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News / Politics

Live chat transcript with Mayor Tim Leavitt

By Setareh Alizadeh
Published: April 5, 2012, 5:00pm

Mayor of Vancouver, Tim Leavitt, join Columbian.com readers April 6, 2012. The hour-long chat covered important topics that concern community members. We discussed issues such as the Columbia River Crossing, the light rail, and closure of the Sensory Camp.

Tune in next week at April 13, 2012 at 10AM when Washington State University Vancouver faculties join us to chat about changes in the local economy and how the changes have affected our lifestyles. Bring your questions and comments about how the economy has affected you, and how to prepare for change in the future.

Leavitt live chat transcript April 6, 2012:

Setareh Alizadeh: Welcome to today’s live chat! Mayor Tim Leavitt will be joining us at 12:30. Send in your questions and comments and be the first to chat with the Mayor.

Lew Waters: Hi Setareh, looking forward to the chat

Setareh Alizadeh: Me too Lew, thank you for joining us today

Setareh Alizadeh: Tim once you are successfully logged on please send a little message so we know you are with us. To all our readers keep sending in your questions and comments!

John Hill: Hello everyone. I am a senior database reporter for The Columbian and a member to our web/online team. Looking forward to today’s chat.

Tim Leavitt: Hello!

Lew Waters: Hey Tim ;-) 1) Mayor Leavitt, in your recent State of the City Address you boasted of the “tenacity, resolve and courage” in the community. Yet, you ignore and oppose those today who show such “tenacity, resolve and courage” by standing up in opposition to tax increases, tolls and a bloated project forcing light rail from Portland on us after it was rejected by voters by changing citizen communication policies, telling them city council is not where such matters are to be discussed or even leaving the occasional snarky comment to citizens. How do you reconcile boasting of such attributes in our community while also trying to squelch those same attributes in taxpayers opposing your policies

Tim Leavitt: Lew! What a surprise! :)… Give me a viable….practically and politically…alternative!

Lew Waters: How do you define “viable?”

Tim Leavitt: How would you like to fix the broken I-5 corridor?

After more than a decade of public involvement, task forces and citizen panels…studies and planning, re-studies and re-planning….$140 million + spent on evaluation of all the alternatives, the ROD was given on a replacement bridge and LRT. After all that work….we move forward!

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Craig Sayre: Mayor Leavitt, even though I disagree with you on some issues – particularly the[…] catastrophic CRC fiasco, I think credit should be given where credit is due. I think you deserve much credit for your leadership on the City Council – particularly for the move to purchase the former Columbian building, and for working to streamline the permitting process and taking it online among other initiatives. I think you have good, and maybe even great leadership potential, but you need to listen to those you disagree with rather than simply dismissing them as being “long on criticism and short on solutions”. Just because those ideas being presented don’t fit your preconceived notions of a “good idea” doesn’t mean they’re without merit. It has not gone unnoticed that you’ve been rude to even some members of the City Council. You’ve been rude to some people in your comments on The Columbian website as well. Yes, I realize that some commenters have been extremely rude and disrespectful to you – I do not condone that either, but that does not excuse your behavior. My question is this. Can you envision working in cooperation with the entire community rather than just with those who agree with you? If your response is “it goes both ways”, of course you’re correct, but there have been members of our community who have tried very hard to have a constructive dialogue with yourself and the Council, only to be treated very poorly by the Council. What are your thoughts?

Tim Leavitt: Thanks Craig. I appreciate that you recognize nobody will agree on every issue. The CRC is a complex project and an expectation that it will all go smoothly is unrealistic — a dozen local, state and federal agencies, business, environmental and community interests; advocates for more transit, for less transit, for no action at all. The CRC is needed.

On conversation in our community….there is a distinct difference between listening and agreeing. Some who disagree with an issue….any issue…with me or the Council then accuse us of “not listening”, when really, we are listening quite intently. Do I get a bit sarcastic with those that accuse us of “not listening”? Sure. Am I listening? Absolutely. Further, I detest grandstanding.

Lynda Wilson: For those of us that would like a vote on the Light Rail project as to whether or not the taxpayers wish to raise taxes to cover O & M, why do you feel it is not a referendum on the project since a vote down is a direct indication that the taxpayers don’t want their taxes raised to pay for it and no other options are on the table.To me this has direct correlation to the project. The Federal Govt needs to see the public is behind this project prior to funding it.

Craig Sayre: Perhaps you could clarify. Who’s grandstanding?

Tim Leavitt: RE: Financing of LRT O&M, I want to exhaust all options BEFORE raising….or asking citizens to raise taxes. Maybe it can be handled without wasting more taxpayer money and time, and without raising sales tax.

Tom Sharples: Given the strong local dislike of light-rail and the greater speed, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of buses, is there a good reason to favor light-rail over bus? If so, what is it?

Tim Leavitt: Granstanding: Elected officials and others who know the reality and truth, but continue to smoke-screen with statements counter to facts/data and the real world. No matter the issue… Many great reasons to support LRT over busses, as exhaustively studied in the FEIS and DEIS of the NEPA process for the CRC. I recommend you visit: www.columbiarivercrossing.org. All your questions about why LRT over busses will be answered. To name but a few: LRT is more efficient to operate than busses; LRT has higher cost recovery (less tax payer support of operations); LRT carries more passengers (thus, less vehicles through downtown Vancouver); LRT is in it’s own dedicated lane (thus not influenced by traffic congestion); LRT stimulates private re-investment….etc.

Andrea Damewood: Hey — city hall reporter here — my question: The council discussion on the district or sub district vote for C-Tran’s light rail is Monday. Where do you see your arguments going there? And if the majority of the council wants a sub district, do you see a stalemate at Tuesday’s C-Tran board ahead?

Tim Leavitt: I don’t take questions from Reporters…only the public. JK!…Serious discussion at Council. A citizen’s advisory committee recommended to me that Council and CTRAN carefully assess ALL options to covering the LRT operation costs — particularly those options that DON’T raise taxes! I agree! Council is aware of this, and will need to weigh that in the discussion. I will advocate that we DON’T consider asking voters to RAISE TAXES untill all options are vetted. I know that’s what our public expects of us, and am having a hard time with arguments that we should spend time and money on a vote to raise taxes!

Matt Brislawn: Hello Tim. I remember when my mothers business downtown fell victim to the great[…] exodus to Vancouver Mall in the 80’s. Since, in my 16+ years of living and working downtown, I have witnessed the great work of the VDA and City of Vancouver in revitalizing downtown. Downtown is a fragile environment of many small independent businesses that would feel huge negative effects of a 7+ year construction zone downtown. Has there been any research about this? Also, are you aware of the Sounder Commuter Rail between Tacoma and Seattle runs on existing heavy rail lines about 9 times a day during peak traffic hours at a cost to riders of $0.055 per mile and has free Wi-Fi. Why are we not doing this?

Andrea Damewood: Yeah, but how do you see that playing out at C-Tran as a whole. There’s a Board of County Commissioners (with veto power) that may not like that plan.

Lynda Wilson: In response to your answer…..Those requesting a vote to raise taxes to cover O & M on this LRT project are believing that it is the ONLY way for their voice to be heard. True or not, it is their perception. Perception can become truth if not handled properly..

Tim Leavitt: Thanks Matt. The VDA, under fantastic leadership and with support from many local businesses, has and is doing great work for our Community. No doubt there will be business disruption with CRC construction. Fortunately, the construction is staged….it won’t all be happening at once. I understand that CRC, in partnership with City Staff are carefully planning how construction work can have the most minimal impact on our local businesses. Fortunately, when the work is all done….I believe our downtown will be BOOMING!…Well…I can’t predict how matters will progress at CTRAN. Heck, I can’t predict what will happen at City Council on Monday! If others are interested in raising sales tax throughout every city in the County, that’s certainly their opinion. I’m looking forward to both evenings and conversations.

Matthew J. McBride: To clarify RE: Financing of LRT O&M, what form of financing would not be from some form of taxation? If citizens vote down a sales tax, wouldn’t that be a sign they would disapprove of increases in car tabs, etc? Sounds to me like any vote is being delayed so we don’t get the facts. That sounds like fitting your definition grandstanding.

Tim Leavitt: Lynda: Thanks for making that point about perception. While I’ve heard some continue to spin a “vote”, whatever that is….into a referendum on the project, many others have heard and understand the REAL purpose of the vote — which is to raise sales tax to pay for light rail transit operations. I’ll continue to speak to the realities and the truth of what a potential “vote” would be. Again, why waste time and money on a vote, if it’s not necessary to raise taxes?!?

Randy Mueller: Tim it was good seeing you at this morning’s Port of Vancouver Port Re:Port. Two things for you: 1. Please don’t sing in public again. Ever.:-) and 2. Seriously, with the Port of Vancouver being one of the biggest jobs engines in the area, is the city doing everything they can to help them succeed?

Tim Leavitt Matthew: Sorry you’re misunderstanding. There are many options to handle the annual operation costs that haven’t been fully considered, and that may not require an increase in any fees or taxes to the general public. For example, how about if we bumped the fares on the new light rail line, to cover some of the cost? Much like a “toll” for transit riders? How about if the savings from replacing the busses that are currently running in downtown Vancouver, with the light rail….those savings are used to cover the operations? There are a dozen ways to slice the O&M issue….and potentially without raising sales tax specifically…and other taxes or fees in general. BUT, more work needs to be done.

Tim Leavitt Randy: I know…I know….keep my day job. I didn’t realize the camera was still running when I belted out happy birthday! I’ve already been offered singing lessons….several times! The Port of Vancouver is doing a fantastic job as the engine of our local economy. Their staff have been great advocates for a strong, prosperous community — creating job opportunities for our residents and bringing in lots of tax revenues to help us pay for police/fire/roads and parks. There’s so much to be optimistic about — the Port Commissioners have the long-term future in mind. We’re going to be hopping around here with jobs and commerce! They are a great partner with the City — and we do all we can at the State and Federal level to lobby our elected leadership with the Port — to bring those investment dollars here for their rail expansion, marine improvements, and infrastructure otherwise. We also work hand-in-hand on permitting to insure there is clear understanding of timelines and development requirements. Happy 100 birthday Port of Vancouver!!!

April Sutherland: Mayor Leavitt: There has been a large public response regarding the closure of Sensory Camp (for special needs children) through Parks and Rec. Can you comment on what your take is on the issue?

Setareh Alizadeh: Tim, since we started around 12:40 do you mind if we go until 1:40? That way it gives a chance to answer some more questions that have been submitted

Tim Leavitt: Yes…I’m happy to hang for as long as you’d like!

Tim Leavitt: Thanks April. Council has received a number of emails about the closure of the Sensory Camp. I know it’s not desirable for anybody to have to end recreation programs; I understand that some of the more general recreation camp programs are still available, although they may not cater specifically to children with special needs. I’m hopeful the City can return to providing those special camps…but we’ll need the support of our Community to approve of a metropolitan parks district. Othewise, I know Staff are looking at alternative providers and their capacity to offer camps like the Sensory.

Tom Sharples: Tim are you aware of the recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling stating that the CRC was, in effect, a trojan horse to get LRT into Vancouver? Comments?

Tim Leavitt: Tom: On OUR side of the River, for every person that tells me they don’t want light rail, there is AT LEAST one person that says they do…and there are many more that say, “When is this project getting under construction?”.

Beth Pederson: Dear Mayor Leavitt, Are you willing to work with the families to reinstate the sensory camp if we can show there would be less cost to the city?

Tim Leavitt: Beth: I’m happy to support an effort to reinstate the sensory camp, if it can be done without creating more costs….that aren’t available….in the Parks & Recreation budget. Send me an email with deets, please!

Setareh Alizadeh: What is your email address that Beth and others can contact you with questions?

Tim Leavitt: mayor@cityofvancouver.us

Rich Franklin: Mayor Leavitt, there have been several articles about the increase in crime along the light rail lines and stations in Portland. Is this of concern to you, and is there any provision being made for increased policing that may come with light rail lines in Vancouver?

Tim Leavitt: Thanks Rich: I met with TriMet officials over a year ago to discuss matters of criminal activity at LRT stations and on the system. I’ve also discussed crime statistics with local law enforcement officials. There’s more to the story about criminal activity than learned in the headlines. I’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that I (and I’m certain your City Council and CTRAN Board will agree) expect Vancouver LRT to be a safe experience for our riders. Interestingly, we don’t get to hear about all the criminal activity that occurs in our neighborhoods and businesses and streets….but headlines are generated by any criminal activity on or near an LRT station. Doesn’t compute to say that LRT is any more unsafe that your nearby community park…

April Sutherland: Mayor Leavitt, Thank you so much for your willingness to approach a resolution for the sensory camp families! The cost of sensory camp that was reported in The Columbian is actually in question, as I have recently found out that other inclusion costs may have been added to the total cost of sensory camp, making the cost-recovery ratio 38% when it is actually much higher. I would love to share these details along with possible solutions with you!

Tim Leavitt: April: You bet. I’m certain the Council, City Manager and Staff or our Recreation Programs would be happy to keep Sensory Camp going!

Tom Sharples: Tim, then why don;t we put LRT to a county-wide vote (again) and resolve the question, once and for all? … or even a city-wide vote?

Lew Waters: Mayor Leavitt, after your turn around on tolling, how can the public place trust in your words on opposing tax increases? Perception, remember?

Tim Leavitt: Tom: Mass transit must be a component of the CRC, per the Locally Preferred Alternative, per the DEIS, per the Record of Decision, per Federal financing and support, and per both community and political support on both sides of the River. Since the Feds are paying for the construction of LRT (via the Fed Transit Administration), today’s scenario is different that the vote that occurred nearly a generation ago. LRT is more efficient to operate than BRT and busses…besides that BRT simply cannot practically handle the demand. Remember that our population increases, our Port is doubling in size…and we already have unreasonable traffic jams. Alternatives must be included. And, why not tie into the 55 miles of LRT south of the river, for virtually no direct cost to us locally?

April Sutherland: Mayor Leavitt, you just made my day with your positive response! The impact that the summer sensory camp has made on the families of these special children is huge. We look forward to sharing our ideas to restore the camp. :)

Setareh Alizadeh: Looks like we are over our time, I will let the last few minutes for us to wrap it up

Tim Leavitt: Lew: As I learned, tolling means that here locally we pay less for the project. I ask over and over if you’d prefer a property tax? ….a sales tax? ….a business and occupation tax? The answer is over and over….no. The answer over and over is….if the Feds and States can’t come up with all the money, and there must be a local share, than tolls is it. That means if you don’t use it, you don’t pay. With tolls, that means that others (from outside our community) are paying a portion of our benefit! I know some aren’t happy that I changed my position, but it is the right position…to the least impact on our community…versus the other options. Less taxes, less impact on our citizens. That’s where I’ve landed.

Tim Leavitt: As Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” Onward and upward Vancouver! Thanks all for participating. best, tim

Lew Waters: Mayor Leavitt, thank you for being available to answer questions. Setareh, you do a great job moderating these live chats. Thank you as well.

Setareh Alizadeh: Thank you Tim, and thank you to all our readers. If we did not get to your question you can email Tim at mayor@cityofvancouver.us

Setareh Alizadeh: Tune in next week when we have Washington State University Vancouver faculty to discuss the economic changes in our lifestyles and how this has affected us. Bring your questions and comments to what has changed you in the past four years since the last election!