Local mothers’ safer sidewalks bid may pay off

County councilors will discuss issue at May 9 hearing

RaeShel Peck chats with one of her neighbors, Leif Leifsen, on the 3400 block of "K" Street, in Washougal. Peck and Jill Hofmann (not pictured) recently surveyed the people who live on that block about their household income, in order to qualify for Community Development Block Grant funds for a potential sidewalks project.

A project that has qualified for potential federal funding would involve adding sidewalks to busy roads in Washougal, thanks to the efforts of local mothers.

RaeShel Peck and Jill Hofmann championed the proposal that would add sidewalks from 32nd to 34th streets along K Street, and south from K to J Street on the east side of the road.

If approved, students and their parents would be able to walk safely on sidewalks to and from nearby Gause Elementary School. Currently, they walk on grass and asphalt in front of neighbors’ homes.

Oftentimes, other parents park their vehicles on those vacant patches, causing the children to walk in the street.

Peck has tried to educate those parents who park in the road, telling them they are “putting our kids at risk.” Some drivers don’t seem to care that there are small children walking to and from school, she says, like the woman who told Peck she was in a hurry, and the man she witnessed texting while driving his pickup faster than the speed limit, near the elementary school.

Children and their parents have to negotiate a “mud hole” when heavy rains fall at the corner of 34th and K streets.

Peck said “no parking” signs have helped reduce vehicle congestion of vehicles during drop-off and pick-up times. The city of Washougal also recently added street lights to that area.

“The city has taken us seriously,” Peck said.

She estimates there are 15 to 20, mostly elementary school-age children, and three high school students who live on K Street.

One of Peck’s neighbors, Leif Leifsen, said he favors the sidewalks project if it is paid for with federal funding.

He said cars travel fast in that area, and some of them do not stop at a nearby traffic light.

Leifsen has lived in his home since 1977.

Washougal City Engineer Rob Charles said new sidewalks, with curbs and gutters, would require some street-widening. Under the proposal, the city would also install a water line and use $270,000 in utility funds as a match for the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding of $300,000.

According to Samantha Whitley, program coordinator for the Clark County Department of Community Services, at least 51 percent of the households in a service area must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income in order to qualify for CDBG funding.

“Usually we can fund area activities based on census data provided through the American Community Survey, but that data can be inaccurate or a census tract will cover a larger area than a proposed project would serve.,” Whitley said.

Census data shows that the K Street neighborhood census tract is 26.68 low- or moderate-income families.

Low-income is a household of two people earning $35,850 or less per year. Moderate income means an annual income of $47,800 or less, for a household of two.

“In these circumstances, HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) allows us to do an individual household income survey for areas that we believe may be low-income, even though the census data says otherwise,” Whitley said.

Peck and Hofmann surveyed 32 households and, of those surveyed, 20 households, 62 percent, indicated that they earned less than 80 percent of the area median income, which is how the sidewalks project qualified for a 2017 CDBG award.

The next Board of Clark County Councilors meeting will include a public hearing on proposed CDBG projects at 10 a.m., Tuesday, May 9, in the Councilors’ hearing room, on the sixth floor of the public service center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

The Urban County Policy Board, which includes Washougal City Administrator David Scott and Camas City Administrator Pete Capell, recommends to Clark County eligible projects for CDBG funding through a competitive proposal process.

Additional information can be found at www.clark.wa.gov/cdbg/.