Camas OKs key projects in less than 20 minutes

City leaders pass bargaining agreement and tree program, support bridge replacement

Camas City Council members moved with lightning speed during their first September council meeting, wrapping up several long-standing projects with full council support in under 20 minutes.

The first “big ticket” item on the councilors’ agenda at the Sept. 4 meeting involved an issue that has been a source of contention for nearly two years — the bargaining agreement between the city and the Camas Public Employees’ Association (CPEA).

“This has been a long process,” Jennifer Gorsuch, the city’s administrative services director, said before presenting the bargaining agreement to the city council members for their direction at the first September council meeting.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the mayor and city administrator to sign the four-year agreement, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017 and runs through Dec. 31, 2020.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Chaney congratulated city employees who have been in contract negotiations for more than a year and a half, and noted the collective bargaining process had been a “challenging, difficult time for both sides.”

The new agreement gives city employees covered by the CPEA benefits such as 13 paid holidays per year; paid annual vacation that starts at 96 hour (12 eight-hour days) a year for a worker who has zero to four years employment with the city and goes up to 216 hours (27 eight-hour days) a year for employees’ who have worked 20 or more years for the city; healthcare plans for which the city pays 95 percent of the medical premiums for employees and 90 percent for dependents; and salary scales that include a 4-percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) effective Jan. 1, 2018 and COLA increases between 2 percent and 4 percent during the final two years of the agreement.

The salary scales for 2018, which include the 4-percent COLA, cover nearly 40 different city positions and include seven salary steps. At the lower end of the scale, a police records clerk/dispatcher I at Step 1 would earn $3,359 a month ($40,308 a year). At the upper end of the scale, an engineering project manager at Step 7 would earn $8,241 a month ($98,892 a year). A few positions and their monthly salaries at the middle of the scale include: recreation coordinator (Step 4) at $4,917 a month, building inspector I (Step 4) at $5,158 a month and plans examiner (Step 4) at $5,676 a month.

Council greenlights urban tree program, supports bridge replacement

In the wake of an Aug. 6 city council meeting that drew a standing-room-only crowd and saw dozens of passionate Camas residents imploring city leaders to save the city’s tree canopy, Camas City Council members unanimously passed the new Camas Urban Tree Program at their Sept. 4 meeting and wore buttons showing their personal support for the program.

Preserving Camas’ urban trees is something city staff have been working on for more than two years.

In May, as the draft proposal was making its way through the Camas Planning Commission, Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox explained the push to revamp Camas’ tree preservation codes was citizen-driven.

“This was something people cared about, and asked about when we were doing our comprehensive plan update,” Fox said. “Most people didn’t know that we didn’t have any protections for our trees. We couldn’t do anything about the areas already being developed, but we could look at (creating a new urban tree program).”

Camas had a tree-related code on the books, but it was vague and open to interpretation, which had caused legal problems in the past, Fox said.

The code, for instance, did not prohibit people from tearing down existing trees on their own property, require developers to retain a certain number of trees or even adequately protect trees within the city’s open spaces.

Camas leaders hope the new urban tree ordinance will help the city achieve its comprehensive goal of protecting Camas’ native landscape and mature tree cover; define a street tree and process for removing and replacing a street tree; penalize those who illegally remove public trees in parks and open spaces; and clarify the tree-protection process in new developments by requiring a minimum of 20 tree units per acre, with more “unit points” given to certain types of trees, including larger, healthier, more established trees.

“This is a new program looking at every aspect of trees in the city,” Fox told city council members in August, adding that the program is a good jumping-off point.

“I do think we’ve set it up in a way that, moving forward, we can make adjustments … and it hopefully would not take two years,” Fox said in August.

Several Camas residents who testified at the Aug. 6 meeting said they worried that city leaders were not doing enough to protect some of the city’s older, more established evergreens and were allowing developers to replace trees older than 100 years with clusters of young saplings.

The new urban tree program will protect trees on new commercial, industrial and larger residential developments as well as set boundaries for removing and replacing street trees and penalize people removing public trees, but it will not prevent an individual property owner on a residential lot smaller than 24,000 feet from removing old-growth trees in their backyard — something that concerned many residents who turned out for the Aug. 6 meeting.

“There is room to grow from here,” Fox said. “We were pretty clear that we weren’t planning to protect trees on individual lots, but on new developments. We were putting in place a good starting point.”

Camas resident Geri Rubano, who said in August she could not stand watching developers clearcut subdivisions throughout the city, also spoke at the Sept. 4 meeting.

“Thank you to council and to (Fox) for the urban tree program,” Rubano said. “I know it’s been a lot of work.”

Before tackling the urban tree program approval, city council members also lent their support to another several-years-in-the-making project, urging state agencies to work together to fund a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge.

The resolution approved Sept. 4 states the city of Camas “supports efforts to begin a new project development process for replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge … (and) urges Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Legislature to provide adequate funding to the Washington State Department of Transportation to materially advance project development for an Interstate 5 Bridge replacement.”

The resolution, first crafted and approved by Vancouver city leaders, points out the current bridge is “functionally obsolete,” does not meet modern seismic standards and “is needed to support critical trade routes, address congestion, provide transportation choices and improve safety.”