUTT,” he told me.

Peck made a first batch of a dozen shirts, and has sold a few through word of mouth marketing. He’d be willing to produce more if there’s a demand from tunnel fans (or from tunnel detractors, I’d imagine), and says he’s cooking up other ideas. Contact him at cheslie2@comcast.net if you’re interested.

Peck told me he’s not a tunnel hater. He knows the $32 million project will be done whether he wants it or not, so he did only what he could: Had some fun with the idea, and spread the good nature around. After all, Peck said: “Everybody owns a piece of this BUTT.”

Statewide Budget Issue in Bremerton — Updated

Now that I’m back I’m working on a story that could have implications throughout the state.

Three auto manufacturers filed suit against the city of Bremerton in an effort to get out of paying business and occupation taxes in town. Honda, Ford and Chrysler are arguing that the federal and state constitutions prohibit taxation on imports, so the city shouldn’t be able to collect on wholesale sales of imported vehicles in Bremerton.

Ford and Chrysler would presumably have to pay the tax, but they’re waiting until the courts decide on the Honda imports. Ken Bagwell, assistant city attorney for Bremerton clarified that Ford and Chrysler are in the suit because they manufacture vehicles in Canada and Mexico.

The case could have implications throughout the state for any city that charges B&O taxes, and perhaps for the state. I’ve checked with other cities — Bellevue, Issaquah, Seattle and Bellingham — and Bellevue and Seattle charge the tax. I believe the others do, too. I haven’t yet checked with the state to know whether it charges the tax on wholesale sales of imports.

To be clear, this question does not involve retail sales. So when you buy a car n Bremerton, the B&O tax is part of what you pay. It would be higher, however, if Bremerton were able to collect when the manufacturer sells to the retailer. Eventually all those costs get passed on to the buyer.

This began because more than a year ago two years ago Bremerton hired a company to collect on back taxes owed to the city by businesses not paying B&O taxes. At the time the city specifically cited wholesale auto sales as a key tax that wasn’t being collected. Bremerton’s financial services director, Laura Lyon, said the back taxes between all auto wholesalers could amount to several million dollars. How much of that was from imports she wasn’t sure. When the city council agreed to hire Tax Recovery Services of Tacoma to go after the funds, Lyon estimated the city could recover between $900,000 and $2 million.

The Perkins Coie attorney for the auto makers has yet to return my call said he would not comment on the case, but was looking to see if someone from one of the three companies would. One question that comes to my mind is if the companies have been paying these taxes in other cities for years, why are they fighting the tax in Bremerton?

This is not an issue in Port Orchard or Poulsbo because those cities don’t have a B&O tax. Bremerton is working to join that club. The tax on imports isn’t an issue in Bainbridge Island because it doesn’t have car dealers.