Voters will get say on purchasing Japanese Gulch property
MUKILTEO - In November, city residents will be asked to raise their property taxes to support buying the last piece of Japanese Gulch. The eleventh-hour surprise decision to put the measure on the ballot, though, stirred ire at last week’s City Council meeting.
The ballot measure will help the city pay off $3.2 million in future bonds to purchase the last piece of gulch land by charging 20 cents per $1,000 assessed home value over the next five years. The average house is worth $379,000, so the cost to an average homeowner would be about $75 a year.
The measure needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
The City Council unanimously approved the ballot measure, but some council members were taken aback by the last-minute vote at the Monday, Aug. 6 meeting. The city was under a time crunch. The deadline to submit ballot measures for the November ballot was the next day.
Some council members said they were unaware a vote was coming. City administrators recently asked the Japanese Gulch Group to conduct a telephone survey, which happened earlier this month, to get a feel for how the 20,000-person community felt about a levy. They got 305 responses and most of the responses were favorable toward the levy. It is unclear how the respondents were chosen.
Many council members and most of the community seemed to be unaware the survey happened. Councilman Kevin Stoltz, who supports gulch acquisition efforts, was upset.
“I am personally offended at the rate this is coming forward to us … we are supposed to be doing this transparently,” Stoltz said, adding, “God, guys, I mean what the hell is wrong with you” to “put (the council) in this position” of voting for this at the last minute.
The vote was not part of the published Aug. 6 council agenda and was added on later. The city’s effort to purchase the last piece of gulch land has been widely reported in the media, city administrator Joe Hannan countered.
Council President Richard Emery admitted he goofed on the timing. Emery thought the ballot submission deadline was Wednesday, Aug. 15. Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson said she thought the same thing.
Councilman Steve Schmalz shared Stoltz’s concerns.
“I think the lack of transparency is embarrassing,” Schmalz told the Tribune. “Nothing concrete that this was coming to the ballot, you’re talking (about) a $3.2 million ballot issue.”
Schmalz changed his tune when presented with a copy of the Aug. 1 Tribune which mentions the coming survey and ballot measure. The measure will be a tough sell, Schmalz said.
The city faces a crunch to acquire the last 97.7-acre piece of Japanese Gulch, the city’s largest natural open space. The land is owned by the bankrupt Metropolitan Creditor’s Trust and a bankruptcy court is temporarily holding the land for Mukilteo if the city can get the money.
Gulch group and city efforts so far are $2 million to $3 million off from the estimated $6 million purchase price for the Metropolitan Trust property, gulch group director Sabrina Bolieu said previously.
If Mukilteo can’t do it, the court will put the property on the public market, city officials have said. Gulch supporters fear this space, which is in Everett city limits, could then be developed into an industrial park or other private use.
Gulch group leaders said they did a good job polling the community.
“We worked together on a really short time frame,” Japanese Gulch Group president Todd Hooper said. Hooper said 300 responses is a good measure.
Emery and his wife were among the 15 pollsters, Bolieu said.
Emery did not recuse himself from the ballot vote. Emery is the past vice president of the Japanese Gulch Group.
Usually council agenda changes don’t involve a $3 million ballot measure, said council watcher Charlie Pancerzewski, who was told about the survey by the Tribune.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to put something like this on the ballot at the last minute that was not made public,” Pancerzewski said.
The survey had five questions. According to results presented to the council, 203 people said the city should run a ballot measure to buy Japanese Gulch land and 81 people said no. The survey found 198 people would support a five-year levy and 90 people said no.
The survey also asked if people would be open to a two-year levy to raise half of the money needed to buy the last piece of the gulch, which got a bigger response.
Mayor Joe Marine said the bankruptcy court would not want the city buying only half the property.
The city also selected its pro and con statement committee writers for the levy proposition at the Aug. 6 meeting.
Gregerson and Emery are on the pro committee. Pancerzewski is on the con committee.