On Tuesday night, the Centralia City Council convened for its second monthly meeting to discuss a number of issues. On the agenda was an update on the newly installed China Creek gage, a first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s stopping, standing and parking ordinance and consideration of capping 2023 rate increases for the city’s storm and surface, sewer and water rates at 2%.
Additionally, the council also discussed proposed interlocal agreements with the Office of the Chehalis Basin and the Historic Fox Theatre for access to the city’s small works roster and approved the 2023-2024 biennial budget after amendments were made, increasing it by $104,764.
More funding will now be going toward China Creek monitoring and for police department expenditures.
A special meeting was also scheduled for Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. to discuss the future of the Pearl Street Pool.
China Creek Gage Active; Levels and Alerts Available Online
Centralia Public Works Director Kim Ashmore walked the council through how to find and access almost real-time flood level and rainfall data from the new China Creek gage. That information can be found at https://chehalis.onerain.com/.
“I’ll show you the rain that’s happened today, the flow level, the history is all being tracked in there. Every 15 minutes there’s a reading for the rain gauge,” Ashmore said.
Once on the website, users can click on the “Sites” tab located at the top of the page to be taken to a site where data from all the gages throughout the basin can be viewed. From there, users can scroll down through the alphabetical gage list to find the one for China Creek and access rain accumulation, rain increment and flood stage level data.
To be added to the email flood alert system for the gage, email Scott Boettcher of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, email and the river gages you are interested in receiving alerts about; users can sign up for multiple gage alerts aside from just China Creek.
For more information on the flood warning system, visit https://www.ci.chehalis.wa.us/community/flood-warning-system.
Parking Ordinance Amendment
Centralia Municipal Code was brought up to be amended by City Attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson, who explained amending the code was necessary for two reasons.
“The first was a housekeeping function. The city engineer and myself went through this entire section. You can see it was really antiquated. It was really cumbersome and just needed to be cleaned up,” Murphy-Olson said.
She added the biggest change to the code focused on on-street parking in residential areas.
“This has been a code enforcement and (police department) issue. We don’t have a parking enforcement officer, so this is basically done by complaint and has always been done by complaint. If you go to the residential zones, we have a smattering of different signage and times,” said Murphy-Olson. “We no longer really have a way to deal with time, per se. It was ruled that you could no longer chalk tires, that it was an invasion of a person’s privacy rights, so the actual enforcement of two hours, four hours, six hours, those things have become very difficult.”
Murphy-Olson further elaborated that the real issue wasn’t people having vehicles parked longer than a sign allowed on a certain residential street, but now with families owning multiple cars and abandoned vehicles, many residents have no choice but to park on the street.
“Look at the Edison District. Many of those homes are not set up for a multi-car family. They have small driveways, small garages, so many people rely on street (parking). What’s become a problem are abandoned cars and cars that have sat on the street for so long the tires are flat, the tags are expired. Or the vehicle has such damage, somebody has pulled in a project car and left it on the street. So that’s the type of thing we’re dealing with,” Murphy-Olson said.
Additionally, some Centralia residents have been setting up unlicensed car repair shops in residential areas where people are bringing their cars to work on them while parked in the street on nights and weekends.
To address these issues, the change being proposed to city code states that for a car to be parked on the street it must be operable and cannot be in one spot for more than 120 hours.
“We define inoperable as expired license (tags), flat tires, body damage that makes the vehicle inoperable, broken windshield that impairs driver’s ability to see and non-movement for 120 hours or longer,” said Murphy-Olson.
The ordinance will still be enforced by complaint only. For any car found in violation, first, a notice will be placed on the vehicle by the Centralia Police Department to allow the owner an opportunity to move it. If the vehicle isn’t moved after that, then towing comes into play. Murphy-Olson said the change was made to avoid having to spend money on more parking signs.
“That’s a lot of expense for the Street Department,” Murphy-Olson added.
City Council Member Leah Daarud asked how the proposed amendment might affect people experiencing homelessness who are currently living in their vehicles.
“So that issue really doesn’t apply so much to this code. There’s been case law that directs us to how we have to deal with people who are living in their vehicles. And that’s a process that the police department has a policy that was put together by my office that code enforcement and (police department) use. They generally make contact, offer alternatives,” Murphy-Olson said. “The case law came about and basically says you can’t criminalize being homeless and living in your car. Doesn’t mean you can’t be ticketed. The issue came with towing, and the towing aspect being punitive because basically your home was being taken away from you.”
The towing process isn’t in the city’s control either, according to Murphy-Olson. Once a tow truck is called, the towing company is allowed to either sell or destroy the car in an attempt to recover its expenses if the owner can’t afford to pay the fees.
Murphy-Olson also stated the city asks people living in their vehicle to move them periodically. The motion to amend the code was passed unanimously on its first reading.
Service Rates Cap
With the country still facing rising inflation rates, Murphy-Olson also explained amendments aimed at capping 2023 sewer, water and storm service charge increases at 2%. This move came after ordinances were passed at the council’s Nov. 8 meeting allowing city council to lower annual rate increases if the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was adversely high.
“Well the CPI has come in at 7.8%, so at council’s direction these ordinances will cap the water, sewer and storm rates at 2% for the year 2023 only. It will also cap capital facility rates at 2%,” said Murphy-Olson.
All three amendments were passed by the council unanimously on their first readings.