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Gig Harbor City Council: No Nativity scene, other decorations around city Christmas tree

A small statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus sits in front of the city of Gig Harbor’s Christmas tree last year at Donkey Creek Park.
A small statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus sits in front of the city of Gig Harbor’s Christmas tree last year at Donkey Creek Park. News Tribune file

The summer sun is shining and temperatures are still warm but the holiday season was under discussion at Monday’s City Council meeting, specifically holiday decorations.

This discussion follows a contentious debate that occurred during the 2016 holiday season regarding the placement of a Nativity scene in city parks and a lengthy consideration and public outreach from the Parks Commission.

A motion before the Council was introduced by Parks Project administrator Katrina Knutson and asked the members to either approve or deny the purchase of a city-owned Nativity scene, to be placed alongside other holiday symbols.

Amending the motion, the Council — with Council members Tim Payne and Ken Malich absent — voted unanimously that no additional holiday symbols, secular or religious, will be placed below the city’s official Christmas tree.

This decision follows another made in March where the Council decided that private displays would not be allowed in the city’s public parks.

“I think regardless of religion, or lack thereof, looking at the tree with the lights on it up against the sky is inspirational to anyone. It can be a symbol to anyone from their childhood waking up and seeing the tree,” Council member Paul Kadzik said. “I think what we’re after here is just a clean look. Just a tree. I think it’s a universal symbol.”

Council member Steven Ekberg agreed: “My main concern is that no taxpayer money be spent on a religious display. I think we’ve got it pretty clear that we just want a clean Christmas tree and we don’t want any other kind of display.”

Council member Michael Perrow amended the motion to include the request that the fence surrounding the tree — historically white — be painted a different color to be less jarring beside the tree.

Kadzik also mentioned a desire that the city look into a unified holiday decoration theme for the downtown area, with invitations for other organizations to participate in this conversations.

“There’s a difference between a Christmas tree and a Nativity scene,” Councilman Casey Arbenz said. “I think we all agree that Christmas is important in Gig Harbor. I just always thought that a Nativity scene takes it one step too far forward towards any one religion.”

Pierce County update

Pierce County Council member Derek Young provided the Gig Harbor Council an update on Pierce County news and decisions that will have an impact on the city and surrounding area.

This year five Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy positions have been added to focus on community policing, along with three additional deputy positions created by the 2017 supplemental budget with one of those deputy’s for the Peninsula area.

“Crime doesn’t know political boundaries,” Young said. “If we don’t catch (criminals) in the rural areas they’re going to end up in the city as well.”

Young has also helped return revenue to the district, with Key Peninsula and PenMet Parks district receiving a potion of real estate excise dollars.

Funding has also been secured for the Key Peninsula Civic Center, Family Resource Center, the Red Barn Youth Center, and to complete the missing link from Cushman Trail to the Narrows bridge. Planned county road improvements include a roundabout at the Stone Road and Point Fosdick Intersection and a signal at the 144th Street and 62nd Avenue to improve safety and traffic behind Peninsula High School.

Looking ahead, Young said that upcoming issues include focus on support for behavioral health and opioid crises and a strategy for county-wide broadband strategy.

An upcoming change, Young said, will also include addressing changes on the Key Peninsula that are required for the Next Generation 911 systems. These systems required cardinal directions (NW, SW) to locate addresses and previous identifiers such as KPN (Key Peninsula addresses) or FI (Fox Island addresses) will be changed.

He also added that growth has been consistent and rapid throughout the county.

“Pierce County was, last year, the fastest growing county in nation,” Young said. “The entire region is growing quickly… (and our) growth management is starting to work. I would say that the growth you’re seeing in my neighborhood of Gig Harbor North is pretty typical.”

The growth management has been keeping rural areas more rural by focusing development in the more urban areas, preventing sprawl.

Park hours

Knutson also presented an ordinance establishing park hours in Gig Harbor which would allow the Gig Harbor Police Department to enforce established “dawn to dusk” hours with a civil infraction.

The city receives regular complaints about activity in the parks after hours and this code will hopefully deter illicit activity occurring in the park.

The Council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance. Skansie Brothers Park and Jerisich Dock are an exception to the ordinance.

Upcoming community events

Cheri Himmer presented information on Gig Harbor’s Community Day of Service, now in its second year.

The event includes several clean-up projects at different locations, a food drive for FISH foodback and Food backpacks 4 Kids, writing letters to the military and an opportunity to donate blood.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 9 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 12002 Peacock Hill Avenue.

More information can be found online at justserve.org and searching for Gig Harbor projects.

Hugh McMillan presented information on the Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition’s (PEP-C) Emergency Preparedness Fair.

The fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 30 at Gig Harbor High School and will feature classes, training and experts offering advice for emergency preparedness.

The Aug. 28 City Council meeting is canceled. The next City Council meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Civic Center, 3510 Grandview Street. A full calendar and complete agenda can be found on the city’s website at cityofgigharbor.net.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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