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Pierce Districting Committee gets Map D: Proposed 7th District puts much of Tacoma with Gig Harbor peninsula

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on June 17, 2011 at 10:08 am with 27 Comments »
June 17, 2011 3:38 pm

Now it’s all about University Place.

The fourth formal iteration of new Pierce County council districts was presented Thursday night to the appointed Districting Committee. And depending on who was speaking, it is either the best plan presented so far or a shotgun marriage between urban and suburban areas.

Leading the opposition was Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming who found out after he arrived at the Gig Harbor City Hall meeting that he would no longer live in his current district, No. 7.

“The map has been redesigned at the expense of the people of the 7th District,” Flemming told the committee. “This map addresses all of the concerns of the citizens of the other districts and has completely ignored the concerns of the people of the 7th District.”

Not only did Flemming object to U Place being in the 6th with Lakewood, he argued that Fircrest has nothing in common with Tacoma and should not be in 4th with South and east Tacoma.

Map D for Pierce County Districting

Steven Garrett, the geographer hired as the committee’s districting master, said he must include about 40,000 on the west side of the Narrows to make up a district. His choice is to go north into Tacoma or south into University Place. Since there is some precedent for the district to combine the peninsula with Tacoma and because that allowed the other fixes he was asked to make, he followed that path.

There was a debate as to whether University Place has more in common with Lakewood than with Gig Harbor. Flemming asserted that the town where he was the founding mayor has affinity with the other shoreline communities in the peninsula.

But Tacoma resident Justin Leighton said Map D treats Tacoma as distinct neighborhoods rather than a pool of population to be grabbed to make surrounding districts pencil out. He also noted the U Place and Lakewood just merged their fire districts.

And David Sawyer said Census data shows that 27 percent of peninsula residents commute into Tacoma while just 2 percent commute into U Place. He also referred to Census reports that U Place has a sizable military and veteran population and would work well in a district that includes the military bases

Finally, former State Sen. Bill Smitherman, a 2001 districting committee member, said he represented a district that included both Gig Harbor and West Tacoma.

“I don’t think, if you’re a politician, you’ll have a problem. Unless you get moved out of your district. That would be a problem,” Smitherman said.

The other issue was population variance. Earlier plans had the districts nearly identical in number but as Garrett has responded to concerns about keeping communities together the variance has grown. Until Flemming, no residents have complained about those differences.

Republican appointee Mike Abernathy said the primary point of this process is to reequalize the districts by population.

“If that was not required we wouldn’t have to do this at all,” he said.

But the charter also demands that communities be kept together. And Garrett said the courts have allowed variances of up to 10 percent. His latest plan has District 6 8.8 percent above the target population of 113,605 and District 5 at 4.5 percent below.

At one point Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld asked if some of U Place could be added to the 7th. That would help correct the overpopulation of the 6th and perhaps satisfy some of Flemming’s concerns but it would make U Place the only community other than Tacoma – which has to be divided because of its population – to be in two different districts.

Democratic appointee Ken Blair objected, saying residents are more concerned with keeping communities together and only some committee members have been concerned with population variances.

“We have to make a choice,” Blair said. “Do we want to keep the communities happy as a whole or do we want to keep the committee happy with variance. I will side with the community every time.” He and the other Democratic appointee Sam Ross said they favor Map D over all others presented.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland testified in support of Map D because of all the plans presented it does the best job of keeping Tacoma neighborhoods together. She was especially supportive of have both South Tacoma and the South end in a single district. Even though the have separate identifies they have much in common via demographics, schools and profile.

Stickland said she is “OK” with the proposed 7th because it has West Tacoma and the North End together. They were in different districts under earlier plans.

She also said Fircrest and Tacoma share a school district and she considers Fircrest an informal part of Tacoma.

Republican appointee Deryl McCarty said he liked all of the new plan except the 7th which he thinks has too much of Tacoma in with a primarily suburban district.

“This is not an R vs. D thing,” he said in reference to Republican and Democratic politics. “It’s a suburban, rural, urban thing.”

For those who have been following along, Garrett produced an initial plan and has adjusted that plan based on comments from residents and committee members. This fourth version responds to most of the earlier criticism: it keeps the military bases in with the Lakewood-centered 6th District, it keeps Steilacoom in the 6th; it draws the rural eastern districts into two east-west districts rather than one north-south district, it keeps Puyallup Valley towns together; it keeps the East Side and South End of Tacoma together, it keeps Summit and Waller together, it keeps Bonney Lake and Lake Tapps together.

But because the districts have to be roughly equal in population and not divide recognized communities, each change made by Garrett has a domino effect on other districts. Garrett says it reminds him of a Rubiks Cube.

What would happen if the new plan does not keep Flemming’s house in his district? Under the charter he would continue to represent the district until his seat come up for reelection in 2014. He could run for the 6th District which becomes open next year and if elected resign his seat in the 7th, creating the need for an appointment process there.

Here’s a link to the Districting Committee webpage which includes pdfs of all proposed plans. It also provides an opportunity to comment and includes the schedule of remaining meetings, the next being June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Pierce County Annex.

Garrett must present a final plan to the committee by June 28. The committee then has 15 days to amend the plan (which takes four of the five members to approve) or adopt the plan with at least three votes. But according to the Pierce County Charter, if the committee can’t muster three votes to approve, the plan is deemed adopted.

Leave a comment Comments → 27
  1. jimkingjr says:

    Given the court history and precedents in this state, they better get the districts closer in size. Nearing a ten percent variance will only ensure lawsuits.

  2. Tom Jarmon says:

    Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland saying she considers Fircrest an informal part of Tacoma is similar to Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler considering Poland or Czechoslovakia as a part of the greater German Reich.

    When one looks at the crime stats there is a complete population inversion of crime in Tacoma as compared to the city of Fircrest.Tacoma is crime ridden and in a war zone whereas Fircrest is peaceful and has little crime and no criminal gangs.

    When you have non native (born and raised here) area citizens like Marilyn Strickland (whether their original origin was from a foreign country or from another state or area) as elected officials they will be deluded and ignorant as to the specific differences (philosophy,lifestyle,demographics,geography) between those cities.

    The differences between those cities are staggering.
    Fircrest has a suburban lifestyle more approaching the fictional town of Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith Show which is absolutely the opposite of densified apartment,condo,townhouse and rental gangland Tacoma.

    I’ve lived my life in both cities as a native born area resident.
    Tacoma may be ruined by its deluded government but leave Fircrest out of your stinking racketeering plans.

  3. Tom I will try very hard to be polite in response to your comment: First, Mayor Strickland grew up in South Tacoma. I’d suspect she knows the community better than you do. Second, if you are going to be critical of the behavior of a city government, you don’t have to look past Fircrest City Hall to find lots of weird and wacky behavior.Third, (and this is for Stan Flemming too), Fircrest and Tacoma share a school district, Fircrest uses Tacoma’s low cost electricity and enjoys our cable TV alternative, is made safe and secure by Tacoma’s firefighters and paramedics, and relies on Tacoma’s animal control services. Seems to be a lot in common there. Fourth, if it’s demographics and lifestyle you want to compare, I’d strongly suggest you compare some census tracts in the two cities. I don’t know what geography has to do with anything. Maybe Fircrest has fewer hills? As for philosophy, if tossing about comparisons to Hitler’s Germany and ganglands in response to a news story on county redistricting is an example of Fircrest’s “philosophy,” I’d say you’re not a good example for the community because I know it to be full of thoughtful and compasionate people. Finally, I wonder if you know your community at all when you discuss it’s “suburban” lifestyle. Fircrest is a very nicely developed urban neighborhood. It no more resembles Mayberry than it does Ruston.

  4. The Clear View says:

    The important issue with redistricting PLANS B,C,D was that they were written/ shaped entirely to increase the Tacoma centric density on the County Council. The redistricting master has found a way…….Cut out existing council members and hope the “Tacoma Way” wins in other districts which have little community likeness. With an increase over the two currently held seats in the world of politics…..Tacoma gains even with its 200K population and two seats which cover 226K residents now……but the politics of the D party (using the redistricting master) must have more. Yes, the Tacoma Way dictating to rural county……just like and as shaped with recent Pierce Transit Board action!! Very nice political act!!

  5. Tom Jarmon says:

    norme You do not know very much about Fircrest.It is not whatsoever at all an urban neighborhood.There are no large scale development area skyscraper buildings there (unlike Tacoma) and no bars (drinking establishments except for the very exclusive club at the golf course -have to be a member).Fircrest has its own Police Department.I do (sadly) currently live in South Tacoma.
    The big difference is that only a fool would walk a neighborhood unarmed by himself in Tacoma late at night save for perhaps the North End of Tacoma.
    This probably wouldn’t have been the case perhaps long ago in the 1950’s,60’s and 70’s before it became infested by gangs.
    In Fircrest one would have no qualms about walking in that city late at night and feel safe completely unarmed.Only difference is that the Fircrest Police department would patrol the neighborhoods and contact one for walking late at night.However the Fircrest Police Department knows its residents personally on an individual basis so if you are an unknown person (non resident) you might have a problem.
    In Tacoma, the Tacoma Police doesn’t know their residents personally on an individual basis regularly except by a background check. Just yesterday down the street from me a few blocks away there was a shooting by TPD (I’ve heard they shot a dog and a person though I’ve heard that only the dog was killed).Nothing was reported on the news however.Last shooting that I’ve heard of inside the city of Fircrest was by a now long gone Fircrest Police Officer nicknamed Clyde back in the early 1960’s who shot himself accidentally in the foot.The Fircrest Park was for a short time run by Tacoma Metro Parks.Metro Parks basically drained the funds meant for the park and did nothing for its maintenance during those short years.That was probably the period when the P-80 Shooting Star or T-33 warbird memorial disappeared from the Fircrest park.Since then Fircrest maintains its own park.
    Sadly though the warbird memorial is gone.Every small town or city needs to keep a war memorial in honor of past defenders.

    Fircrest and Tacoma are on a friendly basis and do share resources.The Fircrest Police Department even goes on call often times outside of Fircrest to aid the TPD.
    However Fircrest is definitely a separate entity from Tacoma and would never ever become a part of Tacoma or peacefully allow annexation.It wouldn’t happen in a thousand years.

    notme I will also be polite but don’t try to call someone in Alabama a Yankee because there those would be fighting words.

    There are both good things to say for both Tacoma and Fircrest however I would say that Tacoma has many more severe problems on its hands.

  6. Peter Callaghan says:

    You guys, as entertaining as the Fircrest debate is it should be noted that Mayor Strickland didn’t propose annexing Fircrest, just sharing a county councilmember with it. Fircrest has to be in a council district and could be with Tacoma or could be with U Place. Flemming said it had nothing in common with Tacoma and Strickland pointed out the sharing of schools etc.

    I’m not sure that being in the same county council district as Tacoma is going to change the demographics or crime rate of Fircrest.

    Either way it is 6,500 people in a district with between 110,000 and 120,000 people.

  7. 54º40′ or Fight!

  8. Tom: thanks for the Fircrest history lesson, but my point remains you clearly don’t know what urban is and I hate to break it to you: but Fircrest is urban.

    Peter: I didn’t really need your clarification because I am very aware of what was being discussed in the news story and was just responding to one-too-many Tacoma bashing screeds on the TNT website.

  9. jimkingjr says:

    “54º40′ or Fight!”? Last time that bit of misdirection was used, we ignored Canada and invaded Mexico (and settled at 49º with Britain- except we let them dip a bit further south so that Her Majesty’s namesake could dump turds in the Strait).

    What expansionist plans are being considered by Gig Harbor? Maybe an invasion of Dupont (while everyone’s looking at Fircrest)?

  10. Tacomalover says:

    Lets point out that the plans, all of them have been moving forward with along laundry list of peoples concerns for which the committee (do note that Abernathy has only been to two community meetings) has been trying to address while not breaking up communities.

    I find it funny how some will argue, scream, kick and complain and say “DONT SPLIT MY COMMUNITY” but when it comes to Tacoma, those same people say “O ITS FINE, Tacoma does not really matter we can just cut and slice that as we wish”. Mr. McCarty likes to go on and on about how Tacoma citizens don’t really put anything into County Government yet he forgets to know that Tacoma Citizens do pay into Co Taxes, those we elect get appointed to regional commissions like Pierce Transit or PSCRC they make decisions regarding taxing authority.

    I am happy to say that all along the committee has not once discussed incumbent protection or variance. Last night was the first time that variance was brought up and it was quickly pointed out that Communities take a higher priority!

    Map D is able to fix MOST all of the issues raised in the community meetings.

    As for University Place. It spent 20 years with Lakewood in county government until the gerrymandered map we have now. There is no long rich history of UP with Gig Harbor.

  11. Tacomalover says:

    University Place has a long history in 6:

    County Charter – District 6 (http://bit.ly/kxfLCK, C-26)
    “Seven districts from which the initial Councilmembers shall be elected are hereby established….” (http://bit.ly/kxfLCK, C-24)

    1982 redistricting – District 6 (Pierce County Herald, 7/28/81 map at http://db.tt/SrgsIJ7, news article at http://db.tt/6uOGJhk)

    1992 redistricting – District 6 (See map at http://bit.ly/m9quVs)

    2002 redistricting – UP moved to District 7 (See map at http://bit.ly/m9q

  12. ToddIverson says:

    Lost in the debate is a couple of key facts: the County Council is the nearest form of government for unincorporated Pierce County and that is neither Tacoma, Fircrest or UP, but much of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas. Besides the historical part, the latest map pulls District 7 into a larger segment of Tacoma which I think is important because Pierce County is impacted by three economic drivers: JBLM, the Port and the City of Tacoma. I’ve never thought the county worked well with Tacoma (or the Port for that matter) in economic development and long-term planning and slicing up at least one district to force another councilmember to work well with others just may be a good thing.

  13. JKJ – Was just trying to come up with my own ridiculous historical comparison of imperialist territorial ambitions. :)

  14. samanthamarten says:

    If parts of west and central Tacoma become District #7 will this affect receipt of operating revenues for the City of Tacoma?

  15. Samantha, the answer is no. The only difference it could make is the amount of influence Tacoma has in County government. Since Tacoma is incorporated, it gets the bulk of its municipal services from the City rather than the County which continues to be its regional governing body such as social services, regional land and transportation planning, etc.

  16. What consideration has been given to insurance rates if Fircrest is part of Tacoma. Tacoma’s home and care rates are higher!

  17. SPanaway1 says:

    Lots of positive remarks this week from the Spanaway, Elk Plain, Frederickson, Graham area business meetings regarding Map D. Due to the common school district, they all have connected identity as neighboring unincorporated areas and seem to be comfortable with this model.

  18. dbreneman says:

    Most Tacoma residents simply don’t care what county government does. That message was plainly brought home during the first Charter Review Commission process in the 1980s. I’d wager that most residents of most incorporated areas share a similar apathy, since county government is not the government they deal with on a daily basis.

    Those of us who live on the southern extremities of the Kitsap Peninsula (with the exception of the town of Gig Harbor) have a tremendous interest in county government, and most are grateful for the fact that we don’t have the burden of a city government to cope with as well (despite Gig Harbor’s efforts to insert itself into our lives).

    It remains as an exercise for the class to determine whether having swaths of relatively disinterested cities included in otherwise rural or residential areas increases or decreases the voice of the unincorporated areas in county government. However, the fact that the incorporated areas have a voice in selecting the county representatives who are our primary representative government (but not theirs) is troubling for those of us living in the shadow of incorporated areas.

  19. samanthamarten says:

    Thank you for the info derekyoung–here is another question: will Map D help or hinder efforts to consolidate redundancy in public service delivery and strengthen the rise of a system of regional governance?

  20. samantha – wouldn’t have an effect on that one way or another. Cities and Counties will continue to contract with each other when it suits their interests, but nothing would inherently need to change. There’s new pooling of resources all the time. For example, a new county-wide dispatch system is on the table. Not every City participates in LESA now, but I would imagine more will join with this newest effort since there are some federal requirements that would be tough to meet alone. Transportation funding, in particular, has shifted to a more regional system. The point being, nothing about redistricting will make any of this more or less likely… it’s just about how we select our County Council, not what they’ll do necessarily.

  21. I cant believe it. A lot of Californians this weekend collecting signitures
    on the Anti Washam Campaign … True or False ?

  22. I cant believe it. A lot of Californians this weekend collecting signitures
    on the Anti Washam Campaign … True or False ?

    False! They are from planet Playtex.

    BTW, what does this have to do with redistricting?

  23. I was out today I have heard that the Recall cant get signitures
    so they have are paying professional from California. What due
    people think.

  24. Tacomalover says:


    News flash, nearly every initiative effort that needs signatures pays for it. How do you think the Candy Tax repeal happened. They paid 9 dollars a signature to gathers.

    So unless your prepared to criticize the Soda Industry, Tim Eyman and Big Oil then you cant criticizes this effort.

  25. they paid what I heard they paid $3 … The bottom line is most
    local campaigns employee people within the state. I just guess
    the locals couldnt get enought voluntters to prove Washam should
    be Recalled.

  26. samanthamarten says:

    Yes Map D is getting us along–I would still like to see a demographic overlay. Afterall, are we not redistricting to reflect a ten year change in census? For Tacoma the assignment to several districts should further a regional/shared governance which in turn should result in the redesign of service delivery boundaries and perhaps even strengthen business partnerships across urban/suburban/rural territory.

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