City leaders embrace change to police pursuit law

Council also approves new ordinance related to RVs, honors Lions Club.

The audience in the council chambers broke out into applause March 5 when Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell announced the passing of State Initiative 2113, which allows for pursuits by police in an expanded set of circumstances, including vehicle theft and property damage.

The restrictions were “creating frankly a very unsafe environment in our community,” Ferrell said.

This change was the city’s “number one legislative priority,” Ferrell added: “We made that clear in December.”

Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang, council members, Ferrell and public commentors have been vocal about the issues related to the pursuit law. In a recent editorial in the Mirror, Hwang said: “The upsurge in auto thefts and other violent crimes is a direct result of prohibiting police vehicular pursuit. Stealing a vehicle is a precursor for other crimes such as organized retail thefts, smash-and-grab burglaries, robberies, purse snatching, carjacking, spike in freeway shootings, etc.”

“We were told over and over and over … this isn’t going to happen, get used to disappointment,” Ferrell said, so the update was welcome news.

An update was also shared on current police numbers. There are currently 145 officers on staff at the FWPD and 16 of those officers are in the academy, according to the mayor. This means that “every month you’ll see two to three new officers on the street,” according to Ferrell.

This is a budget year, and the mayor is also recommending that the council vote to increase the staffing budget by four officers next year, bringing the department to a total of 154. He said this would align the ratio of officers to residents to 2008 levels.

RV regulations

The council unanimously passed the second reading and enactment of the first of a set of revisions to city code regarding recreational vehicles. This change to the civic code bans RVs from being parked on non-residential streets. It so far does not add any changes to the code for RVs on residential streets such as neighborhoods.

This topic was a central theme of public comment and discussion throughout the evening March 5 as community members shared multiple perspectives on RVs.

Longtime city resident Barbara Marsh advocated for a change to the policy after being cited recently for a motorhome parked in her driveway off the street.

After having a trailer RV on her property for more than 15 years, Marsh said she and her husband had recently purchased a motorhome. Storing it in the same place, she said she was recently cited for parking it in the same place she had parked the other one for years.

Marsh said she now has to pay $200 a month for storage.

“If you make all these people get rid of our RVs,” Marsh added, “there are not enough places to store these,” even if the expense itself wasn’t a burden.

“These are regular people in a modest neighborhood who want to go camping,” Marsh said. Highlighting the many local parks and natural areas, she spoke to the importance of city leadership supporting active residents who want to enjoy the outdoors.

Community member Anna Patrick shared another perspective with RVs in her own residential neighborhood over the years. She said she’s seen many that were connected to drug use and other illegal and troublesome activity.

Patrick offered several ideas to explore to find a balance between RVs used for vacations and those that become a nuisance or cause other issues. Some options she put forward included licensing the RVs, having certain requirements that ensure license plates will be up to date, “limiting the resale on the old rundown RVs that shouldn’t even be on the road” and utilizing code enforcement to follow up with RVs that are dumping their sewage and wastewater in the streets.

“They’re supposed to be hooked up properly if they are being lived in,” Patrick said.

The mayor said ultimately “we work for you” and that “it’s great to hear this level of engagement.”

Councilmember Jack Dovey responded to the public comments about RVs in residential neighborhoods by sharing that “very shortly this same topic will be coming to land use.”

Dovey added that one of the rules they will be considering is the length limit of 22 feet, which public commentor Marsh also stated in her comment was not realistic for the current motorhome market.

Sidewalk maintenance

The mayor addressed a recent letter the city sent to residents regarding sidewalk maintenance that caused some confusion among Federal Way community members.

While the mayor took responsibility for the letter as the leader of the city, he firmly stated that “the manner in which that was sent out did not meet our standards and it will never happen again.”

Mayor Ferrell stated that “probably the most regrettable part of it is there was a picture included and people thought that it was specific to them.” This caused an issue because many individuals thought the letter was a notice of a violation rather than a general informational bulletin.

There is a new letter in the mail as of the council meeting that provides some clarification. The mayor also shared that the city is “working on a fund for people … that are not in a position to fix a sidewalk that may be attributed to their property,” and that “we always address [sidewalk maintenance code violations] on a case by case basis.”

More updates

• The council shared two proclamations, one honoring the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Federal Way Lions Club and the other honoring Women’s History Month.

• The Federal Way Senior Commission made a statement as a group at public comment advocating for a senior center to be built in Federal Way. “We beseech you, if necessary, on bended knee” the speaker said, actively getting down on one knee to prove the point. She urged the council to “think with your heart as well as your head” and emphasized the dire consequences for seniors that come from a community deficit in the services a senior center could provide. There is an existing Federal Way Senior Center, but it is “outside city limits,” as Councilmember Jack Walsh said in response. He added that he strongly supports a senior center.

• Council approved acceptance of Local Parks Maintenance Grant that will be utilized to resurface and repaint four tennis courts and one basketball court at Saghalie Park. The grant is for $89,683 and the project ranked 9th out of 157 applications in the same tier. The council also approved a contract with the King County Director’s Association for the project. The rennovation will take place between July 1, 2024, and June 30, 2025, as is required by the grant.

For Women’s History Month, Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar invited every woman in the room up to the podium to receive the proclamation. Photo by Bruce Honda

For Women’s History Month, Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar invited every woman in the room up to the podium to receive the proclamation. Photo by Bruce Honda