Gateway: Opinion

From the Helm: Is it time for Gig Harbor to move away from at-large city council seats?

Tyler Hemstreet, editor
Tyler Hemstreet, editor The News Tribune

While reading through some of the comments pinned to the wall from those who attended the One Harbor Point Open Meeting on May 24 at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, I came upon a similar theme from those who were against the project.

One person wrote “NO/Not Downtown.” Another scribbled “The charm of Gig Harbor lies in its NATURAL BEAUTY.” And someone else said the project “would be nice somewhere else,” i.e. Uptown or Gig Harbor North.

In other words, you put it wherever you want, just keep it away from downtown Gig Harbor.

It’s no secret that downtown is really the crown jewel of Gig Harbor, but should that make it immune from development while the rest of the city is growing and changing to accommodate the rise in population?

Since 2010, according to 2016 estimates from the U.S. Census, Gig Harbor’s population has grown to 9,110 from 7,126 in 2010. While that is not a huge jump, (the population nearly doubled from 1990 to 2000) the numbers say there is a trend of people moving here.

With the population growing — mainly in Gig Harbor North — the community needs to think about how residents’ voices are represented on the city council. As it stands currently, all the seats on the city council are at-large positions, which means that each candidate can run for whichever seat he or she thinks they can win. In some other cities, the city council seats are governed by what district the candidate lives in.

If you look at the current makeup of the Gig Harbor city council, a majority of the members live close to downtown. And in years past, there has been a concentration of council members mainly from the downtown area, City Administrator Ron Williams told me this week.

While candidates and current city council members likely have a good grasp on the issues facing the entire city, would it be of extra benefit to change at least four or five of the seats to represent districts? The issues facing folks living in Gig Harbor North are much different than those living in Purdy. Same thought with residents living near Uptown or Peacock Hill.

The districts could look like this:

▪ Uptown/McCormick Woods

▪ Gig Harbor North

▪ Purdy area

▪ Peacock Hill

▪ Downtown/Millville

The change might also help draw more people to city council meetings to talk about the issues or make a public comment. I’ve run into many folks in town who have positive things to say about the city and its operations who never even think of coming to a city council meeting. If they had a representative in their district who knew more about and could directly address, might that be the push to get them involved in city politics?

In the last three years or so, the issue of changing at-large seats to districts has not been addressed, Williams said.

Williams isn’t even sure if the city could change that fact it on its own.

“It may or may not require a public vote,” he said.

While a majority of the projects we tend to write about encompass downtown (i.e. Welcome Plaza, Peninsula Shopping Center, Ancich Park, One Harbor Point, restaurants in Millville), those are the projects that residents feel represent Gig Harbor on the most basic level. But with the changing demographics and the population spreading out, changing how residents’ views are represented in city government is something worth considering.

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, @gateway_tyler