Twenty years ago this Sunday, Lakewood was born and officially became Pierce County’s second-largest city.
On that day, Lakewood started down a path that has largely allowed it to deliver on the hopes and promises of those who backed incorporation efforts – which failed three times before voters finally said “yes.”
Born out of frustration with what they considered Pierce County’s benign neglect of their growing community, Lakewood residents pushed cityhood as a way to put their tax dollars to work on their own needs. Those included more police protection, sidewalks, streetlights, parks and greater attention to cleaning up blight.
Despite the recession and passage of an initiative that resulted in Lakewood losing sales tax equalization revenue, city officials have made good on that wish list. Their fiscally conservative, pay-as-you-go policy allowed construction of an impressive civic building without debt. And it’s had impressive stability in leadership, with only three city managers in its two-decade history.
Led by the late Larry Saunders, Lakewood started its own police department in 2004, and the crime rate is down almost 50 percent, says City Manager John Caulfield.
Significant infrastructure improvements have been made, and more are coming – much of it thanks to the city’s aggressive pursuit of state and federal transportation dollars. Parks have expanded and been enhanced. And cleanup work– much of it done with volunteer help – has beautified unsightly corners and cleared out scores of junk vehicles.
Citizen engagement has been a major theme in Lakewood; that was apparent at Tuesday night’s well-attended celebration of cityhood at Towne Center. Volunteers dedicated endless hours prior to incorporation to ensure that the city got off to a strong start, and they continue to contribute by serving on citizen advisory boards and commissions.
There’s been particular emphasis on youth outreach, and six times Lakewood has been named among the 100 Best Communities for Young People from America’s Promise. The award recognizes the city’s efforts in providing services and support for youth.
Partnering with the military community has also been important. For instance, the city and Joint Base Lewis-McChord worked together to get improvements to Interstate 5 on the state’s transportation project list, Caulfield says. City culture is enhanced by its many military-related residents – which include Lakewood’s first mayor, retired Lt. Gen. Bill Harrison, and two subsequent mayors, Doug Richardson and now Don Anderson.
Diversity is another of the city’s strengths. The 2010 census reveals that people of color make up more than 40 percent of the population, and Lakewood has a busy International District of mostly Korean businesses.
The first City Council of four women and three men was much more diverse than most legislative bodies, and included an African-American and a Latino. Former mayor Claudia Thomas is believed to be the first black female mayor in state history.
The city has faced tragedy, with the shooting deaths of four police officers in November 2009. The memory of those officers – Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards – is honored by Four Heroes Elementary and a memorial at the police station.
There’s no question that incorporation has been a success. Even some former opponents have told Anderson that they now regret voting against it, and “I’ve not found anyone who was in favor who says they’ve been disappointed.”
The city still has work to do in economic development and filling many vacant storefronts. But its investments in industrial parks and extending sewers to Tillicum and Woodbrook are starting to pay off.
The next 20 years promise even bigger and better things for Lakewood. Happy birthday!