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Ted Olinger

Ted Olinger

Saturday, 02 April 2016 01:40

The Mustard Seed has sprouted

Affordable senior housing. Aging in place. Bracing for the "silver tsunami."

No, it's not Bernie Sanders talking.

Three Key Peninsula males aged 13, 14 and 17 were arrested March 17 for their roles in an alleged violent sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl at her Lakebay residence March 14. A 20-year-old man police believe was present during the alleged assault was arrested on an outstanding Mason County warrant for first-degree child rape, but was not charged in connection with the Lakebay assault at the time this report went to press.

The Pierce County Council voted Dec. 15 to hold a one-issue advisory-only election April 26 to gauge whether or not local residents want retail marijuana stores and growers to operate in unincorporated areas of Pierce County, like the Key Peninsula.

Clint Pipkin, co-owner of Herb N Wellness, the medical marijuana dispensary in Key Center, said, "Pierce County has already voted this in. The Republicans on the county council are calling for a redo at a cost of $425,000, even though it (the result) is nonbinding."

Pierce County Councilman Derek Young (District 7), who represents the Key Peninsula, said, "Typically you have an advisory vote before you take action. We've already repealed the local prohibition."

On Dec. 15, 2015, the council voted to lift the moratorium on recreational marijuana shops and grow operations in unincorporated Pierce County effective July 1, but also approved a special election April 26 for Proposition 1, asking voters living in unincorporated Pierce County whether that moratorium should, in fact, be lifted.

Councilwoman Joyce McDonald (District 2) added the special election to the council's vote to repeal the moratorium.

"This is about maintaining local control," said McDonald. Current bans in cities like Gig Harbor have pushed marijuana shops and producers into unincorporated areas that don't have local control, like the KP, she said. "It's like the cities are saying it's not OK in my town, but it's OK in yours."

"It's a last ditch effort," said Young, "but the law will remain the law regardless of the outcome."

If the advisory vote on Prop. 1 is "no," meaning against repealing the moratorium, the council would need to reverse its previous action and the county executive would have to sign off on it. "I don't see four votes (of seven) on the council to make that happen," said Young.

"I would like to hear from the people in unincorporated Pierce County," said McDonald. "Wouldn't it be rather difficult to ask them for an advisory vote and then ignore their advisory vote?"

In 2012, voters passed Initiative 502, legalizing possession of certain amounts of marijuana for private use, though users can be arrested for driving under the influence or using in public. Licensed marijuana businesses can grow, process and sell marijuana in some counties if they follow state law.

Under that law, retail marijuana shops in Pierce County must have a license from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, and other relevant county permits. Conflicting interpretations of state and federal law have created confusion among retailers, consumers and police, resulting in both lax enforcement and federal prosecutions. The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits production, possession and use of marijuana in all circumstances.

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 5052 in April 2015, requiring all marijuana retailers without a recreational license to close by July 1. All medical marijuana dispensaries in the state will cease operations by that date.

Pipkin has applied for a recreational license, but may close even if he gets it because his store near the corner of the KP Highway and Olson Drive KPN is within 1,000 feet of a public library. "I'm 140 feet too close," he said. "But there are six different establishments that are within 200 yards of the library that all sell alcohol."

Pipkin and his brother, Todd Dote, have been running the business at its current location since purchasing the building a year ago. "I'm going to apply for a conditional use permit to keep my store open that's been there since 2010. My brother and I got $300,000 in this business," said Pipkin, including the now closed stores he operated on the KP Highway near 118th Street. Those stores will not reopen due to rural zoning restrictions, but Pipkin and Dote kept their staff of eight and employ them all at the Key Center store.

"I'm kind of on the fence," said Cindy Worden, who serves on the KP Community Council and is president of the KP Citizens Against Crime task force.

"I've never had a problem with medical marijuana," she said. "I've got a relative who used it with a prescription for cancer treatment and is still alive because of it." Worden does not consider the dispensaries a nuisance, she said. "You hardly know anything is going on over there at all."

"But you bring it out in public, now it's my business," said Worden. "How do we curtail the DUI aspect? What will the prosecution rate be? Now it's legal, what do we do with that?"

"In the bulk of the county you won't see (marijuana stores) at all, and there's really only one spot on the Key Peninsula that will work under the current zoning," said Young, if the moratorium ends as planned. "But there are people (on the KP) who do need this option, it's working for chronic pain or anxiety, even the VA is working with them. It would be a real burden for folks to have to go to Tacoma."

But if the vote goes against allowing marijuana in unincorporated Pierce County, it would be incumbent on the council to act, said McDonald. "I would introduce an ordinance that would assert the will of the people," she said.

Thursday, 31 March 2016 16:34

From the Editor's Desk

The Key Peninsula has been home to anarchists, millionaires and poet-loving loggers, and remains the summer refuge for whatever the opposite of a snowbird is. I have lived here a scant 12 years, and imagine I've met everyone that lives on this craggy finger of land at least once. But of course that's not true. We all lead separate and even solitary lives in private circles. Residents south of Home may have little to do with the northerners in Vaughn, to say nothing of Wauna. Those on the water may never visit the many who live inland, encircled by towering trees on land owned for a century, or in simple homes rented month to month. And who are all those people out there on Herron Island anyway?

Friday, 26 February 2016 13:16

Civic center crab feed is on for March

The ever-popular long-standing traditional family-friendly annual fundraiser that is the Key Peninsula Civic Center crab feed is set to go Saturday, March 12, barring a sudden spike in the price of crab, according to KPCC president Bruce Macdonald.

"I don't think the price is going to take a quantum leap in the next few weeks, but the potential is there," he said.

The entire west coast commercial Dungeness crab season was delayed two months until Jan. 1 because health officials detected unsafe levels of domoic acid in crabmeat in California last fall.

The potent neurotoxin is a byproduct of an algae bloom in the Pacific warmed by El Niño and can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates and fish that feed on creatures that eat the algae. It can be deadly if consumed in sufficient quantities, and cooking or freezing does not destroy the toxin in shellfish.

The crabs in Washington tested safe, but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the commercial fishery until January to prevent overfishing in Washington.

"The particular thing this year is we're a little worried about where the price is going," said Macdonald. "We expected all of Oregon and California to be open by now, and they're not."

"Crab is still about $6 a pound retail, but if it gets any higher we might be in deep water," he said. "We go through about 600 pounds of crab, and generally every year we have a surplus which we sell at cost."       

"But," said Macdonald, "We don't mind just breaking even on this event because it's an important social occasion and we've been doing it for so long. Most years it's very close to selling out, and we've had to turn large groups away."

The dinner also features spaghetti prepared by board member Pat Medveckus, along with Caesar salad and garlic bread.

"I almost look forward to Pat's pasta more than the crab," said Macdonald. "Old family recipe, one marinara sauce, one Alfredo. It's fabulous stuff."

At the time of press, the crab feed is on.

For information, call (253) 884-3456.

Friday, 26 February 2016 12:32

KP fire rating to affect homeowners

The Key Peninsula Fire Department (KPFD) will receive new fire protection class ratings effective May 1, resulting in insurance cost savings for most homeowners and increases or no change for others.

            The Washington Survey and Rating Bureau (WSRB) examines the efficiency of fire districts all over the state every four years for insurance and other purposes. For the first time in 25 years, the WSRB has approved a fire protection class (FPC) rating increase for KPFD from Class 6 to Class 5, according to Fire Chief Guy Allen.

            "If your home is within five driving miles of a staffed fire station and you have a hydrant within 1,000 feet of your home, your insurance would reflect the best FPC rating of the fire district," he said.

The same home loses one grade if it is not within 1,000 feet of a hydrant. If the home is beyond five miles, the rating drops to 9, then 9A if it's beyond seven miles, Allen said.

            "The way it works is your insurance on your home has an anniversary date. Say it's April; you miss a year," said Allen. "To get the benefit of the improved rating, call your agent or insurance company and push that change. Don't wait for the anniversary."

            According to the WSRB, the district earned a higher rating due to their regular vehicle maintenance program with the Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One, improved documentation of equipment maintenance, improved local water systems, a new fire communication dispatch system, and the fire marshal's office business inspection program.

            But Herron Island and Longbranch will both receive Class 9 ratings due to lack of staff.

            "Herron Island installed 43 brand-new hydrants a couple years ago," Allen said. "There isn't a home on Herron Island that's not within 1,000 feet of a hydrant, but their problem is they don't have a response out of their fire station so they don't gain any credit for that."

            The fire department maintains a tender truck (a water hauler) on Herron Island but has no one to operate it.

            "The solution is as simple as getting at least six people to step up and say I will volunteer. We have been out there twice in the last 18 months talking specifically about this issue ... and in both of those recruitment efforts we ended up with one applicant," said Allen. "They're not going to gain the positive result they could get come May just by having people step up and say I'll volunteer."

            Allen said all they need are tender truck operators, not full-fledged firefighters who must undergo extensive training.

            Longbranch faces a similar dilemma.

            "Longbranch is part of the Class 6 today," said Allen. "May 1 they will become a 9. At least at Longbranch we have four people on the books that live within five miles of that station."

Allen said a station is considered staffed if six firefighters live within five miles. Two district employees who will respond after hours live within five miles of the Longbranch station and there are two new volunteers, but they still need two more.

            "The real shame is they (Herron Island and Longbranch) could go from a 9 to a 5 in the blink of an eye, which would save hundreds of dollars per homeowner every year. If you look at our last levy, we were asking to raise the tax burden on a property; I think it was going to affect a $250,000 home by $38 a year. And we're talking about if you pay $500 a year in insurance today, and you go from a 5 to a 9, you're going to double your insurance bill. We need to go out there one more time at least and encourage them to join,” Allen said.

For information, call (253) 884-2222.

Wednesday, 03 February 2016 16:32

Seaquist to run for top state education post

Former Washington state Representative Larry Seaquist says he will run for the nonpartisan Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in 2016.

Seaquist made his unofficial announcement during a public reception for local community leaders and Key Peninsula residents at Blend Wine Shop in Key Center Dec. 29.

OSPI oversees all K-12 public education in Washington state, serving 1.04 million students. Incumbent Superintendent Randy Dorn announced in October that he would not seek a third four-year term.

We've had now 15 years or so of the public being told that teachers are the problem and that if we just found the bad teachers and graded the bad schools and got rid of them that everything would be OK. And that's simply looking at it backwards, said Seaquist.

He said the school system has been underfunded, overstressed to the point where the top third, upper middle class kids zoom through just fine, but increasingly poverty is draining the life out of other families. Seaquist added that these pressures have contributed to a teacher shortage in Washington, with fewer young people entering or staying in the profession and veteran teachers retiring early.

We have to fully fund all those schools in those low income districts, and that's way beyond the McCleary requirements, said Seaquist, citing the need for full-time counselors, nurses and para-educators.

In January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington state that the Legislature had failed to fully fund public education according to its own definition and as the state constitution explicitly requires.

The court ordered the Legislature to increase spending to an adequate level by 2018. Some spending was increased but the court found this inadequate and in September 2014 held the Legislature in contempt. After a year of no progress, in August 2015 the court began fining the state $100,000 a day. The fine will accumulate until the Legislature fully funds K-12 education and will then be refunded to the state.

When asked how he would increase funding for public schools, Seaquist said That is the purpose of the Legislature: to decide who gets what and who gives what... Nobody, including me, is anxious to go around and simply raise taxes. For most people, they're feeling like life is pretty thin.   LarrySeaquist2

But we do have to solve these problems without the levies... Levies should be only for the extras that a local district decides it wants for its kids, he said.

The state Supreme Court also ruled in McCleary that local property tax levy revenues are intended for locally elected enhancements and are legally prohibited from funding public education, but school districts across the state have come to rely on them in the absence of adequate funding from the Legislature.

The Peninsula School District is asking local voters to approve a renewal of their existing maintenance and operation levy by special election Feb. 9. The current levy funds approximately 24 percent of the districts operating budget. If approved, the Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EP&O) will have an estimated tax rate of $2.19 per $1,000 of property value for 2017, down from the current rate of $2.30 and decreasing further through 2020, according to the district.

When asked what he would bring to the state superintendent job, Seaquist said What you need is somebody who is a systems strategy person: early learning all the way through higher ed. SPI both by the [state] constitution and by all the statutes sits on virtually every board that has anything to do with education. So it's not just a K-12 manager role, it's an education system role.

I bring a lot of executive experience about how you manage things and I bring eight years of legislative experience about how you work with the Legislature on a bipartisan basis, he said.


Seaquist is a former naval officer who served four terms in the Legislature and led the House higher education committee before losing re-election to Michelle Caldier in 2014.

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